Sun is in short supply and the city streets alternate between full ice coverage and a slurry of slush. That’s not to mention the potential for bone-chilling temperatures and teeth-chattering winds. What could there possibly be to like about getting out for a run during a Minnesota winter? If you ask local runners, quite a lot. With the right gear, plowed paths, and an affinity for frozen eyelashes and snow beards, Twin Cities harriers know what it really means to embrace the coldest, darkest months of the year with hardy, northern spirit. We rounded up some thoughts from the experts, along with a few tips on how to make sure you’re armed and ready to enjoy a bit of pavement pounding through the rest of winter.
Local running experts on joys in winter
“I love running in the winter in Minnesota. (Recently) I was on the Mississippi River Road taking in the sights and made my way to the Minnehaha Falls. The community of runners that shout a hello and get after it are so much fun. I know it can be tough and conditions aren’t always ideal, but we have one pretty amazing state. Beautiful, committed, supportive, and driven — all things that make great athletes and even better people.”
Carrie Tollefson, 2004 Olympian, host CTolleRun.com
“I love the natural reset button that winter places on your running. You are not in charge of the run when winter throws in a -10-degree day or biting windchills, which can abruptly change the best-laid training plans or routes. It forces you to adapt and go with the conditions of the moment. This ability to change and naturally slow down I feel has been a hidden ingredient to the success achieved by so many runners from Minnesota excelling at the upper levels of the sport of distance running.”
John Long, owner of Fleet Feet Marathon Sports, Minnesota cross-country champion 1985
“I think my favorite thing about winter running is just how quiet and peaceful it is. The trails and paths have quite a bit less traffic. It’s a unique experience to be outside for an hour in Minneapolis in the winter and just hear the crunching of the snow under your feet. I also enjoy running right after a fresh snowfall; there’s something beautiful about sparkly snow lighting my path that I never get sick of.”
Gabriele Grunewald, professional runner, Team USA Minnesota
“Winter running carries a sense of adventure at times. The more extreme the conditions, the more memorable and special the experience becomes. I enjoy those really cold and windy days when it seems like no one else is out there and with proper attire and preparations you are actually quite comfortable. My favorite thing to do in the winter is to find a nice singletrack trail, leave my watch and GPS at home, and just go out and run totally according to feel.”
Chris Lundstrom, Team USA Minnesota coach
“For me, it’s just so much easier to find the time to run in the winter. We’re not getting pulled in 10 different directions with trips to the lake, grad parties, weddings and the like. It’s a quieter time of the year, and I seem to do more running in the winter than any other season.”
Jeff Metzdorff, co-owner Mill City Running
“We are trying to race our very best in May and June. The winter reminds us, and sometimes forces us, to slow down a little and helps us peak at the right time. The same applies for people training for spring and summer road races. Now is the time to slog through the miles and not become a slave to your watch or your Garmin. Listen to your body and enjoy running in a snow globe for a few months. Then when the roads clear, you will be ready to start tackling tempos and workouts!”
Sarah Hopkins, University of Minnesota women’s cross country and track coach
“I love running after a quiet snowfall, taking in all that beauty, with the big flakes sitting on the tree branches. When winter is not so quiet, I like getting out and conquering the elements with my friends. You have to get out there sometimes and just prove to Mother Nature she is not going to get the upper hand.”
Virginia Brophy Achman, executive director of Twin Cities in Motion
“When we are coming off a few gray days in subzero temps, you can’t help but have total and complete appreciation for sunny days that are 20 degrees above zero. I love the fact that 40 degrees means I’m actually thinking about shorts, when that same thought would be crazy in the summer.”
Dave Marek, president of the Minnesota Distance Running Association
“What I love most about winter running is the solitude and peacefulness, the only sounds being muffled footfalls, the swish of clothing, and quiet breathing. It’s also a great way to get your vitamin D fix and a sun-induced serotonin boost.”
Paul Horan, owner GEAR Running Store
Top places to run in the Twin Cities
Chain of Lakes
I always tell people if you can get to the lakes in the winter, you can run them. While drivers dig out from the latest snow-pocalypse event along our barely navigable roadways, runners generally enjoy clear paths at Harriet, Calhoun, Isles and Nokomis.
River Road (East and West River parkways)
This is a favorite among lovers of the Mighty Mississippi. You’ll see everyone from local pros to University of Minnesota studs cruising down these paths.
Largely populated by commuters, the Greenway is a great thoroughfare to take between the river and the lakes on a winter long run.
When I want to get away from some of the more urban trails in Minneapolis, I head to the creek. The tree-lined path offers a bit of solitude in the city.
U.S. Bank Stadium
If you’re looking for an indoor running option, U.S. Bank Stadium has opened its doors for running on select evenings through mid-March. The next date at 5 p.m. Jan. 31. Check the stadium website for schedule and details. (bit.ly/stadrun)
Winter race options
Securian Winter 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon
Securian Center, St. Paul (same-day registration, too)
Valentine’s Day TC 5K
Feb. 11, Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis
Frozen Feet 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon
Feb. 12, Elm Creek Park Reserve, Maple Grove
Hypothermic Half Marathon
Feb. 19, Eden Prairie
Hot Dash 5K and 10-Mile
March 18, northeast Minneapolis
General rules and gear
There are a lot of general rules when it comes to winter running, on everything from shortening your stride to protect against slipping to remembering to hydrate well. Others:
• Dress for 15 to 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature, allowing for your body temperature to heat up — and it will after the initial chill.
• Wear layers, with a base such as polyester or merino wool, an insulating layer (such as fleece) and a windproof shell.
• Cover the extremities. A good hat is a must, and gloves or mittens with wind shell are a good idea, too. Thermal socks work great. Consider wearing a facemask when it’s below zero. It helps warm the air you are taking in, and keeps skin protected.
• Put on road-gripping devices, such as Yaktrax, on snowy days when paths are covered and potentially slick.
• Try an alternative workout if it’s brutally cold. Don’t force it.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer from Minneapolis and author of the forthcoming book “MIndful Running.”