Winter Running in Canada

Winter running in most parts of Canada can present a challenge.  One must be prepared for anything.  Mild temperatures are ideal but those days are few and far between especially in months like January.  Freezing temperatures and wind chill factors must be, well, factored in before heading outside.  That means extra caution and extra layers of clothing.

I must say that I haven’t always followed my own advice.  I’ve run long runs later in the day near dark, with no money on me, no identification, no cell phone and I headed out without letting anyone know the route I was planning to run.  All I had on me were gel nutrition packets and 2 small water bottles – all frozen..  I was lucky that nothing happened.  I’m more cautious now.  At least I try to be.

In my first winter of running, I sometimes would inadvertently under-dress. On a lunchtime run with a good friend, I noticed something wasn’t quite right.  We were running on a path that runs along the Rideau Canal on our way back to the office.  The wind was stronger than I had anticipated.  A certain “special” area on my body was getting cold.  I needed to do something fast.  Without saying too much, I told my female running companion that I was going to run behind her for a few moments while I made some adjustments.  I was wearing an extra pair of running gloves and so I removed the extra glove from my right hand and shoved it down my running tights.  It worked!  I rejoined my friend.  To get back we had to run on Wellington Street in front of the Parliament Buildings where there are always people.  Needless to say, I got some odd stares here and there as people looked (or tried not to look) at the bulge in my pants. I didn’t care as I was warm.


Sometimes the roads and paths are ice covered and it becomes slippery everywhere you go.  Freezing rain is fairly common here in Canada’s capital.  No one enjoys it and runners probably dislike it even more.

What to do when the conditions are less than ideal?  Some opt to run indoors on a treadmill.  I am not a fan of the treadmill or “dreadmill” as I call it.  I will only run on the treadmill if I absolutely have no other choice.  I haven’t used a treadmill in at least 2 or 3 years and I hope I can continue not using it.  The air is dry indoors in winter and running in the same area for extended periods of time just isn’t fun for me.

This year I tried some special ice-grippers that slip over any type of shoe.  They were excellent on ice.  I found myself purposefully seeking out the iciest areas that I would normally avoid without ice-grips.  It was fun to run up the hill near the Bytown Museum near the Rideau Canal locks.  An area that sees very few runners because the path is closed in the winter.

Non-runners often ask if the cold air will “burn” or hurt your lungs.  Having run a half-marathon in -37 and a full marathon in -29 degrees Celsius I felt no pain in my lungs during or after the run.  There was a slight adjustment period that lasted maybe a day or two the very first year I ran but it was minor.

In this piece that I wrote for iRun magazine several years ago about the positives of winter running, I sum it up this way:

“There’s a special quality to running outdoors in winter.  Maybe it’s the absence of colour; the white snow, the black, wet pavement, the grey sidewalks and the cloud-covered sky. It’s as if you are running in a black-and-white photograph. But then it all changes when the skies clear up, maybe just in time for the sunset and for colour to make its way back into the day. You keep running as you stare in awe at the best sunset you swear you’ve ever seen.”

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