The sidewalks are knee-deep in snow, the sun set hours ago, and evening commuters are sliding in around every icy corner. Yet for a certain athletic population, these near-arctic conditions pose a unique appeal. What is it that keeps Northwest runners from putting away their running gear and hibernating all winter? When it’s cold, dark, and icy outside, what inspires athletes to get out the door? I called up a slew of local runners and asked them to share their secrets of sub-zero motivation.

Chris Morlan, founder of the Spokane Distance Project, explains why he chooses to train outside: “To witness first hand what’s right in this world, that’s why…. Have you ever experienced your neighborhood in the dark with Christmas lights on the houses, no cars in the streets, and uncommon urban silence? Pretty neat.”

Heather LeFriec, an accomplished racer, echoes this sentiment: “There is nothing more peaceful than having the roads to yourself. Running in the dark can be calming and relaxing, it helps me find my center. ” And besides, she adds, “You can throw on any crazy running outfit and not worry about anyone seeing you!”

Fortunately, Northwest runners don’t have to wait until May to lace up their racing shoes; there are several opportunities to test your speed throughout the winter. “On those cold dark days when I don’t really feel like running, I just think of those winter races to motivate me out the door,” says LeFriec.

But racing or no racing, I quickly noticed a theme among all these snow-happy runners: the passion and insanity of winter running is meant to be shared. One runner had a long-standing date with a running partner, and another triathlete was inspired by her dog’s boundless enthusiasm for snow. Many recreational athletes braved the elements with a social running club – there are several local groups that continue to meet throughout the winter. And this year, Fleet Feet Spokane is even sponsoring the “Winter Warriors,” a winter incentive program to motivate runners to stay active through the cold months. Check out their weekly running schedule on Fleet Feet’s website.

Aside from fun, fitness, and bragging rights over your gym-going friends, winter running also offers an obvious benefit come springtime: speed. Want to impress your friends with your running prowess at Bloomsday? Then log those January miles! Andrew Vandine knows a little bit about winter training – this sixteen-year-old competes for North Central’s state champion cross-country team. Needless to say, Andrew and his teammates are pounding the pavement – err, snow – all winter long. But why outside? Why not on a treadmill? It’s simple: running in snow strengthens the stride and the runner. Besides, says Vandine, “I want to be the best runner I can be for my team…. Days off are days lost.”

I polled members of Spokane’s Flying Irish Running Club for some winter training advice, and they were ready with all sorts of arctic-running wisdom: Don’t forget a hat and gloves. Wear tights “if you’re not a polar bear.” Dress in bright, reflective gear. Leave the headphones at home. Tread carefully on ice. And most importantly, make sure your house or car key is attached “securely.” It’s not fun shivering for three hours in 15F weather waiting for a locksmith. Believe me, they know from experience.

Winter Races

Put these races on your calendar and motivate yourself to get out the door:

Hangover Handicap Run (CdA, Jan. 1)

Frostbite Footrace 5k (Deer Park, Jan. 25)

Freeze Your Fanny 5k (Lewiston, Jan. 26)

Partners in Pain 5k (Spokane, Feb. 9)

Lost River Triathlon (XC ski, bike, run; Mazama, Mar. 1)

Yakima Hard Core Running Club’s Winter Racing Series (3-5 miles; Jan-Feb.)

Pullman Winter Ultra Series (25-50k; Jan-Feb.)

Running Clubs

These local running clubs train throughout the winter. Check out their Facebook pages for detailed schedules:

Bloomsday Road Runners Club (multiple days)

Flying Irish (Thursdays)

South Hill Running Club (Tuesdays)

NextIT (Tuesdays)

Method Juice (Wednesdays)

Fleet Feet Sports Winter Warriors (Mondays)

Manito Running Club (Saturdays)

Article by Jamie Redman