“You can’t run here in the winter, are you crazy?”
Well yes, I am, but no you don’t have to be crazy to run here in the winter. Not that long ago I saw a post on Facebook with someone asking about how and where to run in the winter. I was both amused and bothered by several of the comments from people suggesting that moving to Tahoe meant that you hang up your running shoes until the snow melts. As with anything, getting mad or annoyed does nothing to improve the situation, but it did give me the idea that perhaps a short blog with some tips that I have learned might help others looking to log some miles during the winter. I will just state flat out, the assertion that you cannot run in Tahoe in the winter or that the running is so hindered that it is not worth it is absolutely false! There are many options out there to keep us crazy runners going that I will try to provide some info on. In fact, I’m currently training for a marathon in March and even things like speedwork are absolutely feasible given the right equipment.
“Where in the heck can I run. There is snow everywhere.”
Yes, this is absolutely true, however, there are plenty of places or ways to run if you want to. I’ll start with my least favorite and what I call last resort, the treadmill. Now, even training for a marathon, I avoid this at all costs. That said, it is a good tool to have in the arsenal for me when there are white-out conditions, high winds, or the worst conditions in my opinion to run…right in between rain and snow. I’ll take single digits or dumping snow any day over that. That’s when the treadmill is my friend. Also, keep in mind there are benefits to it as well in that you have a softer deck to run on, consistent footing (no slipping on ice, tips on that in a minute), and for a marathon, it is boring and you have to keep pushing to finish on the tread…just like the last 10k of a marathon.
Take it to the Streets
An upgrade at no charge to the treadmill is running on the roads. Yes, I said it. Now I know that some drivers get super annoyed by people running on the roads while they try to drive, so try using the less traveled neighborhood roads during high traffic times, or be sure to get out for your run early before cars are out and about. If you do run on roads, do yourself a favor and forego the headphones for safety so you can hear cars coming. If music is a must for you, these Aftershokz open ear headphones allow you to hear what’s going on around you while listening to your favorite tunes. Also, wear clothing that stands out and is visible, including reflective accents if you are running in the dark, which is actually the time I find to be the safest for a number of reasons.
One, there are fewer cars, people, bikes, dogs, and strollers on the more popular trails (cough cough, Legacy). But, I also find the ice to be less slick and more predictable to run on when you do hit little patches of it. The sub-freezing temps make the ice almost sticky at times (or my brain froze… you decide). If you are running the roads during a snowstorm, I recommend wearing some sort of traction device. Like the Snowline Chainsen Trail Light or the Black Diamond Distance Spike. Particularly on the busier streets that the plow comes through more often. Right after the plows pass, the roads can be very slick. If I expect deeper snow for most, if not all, of the run I like the Kahtoola Microspikes, or either of the above-mentioned spikes. For the times well after storms, or where you may have variable surfaces of dry pavement, snow, and ice I’m a huge fan of the Kahtoola Nanospikes. They grip very well without being hard on the feet when you hit the dry pavement. They are an essential addition for me if I’m doing early morning speedwork and pushing it on terrain that may have hidden icy spots.
Plowed Trails to Run
My go-to spots during the winter are a number of paved multi-use trails in Truckee, and other areas of the region close by. The Legacy Trail is definitely the most frequently traveled spot to run. This is the multi-use trail that can be accessed near the Regional Park and will take you out to Glenshire. The Town of Truckee is really on top of it with keeping this trail plowed and accessible. Because of that, it can be rather busy. Keep that in mind before you head out and it will prepare you for some zig and zag around the other users of the trail. It is a shared-use trail, so watch out and listen for bikes, people walking, pushing strollers, and more dogs than I can count during the midday hours. Other similar route options available are Trout Creek, from Alibi Ale Works to Tahoe Donner. This is a fantastic section if you want to get some climbing in.
A short drive to Olympic Valley has the bike path between the sports park and Tahoe City. This isn’t always plowed and I would not recommend running on 89 itself during the winter (or summer for that matter). Another fine option with spectacular views is the new bike path in Incline Village that starts near the Tunnel Creek trailhead. Running around Donner Lake may be accessible as well. Just keep in mind the south side and through the State Park can be icy and sometimes have rather deep snow. The north side of the lake has vehicular traffic, you will want to be visible and run facing oncoming traffic for safety.
Finally, another popular option is to jump in the car and take a road trip. Reno is not that far and will often have the trails at Peavine open to explore. Take your GPS to make sure you don’t get lost (this was as much a reminder to me as anyone else). Auburn is my favorite area to be able to run on some dirt for the weekend long run. A good tip is to seek out some local runners and you can download their routes off of Strava. You will find that many of the local runners head off the hill and it can be a fun reunion when you see familiar faces.
The last thing I want to leave you all with is, be safe! Even the trail you have run a hundred times can look unfamiliar during whiteout conditions. I have actually had that happen on Legacy of all places due to poor visibility. When the local trails do start opening up, it can present a certain level of risk when you head out for a longer run. The weather turns fast in the Sierras and suddenly the trail you were following is hidden as are your tracks. Let someone know where you are going. Take the proper amount of water, food, and clothing for what mother nature can throw at you. I have also started taking my Garmin inReach Mini with me on all my long trail runs. It may not be to save me, but perhaps someone else has an emergency on the trail. It is a small piece of insurance to help you if things go wrong. That said, if you are unsure about whether what you are doing is a good idea…it probably isn’t. Take a safer option and stick to known areas such as those mentioned above. No matter what you are training for, it’s not worth getting hurt or having a search party looking for you (again, this is directed at me as well). Stay safe, and help me dispel those opinions that you can’t run here in the winter!
TMS Ambassador – Steve Buelna is an avid runner, (whether trails or pavement, he doesn’t discriminate) living in Truckee, CA. Follow @_buelna_ on Instagram for photos of his adventures on foot or on BMW GSA1250 Adventure Bike, anywhere either will take him. In addition to Tahoe Mountain Sports, Steve is also a Koda Nutrition USA Ambassador and Big Blue Adventure Ambassador as well as the leader of the “Newbies” Run Club for Donner Party Mountain Runners.