“Do you run in winter?”

My La Sportiva Mutants kill it in the winter. I forgot my gaiters.

I get asked this question a lot. It seems like an absurd question because of course, runners run in winter.

But, when you live in a ski town as a runner you are actually the minority and so it’s a legitimate question. Even most runners in this town will swap out their running shoes for ski boots in the winter.

While I respect changing sports according to season and I am making an effort with skiing, running is my mental sanity and my true love and so there is no way I can go all winter without it.

With that, here are a few thoughts and tips I can share in response to the most frequently asked questions I get about running in the cold.

Can you run on the trails?
Short answer, yes. Not in the backcountry, but dependent on where you are there should be a good amount of neighborhood trails that get packed down quickly by the fat-bikers, skiiers and hikers. It’s all dependent on the storms. During, or one day after a storm, I don’t mess around with trail running. I have an awesome time hitting those trails on cross country skis. The snow is perfect for it. If it has been at least two days after a storm and dry, I can usually get on the trails right near my house and someone has packed them down enough that I am not post-holing. You just have to get out there and try it. After a few times of success or failure you will start to learn the habits of your local community and know what trails get used most often and become accessible.

My snow princess livin’ it up. You could XC ski this trail but it’s also packed down enough for running.

What shoes do you wear?
Trail shoes. A shoe is a very personal thing so I can’t recommend a specific shoe for you, but I run in the La Sportiva Mutant and Akasha and they are my favorite. I can recommend that you go with a brand that focuses on the mountain runner as opposed to the road runner because they will have the beta on what a trail runner needs. For example Asics, who is a top notch road running company, makes a trail shoe but I don’t know anyone in the trail running community who wears them. That’s not to say they don’t make a good shoe or that no trail runner wears them, but they don’t have the extensive research in mountain athletes in order to know exactly what we need. Some good trail running brands are: La Sportiva, Salomon, Inov8 and Altra. For the exception, the Brooks Cascadia is awesome and Brooks is a company that has been able to do a fantastic job for both road and trail runners.

Do you wear anything on your shoes?
In most cases, my Mutants are aggressive enough on their own and I don’t need extra traction. Again, it’s a case by case basis. Micro-spikes are very aggressive and I have found that I only need them if I am running a steep trail or if it has been over a week or so without any storms and the local trails have become sheets of ice. When the snow is still relatively soft, your trail shoes should be enough on regular trail. If you are going to do some steep uphill, regardless of when it snowed, I would bring my spikes. It helps with the micro slips that occur while you are trying to go uphill on snow and will save a ton of energy.

What clothing do you wear?
This is dependent on the day. Read my blog post that explains what I wear in certain temperatures. 

A note on road running:
Unless specifically asked about the trail, most people wonder if I am running on the roads. YES. I like talking about this most because road running becomes an entirely different mental thing for me and it makes me fall in love with the sport even more.
I’m not a road runner. I try my best to run on dirt 100% of the time, especially in non-winter months. However, when winter rolls in and the streets are white for 5 months, suddenly the road seems like the trail and I dig it. With snow and ice on the ground, you have to stay attentive to each step and make sure you are gripping or not sinking into the snow and into a hole or off a curb that could potentially injure you. My favorite thing about it? It slows me down. I run at a leisurely pace and just enjoy being outside.

Barefoot running:
Is anyone in the Western culture in this century seriously running barefoot in the winter in the mountains? If so, please message me. I need to hear your story.
I never hear anyone mention this anymore, due to demographics most likely, and for that I am thankful. **In my opinion** The barefoot running thing has a small window of legitimacy, and for most of us who have grown up in shoes, it is not a necessary or realistic way of running. Shoes are not bad and companies have had years to learn the individuality of the foot. You have to figure out what works best for you which might take a few mistakes to figure out. If you’re are a barefoot runner – nice! But it isn’t the only, or best option.

My best advice for winter running?
DO IT! Take my suggestions and go try it for yourself and see what works for you. Don’t be scared of the snow, ice or cold – as they say – “There isn’t bad weather, just bad gear.” And attitude. Embrace changes and challenges and appreciate your love for running in an entirely different way!

Her happy place.

Horsetooth Rock. Fort Collins, CO.

Horsetooth Rock in the distance.

Horsetooth Rock Loop
TH:
Soderberg TH
Trail: Single track and a tiny section of 4×4 road.
Conditions: Hard packed dirt, slightly technical in some places but mostly smooth trail.
AllTrails Route: This is just the route up to the summit.
My Route: A lollipop loop. 
Miles: 10.5 but really any distance you want.
Elevation Gain: 
Water: Only in one spot and not all year. Always bring water on these trails.
Bathroom: Yes
Dogs: On leash.
Special Notes: There are a few TH’s, Soderberg being my favorite to start from. On a weekend or good day all of these TH’s will fill up, but most people are headed straight to the summit. Even with full parking lots, I would find solitude on some trails. This park is WILD. There is a lot of wildlife, including rattlesnakes in the summer. Stay alert and be careful.

This park is easy to navigate and you can dream up all sorts of distances and routes. This route I have posted is a personal favorite. It’s a loop, it covers the prettiest trails of the park and you summit a “mountain.” There’s not much more you could ask from a trail. If you are in the area, this park is definitely worth playing in. 

We travel to the front range for the holidays every year and always try to get out to this open space for a run. This specific loop is our new Thanksgiving morning tradition for as long as we have family in the front range to visit.

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Heading up the rock

Special note: Once you get to the base of the rock, navigate your way up the left side. The right side is the common route and more than a few times, we have climbed up the left side and had it all to ourselves while the right side was packed with people.

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Looking at the shit show on the right side of the rock. 

Also, this park is wild. In the peak of summer there is A LOT of snakes including rattlesnakes. Stay alert and be extra careful if you have a dog with you. 

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So many snakes in the summer.

Skinning. Day 3.

I went up the mountain again yesterday. I said I would post every time I managed to get on the skins for accountability on my end and inspiration on yours. 

I met up with a friend and we were at the the bottom of the hill by 6:15a. At 15°, twilight was creepin’ and the sunrise looked promising. 

I throw my skis down and notice they seem slick. 

I forgot my skins. Can’t go uphill without those.

My first thought is, “Well, guess I’ll call it.” Then the better half of me screams, “No idiot, you live right down the hill. It’s a rookie mistake. Go get your skins and do this.”

With my boots still on, I drove home, grabbed my skins and skinned halfway up the hill in time for sunrise. 

The best part of that morning was the downhill. For the first time, I felt like my form had improved and I had fun skiing down instead of just feeling scared. I embraced the leaning forward and standing taller, and I actually was able to play with making shorter turns and feeling what my skis would do when I put a little more trust into them. 

I tried to take the first excuse I had to not go up the mountain. Had I taken it, I would have missed out on the sunrise and the best downhill morning I have had so far.

Forgetting my skins is just being a newbie at something. Using that as an excuse to quit before I even begin – that’s a mistake. 

 

Lost Little Rainbow. Salida, CO.

Little Rainbow trail. Collegiate Peaks in the background.

Lost Little Rainbow Trail
Trail: 98% single track. Smooth, not technical.
Conditions: 20ish°, clear skies and a little breezy.
AllTrails Route: Lollipop or Loop.
My Route: Out and back.
Miles: 13
Elevation Gain: 1,841ft.*
Water: No
Bathroom: No
Dogs: On leash or strict voice control.
Après Run: SoulCraft Brewing. Hopefully Matt is your beertender.
Special Notes: Small parking lot right out of town and almost immediately off the highway. On a Monday in winter there was only a couple people, but I imagine weekends this trailhead could get busy. There are a few other entrances to the Rainbow trail which might help with traffic.

Snow princess in the desert.

 The plan was to run a loop that started from Lost trail which connects to Little Rainbow, Sand Gulch, Rainbow back to Lost Trail and car. Once at the TH, I realized it was going to be further then I wanted to go that day so I had to make it an out and back.

There are a few access points to the Rainbow Trails, I decided to start at Lost TH. 

Different directions of trail.

Taking the North side of Lost Trail, I climbed over 600ft. in about 1.5 miles and met up with Little Rainbow. Heading West on Little Rainbow, I ran 4 miles of rolling hills to the Sand Gulch/Rainbow TH and then climbed about a mile up Sand Gulch and then decided to turn around. Always take a map, but the trails are easy to navigate. You have views and can see what direction you are heading, as well as there aren’t a ton of side trails to take.

Smooth running.

The trail is non-technical, rolling hills. It is entirely runnable so can be pretty quick if you wanted a long speed work out. This is a great winter trail especially if you live higher up and really want to get some easier, dirt running in.  

Views, views, views!

When my long run days are above 15 miles, I am going to head back and try to do the loop. A local mentioned that the “upper” Rainbow gets too snowed in, but I’ll go out there in a few weeks and try it and get the beta.

I wish I could run with my XC skis. . .

Happy Trails!

Happy Holidays from the trail!

YOGA

Post Run – Pre LONG DRIVE: It sucks, but sometimes after running for 2+ hours you have to get directly in the car and sit for over an hour getting home. 

This causes the muscles to retract, lactic acid to build up and if you are like me and have any chronic injuries, severe pain in certain areas. Those with SI joint issues or sciatica deal with pain while sitting even without going on a long run. 

With that said, YOGA. 5 minutes. It helps. As someone who suffers from SI issues, I can swear by it.

Here are some poses you can practice to help keep those muscles relaxed after a long run and before you jump in the car. Only 5 minutes, you definitely have the time and you will be thankful for it when you step out of the car at your house. 

Uttanasana: Forward Fold. Do a few sets of rising to tall mountain, into ardha uttanasana and then let your neck and shoulders hang heavy in full forward fold. Hamstring focus.
Uttanasana: Cross legs each side. Sciatica and IT band focus.
Parsvottanasana: Pyramid Pose. Hamstring opener.
Eka Pada Kapotanasana: One leg chair. Clearly, your quads should be tired after a long run so instead of doing full pose, hold on to something and just get the benefit of opening the hip, not strengthening the quads or arms. Hip opener.

These are standing poses only, because I assume most of us don’t carry our yoga mats everywhere we go. (As we should!)

Winter Running above 9,000ft.

This is actually Spring running, when I can start getting high again, but my outfit is exactly what I wear most of winter. Photo: Frank Bowman.

It’s Winter! The backcountry is buried for now and my running is. . . different. I am in the mountains so the snow falls at my doorstep and the trails and the roads – the whole town, is a blanket of white. 

 Living at 9,600ft. it is dry and the temperature can swing 30° in either direction all winter. I love it – I thrive on change and this town’s weather is consistently always changing.

So the morning routine goes: Check the weather. Based on what temp. it is decide how early or late you will be running that day, and then pick your outfit. 

There is plenty of “parts” to winter running, but this post is about gear and how much to wear or not wear in certain temperatures. I am not going to get specific in reviewing certain brands, just list the basics of what seems to be working for me as I navigate running in the winter.

This list is purely subjective and it is based on a Colorado climate above 9,000ft. This will not be accurate for every body type or region. However, I hope it is a good starting point and will make it easier for you to figure out what works for you. 

The snow princess getting after it. View of the Ten Mile Range in Breckenridge, CO.

So far, this is what I have found: 

WEAR SUNSCREEN. For real. All year. Any skin that is exposed. High country sun is no joke nor is skin cancer. 

40° and above: 
If it’s sunny out and this warm, consider it summer. I would wear:
Shorts, long sleeve light base layer. Light running gloves, buff, hat and sunglasses. The buff and gloves might be too warm, but it’s good to have them. I would wear crew length socks in case I get stuck post-holing. The snow will eat your ankles.

30°-40°: 
If it’s sunny out, I will wear shorts or capri tights. Long sleeve light base layer and I would tie a light windbreaker, like the Brooks LSD Jacket around my waist in case the weather turns colder. Again, crew length socks in case of post-holing. Light running gloves, hat, buff, sunglasses.

20°-30°: 
I like full length tights. Mid-weight long sleeve base layer. I usually have to wear a second top layer and I love the La Sportiva Task Hybrid Jacket. It might be my favorite piece of running clothing. It has primaloft insulation in the chest acting as a vest and a jacket. Mmmm, I think it is the perfect winter piece. Crew or knee-high socks. If it is sunny, definitely crew – if it’s stormy then knee high. Light running gloves, hat, buff or beanie, sunglasses. Special note: This is a really nice temperature. Crisp winter air, but you easily stay warm if you are moving at all. When the sun is out it feels about 10° warmer and it’s magical.

10° – 20°: 
This is where it starts to get challenging. I think I have nailed the outfit, but regardless, it’s hard not to be a little cold somewhere. Especially if you hit the trails and run in snow. At this temperature, you have to keep moving to stay warm. Full length tights, mid-weight base layer, a layer like the Task Hybrid Jacket and I like to add a lightweight vest underneath. Knee-high socks. 2 buffs; one for my neck and face and one for my ears. Medium weight gloves, sunglasses. 

Below or 0 – 10°:
Personally, 10° and below is all the same. Movement is crucial to survival, your lungs dry out and the icy air will burn them if you breathe too heavy. I normally opt for the gym on the few days a year it gets this cold – but some days I just have to run and this kind of cold makes it interesting. I wear everything mentioned in the 10° – 20° range but I add a beanie to my head instead of the buff. I wear a legitimate face mask with air holes in it. The buff will fall off or become frozen from your breath. This face mask is crucial. I also wear the thickest gloves I can find.  Special note: I never plan on running longer then 4 miles in this kind of weather. I’ve found that is my breaking point of when I’ve enjoyed the fresh air, but no matter what I am cold and it’s beginning to not be fun. 

Here are the key pieces of an outfit that I do not leave the house without when running in winter:
Always, always, always wear or have with you:
Gloves – you are useless without coordination of your hands
Buff – this has multiple uses for warmth
Sunglasses – this is specific to CO. Even if it’s cloudy when you start, the weather changes rapidly and if you get stuck in the sun and snow – snow blindness is a real thing. Just sayin’.
Cell phone: In case you need to call for help, look at a map, or take pictures for your Insta. 

This trail is packed down enough to run sans micro spikes. 

An extra note: When running in my county, I try to keep it around two hours or less and I have been doing it long enough now and on the same trails that I don’t carry a backpack with extra stuff. If you are learning to run in winter, please carry a backpack with a few essentials in case something goes awry. A first aid kit, a puffy jacket, water ( make sure it doesn’t freeze), extra beanie, some snacks. This list is based on the fact that you aren’t planning to go more than a few hours and you are familiar with the trails you are running. 

Cheers to Winter,

Nichole 




  


A trail runner in the snow.

Dawn patrol. 

Good morning!

Just in case it is not obvious, trail running is my #1. I live in the mountains though, it’s winter, and I want to spend time in the mountains all year. So, I am learning new things.

Cross country skiing has come easy for me. It’s pretty straightforward. Downhill is another story though. Trying to ski in my 30’s for the first time has proven more difficult then I would like it to be. 

I didn’t buy a pass, which would be the ideal way to learn, so I have to skin up to get my turns in. I have chosen this route because in the long run, I am hoping to backcountry ski. Going uphill is great. I love the workout, and again, it’s straighforward. Going downhill is a little different. I am fine at it, I am just scared. Of what? 

Adventures of Frank going up.

For now I am just scared of speed and falling awkwardly while going fast. I’m not into getting potentially very badly injured.

I am still trying to think of it is a fun way to spend time in the mountains and I am fortunate enough to have the ski hills at my doorstep. I have no excuse to not practice and get a workout in at the same time. 

Despite the convenience of the mountains, the hours to skin up the resort are before the mountain opens and closes. I am getting up around 4a or 5a to get it done or waiting until after 5p. I am pretty much useless later in the day, (and sometimes a few beers deep) and although I consider myself a morning person, 4a on a dark and cold winter morning can sometimes be brutal. 

So as I am already setting myself up for excuses as to why I shouldn’t do it – I am going to push past those thoughts as often as I can and get on the mountain. It is the only way I am going to learn and getting out there is always better then staying in. Always.

The views are always worth the work!

Today we managed two laps. At the bottom of the the first one I contemplated not doing a second because my legs were burning from squatting the whole way down. My form was terrible and I still don’t trust the idea of “leaning forward” while going downhill.

I am glad I changed my mind and we went up again because on that second lap I found some confidence and had a less rigid ride down. I did embrace leaning forward and started to communicate with my skis. 

Had I bailed on the second lap only because I didn’t feel like doing another one, I wouldn’t have experienced how much more I learned just in that second lap. One lap shakes off the cobwebs and the second gives me time to play and get the feel of how my body has to move. 

Frank starts the downhill.

This sport is so different from running! The challenge of learning my body in a new way has been the most fun. If I am consistent with it, I am looking forward to see the physical changes and take notes on whether it affects my running and in what way. 

I will post every time I get out on the hill to skin for accountability on my end and inspiration on yours. The posts will not be as long as this one – just a recap of how it went, how I was feeling etc.

Stay tuned and Happy Trails!

Nichole 

P.S. 20-45 min. of yoga post-ski will help you stay loose the rest of the day!

Just a few of my favorite poses:
Classic Sun Salutations to start and open the back of the legs.
Down Dog – every practice should include this. 
Crescent low lunge – open the psoas and hip flexors which get very tight when skinning.
Balasana (Child’s) – open those inner thighs
Pigeon – hips
Toes pose – opens the bottom of the foot, stretches PF.
Eagle Arms – you can do this one just standing in tadasana, in eagle or even in Warrior 2. Great way to open up the upper back which can get very tight when working with poles with skiing. 

This is just scratching the surface of all the healthy poses you can do post workout. I will add a few of my fav’s after every post and eventually start posting short videos for you to practice after one of your workouts. Yoga has been fundamental in my staying healthy and strong enough to do long days in the mountains.

Tenderfoot Trails. Salida, CO.

Xena takes in the view.
Tenderfoot Hills Trails
Trail: Mostly single track with a little road up to Tenderfoot Hill.
Trailhead: Established TH. Free, but limited parking. No bathrooms and nowhere “discreet” to go. Always remember the “Leave No Trace” principals.
Trail Use: Light, but definitely too heavy in the summer.
Ideal Season: November – March 
Conditions: 50F. Partially cloudy with winds from the storm in the high country. 
Route: Lollipop loop. My Route. 
Miles: 12. But multiple options for more or less.
Elevation Gain: 2,336ft. *According to Strava.
Water: No. Never.
Dogs: Yes. But please don’t be an irresponsible dog owner. Pick up the shit (and don’t leave the bag on the trail), and only off leash if your dog is trained. Like, actually voice trained. 
AllTrails:
AprèsRun: SoulCraft Brewing. Only a mile from Historic Salida. Dogs are allowed on patio. Two years old, a brewery with great beer and a quality atmosphere. 
Special Notes: Salida is a crazy cute town with the Arkansas River running through it. I would plan on a morning run and and afternoon eat and drink in town.

To each is own, but I love running technical single track and these trails have it. You start from the TH with dirt road, but very quickly it turns into high desert single track and is a ton of fun. I would consider it a “blue” in skiing terms, but much more then I was expecting from the desert. This will be a staple in my winter routine. As a runner, I would not suggest these trails in the summer. The high country is open, and this area caters to mountain bikers. It’s a shit show. Appreciate the high country for the short few months it is open and leave this area for winter.                                         

Tenderfoot Hill is accessed by a road that spirals up to the top. There is a shelter, and a great view of Salida.

Christmas decorations from the top of Tenderfoot Hill.
Xena wins the staircase race down Tenderfoot Hill.
We found a cave.

We found a cave. You should search for it if you travel these trails. 

High desert beauty.
Storm is comin’. Sawatch Range.
View of Salida and the South end of the Sawatch in a storm.

That storm in the distance is unlikely to travel over the town of Salida that you see below. It is always fascinating to see the “imaginary line” that the earth creates between the weather.

Xena cools down on the Arkansas, post-run. 

Happy Trails,

Nichole

Lenhardy Cutoff

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A double track trail off of the Lenhardy Cutoff.

Lenhardy Cutoff
Trail: 4×4 road, double track
Conditions: 40F, clear and sunny. Trail was mix of sand and packed dirt. Small snow patches. Mostly smooth trail with rolling hills. Lightly trafficked but probably not during high season.
AllTrails Route: Point to Point road with multiple loop options
My Route:  
Miles: Any distance, mine was 10.4
Elevation Gain: 1,890ft.
Water: Yes, but definitely not all year
Bathroom: No
Dogs: On leash or strict voice control.
Special Notes: Dispersed camping with views. Options for multiple trails a lot of miles. View of Collegiate Peaks entire time. 

With so many good trails and beautiful camping, I assume this place is very busy with vehicles for the on season and not so fun for runners. These winter months will be best. I didn’t see another person out there that day.

Toy on Lenhardy Cutoff
Dispersed Camping off the Lenhardy Cutoff Trail.

While it’s slow season, you can park for free in any of the dispersed camping.

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Happy legs!

Shorts in November? I’ll take it.

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Xena, the snow princess was grateful for her patches of white
One of the loops off the Cutoff.

A good chunk of the loops that I took were not on the map I had downloaded from AllTrails. I was out exploring and it was nice to have the comfort of knowing I had a GPS on me that could get me back to the road. As much as you can depend on paper maps, having apps like AllTrails has changed the game for me. Although I was running trails that were not on the map, the waypoint on the map still knew exactly where I was and it was able to guide me back to the road. Always carry a map with you. If it’s on your phone, make sure your phone is charged and you have downloaded the map before you lose service at the trailhead. 

Un-named creek crossing the Cutoff.
Views alll day.

This area has a lot of fun running and is a great destination to get a break from the snow. I will be coming back here before winter is over and update. 

High desert beauty!

S

Happy Trails,

Nichole