Winter running on a grid road.

Everything you need to know to run through a Saskatchewan winter

There’s no way around it — running through a Saskatchewan winter is hard. It’s often cold, dark and windy and the footing can be poor and unpredictable.

But running through winter can help you ward off the winter blues and stay fit so you’re ready to hit the pavement sprinting come spring. Plus, it’s pretty breathtaking to run through the hoarfrost that forms along the Meewasin Valley.

With the right preparation, winter running can be safe and — dare I say it — even enjoyable. Here are some things to consider to make that happen.

Find the right routes

Running on uneven and icy surfaces can lead to strains and sprains, which means some of your favourite fair-weather routes may not be safe to run once snow comes. Residential sidewalks can be particularly fraught since snow clearing is inconsistent and unpredictable.

The Meewasin Trail, park pathways with street lighting and bridge/overpass walkways are cleared by City of Saskatoon crews after snowfalls and can be safer options to run on. Windswept grid roads with low traffic can also be good options in daylight.

Consider driving or briskly walking to good footing to begin your run.

Plan for success

You’re unlikely to find good footing anywhere during or immediately after a big snowfall. Check the weather forecast the night before you want to run so you can plan for success. Where possible, adjust the timing of your run so you’re most likely to get plowed paths (or opt for a bonus rest day).

Cross-country skiing can be a great alternative to running outdoors when there's lots of snow.
Cross-country skiing can be a great alternative to running outdoors when there’s lots of snow.

Know when to say no

Sometimes running outside can do more harm than good. Running after an ice storm, for instance, is more likely to lead to injury than fitness gains. And pathways that are safe for slow, easy runs can be perilous for speed work. Be prepared to adapt or abandon workouts based on changing conditions.

When running isn’t an option, outdoor activities such as cross-country skiing or fat biking can be fun alternatives (though these can also be affected by adverse conditions). Also consider hopping on a treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike or heading to the Saskatoon Field House to run on the track.

Start the warm up inside

Cold temperatures plus cold muscles can be a recipe for injury. Consider doing two to three minutes of jogging or running drills on the spot before throwing on your final layer of clothes and getting out the door. Jumping jacks, mobility work such as double- and single-leg hops and activation exercises are all good options as well.

Jason Warick on a winter run.
Saskatoon runner and coach Jason Warick dresses up for a winter run.

Bundle up

Cold-weather running is all about layers. The basics include base layers, mid layers and wind-proof outer layers. And then there are the accessories: touques, mittens, Buffs and warm socks that go above your ankles. For more on all of this, check out one of our blog posts from a previous winter.

Getting the right footwear is also key. Brainsport carries winter-specific shoes like the Saucony Peregrine Ice+, which boasts ARCTIC GRIP outsole rubber for traction on icy surfaces. But there are also ways to winterize your favourite summer shoes by investing in Nordic Grips or Ice Spikes.

And finally, don’t forget about lighting. With short days, many runs will inevitably take place in the dark. Consider a headlight and reflective or light-up Vizy vest to help you see and be seen.

Don’t stress over pace

Between the extra layers and questionable footing, winter running is often going to be slower than fair weather running even though you may feel like you’re working harder. Don’t obsess over the numbers and trust that your fitness gains will result in faster times come nicer conditions.

Set a spring race goal

It’s easy to feel unmotivated during winter’s coldest and darkest days so sign up for a spring race to give yourself a goal to chase. The Saskatchewan Marathon — which takes place May 28, 2023 — is a fantastic local option with distances from the 5-kilometre to the marathon. Registration opens Nov. 25 with a one-day Black Friday discount.