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So you want to run this winter in Anchorage? Here’s how

First of all — you’re awesome for running outside, in Alaska, in the winter. I did it for two winters and I’ll be honest, it’s not easy and it’s not for the weak.

Running outdoors is, however, your best alternative to being stuck alongside 50 other sweaty people tromping on treadmills at the gym. Even in winter, you can enjoy solitude, fresh air and the most jaw-dropping wild Alaska nature.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Assume the mood

Winter running in Anchorage starts with the proper mindset, and that begins with surrendering to the elements. The glorious warm, sunshiny days of summer are no more, and you will need to accept that it may be lonely, cold, dark, windy, icy and hard to see.

You will also need to resist the natural urge to stay warm and comfortable indoors. Getting the gusto to step into that arctic discomfort will benefit you in the long run — you will emerge stronger and more resilient to the winter blues.

One helpful strategy is pick a race to train for. This way, your running is centered around a mission and training becomes purposeful. Another tactic is to find a running partner. Not only do you build camaraderie and friendship, having someone at your side in the elements is also good for safety.

An ideal situation is if you and your running partner train together for the same race. I did this with my wife over a winter in Anchorage. We trained for the Big Sur marathon in the dead of winter in Anchorage and had some of the best training runs (and crazy Alaska running adventures) you could imagine. Each time we came back from a run, we were stronger in body, spirit and confidence.

Understand the basics of arctic running

To get started, you’re best off chatting with an employee at REI or Skinny Raven. These people are usually rugged Alaskan athletes who possess some mastery over being active outdoors.

The main issues to be aware when running outside during winter in Alaska are temperature (both outdoor and body), moisture control and traction.

Keep yourself warm and dry by wearing layered, breathable clothing that wicks the moisture away from your body (e.g.,gore-tex/polypropylene). You will and should sweat, and it’s super important not to trap that sweat in your clothes or it will start to freeze. Do not wear wool.

Your head is a great place to regulate your body temperature. Wearing a hat will prevent heat from escaping, but this also means you can run the risk of overheating, in which case you can remove the hat to cool off.

Finally, make sure you have ample traction on the road (more on this below).

Get the right gear

You MUST dress properly in Alaska, and especially during the winter. They key is to stay warm AND dry, and layer. I cannot stress this enough.

From the top down, here’s a sample list of what you’ll need:

  • Light fleece hat. This is one of the most important parts — your heat regulator. If it’s too thick you’ll overheat, but it needs to keep you warm.
  • Neck gaiter/warmer. Good for really cold runs. It traps the heat in your body and you it also can pull over your mouth and nose when it’s really cold like zero or below. Or: a face mask.
  • Long sleeve running running shirt
  • Moisture-wicking fleece vest
  • Breathable, packable windbreaker shell that ventilates. If it gets too hot, you can this take off.
  • Light pair of gloves, not fingerless. If it’s too heavy, your hands will sweat. You’ll need to use your fingers to zip things, use your phone, wipe sweat, etc.
  • Use running pants (lycra/polyester) which are a little thicker than normal running pants. Nothing worse than hot legs!
  • A thicker-than-normal pair of breathable running socks
  • Regular running shoes
  • Cleats for traction on ice. You can buy rubber ones that slip on or have some permanent installed into your soles at Skinny Raven. Cleats can be optional, as sometimes trails and roads are groomed
  • Blinkers and/or reflectors, and a headlamp if it’s dark…for safety and visibility, of course

Where to run in Anchorage

Here are a few great spots to get you started. Many of these areas are designated mixed use for nordic skiing and running. Be sure to stay off the ski tracks!

Coastal Trail — lots of people, feels safe, good community

Potter Trail – better running in winter than summer so it’s smoother due to snow pack

Any high school track

Trails within Hilltop (Far North Bicentennial Park), Chugach Park, Campbell Creek and Kincaid Park

Safety tips

Can’t forget these:

  • Stay warm and dry
  • Stay hydrated! Alaska’s air is day. Bring a bottle that won’t freeze in contents (like a Hydro Flask)
  • Avoid major roads
  • Pay attention to visibility conditions. Active snowfall and storms can cause “white outs”
  • Watch out for wildlife. Thankfully the bears are hibernating, but the moose are roaming, as are the occasional Lynx

Now go for it!

Photo credits: 36244940@N07akgypsy37burdenfamily,