I love running outside, but each season is different. And where I live, Southern Ontario, we get quite a range, with summer high temperatures up to the mid 30Cs (mid 90s in F) and wintertime lows can be -25C or lower (-13F and lower). I run all year long, so I decided to compare the to decide which was the best season for running.
A few Caveats (YMMV)
First, it should be self evident that late September – early October is actually the best time for running. It’s the best time for a lot of things. The weather is beautiful. It’s not too hot not too cold. The air is usually crisp. The days are getting shorter, but not too short. And maybe there’s some evolutionary need to get out and run, as if we need to get out and gather nuts and game meat for the long winter. Who knows, I’m not an evolutionary psychologist so I’m just making that up.
Second, I have to acknowledge that I have the ability and privilege to run all year. I’m able and I’m reasonable fit for 49 years old. Not everyone has that. I am fortunate to live in a city with places to run. I am fortunate to live in a city that usually plows the sidewalks even after 2 feet of snow and even plows some of the running / multi-use trails also. Not everyone has that. As well, as a white, middle age male, I can run alone without worrying about being hassled, harassed, or feeling like a suspect. Not everyone has that privilege. And I run with my wife sometimes too: it’s great have a partner.
So let’s get to it. Which is the best season for running: Summer or Winter?
Summer is a like a long weekend. June is your Friday afternoon, full of promise and excitement. July is a Saturday, it’s fun, long, and full. Yes there’s summer chores to be done and in the back of your mind, you know the end is coming, but hey, it’s summer. August is Sunday. Enjoy your brunch, but soon it’s back to school, back to reality.
Weather: Its warm and pleasant some days, but miserable on other days. A sunny day at +25 is wonderful, but a humid day with a heat index of +44C is not fun to run in. You need to get out early or late to find cooler temps in those long, hot July weeks. If you wait too long, it’s too hot.
Gear: Shorts, light shirt, quick dry hat, water, and sunscreen. That’s it. You need the hat or something to keep sweat from pouring down your face. You need to carry water, also because you’ll be sweating.
Flora: Summer is full of life and greenery here in the Great Lakes region. There are flowers and beautiful leafy shade trees. The scent of blossoms is in the air. But there’s pollen in the air too, and that can make it hard to breath. Some days in June, I sneeze every few minutes.
Wildlife: Good and bad. You can see deer in the woods, and birds, rabbits, foxes and coyotes. That’s the good. But you will be bothered by mosquitos and flies. And if you run on trails, there are spiders and ticks. Many of my long trail runs include running through webs and brushing off spiders. Not fun. I also do a tick check.
Air: It smells great early on, as jasmine-scented summer breezes envelop you on an early morning run. But it’s also muggy, hard to breath, and ozone-y. Around here, the air can smell of pig manure (we live near agriculture) and skunks. Lots of skunks.
Risk of weather death: Low, but people do die every year because of exhaustion. Heat stroke is real possibility, though
Distractions: Mixed. On the one hand, as a university professor I have more flexibility in the summer because I am not lecturing. But there’s also more outside stuff to do. Lawn work, garden work, and coaching softball. The beach. Biking places. I feel less compelled to run on a day when I had to mow the lawn and take care of other summer chores.
Overall: Summer running is great in late May, and early June but it soon turns tedious and to be honest by July it begins to feel like a chore. The hot weather can really drain the will to move.
Winters seem very long here, even in the southern part of Canada. The days are short; the nights are long. January can seem especially brutal because the holidays are over and winter is just beginning.
Weather: Extremely variable. More so than summer. You might get a stretch of “mild” days where its -10C followed by two weeks of -25C with brutal wind. You can run in that, but the toughest part is just getting out the door. Late winter is warmer, but that presents another problem. The sidewalk or trail will melt and thaw during the day and freeze as soon as the sun goes down. A morning run or an evening run means dealing with a lot of ice.
Gear: Tights, windpants, hat, gloves, layers, layers, and layers. A balaclava and sunglasses might be needed. That means more laundry. Carrying water is not quite as crucial as in the summer, but you may still need to, because public rest areas will not have their water fountains turned on. The water can freeze, which is not good (and has happened to me). Ice cleats or “yak tracks” can help if you’re running on a lot of packed snow and ice
Flora: There will be evergreens and that’s pretty much it. No pollen but no shade either. And nothing to block the wind.
Wildlife: Mostly good, but there’s less of it. You’ll see cardinals and squirrels and even deer. No bugs or spiders or skunks. But in Canada, (London, ON) the geese will start to get very aggressive as they get closer to mating in the spring… Avoid!
Air: Crisp and clear. But -25C and below, it can take your breath away. You warm up quickly and it really feels great to breath the cold air.
Risk of Weather Death: Pretty low, but black ice is treacherous. You can slip and fall and really hurt yourself. Also, be aware that windchill is a real thing. A windchill of -45C is dangerous.
Distractions: Mixed. I’m busier at work, but not outside as much and so I feel more compelled to run.
Overall: Winter has many challenges, but running is offset by an elusive quality that getting outside will be an adventure.
The Winner: Winter running is better.
There are pros and cons to each season. But I find it easier and more enjoyable to run in the dead of winter than in the hazy days of summer.
One reason winter is best is how the weather extremes differ in the summer and winter. Unless I go out really early or really late, a morning run in the summer means that the weather gets objectively worse as I run. Try to do an 18km run at 8:00am and by 9:30 is really getting hot! You feel exhausted. Winter is the reverse. It gets nicer and slightly warmer as I go, so I feel exhilarated.
Another reason that winter is better is just a survival feeling. Winter feels like an adventure. I have to suit up and carry more gear and I might be the only one out on a trail. Summer, on the other hand feels like a chore. Like something I have to do. I have to get the run in before it gets too hot.
My stats bear this preference out.
In January I average 40-50km/week. In July it’s between 25-30km/week. My long runs are longer in the winter. I think its because I’m just not outside as much in the winter and so the long runs keep me sane. In the summer, I’m mowing, walking, coaching, and just doing more stuff. There’s less need to run.
So that’s it. Winter running is better than summer running. But this is just my opinion. What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Do you like running when it’s hot out? Do you hate being bundles up for winter runs?
In the end it does not matter too much as long as you’re able to get outside and enjoy a run, a walk, or whatever.
I don’t run quite so much anymore, but when it was my main form of exercise, I enjoyed summertime because I could comfortably run in the middle of the night when it was quiet. But the winter cold activated my defiance, and that’s the weather I most enjoyed conquering.