Destination Running: Winter Trails in British Columbia
So reads the befitting opening lines on BC’s official travel website.
Runners fortunate enough to travel to and within British Columbia this coming winter are probably already scouring the web for races and places to run. Although, admittedly, there aren’t too many official races hosted in this part of Canada during winter, this wild, mountainous and highly diverse coastal rain forest hosts a smorgasbord of trails and equivalent array of urban running routes that begs to be explored.
Gear up for the cold
Vancouver, the largest city in BC is usually one of the warmer cities in Canada’s Lower Mainland during winter. Average daytime temperatures hovers around 4 degrees Celsius, while places like Squamish and Whistler are much colder. While winter usually can bring a lot of rain, Vancouver almost had more snow than Edmonton in Alberta during the 2016/2017 winter.
Prepare for snow, sleet, rain and windchill with just a few clothing essentials. A waterproof, windproof jacket with a hood will see you through most of the colder runs. Furthermore, layer up beneath it by one or two breathable, wicking base layers and invest in a good neck-warmer, head-wear and gloves. Breathable trail shoes will offer more stability than road shoes on most terrains. A headlamp is also good idea when you run in the afternoon, as the days are pretty short and dark.
If there is snow on the trails there will be icy sections, which can be slippery. Traction devices such as nano spikes or micro spikes, are easily fitted on any pair of trail running shoes and will ensure a more secure, confident tread on slippery ice. It does, however, take some getting used to, so be sure to go for a few practice runs first. When wearing the spikes do refrain from running on hard surfaces like paved roads, even for short sections, to prevent fatigue or even injury in feet, ankles or legs.
Westwood Lake Winter Solstice Marathon, Nanaimo
If you are looking for a way to celebrate the longest night and shortest day, aka the start of summer for the overly optimistic, the Winter Solstice Marathon has got your name on it. Westwood Lake Park, located at the foothills of Mt. Benson on Vancouver Island is a favorite for hikers and runners all year round. The 5.5 km forest trail around the lake makes for easy running and the scenery and serenity is unsurpassed.
On 21 December 2017 the race will celebrate it’s 9th consecutive running. During previous races, a full marathon, half-marathon and 10 k option was on offer. The race route is comprised of multiple loops on the trail around Westwood Lake as well as a section of paved road through an adjacent neighborhood. The full marathon may, however, be a little too much for runners that aren’t too fond of repetitive loops.
The event is organised by a small group of passionate runners and includes finisher’s medals, handmade swag and privately sponsored prizes. Besides hanging around the bitter cold all morning, the race directors also donates all entry fees to a different worthy cause each year. The event is really small and low key, but a beautiful way to spend a morning out running with like minded people.
Distances: Marathon, half-marathon and 10 km.
Technicality: May have snow and icy sections, otherwise easy.
Registration: Contact the organizers here.
Race date: 21 December 2017.
How to get there: Access Westwood Lake Park parking area via Westwood Road, Nanaimo.
Don’t be alarmed if your running watch, cellphone or camera batteries lose their charge much faster than usual. Cold weather will do that. Make sure your equipment is properly charged before you head out and take spare batteries if possible.
Hypothermic Half Marathon
Another beautiful winter trail run on Vancouver Island is the Victoria Hypo-half. The Running Room presents this event series in 22 different locations across Canada and the US, with five locations in BC alone. The Vancouver Hypo-half takes place on February 3rd 2018, with the Victoria chapter following the next weekend.
The half marathon follows two loops of a 10.5 km trail around Beaver and Elk Lakes in Victoria. The route is rather flat and not technical, with friendly hikers and leashed dogs abound. The field for the Victoria chapter of this popular Canadian run is also rather intimate, which adds to the serene running-in-nature experience. Finishers receive a very gorgeous, huge medal that will complement any runner’s medal collection.
Distances: Half-marathon, 10 km , 5 km
Technicality: Easy, flattish trail.
Registration: Enter early here.
Race date: February 18, 2018
How to get there: TBA
Victoria is unlikely to be snowy in February, unlike most of the other Hypo-Half locations. Early morning temperatures may nonetheless still be quite chilly, so do layer up with the possibility of shedding some garments at the halfway aid station.
Resolution Run, Vancouver
Is there a better way to celebrate New Year’s than by running a race? We think not! And neither does the Denman Running Room who organizes this chapter of the global movement that is Resolution Run. While others may sleep in after a frivolous night of celebrations , the die-hard runnerds will again flock to downtown Vancouver on 1 January 2018 for this fun 5 km run.
The run covers a flat and easy route around Stanley Park along the the famous sea wall, with exquisite views on the Vancouver skyline and the harbor. The terrain is mostly paved and wide enough to accommodate even the widest of strollers. This gem of a race is a unique opportunity for active families who makes time for a run on any occasion.
The race is a timed one but without finishers medals. After the run everyone huddles in the Denman Running Room to enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and cookies.
Distances: 5 km
Technicality: Easy, but requires caution if there is snow and ice.
Registration: Enter early here.
Race date: 1 January 2018
How to get there: Running Room on Denman Street, Vancouver.
Always bring a warm change of clothes for after a winter race. Your core temperature can drop very dramatically while wearing sweaty clothes in winter temperatures if you don’t remove wet garments and change into something warm immediately after a race.
Other exceptional BC winter trails
Whether the weather is favorable or not, Canadians are not likely to be deterred from going outside to be active. Once you’ve had the opportunity to spend some time on any of their magnificent trails you will understand why.
There are more than 850 parks in BC alone, with more hiking/running trails that will suit any runner’s fancy. Visit this website for details on trails in British Columbia, or this site for trails in the larger Vancouver area. Runners that are new to snowy winter trails may choose one of hundreds of less technical trails. Even with snow and ice on them, these trails should still be fairly easy with just a few essential pieces of winter trail running gear.