The Definitive Guide to the Best Seasons for Running (One Casual Runner’s Take)
Casual Runners, Spring is finally here, and we can begin to put the horrors of winter 2014–15 behind us. [Author’s note: after I wrote this, Ohio got a dusting of snow that should be considered more insult than injury. But still, come on. Spoke too soon I suppose…]. This is good news, because it means we have plenty of nice running to look forward to as the inevitable warming of temperatures sets in. But it also led me to wonder, which season is the best for running? As I do my spring cleaning of swapping out boots for running shoes, I am going to offer my opinion today.
One important caveat: this list assumes outdoor running in a place that has all four seasons. A treadmill is a treadmill regardless of what time of year it is. And if you live somewhere warm like Florida or Arizona, this list isn’t for you. It may be that I am still grumpy from the long winter, but I don’t consider 50 degrees to be “winter.” If you happen to live in a place like that, you really only have two seasons (spring and summer)…and my eternal envy.
With that said, let’s jump into the rankings. To build suspense, I am going to proceed in reverse order, and our first entry should come as no surprise…
Yep, I bet you could guess this would be dead last after this introduction. Really, this comes down to winter being the least comfortable season to run in, and the corollary of being in the worst shape of the year as a result. (“Well, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?”). I don’t think I am alone in believing that very cold temperatures are uncomfortable to run in. It can be very hard to self motivate (or motivate a running buddy) to head out into temperatures 20 degrees or below, even before factoring in a biting wind blowing in your face.
As if the temperature isn’t bad enough, there is the parallel concern of snow. While a slight dusting can make for tranquil scenery, it can be a hassle for Casual Runners when the snow piles up like it did this past winter. If streets and sidewalks are not kept clean, it can be difficult to find anywhere to run, even if you manage to work up the will to brave the temperature.
The worst part of it all is that I find these two problems complement each other in making sure that running is difficult. It could just be my experience, but I find that the problems are mutually exclusive. Has it finally warmed up enough that you can go outside without turning into a popsicle? Wonderful, except the temperature climbed just enough for eight inches of snow to cover the ground. Now that it hasn’t snowed in awhile, the streets have been finally cleaned. Fantastic, but it went back down to a temperature that you can count to on two hands. With all of these hurdles, it is no wonder runners go into hibernation in winter.
Now that I got the obvious bottom rung out of the way, we can turn to the portion of my list that will create more disagreement. To be perfectly honest, this list is more accurate as two tiers—“winter” and “not winter.” But that would be less fun, so tough calls had to be made. Onto the bronze medal…
Blasphemy? Perhaps. Spring has a lot going for it. The weather never feels as warm as it does on that first week of high 50’s/low 60’s, and is certainly not nearly as appreciated as when it is right on the heels of a cold winter. As flowers begin to bloom and nature returns to green, it can also be one of the more scenic times of year to run. Finally, spring can lay claim to the season when people can say “I am the furthest away from snow I will be at any time this year.”
So why third? Again, I am going to emphasize that we’re picking among excellent options on the “not winter” tier. It’s going to be inherently nitpicky, and falling short at this point is more about the strengths of the others rather than a shortcoming. To use a food metaphor, after eliminating spam from the grocery menu, no one is going to say that ribs are disgusting food just because you prefer steak or lobster.
With that hedge, here are the two reasons I think spring comes in third. First, and a more minor point, the weather hasn’t fully come around for the first part of the season. You have those “is-it-winter-or-spring days?” in March, and even after that, rain can (please pardon the pun) dampen your running spirits. While spring certainly has its nice days, there are some weaker days too.
Second, there is a physical consequence to following winter, and that is that a large part of spring is undoing any sedentary living that happened in winter. Regardless of talent, everyone is going to have to do some “spring cleaning” on their running regimens. And for those stretches of spring where you are building back up to shape, it can be a little work. Running for thirty minutes while in shape is far more enjoyable than when not, but the latter is perhaps the most important running for laying the groundwork for the rest of the next two…
By now, I am afraid that I’ve completely lost the spring crowd. I can see the downsides to summer, I will admit. Hot weather can be particularly uncomfortable to run in, especially if it is humid as well. Personally, however, I have found that extra heat does not bother me that much. Of course, you need to take extra precautions with hydration, but that’s a good habit to be in anyway. I fully admit I may be in the minority on this, but I find even the high noon of summer run enjoyable for its own reasons. In some ways, those runs in 80 degree weather can leave you feeling refreshed after completing a good run.
Plus, the warmer temperatures means that it stays warmer later, which allows you to take full advantage of the longer days that come in summer. This is more convenient for squeezing a run in either before or after work. And if you aren’t a particularly huge fan of very warm weather, this may work to your advantage. Some of my favorite runs have been those 8-9 pm dusk runs when it is still in the mid 60’s. I’m getting excited just thinking about it.
Summer also has the slight edge in my book because it has a buffer season between it and winter. Ironically, the fact that spring allows you to train up to summer is what pushes the latter over the former in my book. And after taking a month or two to get into shape, you are in a good position to start hitting some personal goals for the year. It could be either completing a new race distance, or going for a personal record. Whatever you want to accomplish running wise, summer is a great time to do it.
For my money, autumn is the best time of the year for running. At least in Northeast Ohio, autumn combines the best features of spring and summer. It may be the most scenic of all seasons.
When the leaves start to turn, I find myself hitting forest trails more frequently than usual, if nothing else to take the sights in. Autumn also offers a bit of both climes. It can have that late summer warmth that gradually cools into temperatures that match spring. It also offers the best time to dabble in cooler weather running without going full winter (no need to rush that, as winter will be just around the corner). My personal favorite half marathon was in early November with a high of 42. Once you started running, it did not feel as cold as it reads. Really, autumn’s only downside is that winter is next (boo!).
Autumn is also the best because you have done the most running at this point. A race in mid October builds on runs in April and July, and to return to the food metaphors, this is the season where you can reap what has already been sown. If there are any running goals you want to hit before winter, you are most likely going to be in the best shape to accomplish that goal in autumn.
You should notice a pattern with my list. As the year progresses, the seasons get better for running because you’ve had more chances to go running and can continue training up. That means that, as of April 1st, some of your best running for 2015 is ahead of you. And I can’t think of a better way to get excited to lace up your sneakers and go for a run today. Enjoy the weather Casual Runners!
Don’t let this be the last word on the subject, though? Agree with me? Disagree with me? The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. Sound off with your own list. What is your favorite season for running? Also, if you have any questions about anything we cover here on Casual Runner, if you have any questions regarding running gear or training for your own Casual Running needs, or if there is anything that you would like us to cover on Casual Runner, please leave a comment or email us using the links below. To ensure that you do not miss all of the great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and add us to your circles on Google+. See you out on the running trails!