Winter running in Salt Lake can be a dreary venture at times. Icy trails, low air quality, and dark winter days make stepping out for a run more difficult than usual. Yet, many runners are trying to prep for spring and early-summer half marathons and marathons. Unless you resign yourself to endless treadmill loops (and it takes a lot of SNL boxed sets to train for a long race on a treadmill), the great out-of-doors must be met head-on, conditions be damned.
Although winter running can range from a little uncomfortable to downright miserable, if you bring enough motivation to the table, Old Man Winter can be your training buddy. Training for 13 or 26-milers in icy, slushy, or sleet-y conditions is tough, but by training in these conditions, you set yourself up to cruise through springtime’s comparatively comfy races. Once the sun comes out and the tulips are blooming in downtown Salt Lake, it’s all gravy. Every sunny mile feels well worth it after months of winter training.
The Salt Lake City Track Club cares about running enough to be irrespective of conditions, seasons, or, convenience. Conditions vary, but dedication is a constant. The club’s core members meet, sweat, and mingle year-round for Saturday runs and Monday speed training sessions. They also organize races like the Salt Lake Winter Running Series , an annual event for 37 years. New Balance running shoe company helps sponsor the series, helping with logistics like time-tracking and offering prizes for top finishers.
“It’s the perfect way to get a few races in while prepping for longer races in the spring,” says race director Evan Sanders. “It’s a great way to stay in shape during the winter months. Winter weather makes it extra hard to get motivated to train. This gives people the little nudge they need.”
Staggered two weeks apart with increasing distances, starting at a 5k, then a 10k, and working up to a 15k, the courses are mellow and mostly flat. Plus, the 15K is out and back, "which helps if the wind is blowing—it goes against you one way but helps you the other way," Sanders says. "So it’s hard to find a truer course.”
The races take place at the Great Saltair, a site laden with history and nostalgia. The elevation sits a little lower than most of the city, yet higher than some of the popular springtime race courses in southern Utah, like those in Moab and St. George.
To encourage people to participate in the full series, the bundled price for all three races is just $40 (and $30 for Salt Lake Track Club members). Registering for individual races costs $30, so the extra bucks spent bundling are well worth the extra training motivation to carry you through the coldest winter training months.
“We usually get a turnout of about 300-350 people for each race,” Sanders explains. “Not bad for the off-season! It’s really a nice service for local Salt Lake runners who want to keep up on racing and training—and do so with like-minded people.”
Indeed, the Salt Lake City Track Club does quite a bit for the local running community. It hosts runs every Saturday at spots around the valley and facilitates Monday night speedwork training in the Sugarhouse Park area.
“Our weekly training runs are a great way to find new places to run—and people to run with. There’s a lot of camaraderie,” Sanders says. “We have about 150-200 members who actively participate in our runs and activities, varying a bit by season.”
The group also combines some runs with breakfast (which immediately garnered my attention). A Saturday morning runner agrees to host a potluck of apres-run breakfast foods—the perfect way to refuel while socializing.
The club’s Facebook page is a forum for sharing times/locations for upcoming runs, as well as social events like the annual banquet and barbecue. They also use an email list and quarterly newsletter to keep people in the know.
I asked Sanders how the club expands its membership and outreach.
“Oh, it’s almost entirely word of mouth. Our membership community expands as people share with their friends. Social running is not only motivating but fun. And we have great relationships with local running shops like Salt Lake Running Company and the Wasatch Running Center. So if someone’s new to town and they’re inquiring about the local running scene, we usually come up.”
Sanders recommends that anyone interested in joining the club just reach out and jump in on a few of the weekly runs to see if it's a good fit for them, or sign up for a race and get to know a few folks from the club there.
So, my fellow runners, I hope to see you there. I'll be the one who shows up to every training run that involves breakfast, because everybody knows the benefits of cardiovascular activity are deeply enhanced when paired with cheesy quiche consumption. That's science.