The Winter Running Aesthetic

Dean Pagani
3 min readFeb 25, 2024
The winter run.

Once you declare yourself a runner you are challenged daily to prove your case. No one tests you on this question as you test yourself and there is no greater test than the test presented in the dark months of winter.

I prefer to run at five, six, or seven in the morning, but in late January, most of February, and the early weeks of March — it’s not only dark where I live, it is cold. It is the coldest part of the day at the coldest time of year. You must trick yourself into thinking that it is not that dark and it is not that cold.

The first step is to convince yourself that the movement of running, the burning of energy, will create the heat you need to contend with the cold. There is some truth to this. After the first half mile or mile, twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit becomes thirty-five and so on. At the freezing point a runner can easily achieve a feels like temperature in the low forties. But that doesn’t make it any easier to start, because the beginning will be unmistakably cold and it will feel colder.

The second step is to choose the right combination of cold running clothing. Is this a glove day or a mitten day? Four layers, or two? The thickest running pants or the thinnest? The right decision makes conditions just right, like the month of May with snow. The wrong decision keeps you in winter or pushes you into the summer months.

Finally, there is the road. Gray in color. The center line a bright yellow. The route is lined with bare trees and evergreens. It cuts through fields covered with a few inches of snow. The dominant color is presented in the un-cut grass of fall protruding through the snow. White and gray and gold.

On a morning run the wind is still and all is silent except for the sound of your breath, the popping of your running shoes on the pavement, the crackle of the occasional patch of ice or snow under foot. You can see your breath as well as hear it. Your nose runs and as you wipe it clean you notice the designer of your mittens anticipated the moment and placed a patch of soft material across the backside of the thumb. It’s softer and warmer than the rest of the fabric.

Because there is the possibility of snow and ice along your route your pace is slow. You pick your feet straight up off the pavement and place them back carefully. There is less focus on the horizon, or your finish line, and more focus — intentional focus — on the few feet in front of you. Where you drop your foot next is more important than your time or distance. The winter shuffle changes the sound of the run. It adds to your sense of accomplishment. Running is hard and lonely in the best of conditions. At this time of year the challenge is harder, but if you can endure it the reward is greater.

The aesthetic of the winter run is minimalist. Stripped clean. Nearly monochrome. Almost without sound. Excepting the road, the rest of the world is under a blanket. Covered until March or April. Your path is plowed, but not for you. No one expects you to be here. Your determination is the most important detail of the scene. It is the essential piece of the picture.