Migrating Runners: this is prime time to get out of the tundra, by Sarah Barker, for RunBlogRun

Sarah Barker, a midwesterner herself, wrote this piece about elite athletes "snowbirding" and getting out of the frozen tundra that is the midwest. There is nothing like a 30 mile run in the sun and snow, but there are also days, dear readers when one really wants to stay in bed...

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Heather Kampf, photo by PhotoRun.net

It's January. In Minnesota, that means temps below zero (freezing, 32 degrees, is considered balmy), ice slicked paths and logistical challenges. And that's just getting to the grocery store. Tempo run? Going to take some planning.

Cue up the Clash--Should I stay or should I go?

Runners who've chosen to live where the winters are harsh have devised creative solutions to obstacles winter throws up, and one of those solutions is a seasonal migration. As appealing as this sounds at first blush, there are drawbacks in practicality. 

I asked some of the members of professional distance group Team USA Minnesota about the pros and cons of relocating for all or part of the winter; if taken, how such a trip affected the following outdoor season (though admittedly, it's hard to make a direct correlation between the two); and whether they plan a warm weather trip this year. Here's what they had to say:


Meghan Peyton, photo by PhotoRun.net

Meghan Peyton, who grew up in the Portland, OR area and ran at the University of Iowa, has lived in Minnesota since 2008.

Pros: The biggest advantage of going to a warmer climate in the winter months is that you avoid the danger of falling on ice. Your winter running may be slightly more enjoyable because you don't have to wear a plethora of layers or run on a treadmill, but otherwise there are not that many advantages. 

Cons: You're not in your normal daily routine, your training partners or coach may not be with you, and it can be expensive.

Of the seven winters I've spent in Minnesota, I've left to train in warmer weather for a total of two weeks. And, when I raced at the US Cross Country Championships at the end of those two weeks, the race didn't go the way I would have liked. Correlation? I'm not sure I can definitively draw any conclusions from that one experience, however, I do plan on training at altitude for three weeks prior to the 2015 US Cross Country Championships this February.

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Jordan Hasay and Gabriele Grunewald, photo by PhotoRun.net

Gabriele Grunewald is a native Minnesotan, and attended University of Minnesota.

I've done a bit of migrating in the past (2011 winter and 2012 winter) for about month-long stints early in the year. I think it worked out well for me in those years, but honestly, I make my decisions based on a lot of different things. If I've been a little banged up injury-wise, I tend to stay put so I can be near my sports medicine team and get healthy. It can be really nice to get away, of course, just to have a few weeks of ice and snow-free training! I considered doing some warm weather training in 2014, but my indoor racing schedule was so busy in January/February that it made more sense to stay home and train. In 2013, the season I set most of my PRs, I spent the whole year in Minnesota (outside of trips for racing) and it worked out great for me. The big pros of leaving would be the weather [warmth, no snow or ice] and getting to use an outdoor track early in the year. The cons are removing yourself from your routine at home and maybe having less access to amenities and treatment -- and I suppose, the cost of housing and travel to your destination. 

I think either way can work great -- it's just about evaluating what's best for you. It seems to be different for me every year. 

Eric Finan grew up and went to university in Cincinnati, relocating to Minnesota in September of 2013. He recently traveled to Boulder as much for the latitude as the altitude--he's preparing for the US Cross Country Championships, held there on February 7th. He plans to stay until March.

I've just arrived in Boulder where it's slightly warmer, so I have yet to figure out the ups and downs of making such a move. And since this is my first year away from MSP for winter training (while healthy), I can't comment on how it played out in my season. What I can say is that living in San Diego last February was awfully nice, as I missed most of the worst Minnesota winter in 30 years or more.

[I asked about his experience in San Diego in 2014]  My situation was different because I was injured, so I spent most of my time in the pool swimming laps, and hating it. I only started running a little bit in the last week I was there. But here's what I can offer:


  • Beautiful weather
  • Mentally less taxing to get outdoors to do workouts, if I had to, since there was no -30° windchill to fight
  • Stayed with former college teammates, so the social situation was excellent
  • Financially a good gig for me because they let me stay in their extra room for free


  • Lack of trails in Carlsbad
  • One could argue the more favorable conditions makes you a little softer when it gets to the nitty gritty in a race
  • No car-- biked everywhere, but that wasn't so bad

As far as how my 2014 season turned out, it was a very good one: I set PRs in the mile, 3K, and 5K. I can't necessarily attribute that to my winter sojourn though, as I hardly did any running while I was there.


Heather Kampf, photo by PhotoRun.net

Heather Kampf is another native Minnesotan and University of Minnesota alum.

I've never gone south to train in the winter, and have no plans of going this year. I imagine it could be beneficial in getting quality training on a full-size track, clear paths/roads, etc. I've also heard, though, of Minnesotans who've gone to warmer climates to train and ended up overtraining because they have access all the time and don't pace themselves well. I personally love the treadmill and the indoor track, and like being close to family, so I've never had an issue.

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