TRAVERSE CITY — Eva Nienhouse would rather run on a sandy Old Mission beach — but Traverse City’s slushy sidewalks will do.
Nienhouse, a self-proclaimed hobby runner, racks up about 7 miles at least five days a week in between her jobs at Grand Traverse Woman Magazine and Good Harbor Coffee & Bakery.
She loves running along Grandview Parkway — especially where it snakes along Grand Traverse Bay, and she can hear slush-thickened waves lapping on the shore.
“But if I could run anywhere, it’d be the peninsula, out by the water,” said the Traverse City resident. “It really makes the miles go by.”
The late fall, early winter chill and sleet mean Nienhouse is confined to more traveled trails that stay plowed and salted through the snowy months. Still, she likes the way the cold air turns her cheeks a burning red and can’t deny the satisfaction of seeing her tracks stretch clearly into the snowy distance behind her.
It’s worth the treks outside, even when the wind is blowing, the sky is snowing and the sidewalk threatens a double-shoe soaker.
“I just really don’t like running on a treadmill,” Nienhouse said.
Others agree — hundreds of runners, hikers and dog-walkers brave the almost-winter chill to shape up in shoulder season, said Alison Goss, assistant manager at Running Fit in downtown Traverse City.
“It doesn’t change much — what changes is what people take with them,” said Goss, a runner herself.
She sees people pick up headlamps to combat the encroaching post-workday darkness and ice cleats to stay safe on unsalted paths. Reflector vests, too, are a common buy.
“It just comes down to things to help you see more, and be seen more,” Goss said.
Extra layers are another must — she suggests a wind- and water-resistant outer layer and extra insulation for your core.
Downtown sidewalks and plowed sections of the TART Trails are the best bet in November and December, said Justin Richard, part-owner of Traverse City’s Elite Fitness North.
Turkey day travels — and full stomachs — icy sidewalks and oppressive lake-fueled winds make a few days off appealing, but it’s vital to keep at it, Goss said.
“Consistency is the biggest thing — especially for people trying to maintain weight-loss or fitness goals,” she said. “It’s easier to keep going than it is to restart.”
Impending races, like Thursday’s Turkey Trot and the early December Farmland 5K Run, make keeping up a bit easier. Goss said sign-up for the Bayshore half- and full-marathons, which opens next month, also keeps runners on track and motivated.
“And everyone has different preferences for season and temperature,” she added.
Some prefer avoiding the cold entirely.
Richard said gym memberships always spike during the colder fall and winter months. The rush, especially for those who come in for cardio, hits Elite North Fitness in November.
“I think it’s a combination of the weather and the holiday season — everyone is focused on family and food, and there’s definitely a desire to stay in shape because of that,” Richard said.
Some people, he added, split their time — a handful of runners come in only on the worst weather days, or opt to run outside for their cardio and then finish their workouts indoors.
And it’s best not to forget the benefits of a treadmill on icy days.
“You don’t have to worry about ice, you don’t have to worry about uneven surfaces,” Richard said. “And the cold weather alone restricts muscle function — there’s more chance for cramping or muscle seizure, or even pulling a muscle.”
Nienhouse’s routine — which only involves a treadmill on the iciest days of winter — is more about fun than strict training.
Still, Nienhouse’s race bibs include past Turkey Trots, a slew of 5Ks and even a few Bayshore half-marathons.
She likes the different workout running in the winter offers — the added resistance of snow works different muscle groups and shakes up her routine.
“I can always feel it in my hips,” Nienhouse said.
Every winter run has one priority, though — safety. Poor visibility and treacherous trails aren’t always worth the workout, as satisfying as it is to rack up the miles.
Nienhouse dons a reflective vest and a neon thermal for each outdoor run, especially after dark, and sticks to well-lit, well-maintained sidewalks.
“People aren’t always looking — sometimes you have to sacrifice a good run for being safe,” she said. “Don’t run if there’s a blizzard outside.”
Still, she gets out every chance she gets.
“I love the way it makes me feel, and I love that I can do it just about anywhere,” Nienhouse said.