Winter Running: A Q&A with Jamie Marcellus (Trust us, we’re Canadian!)

Introduction and questions by DBR Ambassador Bobbi Sawchyn When I learned there was a fellow member of the Dirtbag Runners team right down the road…


Introduction and questions by DBR Ambassador Bobbi Sawchyn

When I learned there was a fellow member of the Dirtbag Runners team right down the road (more realistically, 45 minutes down one of Canada’s most congested freeways… when it’s not congested), there was excitement in the air.

There were grand dreams and lofty aspirations of cheering each other on at mutual races, co-hosting meet-up runs, and becoming the go-to DBR force for Southern Ontario. While those things (I’m certain) will happen at some point, for the moment we bond over the shared, impending, and slightly daunting Long Canadian Winter. The LCW is a tried and tested ingredient for a long-lasting friendship – and this is doubly so for runners. 

Really, who else, besides my closer-than-sisters training partners, understands my exact translation when I say ‘flash freeze for Saturday,’ (ie. ‘all that snow that then turned to slush will be pure ice for our long run’) or – better yet – ‘I love winter running!’ (ie. ‘we came out after the perfect snowfall, in perfect temperatures, after the perfect number of feet managed to perfectly pack our trail’)? 

Jamie sure does.

Despite living in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, Jamie still finds a way to get his feet on trails most days of the week. No matter the season. No matter the weather. One of my first impressions of Jamie was ‘wow – he runs a lot,’ which quickly evolved to ‘wow – he has a lot of fun when he runs.’ Surely, this couldn’t be the case all 12 months of the year? Turns out, it absolutely is.

So, fellow dirtbags, what does it take to survive the LCW as a runner? Is it grit? Is it willpower? Is it super power? Or, perhaps it’s the precise combination of all three?

This is what Jamie has to say about hitting the trails when the snow hits the ground.

DBR. What about running first appealed to you? Why did you continue?

JM. When I first started running, I noticed it was something I was good at, which then quickly became a balance between staying fit, getting outdoors and doing my mind some good.

More recently, I have deepened my relationship with the outdoors, but at the same time am constantly chasing the stoke/flow state that can happen for brief moments, or on occasion, for hours on end during ultras. There is no better feeling in the world.

DBR. From one Canuck to another: Do you think it’s as cold as everyone thinks it is up here?

JM. Not at all, at least where I’m from. In Toronto we might have a total of a few days at -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) over the course of our winter, and the levels of snow are considerably lower than I remember as a kid. This is probably due to climate change, perhaps with a side of childhood perception.

DBR. Trails + Snow = Totally Doable. Yes?

JM. Totally doable. And awesomely fun.

(here’s proof)

DBR. Once the colder temps hit, what is the one piece of gear you don’t leave the house without?

JM. Wind-proof boxers. Frozen goods are no joke! 

Spikes of some sort are a must for trails, especially here where we have a lot of freeze/thaw cycles that result in ice. I think the key here, however, is that you don’t have to have expensive gear. Sheet metal screws in the bottom of a pair of trail shoes with a little duct-tape on the toe portion of your shoes can be pretty effective and cost less than $2.00. 

DBR. What do you think is the hardest about winter? What has it taught you?

JM. Motivation can be tough. Those first few steps on dark, cold and icy trails are not always fun. Lastly… the wind. It sucks.

However, I also think that having the ability to persist through those conditions helps build mental resiliency, which has an obvious effect on racing, but also can spill over to non-running aspects of life.

DBR. Word is you also coach: What piece of advice would you give to those who are in training throughout the colder season?

JM. True I guess! If I had to give a piece of advice, it would be that it will take more of your effort on super cold and miserable days to put in the work. In this case, I don’t only mean the mental effort, but rather the added physical exertion required of these conditions. It is harder to run in the cold, in snow, or on ice, so you will get a side benefit of increased fitness for what feels like marginally less effort on a comparative basis.

DBR. As trail runners, what should we love about the winter season?

JM. The variety of seasons is pretty amazing. Trails look, smell, and sound (even taste?) different during each one. For instance, the crunch of ice on winter trails has a distinct, cathartic sound; being out on the trail during a fresh snowfall has this haunting quietness to it that rivals no other. Revel in it. 

DBR. For those that haven’t yet converted to winter enthusiasts: are there any coping mechanisms you’d recommend?

JM. I find myself listening to more music this time of year, which can help take my mind off of the cold temperatures. 

However, while you don’t have to invest in a lot of gear, a few key pieces to dress for the weather will go a long way.  A merino wool shirt, while a little pricey, will last a while and even keeps you warm even when wet. As a side benefit, doesn’t stink (well… as bad).

DBR. Tell us something we don’t know about you

JM. I used to be a semi-professional curler.  No joke.

DBR. What is your #1 running tip/trick?

JM. Put one foot in front of the other, and repeat often. I find as runners, we can over complicate things between split times, Strava stats or the perfect piece of gear. If that’s your jam, that’s a-ok, but don’t believe it has to be. 

DBR. What is your #1 dirtbag tip/trick?

JM. A dog bed in the back of a van is a pretty comfortable sleeping apparatus. If you don’t have a van and are sleeping in your car, fold the seats down and sleep with your head in the trunk and feet on the seats. I find the slight elevation more comfortable while obtaining the side benefits of being out of the light. As an added bonus, the raised feet allow for leg recovery! 

DBR. Plans or goals for 2019? What’s up next for you?

JM. I plan on running a 100 miler or two, maybe three or four depending on scheduling. I might try a 24-hour timed event, because doing a 400m or 1-mile loop on repeat could be insanely fun. But mostly, I will happily be exploring my front yard trails as much as I can.

Watch his winter fun unfold on Instagram @jsmarcellus 

Check out Bobbi’s other Q&A with Sunny Stroeer on FKT’s.