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Toronto runner Jorielle Nunag makes time to run throughout the winter, an activity she says 'rejuvenates' her.Mark Frias

It’s 7:30 a.m. in mid-November 2022, the morning after a surprise snow storm hit Toronto. 27-year-old public relations director Jorielle Nunag is checking the weather on her phone, not to remark on the precipitation that had accumulated, but to gauge how many layers to put on for her first snowy run of the season.

It’s not too cold, around -2 degrees Celsius, but it’s windy. So Nunag chooses a quarter-zip fleece with a windproof running jacket on top and a fleece headband to protect her ears. “Mittens are key,” she adds. “Your hands get cold so easily when you’re running.”

Nunag wasn’t always a winter runner – or a runner at all. Prior to the pandemic, she typically attended group fitness classes, like barre, spin and yoga. But a few weeks into lockdown, with gyms closed indefinitely, Nunag figured she’d give running a try. “At the beginning, I remember it being so painful,” she says. Today, Nunag relishes her outdoor runs, even in the winter, when the snowpack cushions her steps, the sidewalks are clear of foot traffic, the wind is fresh and she can be alone with her thoughts.

Nearly three years ago, before she learned to love winter running, she had to work up her endurance, starting with shorter runs and gradually adding distance. Before long, she looked forward to her morning five-kilometre pre-workday jaunts. “Running in the morning helps me set the stage for my day,” she says. “I’ll be alert and energetic for the workday.” Over the weekend, she’d do one longer run averaging 15 to 18 kilometres.

Upon the arrival of winter in late 2020, Nunag was caught off guard. “When the first snow hit, I very much considered not running at all,” she says. But after a few walks through the frost, she convinced herself otherwise. “Just how crisp the air felt was so nice,” she says.

As the pandemic winter dragged on, Nunag’s runs became a welcome escape. “With all the time I was spending indoors, and how dark it gets, I wanted to do something to make winter more enjoyable,” she says.

Nunag does have her limits. If it’s colder than -20 C, or actively blizzarding outside, she’ll call off her run.

But she made an exception to the latter rule in December 2021 when she ran the Tannenbaum 10K, a 10-kilometre race through Toronto’s Tommy Thompson Park. “It hadn’t snowed at all the week before, and even the day before,” Nunag recalls. “Then we woke up to an actual blizzard.”

Still, she laced up and readied herself for the challenge. “It was the funniest run I’ve ever done,” she says. “It had snowed significantly and it was still coming down by the time we started.” She estimates that there was five to seven centimetres of snow on the ground by the time the race began, with more falling throughout.

The race’s route took participants on a loop into and out of the park. Nunag says the first five kilometres went well. But things changed upon her return, when she was running into the wind. “It was just pure sheets of snow hitting you in the face,” she says. “For five or ten minutes, I was running with my eyes closed, taking my mitt off and wiping my eyes. And it was still coming down.”

Nunag made it to the end of her race, logging a time that she felt proud of. “I can genuinely say that it was a good experience,” she says. “It was nice to know that I could do it and run in really tough elements.”

Now that the winter has returned again, Nunag is slowly getting back into her winter running routine. This year, she looks forward to feeling the crunch of a fresh snowfall under her feet.

“There’s a huge appeal with winter running,” she says. “It gets so dark so early, so it’s nice to start your day outside and get the daylight in. It really rejuvenates you when you’re feeling the fresh air on your skin, no matter how cold it is.”

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