For half the year we have winter-ish conditions. That doesn't necessarily mean that deep, unbearable, angry cold. Chilly. Sub-zero. Frozen. But definitely run-able, usually snow and often fun. We don't hibernate. We use it, play in it, and explore.
Having run for well over a decade in the ever changing seasons of the Canadian prairies I have fought many battles with the hardened warrior otherwise known as winter trail conditions.
Ankle-deep fresh snow. Ice-slickened asphalt. Road slop like oatmeal or worse, dirty slush.
It is only November yet already the paths have become an assortment of challenging terrain …
… except that back in the late summer I bought a pair of trail shoes.
They haven’t been a perfect winter shoe, but they have made tackling the traction obstacles a formidable challenge rather than an impassible barrier. Unlike my summer sneakers or even previous winter runners I’ve owned, there is a remarkable surefooted stability to be found even in deep snow and icy patches on the sidewalks that I’ve struggled to find elsewhere. I’m sold, and even pullover spikes or other traction offerings that I’ve used over the years don’t seem to fall into a comparable classification as having tested my trail shoes through the abrupt arrival of winter weather this past week.
So I ordered a second pair yesterday.
Kinda. Sorta. Almost.
The summer version, which I own, is a light and responsive shoe meant for muddy paths and navigating narrow gravel trails.
The winter version, that second-ish pair now en route to my house, is a waterproof, insulated version of the same shoe but with grippier soles designed to take on those cold and epic winter conditions and a warmer approach to footwear.
Ice and snow will become far less of an excuse this winter.
I mean, I say that now… ask me again when it’s dark, icy, and minus forty degrees outside this January.
Sunday Runday and we should have known better than to go onto the icy trails after an overnight snowfall less than a week after an ice storm.
But the sun was peeking over the eastern horizon and lighting up the December sky in all sorts of pretty colours, so the ice seemed like a temporary problem which could easily enough be solved by four guys in winter running shoes.
compared to this time last year are you more lost or found?
It wasn’t a temporary problem, of course.
And no amount of winter grip can make up for ten kilometers of hidden ice under two centimeters of fresh, light snow.
No amount of dodging into the neighbourhood streets and hoping for better traction on the suburban car-packed roads made much of difference.
No amount of pathfinding through the crunchy, fresh snow counteracted the frustration of pulled muscles and near falls and aching hip flexors.
Like so much this year, running has become something of a microcosm of my life and an analogy for everything else. A determined effort to engage with the world that has been met with all manner of resistance no matter my level of persistence. This week it happened to be icy sidewalks, but two weeks ago it was heel pain. A few months ago we were battling wasps. Over the summer I tripped and hurt my shoulder as I collided full force with the trunk of a fir tree.
Yet, we keep going and trying to make it fun.
Likewise, this whole year has been something of an exercise in navigating.
The pandemic. Probably enough said about that, but then again…
Work changes have taxed my frustated mind.
Friends and family seem complicated by twisted politics and nearly fully electronic relationships.
Weather. Supply chains. Misinformation.
Waves and lockdowns and everything else.
It’s hard to even recall that two years ago I was feeling quite solidly purposeful in my own way. Things felt found. Things were on course and on track.
At the start of this year, though, I think that like so many others I was feeling not just a little lost, but caught in a maze of a world gone mad. We cheered the end of 2020 as if it somehow marked the end of the worst of it. Yet, here we approach 2021 and I’m not clear on if I’m still lost, somewhat found, or just resigned to the newish reality in which we exist now.
The last year has been a little like running on ice. Uncertain underfoot and apt to cause a slip unless one watches every step carefully. At the end one feels a bit accomplished, a bit sore, but a bit foolish for venturing out looking for a running path where none should rightly exist.
On the other hand, the only other option is to stay home and wallow in the lack of action.
Maybe it’s not a bad thing to go pathfinding after all, through snow and ice… or through a crazy, slippery year.
I don't always take a video camera running, but occasionally. We don't always run snow-covered winter trails when we go out, but occasionally. Even more occasionally, those two things intersect, resulting in a fun video.
Sunday Run Day and for the first time in two months I took part in a group run with a small cohort of friends.
Our locality has been on pandemic-related lockdown since late November, and all my runs have been solo. But COVID-related hospitalizations have been down. New case numbers have been declining. And the doctors say we can ease gently away from some of the stricter restrictions… like avoiding all non-essential personal contact. In other words, we can run together again.
Of course, it also happens to be that we are in the middle of winter. In the middle of a cold snap. In the middle of temperatures averaging minus twenty and offering up moderate quantities of snow.
Over a series of early morning text messages we pushed our usual eight-thirty meetup time by a couple hours to tempt the sun’s generosity. Also, given that it’s been months since we’ve seen each other in person, it was decided that a location more interesting than the regular high school parking lot was on the table for debate.
Luckily I never take my grips out of the backseat of my truck in the winter, and when we converged in a river valley parking lot to engage the single-track snow-bound trails therein I easily added some necessary traction to my street sneakers.
Some winters I splurge and buy myself winter trainers. They are extra grippy and have a bit more insulation. It makes it necessary to get out into the rough for longer, colder runs for a season or two … y’know, to justify the cost.
But in a pinch, a pair of, wrap-on traction grips will substitute.
Into the trails.
Across a bridge.
Into a meadow.
Up and down, left and right.
Between towering poplar dusted with snow.
Eight kilometers later, twisting and turning through trail packed by a hundred other feets and a few dozen fat-bike tires, threaded between fresh knee-deep snow, we had logged the first group run of 2021.
I missed those.
November 19, 2013
Struggling to find the right gear to get through winter running is one of the most frustrating parts of the cold weather and snow.
After all, you could ‘pull-a-Leon’ (as the saying around my running group might go if people said that sort of thing) and wear shorts in every possible condition, despite how red and cold your legs got.
Or you could try and dress for the weather so that you could be outdoors for the duration and be simultaneously comfortable and safe.
The problem with the snow starts down low: this being a sport where you are moving relatively fast, relying on things like traction and friction between your feet and the road, the addition of ice and loosely packed snow to the mix can be disastrous. We slip and trip and slide and loose grip, sometimes all at once.
The wind is your enemy: in one direction it is barely a factor, but if you run too far in one direction you either need to die in a snowbank, have someone pick you up, or run back to where you started. The first two are not ideal, so running with the wind at your back one way means sucking it down your gasping pie-hole in the other. Wind on bare skin (or on inadequately covered skin for that matter) sucks, especially when that wind is cold.
I always wear a hat. In summer it helps soak up the sweat. In winter it has the additional benefit of keeping your brains from freezing. The hat is probably a no-brainer, but what I find a lot of people forget about is the face. One of my hats is actually a balaclava, wrapping down under my chin and exposing little more than my eyes and nose… and oh, is that awesome.
I had this video set to private for a few years, but there's nothing embarrassing about it except for the notion that a bunch of adults would be so crazily excited about a fresh plod through a fresh winter wilderness.
I took the GoPro along on our winter running adventure this morning, trying my best to keep it from freezing solid and only succeeding in keeping the lens free and clear of frost for the first hour or so. After that, the cold and brisk air got the better of the little camera ... but while the battery lasted we got some fun footage.
Sadly, where I shouted in goofy pain at the 2:30ish mark was me falling flat on my ass as we sprinted down the hill, a fall that hurt a little at the time but has left me pretty sore a few hours later.
I used to do a lot more video of myself running. I'd do these solo runs I'd call "video expeditions" where I'd run a familiar trail, stopping every few hundred meters to set up my camera alongside the path or clung to a tree. Then I'd run back and forth a few times, until I was pretty sure I'd got a natural looking shot. Ten or fifteen of these clips string together to music make an interesting little video, and in winter give a great perspective on the mood of our trails four to six months of the year.
July 29, 2011
I’m not much of a hot weather person. And actually I’d very much rather be a bit on the cool side, a couple of degrees below that standard definition of whatever room temperature happens to be. A little bit of chill in the air is just perfect for me.
But the problem is that I live in a climate that has quite a bit of seasonal temperature fluctuation. At the extremes we dip to the bone-chilling, skin-numbing cold of the mid-minus fourties Celsius in the heart of winter — and then into days of blurring, sweating, sweltering hot with temperatures in the high thirties or occasional low fourties (Celsius again) in the peaks of summer.
I have a rule that I generally follow when I run: the fifteen at fifteen. I take the outside, ambient temperature and add fifteen degrees. The resulting number is an approximation of what my personal temperature feels like after about fifteen minutes of running (though, these days, fifteen minutes is barely a warm-up.) So, as an example: when it is a pleasant ten degrees Celsius outside and I run, then after fifteen minutes it feels like about twenty-five degrees — or just cozy and a bit on the warm side. When it is -20C outside, and sinking towards the lower limits of where I usually stop having fun with running shoes on, then fifteen minutes into things it feels like five below zero: chilly, but pleasantly and even refreshingly so. Now, if you’re still following with the math, when the outside temperature is thirty degrees Celsius (such as it’s been on and off for a few weeks now) then on a summer, Sunday morning, the sun beating down and all that, and we start our long (often ninety-minute-plus) runs you can probably guess where I’m going with this: fifteen minutes into, things suddenly feel like a sweltering forty-five Celsius in the sun. For those still thinking in that other temperature scale, that’s about 115 Fahrenheit. In the sun. Running. For someone who does not like heat.
I tend to get a little punchy.
It is in those heat-stroke-inducing moments of delirium that I dream wishfully of gloved fingers huddled together and wrapped inside my palms for warmth in those first few minutes of a bitterly cold run. It is in those sweat-pouring-from-my-brow moments that I long for the brisk winter air washing over the few square centimeters of exposed forehead peaking from out from between my toque and scarf. It is in those foot-sweating, toe-chafing, blister-inducing moments that I recall the sweet sounds of fresh snow crunching under my feet. I dream of winter. In my mind I sing odes to winter. I curse the summer heat, shake my fist at the sun-heated-asphalt, and take another weary step closer to shade.
And then swear to never run another step in this heat. I swear it every single time, but then a few days later… repeat.
I should run more in the summer. The streets are clear. The grass is green. The flowers fill the air with pleasant aromas that wash over our faces as we trod on by. I really should run more, but my biggest excuse is the hot. Just the hot. Hot. I hate the hot. I loathe the hot. And on those days filled with so many too-hot-to-be-alive moments, I hide in my cool basement trying to forget the guilt of not sweating on the hot streets, and maybe even counting the days until the leaves start to change and the frost… well, I’ll shut up now.
While many folks will tell you that you can’t really honestly convert your training miles based on road conditions –that a klick is a klick is a klick no matter what’s under your feets– after twenty seven klicks on the sloppy trails yesterday morning, I beg to differ. Yeah, many of the walks had been shoveled or plowed, but this merely meant that conditions ranged from anything including (a) that thinly glazed lightly pebbled ice that is nearly invisible on a seemingly clean sidewalk, (b) the not-quite-even trail through a foot of snow created by a hundred previous pedestrians that seems like a path but really isn’t, (c) those I’m crossing the street for a few steps at an intersection and navigating between ruts, slick, sludge, or puddles while watching for oblivious drivers, or (d) the we plowed the roads after we plowed the sidewalks and the roads won mess of uneven dirty clumps with no other route around kinda snow. I fell asleep on the couch waaaaay too early for it to have been anything but a tough run.
December 17, 2013
I often get asked how I stay motivated. I can’t rightly give you an answer that doesn’t sound like it’s full of rainbows and unicorns. Y’know… sappy… like nestled below the layers of my get-out-the-door-edness just a sprinkle of pixie dust and the world of procrastination evaporates into a magical cloud of simplicity and ease.
It’s not that at all.
In fact, it’s hard.
My shoes don’t find their way onto my feet as easily as you might think.
Excuses queue up for hours waiting for their turn.
In fact, these days it doesn’t take much for me to heave a great big sigh and look out into the blowing cold, the slippery sidewalks and… flop: back to the couch. I need to kick myself, remind myself, that every kilometer now is one easier step later on.
What really gets me out the door is the exploration of it all. I am, at heart, a pathfinder. A trail-seeker. An urban explorer, seeking out the nooks and crannies of the city that some people take for granted.
It’s the trail that weaves in behind your house.
It’s that path that winds through the park by the bus-stop.
It’s the footbridge you drive under every day and always wonder: how do I get up there and what would it lead me to if I crossed it?
That’s what really gets me out the door.
The camera in my hand, a tactic I’ve employed with some minor fanfare over the past year, has helped.
The ultimate exercise selfie: an auto-snapped pic of one lonely guy on a frozen trail dodging through the paths with nothing but his technology.
There is motivation in that, too. If you know where to look for it, of course.