The time for snow, ice, and cold is once again upon us. After another warm summer, perhaps I should be more grateful for the change in seasons. Heck, I’m from Minnesota. I should probably be excited about the winter months. Well, my reality is about as far from excited as it can get right now. Reflecting on the changing seasons has helped me realize that I don’t actually like the changing seasons as much as I thought! I thoroughly enjoy the freshness of spring, and the briskness of fall. I love the comfortable running conditions, the trails ripe for exploring, and the energy in the air that comes with more people being out and about. Winter, especially, offers none of that for me. I do appreciate the ability to train outside throughout the winter, and then see the gains in pace and strength as a result. I’ve certainly figured out how to dress appropriately, and keep myself reasonably warm even after long distances. However, these steps are more about coping than they are about enjoyment. I’m outside because I love to run, and not because I love the environment I’m running in. I’m also allergic to treadmills. No, seriously, I asked the doctor about it, and the allergy shots were just too expensive. They also don’t inject you in your arm. I’ll leave you to ponder that notion as I move on.
All of this reflection brings me to today’s first snowy run. We woke up to a light snowfall this morning. It was nothing significant, but the first accumulation of the year, so clearly I had to rip the band-aid off and go for a run. As I was winding my way between the roads and sidewalks, depending on where I could secure the best footing, I smiled a little as I watched people hop in their cars for their morning commute and once again relearn how to drive in the winter. We have our share of accidents in Minnesota during the winter, but for the most part, being Minnesotan means knowing how to drive and exist in winter weather. Heck, when it consumes half of your year, you have no choice. When I moved to Iowa, I expected more of the same. After all, we are neighbors. However, what I’ve realized in the last eight years is that Iowans suffer from collective winter amnesia. Each year, as the snow begins to fall, the learn the hard way how to drive and thrive in winter weather. Then, as the spring thaw begins, everyone forgets! The result is a calamity of chaos every single year. As I offered silent, internal monologue (mostly) suggestions to drivers and pedestrians along my run, the parallels to running began to dawn on me. I thought I’d share a few as you prepare to lace up your shoes for the winter season!
1. Slow Down! Shockingly, you probably can’t and shouldn’t be going as fast when there is snow and ice on the ground. This is true whether you are logging your miles on foot or behind the wheel.
2. Traction, Traction, Traction! I don’t care if you have the most advanced 4-wheel drive system, coupled with the most expensive tires, strapped to a beautiful new SUV. If there is ice on the road, you are still going to slide. I roll my eyes so much that I get a headache as I watch trucks and SUVs fly by me, only to end up in the ditch a quarter of a mile later. The same principle applies to running. Our shoes just aren’t made for ice. Unless you are a serious all-weather mountain runner, you probably don’t have the shoes or skills to speed down an icy sidewalk. I certainly don’t! Cleats of some sort are useful, but even those are intended more for snow than for ice. Be aware of your footing. We can’t all be like Kilian, right? (wouldn’t it be amazing if we could, though?)
3. Keep Your Eyes Open- Granted, you should always be paying attention to your surroundings on the road. This is true of driving and running. However, it takes on a whole new level of urgency when you are out in winter weather. I basically treat all winter running as trail running. I keep my eyes down, always looking a few feet in front of me, and periodically check my surroundings. As soon as your eyes go up, you go down! As a driver, you may be extremely skilled, but that will never fully protect you from the idiots who didn’t pay attention to those defensive driving classes.
4. Have the Proper Gear- Growing up, it was second nature to make sure you had an emergency kit in your car during the winter months. You never knew when circumstances beyond your control would mean sitting in a ditch or on an abandoned country road for several hours in the freezing cold. Dressing in layers is equally important when you head out for a winter run. Everyone’s body reacts differently to the cold, so you need to listen to your body. Dress in layers, use wicking materials, make sure exposed skin is kept to a minimum when it’s bitterly cold, and be sure you have nutrition and access to water. I significantly adjust my routes during the winter so I know that I’m able to stop for water every few miles. Now that the city has turned off the water in the parks, this means stopping at retail locations, public building, or simply carrying water with me. If that’s the case, then I’m using insulated hydration solutions that aren’t going to freeze on me. You can also keep your bottles upside down while you are running, so the water on top freezes, but you can still drink out of the nozzle.
5. Clear the Path- Nothing aggravates me more than homeowners that don’t shovel their sidewalks! I’ve often thought about printing up “warning” notices to put in mailboxes, threatening to contact the city and request they be fined for failing to clear their walkway. I never thought much about it until I was running on those sidewalks, and had to continually alternate between shoveled and messy sidewalks, or hop out into the road and run the risk of teaching a driver an uncomfortable lesson about traction (see #2). Whether you are a runner or not, please shovel your sidewalks and help out your neighbors! Your local runners, mail carriers, service workers, and parents walking children and pets will thank you
This shouldn’t be such a rare sight!
6. Lean into the Fall- Anyone who has done any winter running has probably experienced the joy of an unintended rest period courtesy of a patch of ice. As with trail running, I’ve found that my best bet is to lean into a fall, tuck my arms, and try to roll without bracing myself with my hands (hello, broken wrists!) or my head. Obviously, in the moment, you aren’t always consciously thinking about how to fall, but it’s good to have it in the back of your mind. I might even suggest a practice session with your local running group or group of friends. Simply head out into a snowy field where the fluffy white stuff will break your fall, and take turns running and rolling. You could even turn it into a relay! I thought about this last point as I watched cars spin their wheels and slide around on the road. Very few drivers turn into a skid/slide, and end up all over the road as a result. If you aren’t comfortable driving on slippery roads, then head to a large parking lot after hours and get in some practice. I’m pretty sure it was mandatory training when I was growing up, although we did it for fun and called it something else
Even the best of us bite it on the ice…
I’m sure many of you have your own tips and tricks for running in the winter weather, and I’d love to hear them. Runners are amazing lifehackers when it comes to finding solutions that will allow them to keep running! I wish everyone a happy winter (if you enjoy it) or a tolerable and injury-free training winter (if you feel as I do about the winter months) and may we all dream of spring. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go look for job postings in San Diego!