There is a lot of info out there about winter running. They mention things like: dress in layers, run into the wind first, hydrate even if you don’t feel thirsty, shorter steps……. However, no one ever talks about the actual running surfaces, other than the ”don’t run on ice” advice. I have been thinking about this a lot recently, as I run through snow, slush, freezing rain, and ice.
I have spent my entire running career in cold places: upstate NY, western MA, MN, and ME. Every winter, no matter how much I pray, it still snows and gets nasty out there. So, I have learned how to deal with it, because I am not much for the treadmill (or indoor track) unless I am really serious about getting some speed in.
You have the light fluffy snow – not bad if it is not deep, but a total pain if more than a few inches. You have to shorten your stride and slow down. The compacted snow (like where cars have driven) is great, until it starts to warm up (or too many cars have driven over it) – then it slowly becomes loose snow (and your feet will slip a little with each step) – and eventually becomes a slushy substance. Slush is actually not too bad if there is not much of it – like after the car tires have pushes it off to the side of the road. Then you have that clear path following the tire tracks with NO slippage. Unfortunately when cars come by you are forced back to the shoulder of the road, where all of that slush (and/or loose snow) has accumulated, which means more slow slippery steps, as the cars splash you with even more slush. Oh yeah, and then there is that deep slush puddle that you just stepped in that is freezing cold, and so now your toes are going numb.
The different places I have run each had/have their own unique winter running challenges. Upstate NY was not bad because they have HUGE shoulders there – and I was probably too worried about getting shot by hunters to think much about what I was running on.
Western MA had lots of ice. It seems like there was always another ice storm, which really puts a damper on running outside. Some days the 200yd banked wooden balcony track over the gym (where the smelly wrestlers were working out) would have to suffice.
Minnesota is where I REALLY learned about winter. I learned that although not recommended, it is possible to run in -20 temps – and that is without windchill. Certainly there were 2 days a week on the indoor track (one of those – again – on an indoor 200yd wooden banked balcony track). But every other single mile I ran was outside – never ran on a treadmill in MN. I fell a lot on my butt in that menacing “loose snow”….one esp. had to watch out at intersections where you could fall on that loose snow right in front of or under that car getting ready to take off. It did take me 15 yrs to finally get over all that painful “frost-nip” in my toes that I inherited from MN, but it was worth every single step.
In ME you don’t have to deal with the wind and cold as much. But the running conditions can make it frustrating enough, that I would trade warmer temps for colder temps and the accompanying firmer snow. My first winter in ME these guys would take me out for long runs on the trails behind UMO. The trails were not plowed – so it was continuous punching your feet though the snow, deep snow. Now that is tiring. Portland is warmer than Orono, which means more ice, slush, loose snow. Yuck!
As all runners do, we seek out the roads/paths with the best conditions. Sometimes it is the less used neighborhood roads with the firmer snow that are the best (enough traffic to compact the snow but not enough to tear it up into loose snow). Sometime the major roads are best – they at least are plowed. But then there is the battle with traffic. Here in Portland I now love hospitals because they clear their sidewalks of all snow/slush and always use salt. I could do 100m pick-ups on them! The brick sidewalks that are everywhere can be really nasty though. If a little wet, they can really be slippery – and shoveling usually just leaves a thin layer of loose snow that melts and eventually becomes ice. Slippery all around unless they are dry or salted. I could go on and on.
If you have run in the winter too, I am sure you have your own stories of running surfaces and the art of how to negotiate them. When those non-running people ask: “What do you think about when you run?” Well, this is what I think about as I brave another winter run.