The experience of a seasoned winter runner
Written by: Tim Snow
Scrinch scrunch, scrinch scrunch!
The sound reverberates off of nearby trees as you power through the frozen trails.
If you’re lucky the snow and ice are firm, supporting your weight effortlessly as your NanoSpikes bite into the top layer of what was until recently a beautiful leaf covered piece of singletrack and now hosts a mix of snowshoers, cross country skiers, dog walkers and a few dumb runners.
Sometimes though...sometimes it’s a slog out there. Sometimes you’re 3k into a 10k or half marathon and you’ve been post-holing from the get-go, your water bottle has long since solidified, you’ve got 15 pounds of ice hanging from your beard and all you can think of is the Yeti of piping hot tea you’ve left in your car as a reward for your hard work.
Why do we do it? Why do we subject ourselves to the ever present frostbite and screaming barfies?
There is a certain sense of pride that comes with being Canadian; we excel in subjecting ourselves to voluntary suffering while pushing ourselves in temperatures so cold that, with bad planning and bad luck, could be deadly. We look at the windchill and try to figure out how many layers will keep the fine balance between too cold and too warm.
That’s the fun of running in the winter; a seemingly simple run in summertime can feel like an adventure once your feel are falling on frozen ground! Your daily 5k road loop transforms into a snow covered wonderland.
You concentrate on your steps, your breath as 15-20cm of snow peacefully falls around you. The roads are empty and the air is filled with the smell of burning fireplaces. You let your mind wander as you fall into an almost meditative trance.
Of course, winter doesn’t come without challenges. Ice is an ever present challenge and danger. Falling isn’t fun. Injuries are worse. One second you’re on your feet, the next on your back. It happens fast. Without warning. You hope for a soft landing. I sometimes wonder if I should be wearing a helmet. Beware ice covered in a light dusting of snow...that shit is deadly!
Many running shoe manufacturers have at least one model with carbide teeth built into the outsole. I rely on my NanoSpikes or MicroSpikes. Many drill hex-headed sheet metal screws into their shoe soles. Whatever gets you out your door and into the cold works!
Winter is also a great time to mix it up with some low-impact cross training; SkiMo and cross-country skiing, fat bikes, snow shoes...whatever keeps you off the dreadmill and outside in the fresh air. If you don’t want to make the financial commitment to buying in to a new sport you can always rent gear or scour the second-hand market and score a deal or two. It’s a fantastic way to lessen your environmental impact while saving some cash.
As Survivorman says “you sweat you die” so remember to wear many thinner layers which trap body heat between them while wicking sweat away from your skin. Another adage is Cotton Kills. Opt for merino wool or synthetics instead. Aim to dress for 10-15 degrees warmer than it is so, while chilled for the first few minutes, you will not overheat once you warm up.
For anything longer than a routine 5k and for any trail run I throw on my lightweight vest and carry a few emergency supplies; lightweight bivy, first aid kit, a fire starter and my Opinel, headlamp, an extra gel or Clif Bar, even an extra layer or two...I’d rather be over-prepared than sorry.
Always tell someone where you’re going and an approximate time you’ll return. Again, better to be safe than sorry.
Music or podcasts are always an awesome companion; there is great debate about listening to music while running as you are less aware of your surroundings. I personally use AfterShokz which are bone-conducting badasses which do not go into your ears so you can hear that moron who has lost control of his car in an icy intersection and is slowly skidding in your direction. Never, ever carry a Bluetooth speaker and play your music for all to hear...that’s just plain rude ;)
There is a reason that people use the term Winter Wonderland. Running in the Canadian winter is a challenge and adventure, a rewarding and punishing pursuit but it’ll help you build some grit and gain some fitness...and when you fall in front of a ton of strangers just laugh it off!