Original article from Silent Sports Magazine, written by Megan Killian
I live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “Da U.P.,” where the north shoreline gets real buddy-buddy with Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Sometimes Superior freezes over enough the snow stops falling in the winter, but this is a rare. That only happens once every 25 years or so. Otherwise we can expect 200 to 300 inches of white, fluffy, crisp snow.
Sometimes it pummels us. Sometimes it floats nicely – carefree – from the sky, drifting side to side until it finally makes contact with the ground. Watching it puts you in a trance. It calms the soul.
Then there are days in early December, like today, that offer a mix of both. The sideways-falling snow always makes me laugh. I look out from a ninth floor window to see the snow making mini-tornadoes on the Northern Michigan University campus.
I can’t help but smile on days when I walk to school under hovering dreary gray clouds only to look outside around lunchtime to see big white snowflakes falling from the heavens. I love it! I’m especially excited on days like today, when the snow comes down hard. I knew my evening run with Margot would include some white-frosted trees and other pretty cool sights.
We donned our reflective gear. Well, Margot did. I forgot mine in my locker. We rolled out of West Houghton Lake Campground. Our first treat was the sight of the Mont Ripley ski hill covered in snow, making me antsy to ski. I haven’t felt that way for a long time, but hey, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed triathlon training this past summer.
It wasn’t long before I started to feel my feet sliding. Ugh. I hate that, especially with my knees acting funny lately. I proceeded cautiously, as did Margot. I realized then that my beloved Brooks Trance running shoes were probably not the best choice for winter road running.
Because it has been so warm, the roads were a bit wet. Obviously, the new snow meant the temperature had dipped below freezing. This left the roads covered with a sheet of ice. That’s not a problem if you stick to non-roadways, like the snowmobile paths. But since we started at 4:30 p.m. and it gets dark 30 minutes later – well, you can imagine. We were slipping and sliding, especially on the downward slopes, of which there are many in Houghton. The snowmobile trail was a beacon, the ground there crunching under our feet.
After an hour and a half of crisp, wintery air, we made it safely back to Margot’s house. Finally, dear winter, I welcome you with open arms.
Winter running tips
Here are some rules I live by when going out for a winter run.
1) Dress warm, but not too warm. I’m out there to get my sweat on. But if I am too warm at the start, I will do nothing but sweat, getting cold and miserable. If the temp is between 20 and 30 degrees, I usually don a lightweight hat – the Icebreaker Pocket 200 is awesome; lightweight gloves – you know, those cheapo nylon ones that cost 99 cents? Yeah, those; tights; and two lightweight dry-wicking shirts – Craft poly over a Brooks HVAC long sleeve is what I chose today. When it’s colder, I like to wear thicker gloves, another shirt or a vest and some heavier-duty pants – Swix Nordic ski pants or Mountain Hardwear Transition pants are great on windy days in the U.P.
2) Dress in layers. Wearing two shirts gives me the option to remove one if I get too warm. When in doubt I bring a lightweight jacket or cycling jersey. If I get too warm, I take it off. No harm in that. If the conditions are somewhere between rainy and snowy, I wear something water resistant so I don’t get too soggy and wet.
3) Wear shoes with traction. Trail shoes are perfect for winter running on slick pavement. Last year I bought a pair of La Sportiva Imogenes from Downwind Sports in Houghton. They are comfy and have a great grippy sole made out of sticky rubber they call Frixion. The tread is deeper than normal trainers, so it can grab onto the snow.
In 2003 I bought a pair of Montrail Hardrocks, and although they had mega-tread, they didn’t quite fit right. I’m going to give the newest rendition of the shoe a shot this year, though. I’m not a super-fan of YakTrax, a rubber and metal traction device that slips over the bottom of your shoes, mainly because my runs take me on varying terrain that includes snow, ice, rocks, pavement and cobblestone. The YakTrax Pro, recommended for use on snow and ice, get pretty slick on clear concrete and sound like tap shoes.
Some other good trail running shoe options include:
Brooks Adrenaline ASR: These shoes have a medial posting, which helps direct the foot for people with pronation issues. ASR stands for All-Season Running, and the shoe upper is weather resistant. No soggy shoes at the end of the run with these.
Saucony ProGrid Xodus: These shoes look sweet. Plus they have a Vibram sole, which means that the rubber is a little stiffer and tractiony, if that’s a word. I have a pair of KEENs with a Vibram sole and it’s amazing how sticky they can be on slick, leaf-covered rocks out in the woods.
Salomon XA PRO 3D Ultra GTW: That’s a mouthful. These shoes have Contragrip that provide great traction and a lacing system that eliminates sloppy and slappy laces. And, they look pretty cool.
4) Bring water. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you aren’t sweating. In fact, you’re working even harder to keep your body temperature up. Plus, breathing in cold weather is an easy way to lose fluids. That steam you see is water leaving your body. I love my Nathan Quickdraw Elite hand-held water bottle. My camera fits perfectly in its zip-up pocket. If I ran with my cell phone, this would also be a good spot for it.
5) Wear bright, reflective stuff. It’s not always bright and sunny out there. It might be when you start running in the late afternoon, but not by the time you finish. How many people actually have time to run before work when it’s light out? Up here, the sun doesn’t come up until 8 a.m. and it sets by 5:30 p.m. Wearing a headlamp will make dark roads easier to traverse.
When it’s snowing, motorists have an even harder time seeing you. And in an area like mine, being aware of hunters is important. Even if it’s daytime, being visible is incredibly important.
6) Get low. If you aren’t sure if the road beneath your feet is icy, bend your knees more and take shorter steps, anticipating a slip or a slide. Lowering your center of mass can help reduce your chances of falling. Of course, running on drier and rougher surfaces is a safer bet.
7) Don’t break a fall with your hands. Sometimes falling is inevitable. But falling on ice while bracing yourself with your hands can lead to serious injury. Your butt has way more cushion. That isn’t to say that you won’t get bruised or beaten up by taking a blow to the rump. Still, you’re better off falling with your hands behind or in front of your head. The key to falling is to stay limber. Let the fall happen. Don’t try to stop it. Stay loose and let more of your body absorb the impact.