January 26, 2015

The winter aahhhs

Last year I did a lot of running outside in the winter -- I think I hit a treadmill only twice, in hotels while out of town. This year, I've been a little grumpier about braving the biting windchill, the icy sidewalks, the slush-filled salty road shoulders. I just can't get that into it. Even Siri isn't cheerful about this time of year.

4 out of 5 iPhones agree -- this weather is uncomfortable.
The 5th one was unavailable for comment, having shut down in the cold.

Enter snowshoe running! I picked up a pair yesterday and took them for an inaugural jaunt today. I'll share a few dos and don'ts I ran across (sort of pun intended).

  • Know what you're in for and how that relates to what you want in a set of snowshoes. I was informed that, in a run-specific snowshoe, I wouldn't have much in the way of flotation on deep snow. When I looked kind of puzzled at this (as snowshoers go, I'm on the smaller end of the spectrum), he said "Oh, you'll be running on packed snow trails." -- "Wait... if I'm running on packed trails, why am I wearing snowshoes?" -- "Because in snowshoe running events you need to have something snowshoe-y on your feet." Alright! Sold!
  • If you're going to forget your neckwarmer when it's minus 20-something, at least be that person who always has extra stuff in the car for their kids. See adorable scarf below.
Top Gear fans, I confess. I am the Stig.

  • Ideally, time your first foray into the woods to coincide with a paramedic training exercise.

Just in case
How convenient!

  •  Get a set of short gaiters to keep the snow out of your shoes. I can't believe that even after losing the trail and tromping all over the place I didn't get a single flake of snow down my runners.

And now for a few Don'ts: 
  • Don't leave your running shoes in the car when it's minus a zillion. The 5 minutes between the office and the trail head are not enough time for them to warm up, even with the footwell heater running full blast. Ask me how I know this.
  • Ditto your snowshoes. The flexible rubbery parts of the bindings become considerably less flexible when they're frozen.
  • Don't tell yourself you'll figure out how the bindings work, and which snowshoe goes on which foot, when you get to the trail. It's not rocket science, but it involves precious minutes where your hands would really rather be in your mittens.

Hmmm... in theory, my foot goes in there somewhere
So how was the actual experience of running in showshoes? So. Much. Fun. I think the last time I walked in snowshoes I did kind of a duck-waddle and still managed to step on myself. Today I didn't try to go for any kind of speed, but it was surprisingly easy to just boogie along at a jog, without having to worry about slipping or hitting a weird rut. The teeth under the snowshoe gripped the packed surface, and the wide platform lets you bound through the trees without worrying about rolling an ankle. Joy!

Who on earth would want to run on a gross, salty road when you could do this instead??

Frozen bog in the South March Highlands near my office
Since it was my first time out, I experimented a little with different surfaces. As expected, my running snowshoes didn't float on top of fluffy powder. But even so, it beats walking in boots and ending up calf-deep.
For floating in soft powder, not so much...
But for breaking a trail on the crunchy stuff when you get lost? Totally useful!
You can really go anywhere you want in these things. At one point the path I was following petered out, and I scrambled up a short hill to rejoin the main trail. Somehow the trees managed to buffer the cold wind while still letting the sun shine through.

Winter aahhhs

Oh, and I did eventually find the police/paramedics on their training exercise...

I think they got hungry and were roasting their weakest member...

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