Running in the Snow and Ice

You’re now several weeks into training for the La Crosse Fitness Festival, and the big Thanksgiving feast has come and gone. (Okay, okay, so maybe a few turkey sandwiches are still hanging around, but you know what I mean.) So which is it? Are you feeling fitter or fatter today?

snow road Surely, it must the former because you’ve been sticking to your training schedule, right? That’s great, but now staying with the schedule starts to get harder--December is here. And with the arrival of winter, it’s going to take more mental toughness than usual to get out the door and run a few miles. Here in the La Crosse area we have not yet had meaningful snowfall (at least at the time of this writing), but the snow and ice are definitely coming. What can you to do to help keep to your plans during the long, long months (and short, short days) of December and January?

The easy answer would be to say, “Suck it up!” but that’s really not much help is it? Assuming that you’ve already got the proper gear for winter running (Gore-Tex top, moisture wicking shirts, warm mittens, wool socks, stocking cap, etc.), successful winter training depends largely on a proper mental attitude. Here are a few things to keep in mind that might help you face the elements on those cold, windy, snowy, overcast, and generally crummy days of winter:

  1. Running generates a lot of heat--a whole lot of heat. You basically dress not to keep your body heat in, but to release it more slowly than usual. The first mile always feels the coldest.
  2. Running with someone in really lousy weather is much easier than running alone. Find a training partner (or two or three) and make specific plans to run with that person.
  3. Go into the wind first. If you do get too cold, it’ll feel much warmer when you turn for home.
  4. Ice fisherman will think you’re crazy, but they aren’t generating any heat sitting on that bucket, now are they?
  5. Your non-running friends will think you are really, really tough! Don’t tell them that you were actually getting too warm after a couple of miles.
  6. Being the first to run over newly fallen snow is really cool. So is running while the snow is falling.

Once the snow and/or ice have become a permanent part of the landscape, winter running does require some modifications. Even when the footing is treacherous in many places, you can almost always find somewhere to run without too much slipping and sliding. It often seems to me that shortly after a snowfall, the cars have made the streets rutted and slippery, but sidewalks will offer good footing. A day or so later, when the sidewalks vary from well-shoveled to impassable, snow plows have usually made the streets the better option. A useful thing to keep in mind in running on icy surfaces is that you’re not likely to slip while maintaining a steady pace in a straight line. Falls are most likely to occur when (a) turning, (b) stopping, or (c) starting. By exercising caution at those times you can make running on snowy surfaces fairly safe.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to keep hoping and praying that Mother Nature chooses to hold back on that first major snowfall, does it?

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