Winter Running

This years racing season had an excellent finish with the Mad Moose marathon and ultra-marathon. This spectacular event included a 64 km ultra this year held on the Cranbrook Hill Greenway.

I like to take a few weeks off sometime in the winter to let me mind and body reinvigorate. I went earlier in October this year in place of the usual December and I was rewarded with low key fall running. Before Halloween had come I had at least one -19 C, shin deep in snow run. November has been spectacular. Reid Roberts and I traveled south for a 53 km in the beautiful Chilcotin on almost snow free trails. It’s hard to do better than anywhere west of Williams Lake for trail running.

We have it good here in the north. Frozen fall ground is great. A little (or a lot) of snow adds to the training. Lower pace with a higher heart rate. I especially enjoy running those routes that are soaking in the summer.  My mileage climbs all on it’s own and I am itching to be out on new single track.

Most folks reduce mileage, change to the roads, stop running or switch sports in the winter. I’d challenge you to do the opposite. There  are a few small hurdles to get over but once overcome the rewards are amazing.

  • Run anytime. It’s dark in the winter most of the time anyway. Rather than trying to fit your run in during the daylight like summer, sport a head or handlamp and run anytime. A small amount of light reflects on the snow. Who cares if it is the middle of the night.
  • Get better. First – no one runs in the winter. You are training when everyone else is watching TV!
  • Get fitter. Winter running engages the core and lower legs. Whether your stabilizing on the trail, breaking trail or sporting snowshoes you will have a greater impact on the hips, stomach back and calves. When the snow is deep, it’s real slow but the heart is racing. Very low wear and tear but excellent training.
  • Surprises. One of the most beautiful things is to watch the seasons change. Being out on the trails year round lets you experience the transition of the flora and the fauna. You will be surprised to turn off your headlamp on a snowshoe single track in the middle of the night in December. To enjoy a snowstorm or to watch the animal tracks change with a warm wind.
  • Go mental. Build your mental habits. Run or snowshoe in any weather, in any snow depth – day or night. When spring comes you will be practiced and prepared to run any summer conditions including the mountains.
  • Learn something new. Be careful at first but you will amaze yourself at how good you will become at icy, difficult trail. These skills come quickly if you try and they last.
There are some things to be careful of.
  • Transition and start slow. Winter trail running will tax your legs in a different way. As always ease into it. This can be difficult for high mileage runners as you will want to run the same distance or time as snow free. Take a couple weeks to ease into it.
  • Footwear. Get some appropriate trail shoes. I like goretex stuff for anything under two hours. I dislike overboot spikes as they ball up with snow, are heavy and change your form. Integrated spikes are great or spike up with something like La Sportiva Hobnails. Luggy grip is excellent for unpacked of packed snow.
  • Avoid the streets and maintrails. Often the most dangerous places to run in the winter, especially during freeze/thaw days are sidewalks and main trails. The packed snow of trails or cleared streets develop random icy spots.
As always, take your safety precautions. Let someone know where you are running. Carry safety equipment including a cell phone. It’s always better, safety wise, to run with a partner.

 

So I was booting it through a meadow in the mountains the other night just before dark. About 400 yards away, I spotted a pack of wolves howling in the  trees. I managed to get the iphone video going. Although I didn’t get any shots of the wolves, I did get some audio of them howling. If you listen to the video with sound on loud you’ll hear it. I tried getting closer to get a video shot but they scattered pretty quickly as I think they heard me when I cut off into the deeper snow.

http://youtu.be/aP4kyR_hINwThe Howling

This year, I had plans to keep as many miles on the trail as possible through the winter. The last couple of cold, snowy winters have forced me to the road for more runs than I would have liked. As part of the plan, the search was on for some adequate winter trail footwear. The criteria:

  • Solid ice traction
  •  Luggy enough to handle groomed or packed trail.
  • An all temperature shoe. Able to handle the cold but shed the moisture when near or above melting without filling to the brim with water.
  • Reliable and durable.
  • Well fitting for multi-hour trips.
  • Something that would keep the snow out of the top as much as possible

I did exclude the ability to into  running  style snowshoes as I figured the combo of screws, lugs and snowshoe were too much to ask. After much searching, I settle on three candidates worth  field trials.

1. Salomon SpeedCross 3 spiked up with La Sportiva Hobnails

2. Salomon SpikeCross 3 with integrated screws

3. La Sportiva Crossover spike up with La Sportiva Hobnails

It’s mid February and I have about 500 kilometers on each setup. Running this winter has turned out great. With each of the shoes I have run a variety of packed trail, unpacked trail, groomed trail,  single track snowshoe packed trail, ice and snow on the street.

Which is the best?  Well, I’ll review each shoe and you can decide. Shoe’s fit differently for everyone. As a point of comparison, I generally fit well in for width in the toebox in something like a Montrail Mountain Masochist or a Brooks Cascadia 5/6.

1. Salomon SpeedCross 3 with La Sportiva Hobnails

Why the Hobnails? Well – the SpikeCross 3 and SpeedCross 3 are identical shoes except that the SpikeCross has an integrated screw. I preferred custom spiking the SpeedCross for a couple of reasons. First, La Sportiva Hobnails are removable so I could turn the shoes back into an all season unit. Second, the La Sportiva Hobnails are a better spike. They are adjustable for depth and they provide more traction.  To spike, I followed the exact same pattern as the SpikeCross. Lastly, I can buy the Hobnails for less money than the difference in price between the SpikeCross and Speedcross and I end up with spikes I can put in any shoe.

Pro’s– A nice warm shoe. Reliable and long wearing. The 10 mm heel drop is nice for winter running on ice. Ice is hard and I find I like the extra cushioning. The spike layout  is great and the lugs are absolutely spectacular. The advanced lacing system is nice for cold weather – no fumbling tying laces. The traction of this shoe is pretty much unparalleled.

The Con’s – Narrow. I up sized almost two sizes to get something that wouldn’t rub the smaller toes. This resulted in a bit bulkier shoe. I did like the shoe’s traction capabilities so much that I still wore them when a smaller toenail or two came off on longer runs. It’s also got a  a heel that is a bit blockier than I prefer.   This is great in snow but it throws your foot around a bit on ice.

Overall – An excellent winter shoe. Definitely the go to unit in 2011/12. I would avoid this shoe in longer races but wear it anytime under 30-40 km.

2. Salomon SpikeCross 3

Really the same as the SpeedCross but with Hobnails.

3. La Sportiva Crossovers

 

First off, I will mention that I am a La Sportiva fan. The Fireblades are a staple summer shoe. The La Sportiva Crossovers are essentially the La Sportiva Crosslites with a short integrated gaiter.

The Pros:

The integrated gaiter is ideal for winter conditions and although I haven’t tried them in the sunmer, I’d guess they would be great at keeping mud and dust out also .  The lugs and layout are ideal for packed snow and they are very easy to spike with Hobnails. I was sold on the Crossovers in the first couple runs. I really like the width and feel of the toebox. I’d suspect these will be very long wearing.

The Con’s

It pains me to say it as I absolutely love  the Crossovers and I really got into them except for a major showstopper that did not show up until I had about 75 km’s on them. Like most shoes, the flexpoint in the toe of the shoe started in the regular spot near where the toes naturally flex. However, it quickly changed by moving forward on the rubber guarding on top of the toes.  It  inverts the rubber at a point  and flexes down right into my toes below. It’s very strange and it only happens on one shoe but it is a nail loser. And quickly.

Overall 

Without this strange flex thing in the one shoe, the Crossovers would be my all time favorite winter shoe. I tried like hell to fix them by breaking in the proper flexpoint using a variety of techniques – flexing them during the evening in the right spot over and over and taping them bent in the right spot. I do not know if I just have a bad pair or what but they are unusable.

I spend a fair amount of the year running on snow and ice. After trying all different kinds of ice running products, my favorite product so far is the La Sportiva Hobnail.

These wicked little units are made with a tungsten alloy head in some sort of metallic base. The threads are deep and more like an auger than a screw.

The Hobnails work differently than other types of traction devices as they just screw into the bottom of any old show. I tend not to like some of the products that slip on over the shoe as while this may be ok for a short run or walk, I don’t like the way it modifies form and collects snow for longer runs.

Things I like about La Sportiva Hobnails:

1 – They work in any shoe.

2 – You can pattern them in your shoes however you like. Put lots in or just put a few in.

3- They are removable and portable between shoes.

4- They last a long time. I have over 1000 km’s on my current set and they are still looking good.

5 – You can use them on rock. I’ve run them on slippery limestone karst and they work exceptionally well.

6-  Believe it or not, these things work very well on wet wood like bridge decks or even roots. Since you don’t notice them on the trail, I put them in for runs where I know I’ll encounter wet rock or wood.