I set out with high expectations. The day is glorious. Truly. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, the dogs are happy. It’s a routine run, on a route I take quite a lot. I run for a while, following an unusually narrow path, until I take a misstep… and sink to my thigh. I say some words that are best said in the woods alone, and pull my leg out.
The world transformed last night, and the footing that I have come to rely on as a human being has failed me. This trail has many faces: choking dust, mud that will pull you to the center of the earth, cracked, uneven clay from the days following said mud, and, rarely, a perfectly runnable surface. Today it wears a coat of heavy snow.
If you live among snow, you understand that it also has many faces. There is a powdery snow that has made the local ski resorts famous, but sometimes the snow has a heavy, wet feel. It’s a snow that is shockingly hard to shovel from the driveway. How could something that looks so soft and fluffy be so heavy? That’s the kind I’m running in today.
I get going again. I’m running in snowshoe tracks from before this most recent storm. As long as I stay in the tracks, I’m good. If I step to the side… see above.
The dogs are bounding through the snow with no effort. The Ivy Dog fox hops, then dives face first after a real or imaginary animal scent. Clayton the Malador burrows face first into the snow, then rolls to be sure he’s thoroughly coated. They bound and fall and smile. They smile a lot.
I huff along, make little progress, and walk more than I run. I’m a little annoyed by the whole situation.
Then I stop. I take a drink and just stand for a moment. I’m suddenly struck by the beauty of the woods in their blanket of fresh snow, the deep blue of the pines, boughs bent low under the weight, the stands of paper white quakies, snow clinging to a few straggly leaves, a raven circling overhead, scolding the dogs, or me. A tiny cottontail moves on top of the snow, so light it doesn’t sink.
I start running again, my attitude all adjusted now, and accept that this is going to be slower and shorter than planned. The snowshoe tracks end. The going gets tougher. I readjust my plan. I’ll run to a particular meadow, no matter how deep the snow gets, and turn around. It’s not what I planned, but as a workout, it’s much better than running on a dry trail.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about running in the snow:
- Wear waterproof shoes. I have Salomon Speedcross 3 in the ClimaShield version and they keep my feet dry, especially with neoprene gaiters. If you don’t have waterproof shoes, which I didn’t for many years, put bags inside your shoes, over your socks. Those bags you buy ice in work really well, but be sure to empty them first. Or just use grocery bags. Wrap them around your ankle with duct tape. No, I’m not kidding.
- Double up on your pants. Your tights are going to get wet, so an extra layer is nice.
- Plan to go slow. It doesn’t matter if you plan this, because you’ll go slow no matter what you plan, but this will help you accept the pace and not get all annoyed.
- Pick a trail that gets some use. Running on a packed surface of snow is fantastic. Another trail I like has a lot of fat boy bike traffic. The tires on these bikes are so wide that they pack the snow down nicely. The same can be said for areas with a lot of snowshoeing traffic. Horse traffic isn’t so great. Horses leave deep holes that create an uneven and possibly injury-producing surface. But they have beautiful eyes.
- Take extra fuel. Between the snow struggle and the cold, you’re burning calories like a pizza oven. I hate being hungry, especially when I know I’m miles from food.
- Buy some running snowshoes. Running snowshoes are short and narrow compared to a regular snowshoe, allowing you to run with an almost normal gait. I have the Redfeather Vapor (which I’ll review in a future blog) and they are light and very easy to use. They don’t take the place of a regular snowshoe, they will sink pretty substantially in deep, powdery snow, but there are times they can make the difference between a trail and a treadmill.
- Savor the experience. The snow makes the world look enchanted. The lighting is different, sounds and smells are enhanced. Some of my favorite runs have been during snowstorms, with giant flakes falling through silent skies.
- Appreciate how lucky you are to be where you are, instead of inside a building somewhere not even aware of this magical world.
- Take pictures so you can remember this when you are in a building somewhere.
As a trailrunner, you’re probably already resilient and able to adjust to a crazy variety of conditions. Snow running adds some new dimensions to runs, but the experience is worth the effort. Plus, if you run all winter, even if the runs aren’t as long and fast as you’d like, you’ll go into spring with a solid training base.
And don’t forget to take the dogs. The dog smiles make the struggle worthwhile.