Let there be snow.

One of the things I’ve really been looking forward to is the opportunity to go running in the snow. Given that I’m a relatively recent convert to this whole “running” thing, I haven’t had a decent (or indecent for that matter) opportunity to go running in the snow. As of two days ago that much has changed. On Friday it started snowing rather early and the accumulation over the course of the storm was somewhere between 8 and 12 inches, depending on where exactly in town one measured.

Standard disclaimers apply. If you live up north you probably experience this sort of snow twice a week. If you live high up in the Rockies you’re probably buried in this for seven or eight months a year. To someone living in the south who gets to see visible snow accumulation maybe once or twice a year, this is notable. So please, keep relative experience in mind. Every geographic area has things that other areas have less of.

ANYWAY, I was as prepared for snow as one who has never been running in the snow can reasonably expect to be. My train of thought was generally that if I prepare for the temperature at hand and just waterproof as much as possible on top of that, then I should be pretty okay. Fortunately I wasn’t too far off of the mark, but I was off of the mark enough to know that I was, in fact, off the mark.

Run 1: Friday – The Standard 5k Loop

A bit of quick clarification: some months ago I figured out a pretty solid 5k loop starting at the corner by my house and ended at the corner a block up. A little later I found out that most of the loop is actually in the route for the local 8k race which made me feel pretty good about the route selection. Regardless, it’s a pretty solid 5k route and I use it, and variations of it, quite often for all sorts of things. And of course I refer to it as The Standard 5k Loop.

Moving on, Friday I decided to wander out in the snow and see how I fared. According to the Accuweather app on my phone it was 32F outside and the snow was coming down (for the record this is in no way an endorsement of the Accuweather app as I find it to be at odds with reality in a fair number of circumstances).

I suited up in a pair of Baleaf tights, a thick Nike Pro long sleeve shirt, and my trusty North Face Flight Series Fuse jacket (basically a thin shell: supposedly breathable, and supposedly designed for running). On the feet I figured I’d double up on the insulation and went for some Injinji sport socks underneath some Smartwool trekking socks with the shoe of choice being my usual singletrack shoes: the venerable Altra Superior 3.0. On the hands I figured I’d overprepare and wore a pair of thick, waterproof work gloves.

In a mere 3.1 miles I learned quite a bit about snow running versus “regular” cold weather running. I generally follow the rule of dressing as if its 20F warmer than it really is, and for non-snow situations this has proven to be accurate more often than not. Turns out for snow I need to shift that up a notch to dressing as if the temperature is about 30F warmer for everything from the waist up. For the waist down I need to reel that back a bit.

Basically I completely sweated out everything up top. Had I worn nothing but my jacket (which is remarkably thin, by the way) I still would have been sweating. The bottom half ended up just about perfect. My gloves, however, were almost completely soaked in spite of not having so much as touched any snow during the run.

The apparel was easily fixable as I have enough in my wardrobe to adjust. On the other hand, another accessory proved to be quite a pain: my sunglasses. I used my regular sport sunglasses (some off brand I picked up cheap on Amazon) and for approximately 60% of the run my vision was moderately to severely compromised as a result of the snow. Note that taking them off wasn’t a satisfactory option as then I just had snowflakes in my eyes.

It was quite a learning experience, but the real test would be taking the feedback and applying it on a second run in the snow.

Run 2: Saturday – 7.5 Miles

So it turns out that snow is made of water. Who’d have thought, right? Sarcasm aside, I had planned on running somewhere from 10 miles to a proper 13.1, but had to cut it short. The long and short of it is that my feet ended up getting rather wet.

I took what I learned on Friday and made adjustments as the wardrobe allowed. Everything from the waist down was exactly the same (pretty sure I reused some of the socks). Up top, I went for an extremely thin Nike Pro top and a Hind quarter-zip pullover. I wore the same sunglasses as it wasn’t snowing and thus shouldn’t present the same problems. For gloves I reeled back to a medium weight waterproof glove (which still ended up being too much). Accuweather showed the temperature at 34F when I left the house.

I took off at a modest 8:00-ish pace and headed for Jackson Park, the closest access to the local greenway. Unfortunately due to snow melt, the greenway presented a few issues. Notably there was enough slush and standing water to really get my feet wet. A credit to the Altras the water drained quickly and effectively and the dual socks kept me out of trouble, but it was after pressing on for a few more miles with more snow and more slush it became obvious that the situation wasn’t sustainable. I had cut around and back to the Standard 5k Loop so I resolved to finish it out and then went around the block for an even 7.5, but then I had to call it. Another mile and I think I would have regretted it.

Lesson learned. Today I bought some water resistant shoes. I grabbed the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 with the Neoshell outer and the matching gaiters. My current gaiters are all good and all, but won’t fit as snugly as the native Altra ones which I feel will do a better job in future snowy situations. I also grabbed some vented goggles to replace the sunglasses for future snow runs, more on those when it snows again I guess.

In dryer snow I suppose the Altra Superiors would have worked a bit better for longer runs. To their credit at no point was I ever at a loss of traction and my feet were comfortable, if chilly, for the entire run. The wet southern snow, however, was a bit too much. Now I’m really looking forward to the next snow storm.

Outside of that, I was eyeing a pair of trail shoes with more cushion than the Superiors anyway as I have some long trail races coming up. Notably I wanted something thicker for Fontandango (early March) and my scheduled Pitchell attempt (end of March) and it would obviously be nice to have a hundred or so miles of proper training in them before Fontandango rolls around.

Until next time, happy trails everyone.


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