Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Winter Running

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?
Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again. 

--Robert Louis Stevenson, Windy Nights

I have written here before about the anticipation and slight fear I feel before going out in long races. I have a similar sort of concern about the weather, and a lot of it is tied to the season. I very rarely am concerned about going out for runs in the fall or spring, in the very hot season of summer, or the bitter cold and wet of winter I get very preoccupied not with the run, but instead with my safety.

Over the years of reading about endurance athletes who work in similar or harsher climates I have come to realize that the human body is capable of enduring a lot more than we think it is. It is just hard for me to build up a trust in myself about preparing for those conditions. This means that I have headed out into the winter under-dressed. I've headed out onto the ice sheets New Englanders call roads before with no spikes on (lesson learned: wear spikes.) Conversely, I have run the Eastern States 20 miler two years in a row overdressed, and it slowed me down incredibly.

Still, there is something I really love about winter running. I like the challenge of it, the feeling that I've really accomplished something different from my "normal" routine. I like the new look on a place that I have grown so accustomed to.

I am also forced to be really creative when it comes to running post-large snowfalls. My little section of my little city becomes impossible to leave, because our neighborhood is surrounded by main roads, and the sidewalks become impossible to traverse. Last year I ended up doing loops on mile long roads to get in my runs -- it was an exercise which built a lot of mental toughness but also helped me with my endurance, because I was forced to turn every workout into a hill workout. As February has become snowy, I've found that having a good set of Tabi boots has really helped me venture out of the neighborhood, even with the built up snow. We will see how long that lasts, though. The problem around here isn't so much that we get snow, but how much we get of it and then where to put all of that snow. It can make for tricky, if not impossible conditions for pedestrians.

Last year Vibram came out with a waterproof version of the shoe that I used to wear by them -- the Bikila. I intended to try that out, but I have been disappointed by my last couple of pairs of Vibrams. The first pair I owned held up to about 1,500 miles on the roads. They broke down at the end of that, but I was so impressed I bought two more pairs to rotate, and those died out on me at about 400 miles. That isn't terrible, but it isn't the same quality I had in the first pair.

Another problem I've had in previous years is finding the correct traction on the ice -- a problem I remedied by using YakTrax running spikes strapped to my Vibrams. This was rough on the shoes, though, and actually ended up holding large chunks of ice between my toes -- not ideal for two hour plus runs. I've also found that the winter in New England is rough on the YakTrax. They're made for running on sheets of ice, a condition we very rarely have here in southern New England. More often we have large expansive pockets of slush with large sections of ice. The spikes are nice for those sections, but over time they get chewed up from the amount of asphalt that they end up striking. I ended up buying two pairs last season and changing out the removable spikes mid-season.

I am still a big time Vibram fan (although I also like running barefoot) but given these QA problems I decided to try some other stuff out for winter. If you have been reading the blog for awhile you know that I've been running in a $40 pair of Tabi spiked boots that have been getting me through this winter well as I train for Big Sur. As of this writing they have 62 miles on them, and they've taken a moderate amount of wear. They don't really need to last me more than February, I figure, but even if I had to re-order, I'd still be spending less than last year's two pairs of YaxTrax and one pair of Vibrams.

I wanted to look into snow-shoe running this winter, too. We had three fairly sizable storms last year, and living very close to the bike path I was frustrated at the three or so months it was completely unusable. If I had some snow shoes it would be easier to get some miles in and really see some neat stuff out on the path.  Between the inconsistent snowfall, and the added expenses of our growing family that is looking unlikely at this point. Besides that, the Tabi I've been wearing are also well waterproofed so I have been able to use the bike path a bit more while staying dry.

If I end up purchasing snow shoes at some future date, I'm sure I will blog about that at length here as well. One of the other advantages it would give me is a change to do some real climbing: the bike path near me has more elevation gain than most of my neighborhood. Could be helpful in training for Big Sur.

We'll see how they hold up, but I'm happy with them. I may even buy a set of normal Jika tabi to try out in the spring!

On the fatherhood front, I am lucky for the snow we get, because it generally means less time at work and more time at home. The baby is now able to focus on our faces, and she smiles and even giggles. It is hard to explain the feeling -- for the first few weeks they don't really interact, and now that she can interact with us more I feel like all the loss of sleep and stress is worth it. So cool.

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