Winter Running: Good Locations, Pro Tips and a Cool Hack

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Thursday, January 5, 2017, 9:13 am
Jessy Gregg

In spite of the challenges, winter weather can be an exciting change for Michigan runners. “Running in the first snowfall. When the road isn't icy and the flakes are big, there's something magical about that moment. It's always my best run,” said Elena Barnby, a military spouse whose family is currently stationed outside of Michigan. Her snowy memories might be tinged with nostalgia for the white stuff, but you’ll still see plenty of Winter Warriors bounding through the drifts as you drive around town.

Staying active in the winter months requires different strategies and gear than summer running does. Cold and ice are real dangers and should be taken seriously. “MSU's campus is a treasure in the winter. The grounds crew keeps the sidewalks snow and ice free unlike much of the community,” said Meridian Township resident Lindsey LaForte. Finding neighborhoods without too much through traffic is a good strategy as well. The Groesbeck Neighborhood in Lansing, and the Pinecrest Neighborhood in East Lansing are two good examples.

Municipal trails can be hit or miss as far as snow clearing goes. I have started out several times on my summer favorite, the Northern Tier trail in East Lansing only to turn back early due to packed ice and scary footing. The Lansing River Trail, which stretches from Old Town near the historic Turner Dodge Mansion all the way to MSU’s campus is usually plowed and salted within a few days of major snowfall.

The River Trail spur around Hawk Island Park is especially popular with local runners and is usually the first section cleared. Some hiking trails switch over to cross-country skiing in the winter, but that doesn’t mean you have to hang up your shoes if you are a trail runner. “Woldumar Nature Center has the best trails,” said Gisgie Davila Gendreau, an experienced Lansing runner who is training for her next ultramarathon. Woldumar is compact but the many intersecting trails leave lots of options for getting your miles in.

Gear is an important part of the winter running equation. Finding a balance between enough and too much can be tricky and will probably require some experimentation. A good rule of thumb is to dress for weather about 15 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. Running warms you up fast and being overdressed can cause you to sweat which will end up making you colder. If you’re serious about running in the Michigan winters. Consider investing in some wool layers. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling damp which means that it will still insulate even after it’s soaked in sweat. It’s also naturally anti-microbial so it resists the dirty sock smell that manmade tech fibers can pick up over time.

The all-weather runners that I spoke to had near religious reverence for clothing from the Smartwool Company. “I wear Smartwool underneath a long sleeved tech shirt and running pants, as well as Smartwool socks. I also have a Buff (though not a Smartwool one) and Smartwool gloves,” said Sarah Hauck, a dedicated winter runner. Lansing resident Kate Skowronek added, “I love my Smartwool Buff. It keeps my neck warm and warms up the air before I breathe it without the bulk of a scarf.” Buff is a trademarked name for a long sleeve of fabric that can be used as a neck gaiter, a face cover, or a headband, The Buff company isn’t the only one who makes them but people tend to use the name for any fabric sleeve regardless of manufacturer. Wool socks are also popular among winter running enthusiasts.

Traction is another crucial aspect of winter training. There are many products available to increase stability in icy conditions. Two names that pop up again and again in online running communities are Yak Trax and Ice Trekkers. Both of these strap to the bottom of your shoe and have either metal coils or little spikes to increase traction in slippery conditions. They’re based on same idea as putting tire chains on your car. If you are more of a DIYer you can try hacking a pair of your running shoes with short, hexagonal headed sheet metal screws. To make “screw shoes” you screw them directly in the rubber sole of the running shoe, around the perimeter where there’s no chance of them poking into your foot. The main drawback of creating screw shoes is that the shoes become dedicated outdoor shoes, so you’ll need another pair if you plan to do any treadmill running.

A final word of caution before you head out the door to prove yourself against the elements: dark winter days mean low visibility. A headlamp, or a blinker can help you be seen in the winter twilight. There are lights and high visibility clothing available at every price point from dollar stores up to high end technical gear. Even a simple fix like sewing a strip of reflective tape to your jacket can be a life saver. “You definitely have to be alert and willing to deal with snow drifts, but just being out in the quiet while snow falls around you is worth the effort,” according to MSU student Cori McKenzie.

If you’ve never tried running outside in the winter before, try a short experimental outing close to home to test your gear first. Cold weather and ice don’t mean you can’t enjoy running outdoors as long as you take a few simple precautions.




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