Running in snowy conditions: It’s worth the effort

A question over social media recently asked, “Is it safe to run in the snow?”

The question came attached to a video of a couple of people running down a snowy street after being interviewed by a TV reporter. They were being interviewed about being outside in snowy, slick conditions. When they were done talking, the couple ran off and the camera followed them. As if on cue, the gal slipped and fell right on her butt, her head bouncing off the ground.

Ouch.

It’s a legitimate question, especially in light of the poor gal’s spill. People will refer to incidents like that, as well as other problems that come with inclement winter weather to stay indoors, or maybe confine the runs to the treadmill.

But I find there are good reasons to get out there anyway.

So long as it’s not icy, snow makes a pretty great running surface.

Sugary snow over a trail makes for an awesome running surface.

Sugary snow over a trail makes for an awesome running surface.

And like I wrote last week, your surroundings just look a little different when covered with snow. Most of our streets are clear, but the trails in the woods are still holding a lot of snow. It’s a whole other level of beauty that makes your training less work and more enjoyment.

High on a snowy, wooded ridge overlooking the Arkansas River below. There is no scenery indoors that can touch this, so why run inside?

High on a snowy, wooded ridge overlooking the Arkansas River below. There is no scenery indoors that can touch this, so why run inside?

So what to do?

Dress for the elements. Layer up, but remember that your body heat will add about 20 degrees to the actual temperature outside. So don’t overdo it on clothing.

Make sure you have good traction. My trail shoes are amazing on that front, so I don’t need additional traction. But most of you will. So consider using supplemental traction on your shoes. Yaktrax fit over your shoes and provide added traction; you can also put screws in the soles of your shoes, or check out some sole spikes like those from Goat Head.

Be wary of the conditions. Snow is one thing; ice is another. Spikes on your shoes will help; but ice for me, in most cases, is a no-go.

If it is too icy, there is always the treadmill. But just remember, the treadmill is not like running outside. When you’re on the road or trail, the act of running includes pushing off the ground, which recruits your whole leg. On a treadmill, your body if busy pulling your leg forward as the belt moves underneath you. That means some muscles (like the hip flexors) will work more while your quads, hamstrings and glutes will work less. For me, treadmills are a last resort, and not a long-term solution.

So go ahead and dare the elements. You’ll gain mental toughness points and probably enjoy it a lot more than you think.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: Scary hikes, more from the Leadville 100, treadmills and an amazing ski video

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Labor Day weekend is here! It’s the annual last fling of the summer, and I hope you all have an awesome time planned. I’ll be working, or training, or both. But no matter. Here’s some reading material for you before you head out for your holiday weekend adventures…

Here’s a really interesting photo gallery of 20 terrifying hikes.

There is a lawsuit over an ice climbing accident that could have major ramifications on businesses specializing in guiding climbs and other outdoor adventures. Via Outside magazine.

This blogger has a really cool post featuring behind-the-scenes photo from this summer’s Leadville 100 trail race. Excellent, candid photos.

The treadmill is a go-to tool for a lot of runners, or a standby backup when the weather does not cooperate. But this article explains how the physics of treadmill running differs greatly from outdoor running, and the side effects aren’t the best.

And finally, a really cool movie trailer to get you stoked for ski season. Enjoy it, and have an awesome weekend!

When technology speaks: Get outside, you wussy

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It started out innocently enough.

I got up yesterday morning and I was cold. Stayed cold till I walked out the door to run an errand. Came back home. Still cold.

The day called for a lifting session at the gym and a minimum of four miles of running. Pretty typical workout day for me during the middle of the week.

But I was tired of being cold.

Just one day before, I relished in a fine run through the increasingly rare phenomenon of an Oklahoma snow. I even posted a few comments online extolling the virtues of running on a couple of inches of fresh snow on grass. If memory serves right, I called it the best running surface ever. I stand by that comment.

If you follow this blog much, you know that I dislike any cardio indoors. Way too much fun to be had and benefits gained by exercising outdoors.

Rainy? Get outside.

Temps pushing 110? Get outside.

Windy and raw? Get outside.

That’s what I do. Even the blog’s header says so: “Life’s too short to be an indoor cat.”

But yesterday I just didn’t want to be cold. I also didn’t want to bag it for the day. That would be pretty lame, particularly with three races coming up. So I sentenced myself to getting my post-lift miles on the treadmill.

I think the treadmill has its uses, and I won’t judge you if that’s where you prefer to run. It’s just not my thing. So I had to really rationalize and pump myself up for it.

It had been awhile since I’d run on a treadmill. It would give me an excuse to listen to tunes on my iPod (No headphones outdoors for me. Another one of my quirks.) It would also give me an excuse to mentally power through miles while doing so in an environment where I don’t like to run (inside). Mental toughness matters!

Oh, and I wouldn’t be cold.

Fifteen sets of shoulders later, I squared up on the treadmill and powered it up. Led Zeppelin was cranking on the iPod. I spun the machine up to a good pace and eased into what I hoped would be 40 or 50 minutes of work before I had to wrap things up.

There were snags. Technology snags.

The earbud in my right ear kept falling out. Reason No. 324 I don’t like running with headphones, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to listen to the house music at the gym. Not when a Queens of the Stone Age or Black Keys tune could be up next on the shuffle. So I fought that for a bit.

Otherwise, things were good. My breathing was solid and unlabored compared to what usually happens when I’m outdoors. My legs were a little heavy, but that’s been a thing lately. My guess is I could have gone an hour and been OK, despite the monotonous nature of hamster-wheel running on a treadmill.

Then something fatally annoying happened. After 20 minutes, the treadmill automatically went into cool-down mode. I’d set it on manual, expecting that it would just keep time till I stopped, but not this new-fangled piece of hardware. Oh no. You have to set your time beforehand, or it goes into a secret default setting of 20 minutes.

Not acceptable.

It slowed me down to a walk, so I sped it back up, but the cool-down countdown was already under way. Five more minutes and I’d have to reset the damn thing again.

It was as if the machine were telling me something.

I know you’re just not that in to me. Go ahead. Go outside. It’s OK. Be free.

I looked at the clock. Twenty minutes until I had to stop and get ready for work.

I looked at my garb. No cool-weather clothing. Sweaty cotton T-shirt.

Outside it was 36 and drizzling heavily.

I didn’t care.

Already adequately warm, it didn’t matter that it was cold. The streets wouldn’t tell me that my time was up. No earbuds would be falling out. And there would be hills and puddles and new things to see on a funky winter day.

Off I went, my legs a little pooped but otherwise I was good. The street lights behaved, as did the traffic, and I returned 20 minutes later breathing hard, drenched from the mist and considerably happier than I would have expected.

I endeavored to embrace technology, and my technology spoke to me. It told me to suck it up, leave it behind and go outside.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Hiking and fitness: Training to go big, part 1

If you are planning on a big adventure on the trail, make sure your body is up to snuff. Part of the solution: Hitting the trail often to get yourself in hiking shape.

Winter is long gone, and for a lot of people that means big plans for spring and summer hiking and backpacking. The hardiest of us didn’t wince at winter and kept up our trailwork during the colder months. But plenty of us took the winter off. And still more are planning more ambitious treks for the summer.

If you’re not already in hiking shape, then the time is now to get going. Tackling long section hikes on the Appalachian Trail, or backpacking in the Rockies won’t be the same as your average weekend day hike in your favorite state or national park.

I’ve got some ideas for getting in hiking shape that will help you go big. In the first of two parts, we’ll tackle that with functional training. That is, you’re going to mimic the things you do on a hiking or backpacking adventure with your training.

Go on practice hikes. If you’re only getting out a couple of times a month or less, it’s time to up your mileage. If you’re planning a through hike of the Grand Canyon, then getting out to level, easy trails for a few miles a month won’t cut it. Get more ambitious and plan longer, tougher outings. Wear a loaded pack. Break in your boots if they’re new. The best way to get in hiking shape is to hike.

The prescription: Be walking often, averaging a couple of miles a day. Have one long outing a week – 8-10 miles, and plan for getting elevation loss and gain. The more the better, and do it with a pack. Load it light at first, but challenge yourself with a heavier pack as your conditioning improves. It works for the military, and it will work for you. In time, a 20-mile hump with a 60-pound pack will get you ready to tackle your big challenge. In your off time, spend as much time walking instead of driving as you can; park your car in the far corner of the office parking lot; make a point to walk to talk with co-workers instead of emailing or calling. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Add strides to your life.

Get on the treadmill. Ah yes, the dreaded treadmill. Or as I call it, The Dreadmill. Much maligned, but a very useful tool if you use it right. The treadmill is efficient in that you can find it at your local gym and at home. You can program inclines to strengthen your legs for uphill work and you can set speeds. Most treadmills also have their own programs to simulate elevation loss and gain and pick up the pace to increase intensity.

The prescription: If getting out on the trail multiple times a week is impractical, hit the treadmill 3-4 times a week. Time will be more limited, so make the most of it: jack up the incline, starting modestly (3 percent grade) and walk at a 3 mph pace. Increase the incline and speed as you get stronger. Make your sessions last 30-60 minutes a pop. And be sure to log your workouts in a journal to track your progress. For added difficulty, wear a loaded pack while you log your miles. In time, challenge yourself with a 4.5 mph walking pace.

Climb stairs. If you work in a multi-story office building (or have access to one) or live near a stadium, doing stairs pounds the glutes, quads, hams and calves. Walk them or run them, it doesn’t matter. This will not only strengthen your muscles, but will also build heart and lung strength – critical in treks with lots of elevation gain or those in higher altitudes.

The prescription: Use this as a cross-training workout, starting out at 20 minutes per session. Increase time and speed gradually by the week. And for added work, or course, wear a loaded pack. Substitute a hike day for stairs 1-2 times a week. Seek out stairmills or stair steppers at your gym and get 20-40 minutes of cardio on those, varying the pace, and as much as possible, don’t use the handrails.

Pick up the running habit. You don’t need to be a marathoner here, but running has huge benefits for hikers and backpackers. Do this and peel off unwanted pounds; dramatically increase heart and lung strength (perfect for high elevation adventures) and build up leg and core strength. What’s not to like?

The prescription: Run outside 2-3 times a week, starting at 20 minutes. If you have to stop and walk every now and then, go ahead. As you get stronger, increase the time and mileage SLOWLY every 1 to 2 weeks. You can start out on flat runs, but if you can get in some places with hills, tackle those. Trail running is even better.

By installing this game plan into your life, you are going to work your legs, core, lungs and heart in ways that will lead to big-time endurance, which means you won’t wear yourself out doing what you love on the trail.

Next post: Not all training has to be done out on the track and trail. Find out how to use the weight room to build a rugged and sturdy trekking frame.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Fitness tips: Why runners should hit the weight room

Hey runners: You should be here!

Is it true that there are gym rats and runners and never the twain shall meet? Probably an oversimplification. But what I’ve found is that a lot of serious runners really don’t do more than cursory work in the weight room. Any serious trainer will tell you that token weightlifting is not worth your time.

Each runner’s goals are different, and depending how much time is spent on the trail, in the park or on the streets, other fitness endeavors can be tough to squeeze in. But what I’m going to advocate is the old adage we use to tell people that they need to get on an exercise program: Make the time.

I’m a firm believer in weight training. It has practical applications that reach into everyday life, not just looking good in the mirror. The athletic benefits of a solid weight training program are countless, and lifelong weight trainers enjoy a higher degree of mobility as they age.

But do those benefits translate to what runners do?

Oh yes. Here are some reasons I think runners should also be weight lifters:

Weight training helps build a sturdier frame. A good, honest and moderately intense weight training program actually promotes the development of strong bones. As you challenge yourself with weights, extra stress on your bones sends a signal to the body to do more in building up bone density.

Weight training can enhance athletic performance. This is the “no duh” section of this post. But think about it: When you’re looking for some extra kick at the end of a race, or needing to push through that extra tough vert on a trail run, a little power is a nice thing to have. Squats and lunges, among other exercises, will complement your training by giving your body some extra juice when needed.

Weight training builds up overall muscular support. A good mix of upper body, core and lower body training will surround that powerful heart/lung system you already have going for you. A strong body will hold up better on longer or more grueling runs where you might otherwise begin to wither. That stronger frame will also prevent you from losing form, thus helping stave off nagging back, hip and knee injuries.

Weight training is perfect – and needed – cross training. Aside from the rock-and-root dodging you get on trail runs, most running (especially on a treadmill) is a pretty simple forward motion, almost like you’re a train on tracks. Your legs get worked, but some muscles work much more than others. A diverse weight training regimen can correct that, give you better overall muscular development and help stave off injuries.

Fears of bulking up too much are overblown, particularly for women. It’s true that you don’t see a lot of beefy dudes winning races and triathlons. Endurance sports and meaty frames don’t mix well. But a reasonable weight training program will not add any more bulk than what you want. It takes serious , intense lifting and a massive amount of calories to put on even just a few pounds of muscle. For women, it’s even harder because women aren’t genetically programmed to add copious amounts of lean mass. Just because you lift does not mean you’ll be carting around a lot of needless muscle mass on race day.

I know there are exceptions. People in the midst of training for a marathon, an ultra or an Olympic or Ironman-length triathlon get to a point where they have to dial it in on that type of training alone. But for most runners, there no good reasons to stay out of the weight room and plenty of good reasons to pick up some iron.

Next time, I’ll take on an even more dire subject: Why weight lifters should run.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Fitness tips: How to make the treadmill interesting when you can’t go outside

Can't get outside? Dreading the thought of spending 45 minutes on one of these? It doesn't have to be boring. In fact, treadmills can be challenging and fun when incorporated into an interval workout using weights.

Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised when I say that I am not a huge fan of the treadmill.

As much as I enjoy my running habit, the treadmill just wears me out. I can go for miles outside, but after a mile on the treadmill I am ready to shut the thing down and move on to something else.

But there are some days and places where the treadmill is the only viable option. Living in the Sunbelt, there are few days where you can’t get outside. But up north, it’s a different matter altogether. And some people live in cities without decent or safe places to run.

But what do you do if you need that cardio buzz but don’t like the hamster wheel feel of a treadmill?

My suggestion is to mix it up. I had a friend show me a workout he does in which you incorporate weights and treadmill work in one session that will get you some running time, strength training and a solid blast of cardio work all within about 40 to 45 minutes. I’ve done this many times since and have found it to be an effective and challenging workout.

So let’s say I want to lift arms that day. What I’m going to do is nine supersets divided into three parts. The first could look like this:

1. Dumbell curls, 10 reps; overhead tricep extensions, 10 reps; 1 minute, 15 second run on the treadmill at  7-8 mph. Repeat two more times.

The superset should be done with no rest between stations. Next, you could move to the second superset:

2. Hammer curls with dumbells, 8 reps; cable pushdowns, 12 reps; 1:15 run on the treadmill, 7-8 mph. Repeat two more times.

Notice by now you’ve run approximately 7 minutes and 30 seconds, and the runs are all done at a pretty fast clip. If 7-8 mph is not fast for you, pick a speed that is. Your cardio benefit, however, is much longer because you’re also lifting weights while your heart rate is elevated from the run. You’re in a sustained cardio zone now, and you’re not done. We move on to the third superset:

3. Barbell curls, 8 reps; skull crushers, 8 reps; 1:15 on the treadmill, but pick your speed up an extra 1 mph.

The last superset will be the most intense as you increase speed on treadmill while also growing tired from what is now at least 35 minutes of constant activity. By the time you’re done, you will likely have run 1.25 miles and performed 18 sets of weightlifting. You got some running in plus strength training. Within 45 minutes, you’re done!

You can mix this up to suit however you choose to lift weights. Your supersets can be one set of lifting, one set running. This could be even tougher, as the “down” time between runs will be shorter. You also can do more or less than 9 supersets, depending on what you want to do. What I like about this is it gives you the same benefits of interval training but also adds strength training to the mix. Plus, you get your run in! And it breaks up the monotony of treadmill work.

One thing I would caution: Don’t do this on a day where your strength training focuses on legs. A run/lift workout like this on leg day will rob you of using all the power you could be using to maximize your weightlifting workout. The same may be true with mixing upper body lifts with running bursts, but it’s particularly acute and counterproductive on leg day.

So if you can’t get outside to run and can’t bear the thought of pounding out your miles on a treadmill, try something like this to keep things interesting and challenging.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088