Snow day: A rare hiking treat in my hometown

Living in the Southern Plains, snow is not guaranteed. Usually we’re good for a few snowy days a year, but not lately. The past few years have been remarkably snow-free.

But there is a lot to be said for a good hike on a snowy day. When it snows here, I don’t hunker down. I get outside. There’s nothing quite so beautiful as a forest with a fresh coat of snow.

These photos were taken on a modest five-mile hike at Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area over the weekend after a two-inch dusting overnight. By the time you read this, almost all of this snow will be gone. Hence the urgency to get out there and enjoy it.

The Cityplex Towers framed by snow-covered tree limbs.

Being in the middle of a city, you get a good mix of woodland and urban scenery. This view was a good example of that.

Moonscape, along the ridge at Turkey Mountain.

Sadly, I wasn’t up early enough for first tracks. But it was still pretty cool.

Snowy singletrack.

Not a lot of packed snow, and the trail was muddy and icy. But not too bad.

Leaving the ridge and looking south on the Powerline Trail

Snow and ice on the powerlines made a very audible buzzing sound. That was weird.

A natural arch.

Even though we’re in winter, fall is stubborn in these parts. Some plants refuse to lose their fall foliage, even when weighed down by snow.

Detail shot of frozen foliage.

I dig the optics of a winter close-up.

Anyway, nothing profound or earth-shattering here. Snow is somewhat of a novelty in my city. Although I grew up in snowy places as a kid, being away from its regularity has made it fascinating again.

Enjoy your winter, folks.

Bob Doucette

Advertisements

Running in the cold: Five things to consider

Too cold to run? Nonsense. You can still get out there.

Too cold to run? Nonsense. You can still get out there.

If last week reminds of us anything, it’s that cold weather season is here. One good cold snap plunged our nightly lows into single digits, and any thoughts of a mild winter have gone out the window. Gone are the days of those balmy runs where shorts and a T-shirt were all you needed.

But if you’re like me, the thought of relegating yourself to the treadmill or some hamster-wheel indoor track isn’t going to cut it. And neither will mailing it in on the couch. But, man, it’s really cold out there!

So what do you do?

You get out there. But you get out there prepared to deal with the elements. The truth is, you can get your training done and get your outside fix even when the temps drop to freezing or lower. In fact, you should get outside. So here are some ideas to help you get outside and get your training in…

First, prepare your mind. You can dread the cold, or you can look at it as a challenge. I prefer the latter. If you can force your mind to being OK with enduring cold temps, your training calendar opens up. Mental toughness is part of the process of becoming a better athlete, and part of that is being able to tackle a wider variety of conditions. If you’re constantly looking for the Goldilocks zone of training, you’ll only get outside for a few of weeks of the year. So get your mind right, saddle up and go.

Keep in mind, you’ll warm up as you go. If you’re standing around outside when it’s cold, you’ll feel cold. But when you’re moving, things change. I once heard marathon coach and Runners World contributing editor Bart Yasso tell athletes that you can expect to feel 20 degrees warmer than the actual outside temps during exercise. I can attest to this. At last month’s Route 66 Half Marathon, I stayed good and warm throughout the race despite temperatures that started in the lower 30s. There were two constants in that. The first, I was moving. The second leads me to the next point…

Dress for success. No, you won’t be able to train comfortably in sub-freezing temperatures dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. You’ve got to plan better than that. When it’s really cold, you need to keep warmth in your extremities, so that means a hat, decent socks and, if cold enough, gloves. But you also don’t want to get too warm. All that sweat could chill you further and counteract your desire to be warm (remember Bart Yasso’s 20-degree rule). So with that in mind, Runners World came up with a handy guide to clothing for the cold for runners. I’ll list it here rather than reinvent the wheel:

30 degrees: 2 tops, 1 bottom. Long-sleeve base layer and a vest keep your core warm. Tights (or shorts, for polar bears).

10 to 20 degrees: 2 tops, 2 bottoms. A jacket over your base layer, and wind pants over the tights.

0 to 10 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms. Two tops (fleece for the cold-prone) and a jacket.

Minus 10 to 0 degrees: 3 tops, 2 bottoms, extra pair of mittens, 1 scarf wrapped around mouth or a balaclava.

Minus 20 degrees: 3 tops, 3 bottoms, 2 extra pairs of mittens, 1 balaclava, sunglasses. Or, in other words, “Stay inside.”

Sounds like good advice to me.

If you dress for it, cold weather runs can be awesome.

If you dress for it, cold weather runs can be awesome.

Think about precipitation. If it’s snowing or raining, be sure to have some sort of rain gear to keep your body dry. Wear moisture-wicking socks. And if possible, the most water-resistant shoe you have. You’ll probably still get a little wet, but do the things that will mitigate weather-related moisture on your body.

Fuel and hydrate properly. Just because it’s cold does not mean your hydration needs won’t be high. Colder months are often drier months, so proper hydration is still very important. Also, your body burns more calories when it’s cold than when it does when it’s warm. How so? Your body has to work harder just to keep its core temperature up. It’s a battle in which your body is resisting the outside temperatures’ pressure to bring your body temperature down. Stoking your inner furnace costs calories, and if you’re not properly fueled, you can bonk pretty hard in the cold. It happens. So fuel up and hydrate.

So there are five things you can do to get ready for cold weather training. What other tips to you have? Feel free to comment and give me your advice!

Bob Doucette

In memoriam: Snow in the Southern Plains

Near the Turkey Mountain trailhead.

Near the Turkey Mountain trailhead.

We’ve had one snow this winter here in the Southern Plains and Osage Hills of northeastern Oklahoma. One. Lousy. Snow.

Snow can be a pain in the butt, especially in places that aren’t used to seeing it much. Drivers here lose their minds if anything sticks.

But there are great pleasures to be had for the outdoorsy set when the snow starts piling up. Lacking anything to ski on, a good hike or run through the woods during or after a nice-sized snowfall will do just fine.

With each passing day, it looks like that may not happen down here. So in memory of winter wonderlands of times past, here is a gallery of snowy scenes from my local trails. Enjoy!

A forest dusted with fresh snow, under leaden skies.

A forest dusted with fresh snow, under leaden skies.

Water sports for a warmer day.

Water sports for a warmer day.

Snowy singletrack.

Snowy singletrack.

Action traction.

Action traction.

Packed powder on this run.

Packed powder on this run.

The woodlands version of winter fashion.

The woodlands version of winter fashion.

Back to the trail. Forecast: Snow.

Back to the trail. Forecast: Snow.

Rock in a cold place.

Rock in a cold place.

Blanketed in white, and other shades of winter.

Blanketed in white, and other shades of winter.

More icy rocks.

More icy rocks.

Yup. I like this stuff.

Yup. I like this stuff.

If you’ve run of hiked some trails during or right after a good now, you know how great that can be. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re going to miss out this time.

I could end up eating my words. Winter isn’t over.  Judging from what I’ve seen in around here in the past, I’d happy to be wrong.

Bob Doucette

Gear review: Kahtoola Microspikes

Extra traction for the snow.

Extra traction for the snow.

It’s not often I get to test snow gear out where I live, which is a real hindrance when I want to use such things in the high country. But every now and then, I get that chance.

A couple of decent days of snow in my part of the world gave me the opportunity to whip out a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes I own, which to this day have only been used for hiking purposes. But how would they do on a trail run? That’s what I wanted to find out. But let’s tackle the basics first.

SPECS

Microspikes are one of a variety of products out there designed to give you extra traction to what you already have on your boots or shoes. There are other products, ranging from screw-in spikes that go into the bottoms of your shoes to crampons, which are used in glacier walking and steep hiking and mountaineering ventures where snow and ice is involved. Crampons can be overkill in a lot of circumstances, and deeper snow can render screw-in spikes less effective. So that’s where Microspikes and products like them come in.

The basic design is a rubber upper that slips over your boot or shoe, with steel chains on the sole. The soles also have 10 to 12 1-centimeter spikes, depending on the size you require (10 spikes for extra small, 12 for small to extra large). Each pair weighs 12 to 15-1/2 ounces, again depending on your size. I wear a 10-1/2 shoe, so I wear the large size that comes in at 14.4 ounces per pair.

Microspikes are easy to put on your shoe — the flexibility of the rubber makes it to where no straps or tightening devices are needed, provided you get the right size. Each pair comes with a two-year warranty.

So how’d they do?

An easy fit over my shoes.

An easy fit over my shoes.

HIKING

My first test came during a late spring trip into the mountains where a lot of snow was present. The snow itself was soft in spots and deep enough for kickstepping. In terms of weight, I didn’t notice much in the way be being slowed , and because of the smaller size of the spikes, it was pretty easy to transition between snow and bare rock without losing too much traction. This would not have been the case with crampons.

On that note, getting that extra traction proved helpful, particularly as the snow softened throughout the day. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any slips (there were, mostly because of the softness of the snow), but compared to a plain boot, I’d say I stuck to those slick surfaces pretty well.

Overall, the Microspikes make a decent compromise when a bare boot is not going to cut it, but crampons prove to be more steel on your foot than you really need. Experience will dictate that.

TRAIL RUNNING

Let me start off by saying that the trail shoes I use for running have proved to be more than adequate traction for running in snow, even when inclines are involved. I tested my Salomon Sense Mantras in snowy conditions last winter and noticed minimal slipping. And considering how light they are, that’s a good thing.

But I realize that some people’s shoes just aren’t ready to tackle snow. So that’s where external traction comes into play.

I put mine on and headed out for a hilly, technical 4.4-mile trail run with about 3-4 inches of fresh snow. The conditions included anything from dense powder on less-traveled trails to packed powder on places that had seen some traffic.

The run started out with a climb of about 50 feet. It was moderately steep, so this was going to be a place where slipping was bound to occur. But that did not happen. The teeth of the spikes dug in and my feet gained excellent traction throughout that little uphill.

The same could be said of the downhills. I was somewhat conservative at first, but later tried to pick up the pace on any downward slopes and had no troubles with my footing. A great sign.

But there are a couple of things I noticed. First, I did have to readjust the Microspikes on my right foot near the toe, as they’d started to shift off-center. That only happened once, but you may experience times where you have to adjust the spikes so they give you optimal traction and the chains/spikes don’t get too loose underfoot.

Second, the weight on my feet was noticeable. I didn’t get any snow balling under my shoes, but that added 7.2 ounces on each foot makes a difference. So be prepared for that.

A look at the Mirospikes from the bottom.

A look at the Mirospikes from the bottom.

OVERALL

The Kahtoola Micropikes are a durable, rugged solution for the lighter-duty traction needs of hikers and trail runners who want to tackle the snow. You may get slowed a bit if you’re a runner, and be sure to weigh your traction needs when facing steep slopes that are snowy or icy — they’re good for overall traction, but are not a substitute for crampons when crampons are what you need. But less than that, they are great to have for any number of late fall, winter and early spring adventures in the snow.

Price: $64.95 per pair suggested retail.

Note: I purchased my pair with my own funds.

Bob Doucette

Snow day: Hitting the trails in the quiet of winter

On the east slopes of Turkey Mountain, overlooking the Arkansas River.

On the east slopes of Turkey Mountain, overlooking the Arkansas River.

It’s not exactly common for us here in the Southern Plains to get much snow, at least not anything worth mentioning. It’s infrequent enough that when it happens, schools close, grocery stores are raided and TV meteorologists go into full-on freak-out mode, something less than what we see during tornado season, but not by much.

Snow also sends some people outside, building snowmen, sledding or otherwise playing around in conditions that elicit a collective shrug to the people up north or in the high country. Most people, however, just stay in.

And that means my local playground empties out quite nicely. I run a lot at Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, and when the weather is nice, I’m there with boatloads of other people. During a good snowfall, those numbers drop precipitously.

I try to make a point of going out there after a good snow, partly for the solitude, but mostly because of the beauty. Have a look at these shots and you’ll see what I mean…

It almost looks like an avenue of winter goodness. And it's soft underfoot.

It almost looks like an avenue of winter goodness. And it’s soft underfoot.

On the north end of the Ridge Trail, you get to see these boulders. They look a little different graced with some snow.

Framed just right. That's quite a scene.

Framed just right. That’s quite a scene.

Turning back south, you get a great view of the Arkansas River.

Chilly waters. But very pretty.

Chilly waters. But very pretty.

And then something you rarely see: Me in a selfie. I don’t do these very much, for obvious reasons. But at least you know I was there.

Yes, the beard ages me. But I did the pensive "not looking at the camera because I'm so rad" thing pretty well, right? Someone find me a selfie stick! GoPro superstar!

Yes, the beard ages me. But I did the pensive “not looking at the camera because I’m so rad” thing pretty well, right? Someone find me a selfie stick! GoPro superstar!

This is what I get to do in a place where I can’t ski. In any case, what I got out of the deal was a 4.4-mile run in the snow, a chance to see the woods in a whole new way and a little bit of solitude at a time when that’s been in short supply. It wasn’t the strongest run I’ve ever had (I’m not exactly in shape right now), but it was definitely worth the time and effort.

I’ve lived by the idea of embracing the elements, and what you see in those photos is a good reason why. It might be cold and wet, but it’s awesome in every way. Good things happen when you head outside.

Bob Doucette

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

Seen on the run: Giving winter a chance

This winter has been a mixed bag for much of the country. Out east and north, the “Polar Vortex” has given people a colder, snowier winter than has been seen in some time. Out west in California, drought. Here in the Southern Plains, we’ve been on the edge of both. It’s been colder than normal (blame that on a really weird jet stream path) but also a bit dry.

But this week, it’s been different. Finally, some rain, sleet and snow. On top of that, temps dropping into the single digits, spiking out of the 20s and into the 30s. For you northern types, typical or even balmy. That’s not the case for the folks who live here. In these parts, most folks are either hitting the treadmill at home or at the gym, or even bagging it altogether.

There are plenty of reasons to steer clear of bad winter weather, but most of the time, getting out in less-than-favorable elements is a matter of will and preparation. And if you’re not getting out, you’re missing out.

Sunday was a fine day to be making some tracks in the snow, mostly because everything looks and feels a little different outside right after a good snowfall, even if it’s just a couple of inches.

The interplay of light from the sun through low winter clouds can be mesmerizing.

snowrun1

The wind can have an effect on how much snow actually sticks around on various surfaces. But even a little bit sticking to familiar places can make them seem new in some ways. New and clean.

snowrun2

And the things snow does to landscapes is just as refreshing. The green of spring or the brown of fall have their own feel, but that icy white and gray of a good post-snow setting has a strange purifying effect when you look out across the horizon.

snowrun3

These are the things the eyes see, but there is also the pleasure of running through soft, powdery snow and the bracing chill of the air as your heart quickens and your breathing goes deep. People start pining for summer in days like this, but really, the air in mid-July is decidedly less refreshing than it is now. Sure, there are ridiculous conditions where calling things off comes into play. But if you can dress right and come to terms with being in the cold for awhile, go ahead and get off the couch and get outside.

Go for a hike. Break out the snowshoes (yeah, I saw a guy on the trails here in Tulsa hiking in snowshoes). Plot out a run. You never know what you’ll see, hear and feel.

Give winter a chance.

Bob Doucette