Friday, December 26, 2008

The "No Excuses" Guide to Winter Running

Living at nearly 6000 feet in the Rockies it takes some creativity and at times a good kick in the tights to get out the door and run once winter laces her icy fingers throughout the mountains. But, if there's one thing I've learned over the past winters, it's that keeping up a steady schedule of running helps me hit my marks for the coming season. So, I thought I'd share some of the tips and tricks I find indispensable for getting out and running in these dark, snowy, icy, and very cold days of winter.
  1. Forget the excuses and just run. This is by far the weightiest of tips in the list. Excuses can come fast and easy once the salad days of summer trail running slam to a halt. The best thing you can do is simply ignore them, lace up, and get out the door. Of course, if it's blizzarding and dark and you'd be in real peril of being cut in half by a snow plow, maybe a day off or trip to the gym is truly in order. Just don't let it become a habit.
  2. Don't rely too much on the treadmill. Treadmills are great once in a while -- when you just need something different or conditions are just too miserable to get outside safely -- but nothing compares to running on the actual road (or road covered in ice and snow). The challenging conditions and varied terrain you get outside will make those first steps on bare road and dry dirt in spring feel like heaven.
  3. Get some spiked shoes. The best thing I did last winter was buy a pair of Icebug spiked shoes (review). I don't wear them on every run in winter, but when the roads are mostly compact snow and ice (like they are here for the foreseeable future), you can't beat the traction and confidence they'll give you, especially in the dark. Plus, they're a great excuse killer (see tip #1).
  4. Go with water bottles rather than a pack. There is no perfect choice for hydration in winter. When you're running for over an hour with the temperature near zero, things are going to freeze. Having run with both bottles and an insulated pack, bottles seem the best way to go, simply because once the nozzle freezes you can still unscrew the lid and drink your slushy sports drink. With a pack, once the nozzle/tube freezes (and it almost always will at some point), there's no easy way to get at its contents.
  5. Go with less viscous gels. While I've yet to have a gel freeze on me, some of the more solid gels, like Gu, can turn pretty hard in cold temperatures. This makes them hard to eat and hard to squeeze out, especially with numb hands. More liquid gels, like PowerGels, stay pretty soft, even at zero degrees, which makes them much more palatable and easy to deal with.
  6. Get a jacket with a hood. There's a lot to dislike about running jackets with hoods--that is, when you don't need the hood. But, when the snow is flying and you're running into a 15 knot wind when the thermometer reads minus 3, that hoodie quickly becomes your best friend. Personally, I love my full-zip whisper light Patagonia Houdini (review), and I know I'm not alone. For such a lightweight jacket it really performs, and the hood does a particularly great job as a fairing in a brisk head wind, ushering much of that cold air around your face rather than right into it.
  7. Protect your face. When the wind is whipping and the mercury dips well below freezing, it's important to look out for your face. I like to put Kiehl's Non Freeze Face Protector on my ear lobes and exposed parts of my face. It really helps ward off freezer burn, and possibly frostbite, and just makes me feel more comfortable. Dermatone is good too. Plain old petroleum jelly should work as well.
  8. Run with friends. Misery loves company, so find a group of friends as crazy as you are and pick times to run regularly over the winter. It's a great way to stay true to your plan and get your rear end out the door on those dismal mornings. Plus, you'll have great stories to retell on your long summer trail runs: "Remember when all our bottles froze by mile 9?" Good times.
  9. Don't skimp on lighting and reflection. A good headlamp can make all the difference between a good run and a tedious run. Spend a little extra and after the first three runs you'll feel it's already paid for itself. Also, go to town on reflective wear: tights, vests, hats, etc. If cars think you look like the Electric Horseman, you've done things right.
So, that's my list. The key things that get me out the door and on the run during these short, cold days of winter.

What's on your list?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Two New Ultra-Elevation-Gain Ultras for 2009: DRTE 100 & Blue Canyon Trail Race

Joining the elite corps of ultras like Hardrock, Wasatch Front, and Coyote Two Moon that have elevation gains that make many a runner, even an ultrarunner, quake in their Inov-8's, are two new races for 2009: the Dirt Roads and Trail Endurance Ultra Marathon 100 miler (DRTE 100), and the Blue Canyon Trail Race (50k, 50m, 100k).

Both races call Santa Barbara home with near sea level starts that then travel through the stellar coastal mountain range that juts out of the earth not far from the Pacific.

The inaugural DRTE 100 will take place October 2/3, 2009 and boasts close to 35,000 feet of total elevation gain.

The inaugural Blue Canyon Trail Race will take place June 6, 2009 and boasts over 18,000 feet of gain for the 100k (nearly 15,000 for the 50m).

Applications for both open February 1, 2009. Check race sites regularly for developing details.

(Photo by gamillos courtesy of Creative Commons)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Photo Guide to Trail Runs in Sun Valley: Fox Creek - Oregon Gulch - Chocolate Gulch Loop

This installment of the Photo Guide to Trail Runs in Sun Valley details another great close-in run that covers some classic Sun Valley singletrack, with great views of the Boulder and Pioneer mountains and some nice lonely trails (after about an hour of running): the Fox Creek, Oregon Gulch, and Chocolate Gulch loop. Total mileage is about 18 miles with about 3,000 feet of climbing, gathered over a number of moderate length climbs. It's a great go-to run for some decent miles and good vertical. Enjoy.

See all Photo Guide entries.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Photos of Glenn Tachiyama: 2009 Tribute to the Trails Calendar

If we ever question why we do it all -- run for hours and hours and hours no matter what the conditions, no matter how we feel -- the answers are in Glenn Tachiyama's photos. Unlike many of the churn and burn sports photographers on the running circuit, Tachiyama not only sees the poetry of ultramarathoning, he captures it with photos that bring together technical mastery, a great eye for nature, and an understanding of what it means to be an athlete in the middle of an epic effort. At times, his photos even seem to turn the suffering into the sublime, a feat even more impressive given that he often captures images of over 200 individual runners at a single race.

This is all build up to the launch of the 4th edition of the "Tribute to the Trails" wall calendar, which is built on Tachiyama's outstanding photos. The calendar started shipping to stores today (retail $18.00), and a sneak peak is available at:

Outside of some Oregon and Washington running stores, the best the place to find a copy is online at: Zombie Runner. All proceeds from the sales benefit the non-profit Washington Trails Association.

Speed is Safety: Video Tips from Nikki Kimball on Descending

As a prelude to what I hope will be a longer post later this year, here's a neat little video of 2007 Ultrarunning Magazine's runner of the year, Nikki Kimball, sharing some downhill running tips on what appears to be some classic, slick, and technical Pacific Northwest trails. Her basic take-away message: speed is safety.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Be Sure to Taper: 2009 Way Too Cool 50k Registration Around the Corner

The first true test of the 2009 season is drawing close:  registration day for the Way Too Cool 50k. So limber up your fingers, keep your credit card close, and be sure to get a lot of rest.  The 2007 race filled in seven minutes; 2008 filled in just over eleven.   

Online registration opens at 8:00 am PST on Sunday, December 14.  Details will appear on the Way Too Cool website.   

The March 14, 2009 event takes place in Cool, Ca (not far from Sacramento), and is run on part of the Western States 100 trails. Course records are held by Uli Steidl (3:18:17) and Susannah Beck (3:55:22). 

Postscript:  (12-15-08) Scott Dunlap reports 2009 race filled in just under 9 minutes.