Monday, January 11, 2010

The Survivor's Guide to Winter Running in the Crowsnest Pass

If you even think about going for a run in the Pass, you are going to have to prepare yourself for the wind. And don't get all woodsy and romantic and start day-dreaming of trail-running through the wilderness to avoid the wind. Because for 9 months of the year, there ain't no trails baby. Just snow. And lots of it.


That leaves the highway -- the one road that is plowed. Other streets and side roads offer no guarantee of being clear. But the highway is the one thing a runner can rely upon.

Unfortunately, it runs west to east, or east to west depending on what blows your hair back. (Heh-heh. The wit!) 99 times out of 100 the wind blows from the west. And it blows HARD. I'm not going to address the 1% anomalous manifestation of an east to west wind-- because it is so rare. (When it does happen, it doesn't last long and will switch back to normal by the afternoon.)

Thus, Step 1 is to purchase wind proof clothing. This is very important and cannot be stressed enough. Wind PROOF. Not wind-resistant. If you waste your money on wind resistant clothing, you might as well be running outside with nothing but mosquito netting on. You like the feeling of cold wind blasting through your clothing? Buy wind resistant stuff.

Step 2: Don't be afraid of layers. If you succumbed to the marketing at a running store in Calgary and purchased wind-resistant stuff, all is not lost! You can use them as a base layer underneath your wind proof pants or jacket.

Speaking of layering, merino wool is by far the best choice for layering. It costs big $$$$ but it will be the best money you ever spent. I own 2 pair merino wool leggings (1 thick, 1 thin), 2 long sleeve tops (one thin, one thick) and two short sleeves. Make sure when you buy the shirts that they have no pretty stitching and extra decorative seams. While visually appealing, those suckers will chafe you th
e sweatier you get. (And if you didn't know...merino wool won't stink from B.O! YAY!!)

Step 3: Get used to breathing with either a balaclava over your mouth or a neck-warmer pulled up to your eyeballs. My preferred method is to layer a balaclava under a toque, pull the opening under my chin, and breathe through the neck-warmer. You won't last a minute on the road without something cover your face. That wind is searingly sincere. (Again, the wit!) Do not forget to put ear-warmers on top of everything. The wind will whistle right through any toque/balaclava combination you may have and leave your ears in a sorry red state.

Step 4: Get used to a tactic called stop and go running. Basically, the wind is always blowing but in differing degrees of blow-it-tude. There will be times (many times) where you will actually be running in place. Just like a treadmill, except worse. (Because on a treadmill you don't expect to go anywhere. When you are outside, you do.) Then, suddenly, without warning, the wind speed will lesson and you will take off (so to speak). The real treat comes when it is time to turn around.

Unfortunately, this means that you will have to run into the wind for a longer period of time than running back. Depending on the strength of the wind, I usually add anywhere from 5-8 minutes to my turn around point. I AM NOT EXAGGERATING. (Even more if you are cycling, but as this is a winter running post, I digress.)

Running back is bliss. The wind pushes you homeward. Awesome. Sometimes, my legs can't keep up! Hahahahahahaha!! (Insert crazy wild-eyed laugh here.)

All this operates under the assumption that you have decided to run into the wind for your first half of the run. If you choose to do it the other way around, don't expect any visitors to your padded cell, because you will have brought this on yourself.

Which way do you think the wind blows?

Step 5: Subtract at least 5 degrees Celsius from Just because there is a picture of the sun on the site does not mean the wind has disappeared. I know all too well the allure of that little sun icon -- but don't be fooled. Put that balaclava and wind-proof jacket back on, my friend.

Step 6: Road conditions. The plow is not your friend. Make peace with this right now and save yourself plenty of heartache later on. Plows either ignore the shoulders, leaving thick difficult snow to run in, or they do too good a job and leave a glassy skating rink. Believe me, if you want to learn mid-foot running in a hurry, go for a run on an icy shoulder.

Plows will not move out of your way if you are running to them. Expect to be forced off the road and into the ditch. They will move around you if they are behind you. (Although the sound of one coming up behind you --- scraping snow and having sparks fly off the pavement --- is enough to terrorize and scar you for life.)

He's coming for YOU!

Step 7: Road etiquette: Contrary to what all the books, websites, fellow runners, ANYONE says -- it is often safer to run with the traffic (on the shoulder) than on the opposite side facing traffic. Especially if your run takes you past the 4 exits into Blairmore. Crowsnest-Passtonians aren't very familiar with a runner coming to cross in front of them as they try to exit Blairmore and get on the highway. (Or to exit the highway and get into Blaimore) Too many close calls than I can count.


Remember people, this a town where the majority of residents still cannot figure out how to navigate the 4-way stop that replaced the only set of lights in Blairmore. Therefore, the regular rules of the road do not apply.

Think like the beast: It's all about survival.

Now go out and have a run -- and if you want some company, give me a shout. :)


Amber Dawn said...

hahahahahahahahaha! This is why you are so tough!

Keith said...

The only problem with you for company on the run is that it doesn't last long. All that practice running into the wind means you are FAST!!!

If anything Julie is understating the wind there. The wind has blown big trucks off the road. Lethbridge (about an hour downwind) installed a special wind gauge to cope. You can see an info page here, and click on the photos for a better view.

Sarah said...

Hahah! Great post, I very much enjoyed it! I am going to check out that wool ... might make a good present :) Thanks for sharing!

Runner Leana said...

Wow...just wow.... If I lived there I may just own a treadmill. Julie, that does not sound like fun at all!!

KK said...

Wow, you just totally sold me on a trip to Crowsnest pass-I'm only packing my running shoes and mosquito net-thanks for the tips!
Seriously, you are really hard core. Love the "blow-it-tude"

runningman said...

Good Guide, very thorough, thanks for sharing that. :) Do you have any weaknesses Julie???

Susi said...

i hear the wind will be about 80km/h today in your neck of the woods...maybe you should come up here for the weekend? should only be about 60, haha.

i remember riding in the wind down there - ridiculous!!!

redbobbin1 said...

You should seriously think about writing a column for one of our local papers. With your sense of humour, it would be awesome!

Julie said...