The weather outside is frightful… so what?

Today London got what seems like its annual dump of snow. Quite a large amount of snow and certainly more than in previous years from what I can remember. And this year, in deference to all the rat-racers and school children, the snow had the good grace to come at the weekend. But for us marathoners, with 10 weeks until the London marathon or less for Brighton, every Sunday counts. So what should you do when you wake up to thick snow?

I got out early for my run this morning

Well rolling over and going back to sleep isn’t really an option I’m afraid. I am haunted by a passage in Charlie Spedding’s brilliant book From Last to First when he describes how he went to a multi-storey carpark to smash out his speed session because of thick snow everywhere else. That, for me, is the essence of ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’. And I believe we should all be inspired by that level of dedication. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Spedding was different to most people in his relentless pursuit of excellence, but we can all learn from his example.

So what to do when the snow comes?

There is always the option of the dreadmill. I am not a fan of pounding away on a moving walkway in a sweat-smelling gym, but if you must, it is better than nothing. But ideally you should get out.

Running on snow and ice.

Kit.

As with so much of running, there is a calculation to be made here. Going for a run is good. Going for a run, slipping over and bruising your coccyx or twisting your ankle and missing weeks of training is not good. This morning I went for a run on virgin snow which was loose and therefore tough to run on, but not icy or slippery. So do the calculation: check the conditions underfoot and adjust your plans. For this reason it is really worth thinking about footwear. Normal trainers can be OK although you’re likely to get wet feet, but again, check the conditions underfoot. I dug out my trail shoes – the excellent Brooks Trailblade – and they were ideal. Sure my feet still got soaked, but the Trailblades gave me the extra grip that I needed. I have also read about ‘ice grips’ which are worn over your running shoes and act like snow-chains for the feet. I’ve never tried them though so I can’t comment (if you have please leave a comment below!)

Clothing is less of a safety issue than footwear, but worth thinking about, especially if you are going long. The trick here, as with all cold-weather training, is to layer in a way that allows you to remove layers as you get hot or add layers if you get cold. Arm-warmers are a brilliant idea – I have two pairs: a thicker pair for really cold conditions and a thinner pair for the rest of the time. I wrote about the benefits of arm-warmers here. I also love my Innov8 Debrisock which, whilst not waterproof, will help keep snow from getting in the top of the shoe. There are other small waterproof or Goretex gaiters that you could consider. I consider a hat that wicks sweat and a pair of good running gloves essential.

Running.

I think that the things to remember when running on ice or snow are mainly common sense. It is more difficult to see undulations and obstacles when everything is white. Snow, especially as it starts to get trampled, becomes very uneven. Loose snow is much, much harder to run on than pavement or tarmac or even woodland trails. Packed snow is slippery. All of these factors lead me to the same bit of advice: take it easy and adapt a little. You will highly likely run a little slower on snow and ice than you would in normal conditions. That is OK, the effort levels are higher so you will still get a great training benefit. And you should also look around, enjoy the scenes. It isn’t often we get snow in London, so if you live in the capital, get away from all the black slush and head for the parks and open spaces and just enjoy it.

So there we go. By the time I have posted this the snow in London will be looking decidedly uninspiring. But this morning at 7am it was beautiful and I can tell you that my legs feel every one of the miles that I did today. So be sure to layer up, reach for your trail shoes and go out and enjoy yourself. It won’t be here for long!

Team Dean – a review of Dean Karnazes’ book ‘Run!’

I love reading (especially now that I am trying as much as possible to leave my laptop in the lounge when I go to bed – one of the most important steps to getting a good nights sleep is the lack of too much iStimulus in the bedroom) and my two favourite subjects are running and business or economics. It will come as no surprise that on balance I read running books much more often than business books. And I rarely have time for novels.

However I do sometimes lament the writing quality of books about running. Undoubtedly there are many running books that are beautifully written and as a result are engaging and captivating and motivating. Charlie Spedding’s book ‘From First To Last’ is one book that springs to mind when I think of running books that are not only informative and interesting, but are also easy to read and real page-turners.

So I was excited to buy a copy of Dean Karnazes’ book ‘Run! 26.2 stories of blisters and bliss’ because I really enjoyed reading Dean’s first book ‘Ultra-marathon Man; Confessions of an all night runner’ not least because the book was so well written.

‘Run!’ does not disappoint on that score; it is brilliantly written – or rather dictated because Dean points out that much of the content was spoken into a digital recorder on his smart phone whilst he was out running – and I was so absorbed in the book that I started and finished it in one day.

As far as the story goes, I thought that ‘Run!’ does two things; firstly it gives an insight into what Dean does as an ultra-marathoner, entrepreneur, campaigner, husband and father (and it comes as no surprise that Dean reportedly gets by on 4 hours sleep per night. I’m sure he doesn’t have time for any more!) Secondly I enjoyed getting a real understanding of team Karnazes. Let me explain.

Whilst there is no doubt that what Karnazes does is a very individual sport both in terms of competition and even more so in terms of training, Dean clearly relies on a group of people who support him in different ways. The book really highlighted for me the relationships Dean has with some key people including his wife Julie, his father – who he refers to throughout as Popou – and another ultra-marathon legend Topher Gaylord, who it seems had little or no interest in running until he met Dean and is now considered to be one of the top ultra runners in the world (whilst also being President of Mountain Hardwear Inc).  There are naturally other people who appear in the book, but these three seem to have a special place in Karnazes’ life and his continued professional and athletic careers.

So, I think that ‘Run!’ surprised me in one regard. It is a predictably great account of some of Dean’s crazy antics – the chapter on the 48 hour treadmill run is utterly brilliant – but in another regard I was surprised at how strongly the book reminded me that despite the fact that we are engaged in a solo sport, runners of all levels rely on and take inspiration from those around them. I think that Dean has written a brilliant book and I would recommend it to runners of every level. It might also be wise to buy a copy for your loved ones if you are thinking of embarking on a career as an ultra-runner… just so they know what they are letting themselves in for!