I look out the window from bed on Wednesday and see only white. But wait. There is some life out there in the early morning storm - people who snuggle their toes into running shoes in any weather.
Chicago, after all, is the home of a world-class marathon, and serious runners won’t let a few feet of snow scare them off their training schedule. But I take ginger half-steps even while walking these days and wonder what allows the runner to fly by on ice-caked sidewalks.
“A lot of people I know run barefoot even in winter - they say it gets their blood moving,” says Bob Mitera, a Barrington-based USA Triathlon certified coach. That's enough to make me freeze in mid-sentence, and he adds, “I don’t understand that sort of thing, though.”
Even most hearty Chicagoans prefer shoes. Mitera says that gear is the most important aspect of winter running in winter weather.
“There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” he says. He doesn't recommend spending a bundle on specific winter shoes for runners, but he offers clear advice for running in the snow. “The most important thing is to make sure you don’t use the normal summer running shoe with holes to keep you cool, or you’ll just have slush getting in.”
Mitera says studded rubber mats can be cut to size and attached to the outsole to make the shoe slip-free -- but doesn’t like using those himself. Another option is shoes that use Gortex lining, which is a laminated waterproof and windproof fabric.
Clothing technology has improved significantly over the past few years, making more and more people take to year-round running, says William Bridge, a professional shoe fitter at Chicago-based Universal Sole for the last 29 years. “If 15 years ago 10 percent of regular runners were running through the winter, the number is close to 40 percent now,” he says.
One of these technologies is the Yaktrax, an ice-traction device made of steel coils that can be attached to the outsole.
Sue Ficek, who has been running marathons for the last three years, uses Yaktrax on her shoes. “I find theses very helpful,” Ficek says. “I have seen a lot of people take really bad falls when they ran on the snow without paying attention to the shoe.”
Ficek can’t help but train through the winter time for marathons. The Palos Heights-based accountant says she runs through four pairs of shoes every year while clocking her average of 35-50 miles per week year round.
The Yaktrax uses a steel coil system that embeds into the ice using the wearer’s weight. The technology, though, works best on thick ice or on non-concrete surfaces, and Ficek uses these most often when running on trails or on hills. “If there isn’t enough snow or ice, these will just put more pressure on your knees,” Ficek says.
Another group that the 48-year-old Ficek runs with uses drywall screws on the sole, achieving something ruggedly similar to the Yaktrax.
Bridge says not watching yourself while out on the snow is a basic mistake. “A lot of customers and even some of the staff have been taking spills. Some of the side streets do not really have all the snow removed every day, so you have to be careful on these smaller streets if you don’t have specialized shoes,” Bridge says.
So winter does not mean the end of your daily canter, as long as you have the gear in order. I make the least risky choice: watch and wonder from the window.
- blog by Aabha Rathee, graduate student reporter, Medill School of Journalism