Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dashing Through the Snow

I love running in the snow. There's something so peaceful and serene about running while the snow is falling, hearing the soft rhythm of your footsteps and seeing the tread of your shoes in the newly fallen snow. So this morning when I woke up, it was like an early Christmas present with a fresh thin layer of the fluffy white stuff on the ground. I put on my running gear-- when you've got the right clothing, the cold isn't an issue-- and struck out for the trails at Ritchey Woods.

As I navigated the trails of the nature preserve, I had a little time to think back about the Tecumseh Trail Marathon last weekend. It was such an amazing event, with runners from all over the US (and even one from the UK) gathered near Bloomington, Indiana to traverse 26.2 miles through the woods. Similar to today, I was excited last weekend when I woke up to fresh snow on the ground the morning of the race. However, due to the inclement weather, the course was changed to an out-and-back route from the finish line since the buses that were supposed to take us to the start line refused to navigate the slick, hilly back roads that morning.

Despite the significant, last-minute change to the event, the 575 runners took the news in stride. Everyone gathered at the finish line joking and laughing like we were waiting to start a long training run with a bunch of old friends. About a mile into the race, we reached the start of the single-track trail and, like a funnel, things backed up quickly. Still, it didn't dampen the mood and everyone settled into a single-file line on the two foot wide trail. Soon, we reached a hill and everyone started walking up it. We were still less than two miles into the race and people were walking! I should have already known that this wasn't like the other marathons I've done. With about 3,500 feet of ascent, this course is incredibly challenging. My first warning should have been the bib-- written upside down at the top so the wearer can read it, was a quote from a previous participant.

The course was beautiful. Of course, if you looked up too long to enjoy it, you were bound to trip over a root, rock, or tree stump protruding from the snow-covered trail. If you successfully navigated all of those obstacles, you still had to stay upright on the slick and sometimes muddy trail. And, like the Columbia City Marathon I did last month, runners were advised to wear bright colors as to not be mistaken for deer by the archers and muzzle loaders who were hunting in the area. Fortunately, I'd invested in some new trail running shoes earlier in the week which provided great traction for the entire race. I lucked out with the shoes, as I broke one of the cardinal rules of marathon running: don't run a race in brand new shoes. Finally, there was also the challenge of two-way traffic on a one-way trail near the turnaround point on the course. Trailing runners politely yielded to the runners who'd already made the turn by stepping to the side of the trail.

Unlike a road marathon where you grab a cup of water or sports drink at the rest stops and keep going, the rest stops were more like social gathering spots. There were Oreo cookies, cups of hot chocolate, pretzels and all kinds of other goodies that sound delicious when your body is craving calories. And mostly they were welcome rests from the punishing and never-ending ascents and descents on the course.

After 5 hours and 7 minutes (nearly 90 minutes longer than my marathon PR!) I crossed the finish line feeling a great sense of accomplishment, feeling very connected to the other runners who ran the race, and feeling a desire to do another trail marathon.

After so much fun running through the snow last weekend and a beautiful run through Ritchey Woods this morning, I was surprised that I didn't see anyone else on the trails. Is there anyone else out there who feels the way I do about running in the snow?

What I recommend when it's 25 degrees and snowing:
Nike Thermal Hat - keeps your head toasty
North Face Power Stretch Gloves - keep your hands toasty
Nike Thermal Pants - comfortable, relaxed fit and ample pockets
North Face Windstopper Hybrid Full Jacket - windproof and warm but breathable and lightweight; lots of handy pockets
Mizuno Wave Cabrakan 2 shoes - provide great traction on the slickest trails, strong but flexible sole for insulation from rocks and roots and light enough for long runs