While running on a treadmill over the winter months can maintain and build your running performance, there is a certain argument to be made for heading out the door and exploring the realm of winter running. Snow, ice, and layers of clothes transform simple running into an exercise that sharpens balance & proprioception, strengthens hip flexors & stabilizing muscles, increases cardiovascular workload and challenges our own mental resolve. Through this process though, we gain a perception of the world rarely glimpsed that can infuse our soul with some much needed mojo during the dark and long wither months: amazing sunrises over crystallized expanses, the twinkle of light and shadow through silhouettes of trees, a palette of sky colours reflected fiercely by brilliant white snow.....And if that isn't enough we emerge in spring stronger, fitter, and more ready than ever for adventure.
Now while there are several practical aspects including layering, considering traction on ice with spikes and keeping hydrated, I wanted to post a simple solution toward a minimalist shoe set-up. There do exist "winter specific" running shoes, some even equipped with ice-spikes, mini-gaitors, gortex and other specialty features. However, I've devised a much simpler (and much more economical) solution, with a few alterations to a miniminalist trail shoe that I've enjoyed all summer:
STEP ONE: To begin with, go to your local workwear store or any other store that may cary shoe inserts and find a pair of winter specific inserts. The ones I find work best are dual sided and only cost $4.99: felt on one side and a reflective heat saving silver lining on the other side. Essentially all fabric so no structural elements, fancy gel pads or anything other than a simple insulating layer.
STEP TWO: I took my "minimalist" trail shoes that work nicely on the gravel roads and paths near our farm and swapped out the laces with waxed workboot laces that are much tougher and water resilliant (another $2.99). I had a "quick-lock" sliding mechanism lying around from another pare of triathlon laces that I wasn't using and threaded it onto the waxed laces. "Quick-Lock" mechanisms - the spring loaded kind or the NB kind shown in the picture - should be readily aquired at MEC, a camping supply store, a sewing store or at a running store. Quite often they are also on some shorts or pants at the waist or leg-cuffs and if you are not using them there its a great opportunity to re-purpose them. As for the length of laces, leave enough to loosen the laces to allow for easily slipping the shoes on. Tie a knot and gently heat it with a BBQ lighter or on a stove element to melt the knot and prevent later fraying.
STEP THREE: Insert the dual sided winter insert with the silver side down. I need to trim the middle section down a bit with a pair of scissors. Ensure you get the insert all the way to the front of the shoe to avoid a little gap that can cause blisters or frosty toes. These inserts work both to insulate you from the cold ground below your feet (something minimalist shoes don't so so well) and also trap and retain heat generated from your foot. While the inserts make your shoes a little more 'snug' they quickly flatten down after a few miles of wear. As evidenced by the second picture they also make your shoes 'blurry' fast ;-)
STEP FOUR: Now when you tighten the "quick-lock" you end up with a loop of laces that can be tucked in the side of the NB MT10 Minimus Shoe under the heel retention strap as seen in the second picture above. this prevents the laces from flapping around and disturbing the bliss of your winter run. To back-up a bit, some folks may wonder why bother with the "quick-locks" at all, why not just tie your laces. First, the quick-locks allow easy on and easy adjustment if your foot swells during the run. Secondarily and more importantly laces in winter tend to freeze and if you tie your shoes the tie can freeze solid making it difficult to remove your shoes after the run until you 'thaw' them out. Lastly even when you 'thaw' a wet tie it tends to tighten making it difficult still to untie. The "quick-lock" helps you avoid these hassles.
LAST STEP: Alternately you can tuck the loop of laces under the front lace of your shoe to also prevent them from flapping around. Your are now ready to take out your winter minimalist shoes for a fun run on the snow. If using a fore-foot running method, balance and slipping on ice should not be a huge issue. I haven't found a need for installing ice-screws or any other "slip-on" type grip device. Use extra caution when running on bare roads where black-ice can be dangerous. If you are really concerned about slipping using some rubber-cement you can glue on some sand or finely crushed stone which will wear-out over the winter and revert your soles back to their natural state come spring.
OTHER NOTES: Layering for winter takes some trial and error. In general use several thin layers as opposed to a single heavy jacket. Lastly, to prevent your water-bottle from freezing on a long run a 0.5oz of whiskey mixed in the water prevents it from freezing without altering the taste (or your balance).
Keep Running. Keep Rising.