16 Winter Running Surfaces, Explained

>> Thursday, December 19, 2013

Raise your hand if you live where it's cold. OK. Now, keep it up if you've recently had (or can generally expect) some significant sleet/snow. Cool. Now, keep it up if you don't have a treadmill (or won't use one on principle!) or a gym membership, but are hell-bent on running. Perfect. You guys/gals are my intended audience for this post.

Basically, we hardcore winter runners have to wave a fond goodbye to speedwork and other more quality sessions for a while. We can sneak them in when it's "nice" outside, but those days can seem like few and far between. Time on our feet is usually slower and more frustrating. Trips and spills? Yeah. We are familiar friends by now -- my left thigh has a huge bruise, actually.

But have you ever noticed how MANY difference surfaces we're dealing with here? Here are just a few I noticed on my usual 5 mile loop last night.


  • Mirage: You think you see it up ahead. Why, YES! That's a perfectly clear sidewalk -- no snow or even stray flakes. Yet, when you step onto the surface, it's either deceptive black ice or residual snow on your shoes, making you slip + fall flat anyway.
  • Home Field (Dis)advantage: When you're comfortable -- overly confident -- that your own shoveling job was perfect. I actually slipped and fell the very moment I stepped onto my own sidewalk on my last run.
  • Cruel Intentions?: When a neighbor did a pretty good job shoveling, but left a thin layer, a membrane, even, to remain. Just enough to be slick as hell. Did they actually WANT you to fall? Hey, you'll never truly know. Smile and wave!
  • Eroded Sidewalk: When you reach a point in your regular, well-worn route, and . . . it's just gone. Washed away in a sea of plowed, hardened slush.
  • Wet 'n Wild: You know this spot. All the snow has turned to dark brown, icky wet stuff despite the temperatures being well below freezing. There's no way around it either, so you try your best to high-step and keep your feet dry.
  • Pirates Cove: A snow-covered sidewalk with buried treasure to boot, like shovels or sleds. Bonus points if you don't twist your ankle or fall onto your face.
  • Virgin Territory: A vast expanse where people either forgot, neglected, or downright refused to shovel. Goes from powder to packed to block of ice over time. Very often on the less favored side of a grand property (if you can afford to power that huge x-mas lights display + fuel those SUVs, pay some kid to shovel your sidewalk!)
  • Stepping Stones: Where a man-made path has been created on Virgin Territory by one person and continued by others. Requires some expert balance/aim to make it from one over-sized deep foothole to another.
  • Alaskan Express: Maybe this area wasn't initially shoveled at all, but the Stepping Stones were expanded to pack down the entire path to a nice, firm wintery road. I actually like running on this surface. I imagine sled-pulling huskies like it, too.
  • Hurdles: At the end of almost every street corner, there's a knee-high (or higher, depending on snowfall) snow hurdle one must clear to keep running another tenth of a mile. Repeat.
  • Water Jump: Along with the hurdles, there are often pools of water at their edges -- almost like nature's steeplechase. I hope you're wearing waterproof socks!
  • Tsunami: That random super-high pile of gross/brown packed, plowed snow -- usually near some large intersection. There's no jumping in the world that could get you over that hump. Go around.
  • Captain Crunch: Where rock-hard snow boulders -- of all shapes and sizes -- have taken up residence. Footing and balance are particularly hard. Ouch.
  • Toe Pick: When the sun has melted the snow down, but it has frozen in the night to form a thick sheet of ice. Kate Moseley could probably use this area for figure skating practice. (And if you haven't ever seen that movie -- it's one of my Christmas favorites!)
  • Salt Mine: When someone got a little overly enthusiastic with salt or cinders. Those little pebbles are just, well, everywhere, wrecking their own unique brand of havoc. 
  • Down the Rabbit Hole: When you dodge another obstacle by swiftly switching to the street for a moment and land a leg in a gigantic, newly formed pothole. Except there's no trippy adventure, you just -- uhm -- trip.

  • I'm sure you have more to add, so please do so in the comments!

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