I had a curious urge this past weekend to pull on my sneakers and go jogging down West River Road. This is not something I typically think about doing on a gray Saturday afternoon with the temps in the 20s and the sidewalks fitted with a greasy mix of slush and ice, but the thought did actually occur to me. And that makes me wonder whether I’m entering some weird new phase in my fitness journey, one in which the rational mind takes frequent vacations.
As I’ve often noted in this space, I’m not a great fan of running. It’s hard on my arthritic knees and recalcitrant calf muscles, it really taxes my cardiovascular system, and it’s just not that interesting. And yet, here I was contemplating — if only for the briefest of moments — donning my running togs and jogging down along the river. It’s possible I was the victim of the sort of temporary insanity that convinces homeowners in these parts to climb onto their roofs, hatchets in hand, and do battle with their ice dams. Or perhaps it had something to do with all the joggers I encounter on my way to and from work each day and the fact that they all smile at me in a way that seems to indicate they’re enjoying themselves.
I’m not fooled by the happy faces. I figure it’s all a public relations ploy, a well-executed conspiracy by the folks at Nike to convince us holdouts that if we just broke down and bought some really good shoes we’d find that running isn’t nearly as painful or boring as we think it is. Still, I’m intrigued: For one thing, I want to know how these guys can run on snow and ice without sliding off the sidewalk and cracking their noggin open on the pavement; for another, I can’t help thinking it’s gotta be better than the dreadmill.
The revolving rubber carpet that passes for a running track at my gym requires a certain level of caution that I think may approximate the care with which all these smiling winter joggers must approach their daily run. Maybe you can crank up the speed to 15 mph and sprint for a quarter-mile at a time, but I have a hard time maintaining equilibrium at 6 mpg. I can’t shed this image of me shooting out the back end of my machine like a garment bag at the airport’s baggage claim. So, I’m thinking that maybe jogging on top of an inch or so of packed snow with the occasional invisible patch of ice in the face of a 30 mph northwest wind might be an improvement. How bad can it be if all these other people are doing it?
Well, pretty bad, actually. Arun Shanbhag, a Boston blogger and marathoner, puts it this way:
“. . . take short steps and concentrate on the whole running process. And your eyes need to be constantly scanning the surface ahead for slippery spots. Try and land on the mid foot with the heel coming down immediately afterwards. Landing on the heel can be dangerous as the heel may slide out from under you.
“Even when you ‘push off’ with the fore-foot don’t torque your foot, it will slide out. Try and push UP and then forward (like jumping through tires) lessening chances of slipping.
“Loosen your upper body and don’t swing the shoulders and arms aggressively. When you swing hard, the
resulting torque on the opposite foot can cause the ankle to slide away. On normal roads, the force from the shoulder swing can be used successfully to drive forward momentum by pushing the opposite ankle back and getting an
energetic toe-off. But on this smooth surface, it can be dangerous. Again, short steps and a slower pace.”
Makes the dreadmill sound positively alluring.
I’m happy to report that I managed to restrain myself on Saturday. My sneakers were at the office, after all. And those ice dams were calling.