About four years ago, in the midst of my transition from conventional running shoes to more minimalist ones, I was offered a quick glimpse of what I thought were the ugliest shoes ever made on this planet: the Hoka One One. I just could not picture myself run commuting in them without becoming the laughing stock of the Ottawa running community.
Then, in the past months, The Run Commuter published a few (serious) articles about using them for run commuting. At about the same time, I started having some troubling leg pains, which forced me to cut back on my run commuting habits (I also turned the big 4-0 around the same time). This was not a good thing, and I started looking for ways to be able to get back to a normal run commuting regime. I tried many things (physio, osteo, massage, sports medicine, etc), but none of them really solved my problems.
At the end of February of this year, being a bit despaired to see my weekly run commuting mileage go down in such dramatic fashion, I tried something bold: I bought a pair of Hoka One One Huaka. This turned out to be a very good decision.
Within days, I was able to run distances that I could only dream of running a few days before. My run commuter partner made lots of fun of my shoes, going as far as telling me, jokingly, to run a few feet in front of him to avoid him the embarrassment. I did not pay any attention to him: these shoes were getting me back on the roads and it felt great. To this day, running in my Huakas is still the same treat that it was the first time.
Hoka One One shoes are a great addition to the toolkit of serious run commuters that have entered the master zone. They are a great shoes to wear at the end of the week, when your legs are tired and the pain is uncomfortably increasing.
Running with a pair of Hoka One One is like running on soft packed ground all the time. Despite their thickness, the stability is OK, and weight is similar to any normal running shoes. Their only downside is that the increased volume of foam tends to wear off faster than in a normal pair of shoes. Despite that, I intend to keep a pair in my run commuting rotation at all times, even if I have to buy them more often than other shoes.
If you run commute year-round above the 49th parallel, you most likely have a variety of thermal tights. Up until this year, finding a pair that performed well below -20°C/-4°F proved to be tricky (at least for me) unless I was ready to spend lots of money. However, Mountain Equipment Co-op came out with a great new set of tights this year that solves my dilemma: the MEC Flyer Tight.
Source: Mountain Equipment Co-op
Running on ice can be treacherous, and sometimes even dangerous. For many years, I have been carrying a set of Yaktrax for those days where the paths were just too icy to run comfortably. However, I never felt I had stable and solid footing while running with these on, and most of the time, I ended up running much slower than desired. Running intervals with these on was simply just out of the question.
Since running on icy and snowy surfaces north of the 49th parallel is frequent, I started looking for other options. Among them are the IceSpikes. Unfortunately, I was never able to test them since they are, at least in my area, only available through online purchase.
Last Spring, as I was resigned to keep doing my best with my Yaktrax for many more years, I stumbled on a very good deal for a pair of Salomon Snowcross CS. I had known about these shoes for over two years, but their price tag ($200) was, at least back then, just too high for the family budget. This time though (under 100$), I did not hesitate.
These shoes stayed in my closet until this past November, where Ottawa started having some relatively inclement weather, which left us with quite a bit of snow, lots of ice and some cold temperature, but still not enough to get the cross country skis out, for about a month.
Not expecting much, I took the Snowcross out for many spins over that month… and I don’t think I will be able to live without them ever again.
On the ice, the nine carbide spikes on each shoes offered unprecedented grip, to a point where my brain actually had problems adjusting to it (“lots of ice. Should be slippery. Very slippery, but… not slippery. Not at all… can’t compute.”) Honestly, it took me about four or five runs over a week to understand that these would keep me going on the ice as fast as if I was on clear roads.
In the snow, the aggressive cleat pattern also got me going pretty fast. The integrated gate design, borrowed from the cross country ski world, also kept the snow out while keeping me warm and cozy.
Frankly, I am now in love with these shoes. If you have to run on icy and snowy roads on your way to work, they offer amazing grip while keeping you warm.
Since I have to keep a minimum of critical sense, the low points of these shoes are:
- the integrated gate is water resistant, but not waterproof. It will keep you dry through snow, but not through puddle of slushy water.
- the white lines are not reflective. For shoes of that price, this would be expected.
Last, but not least; with the carbide spikes*, make sure you do not walk on wooden floors.
*The Salomon Snowcross CS share their soles with carbide spikes with the Salomon Spikecross. The latest are basically the same shoes as the Snowcross, but without the integrated gate. Therefore, a clever alternative to the Snowcross would be a pair of Spikecross combined with a set of short gators. The company Inov-8 also has two models with integrated carbide spikes (Oroc 280 and Oroc 340), which could also be used in conjunction with a short set of gators for similar results.
I run commute to work. I like it very, very much. To some extent, it even defines me. I cannot think of a better way to start my day. To me, each one of my run commuting legs is a small adventure. Admittedly, once in a while, I bike to work. I like it, but not as much as run commuting. And biking in winter in Ottawa, Canada can be treacherous, to say the least. Call me a wimp, but in the middle of a snowstorm, I would rather be running than biking.
The Ottawa area, which is also known as Canada’s National Capital Region, includes an amazing conservation area: Gatineau Park. For the past 10 years, our family has lived within walking distance of that park. This summer, we went a step further – we bought a house right in the middle of it.
There are very few houses in the park, and those that do exist are allowed to stand because they were mostly all there before the park was created. They don’t come up for sale very often, especially in a price range that we could afford. This spring, the stars lined up in our favour. My wife immediately fell in love with the house. I eventually came to the same conclusion as my wife: this was the opportunity of a lifetime, one that could not be passed up. It just took me a few more weeks longer than her to realize it (I must confess: I have always been a creature of habit.) One thing was bugging me about this new house: would I be able to run to work from there? The answer was not obvious at first. The distance between the new house and work is 17 km right now and soon will be 21 km after workplace relocation (due within the next few months.) A marathon a day… I even pronounced out loud the words “car” and “park and ride”… I was not sure any more about the new house. I lost sleep on it; I even started looking for “a car”.
Fast forward a few weeks, and we are now in our new house. I am happy to report that, with the collaboration and help of my better half, I did not have to purchase a new vehicle (well, at least not yet.) While chatting with the new neighbours, I also found out about a maze of unmarked trails that connects to the official trails network, which makes crossing the park much easier and faster than originally anticipated. All things considered, our new house is turning out to be the little paradise my wife had told me about. However, I had to adjust my run commute habits.
Since I have to cross a relatively large and unlit section of the park (5 km) very early in the morning, I had to purchase a powerful headlamp (Petzl Tika R+; USB rechargeable; can also accept AAA batteries for operations in remote areas.) Running in the dark also meant that, at least for this portion, I would not be running intervals. I easily adapted to this one.
Designated as a conservation area, Gatineau Park is full of wildlife, including black bears and, notably, cougars. I have encountered one of each in the recent years in the park, and suffice to say that I prefer to see them from afar, especially the cougar. My rule of thumb, particularly through the darkness: be noisy, either by clapping my hands, singing or huffing and puffing as if I was about to pass out. I will also start carrying a bear spray can in my backpack, just to feel safer. I have vaguely asked myself how fast I would be able to take this thing out in the advent of a violent bear encounter, but as mentioned previously, it is meant to make me FEEL safer.
Up until recently, I was amongst the few who were still resisting the smart phone temptation. Not anymore: in case of injury in the middle of the park, I’ll be able to phone for some help. Alternatively, it could also be used to fend off wild animal attacks if the bear spray fails.
Winter will be a challenge, as the park roads and trails will be groomed for cross-country skiing, and be out of bounds to everything else (otherwise, I would have gone for a Budnitz FTB.) I may have to start cross-country-ski commute to work, at least across the park, and then hop on a bus with my skis, or leave them somewhere safe, put my running shoes and run all the way to work. I am not sure yet. But one thing is sure: going to work will remain a small adventure, just as before.
If, like me, you have poor eyesight, you may have to run with prescription glasses. Running with spectacles that are not made for running quickly becomes annoying, as they start sliding down a sweaty nose. Luckily, good prescription glasses for runners do exist. Run-commuting adds some complexity to all of this. North of the 49th parallel, it is not uncommon to run in total darkness during winter months. Therefore, clear lens prescription glasses made for runners are required. Dark lens glasses are preferable for the rest of the year.
Three years ago, I bought Switch Vision prescription glasses. They came with interchangeable lenses; one clear set and one darker set for sunny days. These are made of ballistic material, which means they can also be used as safety glasses. Switch Vision uses small magnets inserted in the frame and around the lenses to keep them firmly in place. In my opinion, this feature places Switch Vision in a category of their own in terms of sports glasses. Switch Vision glasses’ design is great for people that needs sports prescription glasses for dark and sunny days. However, I have a bit of a bad aftertaste with the durability of the H wall model I purchased. The exposed metal rusted out after only a few months. When that happened, I took them back to the store, where they were replaced. Just like the first one, however, the second pair showed signs of rust after only a few months. Therefore, I would recommend avoiding these particular Switch Vision frames that expose portions of the magnets – they tend to rust over time, as shown below. I would also avoid frames with a soft nose mount and choose one with a plastic one instead.
Finally, depending on the number of dealers in your area, these can be pretty expensive (myself, I paid $700 Cdn, which is an outrageous amount of money for any pair of glasses when I think about it). I could probably have bought 2 pairs of sport prescription glasses, 1 clear and 1 dark, for less money than that. I really like the Switch Vision magnetic system, but not enough to pay such a premium to get it again the next time around. Hopefully, prices will have come down to a more reasonable level. ********************* Characteristics of good run-commuting prescription glasses: -durable -interchangeable lenses -light -lenses held firmly in place -resistance to fogging (good luck finding that!)
During my run back home today, I saw a lady running with a fully loaded Osprey Stratos 34 (2,000 cubic inches – 34 litres) on her back. Osprey makes amazing backpacks, but that particular one on this lady’s back – whom was no more than 125 pounds after a good meal (50 kg), was just too big, to a point where her running stride was clearly impeded by it as the weight of the pack was constantly shifting from one side to the other.
Choosing a backpack to run commute is not just like choosing any pack back. First, you want it as light as possible, even when packed. And, not only does it have to be well-adjusted, but it has to stay well-adjusted WHILE RUNNING. Finally, it must also be slim enough on your back as to not impede your running action, particularly your arm movements. This normally translates into packs that are between 500 and 1,200 cubic inches (10 to 20 litres), depending on your body type and size. This is well below the traditional day hike back pack size, which is around 1,350 cubic inches (22 litres). In summary, good run commuting back packs are:
- tightly-adjusted to the body
Over the years, companies have built more and more packs that fit these requirements. My personal choice: the Deuter Race X.
At 5’10” and 160 pounds (1,78 m, 73 kg), the Deuter Race X (730 cubic inches – 12 litres) is the perfect run-commuting backpack for me. This bag is light (1.5 pounds – 600 g), and it fits well between my shoulder blades. Even if I load it to its fullest, it rarely weighs more than 10 pounds (4 kg). The shoulder straps are thin but comfortable and well adjusted, and the waiste and chest straps help keeping it snug against my back. Its compact size does not affect my running stride, and my arms can move as freely as if I had nothing on. In winter, it fits just as nicely over all the layers required to run through any kind of nasty weather (see Running Gear Fit to Face A Canadian Winter for more information on these layers).
The Deuter Race X fits me like a glove, but it has other very interesting characteristics. First, it is extremely durable – I have used it constantly, through all kinds of weather, for the past five years, over 6,000 kilometres (4,000 miles). The only thing that let go was the top pocket zipper, which I had fixed by a shoe maker.
The Deuter Race X has another interesting quality…it is very affordable (64$ Cdn at MEC; oddly, it appears to be more expensive in the US, at a cost of around 80$ US). Osprey (Raptor), Gregory (Miwok) and many other companies have bags just as good as this one, but none cheaper (at least in Canada). This bag also comes with an integrated rain cover and is pre-fitted for an hydration pocket (sold separately).
In conclusion, the Deuter Race X is the right size, the right fit and at the right price for most run commuters.
I mentioned above that I had my pack repaired by a shoe maker after the top pocket zipper gave up on me. I actually get lots of modifications or repairs done on my kit. I am a creature of habit, and I don’t like to change gear that much. If anything breaks or annoys me, I always look for a way to fix it before thinking about getting newer equipment. There are all kinds of good reasons for doing it, but I mainly do it because I don’t like changing things too much! Many years ago, on a long hike, I grabbed the wrong backpack and threw it on. Despite the fact that it was the exact same pack, I knew right away it was not mine, and I did not like that feeling. I then found my pack and put it on; the feeling was amazing, a bit like meeting an old friend you had not seen for a long time. All that to say that I like my gear and that I take super special care of it!
To get modifications or repairs done, I used to go to a normal shoe maker, but lately, I found a shoe maker that specializes in outdoor gear. The cool thing about that, is not only does the kit gets fixed, but it comes back just as good as new. Since gear can become expensive, I strongly encourage you to look for that kind of shop in your area. (if you live in the Ottawa region, check out Atelier hors Piste http://www.atelierhorspiste.com).
We’re excited to introduce a new contributor to the The Run Commuter! Nick Pedneault joins us from Ottawa, Canada and will be writing about running in harsh winter conditions up north, as well as sharing tips, advice, and gear reviews from which all run commuters, in any climate, can benefit. Welcome to TRC, Nick!
My name is Nicolas Pedneault, and I am a run commuter from the Ottawa area, Canada. I have been run commuting for 6 years now, and I am planning on doing so for as long as I can. Run commuting for me was the result of many factors: I wanted to keep doing sports like I used to before I was married and had kids, but without neglecting family life; I did not have a parking spot at work; and I wanted a solution to get to work which was valid year round. One year, I cycled to work in the winter; in May, my bike was as good as junk because of the salt they use to de-ice roads. Public transit was a solution, but there is not much sports involved in taking the bus. To make matters worse, OC Transpo – the Ottawa public transport company – went on a 2-month long strike in 2009. That was the last straw for me: I started running to get to and from work.
My total daily commute is between 16 and 24 kilometres (10-15 miles), every day of the week. Running in Ottawa year-round means facing temperatures as high as 36ºC (97ºF) and as low as -35ºC (-31ºF). Consequently, it requires a wide variety of gear to face the elements.
Running year-round in Ottawa means running through some pretty harsh weather – snowstorms, freezing rain, blistering cold, tornados, etc. However, in the present post, I will stick to the blistering cold, describing the gear I use to run at temperatures between -30 ºC and -35ºC (-22 ºF and -31ºF). I have no preferences in terms of brands; consequently, the pictures included in this post and the brands are mentioned for general information purposes only. However, the brands mentioned are the ones I use.
To prevent my feet from freezing, I combine a pair of thin liner socks (Wigwam Ultimate Liner Pro) with a pair of heavier merino wool socks (Great Canadian sox company super-wool hiker GX socks). Although I wear 2 pairs of socks, it all fits nicely in my normal running shoes. For winter, I use standard trail runners (either Saucony Peregrine or Brooks Cascadia). I know speciality shoes are now available for cold running (for example, Salomon SnoCross CS), but I have yet to venture on that road since outside winter, these are of no use.
In that order, I wear a pair of thermal tights (MEC Mercury tights), a pair of running shorts on top of the tights and a pair of very generic wind pants (MEC Flux pants). I experimented once during a winter marathon (Ottawa Winterman, February 2013, -29ºC / -20ºF) without the shorts between the 2 layers; I ended up having to stick my mitts in my pants to warm up my manhood. Suffice to say that I highly recommend wearing shorts over the tights in winter. In my backpack, I also carry an extra pair of wind pants which are a size larger than the first one; if it gets really windy or suddenly colder than expected, I can throw them on over everything else.
As always, I make sure to use many layers. My base layer is a 150-weight merino wool long sleeve shirt. My second layer is a 150-weight merino wool t-shirt. Over time, I found this combination of merino wool garment to be the best in terms of weight and sweat absorption. My third layer is either an old long sleeve polar fleece shirt or a Polartec power dry hoody with thumb holes (MEC T3 hoodie). The principle behind this combination of layers is pretty simple: the natural fibre near my skin is less susceptible to develop bad odours than the synthetic fibres. My final layer is a soft shell jacket with a hood (Patagonia Ascensionist or Outdoor Research Enchainment.) In cold weather, I prefer soft shells to hard shells because they are much better at letting perspiration out.
Mitts. No gloves. Just mitts. Again, I use a small pair of mitt (hand knitted by my wife’s aunt) and a bigger one on top of it (MEC overlord mitts.)
One day, it was so cold, my watch display totally froze. To avoid that, I now wear it on top of my jacket at the wrist, and I throw the bottom portion of my mitt over the watch. If you are doing intervals, it is a bit annoying to have to push your mitt up to press the buttons, but it is far less annoying than a frozen watch.
The next piece of kit is by far the most important one for me, and this time, the brand is important. My Sonic Outdoor Research Balaclava allows me to stay warm while being able to breathe properly although the air is very cold. Many years ago, I was running with a small scarf over my mouth. Over time, it would get wet and I would eventually auto-waterboard myself from time to time. This was awful, and I looked for a balaclava that would allow me to breathe while keeping me warm. The Sonic has a special screen in front of the mouth that never freezes. It is also far away enough from my mouth to create a warm up chamber just in front of it. Because of that, I end up breathing air which is a few degrees warmer than the ambient one. Since I tend to suffer from performance induced asthma in the winter, these few degrees mean the difference between coughing all day or not at all. Over it, I will normally use a Buff around my neck, and another one over my head. For good measure, I also carry a third safety Buff in my backpack, just in case.
I currently use a Deuter Race X backpack. It is a bit small (12 litres or 730 cubic inches), but for a bag that cost me CAD$54, I think it is near perfect. I always carry a safety jacket in it (MEC Uplink jacket with hood), which I can throw on top of everything if get too cold or if I suddenly have to stop running. As mentioned above, I also carry in it an oversized pair of wind pants, an extra Buff, my lunch and some clothes. A point worth mentioning: in winter, the simple fact of having a bag on your back will keep you warmer as it offers an additional layer of insulation.
That’s it! You’re ready to run in the midst of the Canadian winter or the polar vertex. Now, I must be honest: running in these temperatures is never that great, but I have found that these somewhat miserable runs made all summer runs great no matter what afterwards.