Snow throws curves at runners training for Marathon
Boston Marathon training is always tough. But add 90 inches of snow to running routes and it becomes a different kind of endurance test.
As Greater Boston digs out, runners tread carefully over mountainous snow banks, icy pavement, and unplowed paths along the Charles River. They hurdle between almost impassable sidewalks and slushy streets, seeking the best footing. They trudge through calf- or knee-deep powder that, in one of winter’s cruel jokes, makes it feel like running on a beach. They take it slow, hoping to avoid slip-and-fall injuries.
They believe all the snow will make them mentally and physically stronger, and better prepared for the Patriots Day race.
“It’s been pretty challenging with the weather, but overall I think our team is handling it pretty well,” said Liz Ryan of Cambridge, who is training for her first Boston Marathon with the Greater Boston Track Club.
“We make each other go on long runs on the weekend on the marathon course. We pull each other through it, but there are definitely moments when you’re sloshing through snow and you really want to stop. But it makes you tougher, and that’s what the marathon is about, having stuff thrown at you and successfully dealing with all those inconveniences.”
Typically, Boston Marathon training turns serious in January and intensifies through February and March. Weekly mileage increases. Runs last three hours or more. Speed workouts push limits.
But snowstorms that paralyze the city force marathoners to adjust routines.
To keep up with training plans as snow piles grow, marathoners either work around the weather or find a way to make it work for them. They rely on teammates, treadmills, indoor tracks, and gear that gives running shoes a better grip in slick conditions. Instead of sitting in traffic or waiting for subway trains, they log miles by running to work.
Ryan warms up for some runs by shoveling. Other marathoners cross-train on stationary bikes, elliptical machines, snowshoes, and cross-country skis.
“Flexibility is fabulous,” said Cathy Utzschneider, coach of the Liberty Athletic Club and professor of competitive performance at Boston College. “It’s the only way in Massachusetts. It’s the only way in 2015.
“Runners aren’t always the most flexible, but snowstorms are an invitation to embrace flexibility, relax, and enjoy the snow.”
In late January, the Boston Athletic Association canceled its first marathon training clinic because of snow. But BAA high-performance team coach Terrence Mahon is ready with tips for those intent on training through tough winter weather.
Mahon advised that runners avoid running on the snow.
“Don’t spend your entire run trudging through snow-filled roads and sidewalks just to get your run done outside,” said Mahon. “It is best to maintain the quality of your runs, and that can’t always be done when having to slow down to avoid slipping, falling, or navigating potholes.”
Mahon recommended treadmills for harder-paced runs and, if using an indoor track, he reminds runners to vary directions — go clockwise and counterclockwise around the oval — to avoid overuse injuries.
But even with all the snow, many runners choose the outdoors over the monotony of treadmills and indoor tracks. Then the challenge becomes finding relatively clear streets and sidewalks.
The carriage road in Newton has proven a very popular destination.
The wide, one-way, and often quickly plowed road runs alongside Commonwealth Avenue and traces a portion of the Boston Marathon course.
“Thank God for the carriage road,” said Rubesh Jacobs, who is preparing for his first Boston Marathon.
It also helps that drivers who pass the carriage road know runners like to frequent it and proceed with caution.
Some parts of the running and biking paths along the Charles River are cleared, but some remain covered, making a run along the river tricky. If runners can’t make it to the carriage road or the river, they often loop around their neighborhoods.
Jacobs said he balances “getting a workout in and staying injury free” and worries “about slipping and falling and spraining something.”
When running outside, he stays relatively close to his Brookline home, which is not too far from the carriage road. And not only does Jacobs carefully choose where he runs, but also what clothing to wear.
“I wear hideous colors that otherwise would never see the light of day,” said Jacobs. “Why? The sidewalks are horrible so I run on the main road. The colors hopefully grab the attention of the drivers without blinding them.”
Emily Bliss grew up cross-country skiing in Anchorage, so the snow doesn’t faze her. Now she runs from her home in the South End to work in Newton, a round trip of 13 miles.
“I throw on a backpack and some [ice-gripping] Yaktrax,” said Bliss. “Every street corner, there’s a big berm and you either have to climb over it or go around it. You can’t see cars around it.
“For 10 feet or 15 feet, I’ll run on the sidewalk, then I’m running out on the road. Then I’m darting back onto the sidewalk because there’s cars coming. It’s slow going, but it’s a great workout.”
Andrew Chalmers, another Greater Boston Track Club member, has sped down Cambridge streets at better than a 7-minute-per-mile pace amid the snow. He actually prefers running during storms. And like Bliss, he also runs to and from work.
“Some of my best runs this winter have been during the storms,” said Chalmers. “There are no cars on the roads, so as long as you dress for it, the only thing you have to worry about are plows, which are plenty loud enough to hear from a mile away.”