Friday, February 22, 2013

A year already?

Yes folks, it's now been a year since that first ill advised blog post. At almost 9,000 views, I'm nearly certain there are at least a couple of people reading who aren't my mother or my husband - hopefully they found what they were looking for, except for that one who apparently landed here by using "butt plug Gravenhurst" as their search terms.

A whole year of bad crayon art!

The 2013 season is shaping up to be a good one: I've already registered for a number of races including the inaugural 65km Steaming Nostril off-road cycling race on March 24th and the 20th anniversary Paris to Ancaster off-road mudfest with new-and-improved 70km route on April 14th, both of which will be accompanied by Tanker. After all that cycling I'll be attempting to run again at the 10th anniversary edition of the Mississauga Half Marathon on May 5th, then Tanker and I will saddle up again for the 100km route at the Cambridge Tour de Grand on June 9th. The "A" race for the year will be the Welland Half Iron triathlon on June 23rd, which will hopefully happen without a massive SI joint injury this time. As the cherry on top, Belwood has returned as part of the MultiSport Canada Triathlon Series after having been dropped by that other series last year. Tanker and I are already registered as the ill advised racing relay team for the 750m-30k-7.5k sprint on July 20th. There will be a couple of other races sprinkled in there as well, but I'm already pretty stoked! The winter insulation (courtesy of my Christmas baking) is coming off a little faster than last year, I managed not to spend most of January injured and grumpy due to lack of running, and I'm generally feeling pretty optimistic.

Moving forward, I'll try to continue with the gear reviews and other potentially edifying stuff...but realistically you can expect a lot more self-serving race reports, mundane tri-babble (AERO TRANSITION CADENCE BRICK SPANDEX RAWRR!), bad humour and even worse drawings.

It's what I do.

Thanks for reading - hope you at least had some laughs!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tested: Timex Ironman Race Trainer Mid-Size HRM

This week's review: the Ironman Race Trainer Mid-Size heart rate monitor watch from Timex.

Good size for  my 6.5" circumference wrist &  7.75" circumference hand
(measured around palm, not including thumb, - the way you measure for gloves).
Excess band secured by a retainer with a nub that fits a hole in the end of the strap.
Reasonably reliable, but does come loose occasionally.

What it is: A wristwatch with an ANT+ chest strap that provides heart rate data as well as recording workout duration and split times.

Why you want one: For training by heart rate or merely data collection and comparison purposes.

Display is clear and I found setup fairly easy.

The unit is quite thick - catches on things and feels bulky at times.

The band and buckle are substantial as well, contributing to the bulk. 

Duration used: 2.5 years (received as a birthday gift in July 2010)

Price paid/purchased from: My husband bought it for $145CAN + tax at Mountain Equipment Co-op.

The included chest strap is rather old tech, even for 2010.
It does provide a good range of adjustment through the slider on the soft elastic portion.

Inside of the strap - non-breathable plastic with limited flex directly against your skin.

What rawks: It's been a reasonably reliable HRM that wasn't ridiculously expensive and is rated waterproof to 100 metres. The batteries are user-replaceable, but last a good long time - I think I've replaced the watch battery once (sort of twice; keep reading) and the strap battery once (caveat: it sat unused for most of 2012 while I just used the watch for timekeeping). The watch is fairly straightforward - I haven't had to refer to the manual since initial setup, and even then it was only for some of the more complicated bits - and daily operation is relatively easy and intuitive. If you choose you can use Timex's Data Xchanger USB widget to sync data to your computer using TrainingPeaks - the widget is sold separately, or you can get it included if you buy the "Pro" kit for an extra $50 (it also seems to include an upgraded strap). The watch itself has been fairly sturdy, having been smacked off/by various hard objects and surfaces and sustaining only superficial scratches. The Indiglo nighttime lighting is easy to use and works passably. I'll give a quick run-down on the rest of the watch's extensive features:

- Time (normal) mode displays the date and time in the format you choose - 12/24hr clock, numerical day/month/year or 3-letter abbreviation day of week, date and month. The watch allows you to set two different time zones, between which you toggle by holding the start/split button - handy for those who travel or frequently make phone calls to far-away places. There is an optional hourly chime and 3 alarms that can handily be set to sound on either a single day of the week, weekends only, weekdays only or every day.

- HRM setup options include user's weight (in pounds or kilos) and maximum HR, which are used to calculate calories burned and percentage of max HR. You can choose whether your HR is displayed in beats per minute of % of max, set up training zones based on testing (or it will set them automatically based on max HR), and select whether or not the watch gives an audible signal when you're out of your desired training zone.

- The Recovery function shows the amount your heart rate dropped after completing your workout (based on when you hit the stop button in Chrono, Timer or Interval mode). You can select 30 seconds, 1min, 2min, 5min or 10min as the interval at which it records. I find that 1min is generally the most telling. It will also display your HR in beats per minute when you hit stop and the final bpm value, e.g.: Recovery = 33 / 156-123.

- Chrono, or the standard stopwatch function, allows you to choose the position in which various pieces of data are displayed. Make your heart rate the main display, choose where/whether to show total time, split time, etc. Hitting start/lap records HR data automatically, and holding the "set" button once you're done automatically stores the workout data. Hitting the start/split button with the chronometer running gives you a split each time you press it, up to 50 laps. It will record your average HR for each lap, as well as your overall average, lowest and max HR for the workout.

- Timer mode is a simple countdown timer that allows you to set your desired time in hours/minutes/seconds, has an optional halfway point audible alert, and lets you choose whether to simply stop, repeat or change to Chrono mode once time has elapsed. Great if you want to run for time without looking at your watch, if you want to set a minimum warmup time before a speed workout, or use repeat mode to have an audible reminder of when to eat or drink during long training sessions or events. To my knowlege, though, no HR data will be recorded in this mode and resetting does not save workout data.

- Interval mode allows you to specify up to 5 time-based intervals that can repeat up to 99 times each - you can also specify a desired HR zone for each interval, which will trigger the audible alert (if enabled) if you're outside that zone. It records HR data in this mode and can run concurrently with the Chrono or Timer, but each mode will record a separate workout. I've used this for doing speed workouts when no track was available in this fashion: run warmup with Chrono so I can see when I'm at 10mins or so (could have used the Timer for this, but didn't think about it then), switch over to Interval mode and hit go with Int1 set for 5:00 and Int2 set for 3:00, each repeating 5 times. This had me run hard for 5mins then do a recovery jog for 3mins, repeating five times. Afterward, I ran another 10mins cool down via the Chrono. Interval mode automatically records your average HR for each segment as well as your average, lowest and max HR for the whole workout. To my knowledge, there is no way to set it to repeat Int1 a set number of times and then move on to repeat Int2 a set number of times - if you want to repeat a single time (e.g.: 4:15) simply set Int1 for 4:15 with the desired number of repeats and set all other intervals to zero. With the watch running in Interval mode, it will show you the remaining time in the current interval, the interval number and the repeat number (e.g.: I3:RPT2 on the top line with 03:21 on the second, larger line).

- Review mode lets you see the recorded data from your last 10 workouts - as more workouts are recorded, the oldest one is bumped out of memory unless you choose to lock it in by holding the stop/reset/set button (in which case the oldest non-locked workout will be bumped). It will display total time, average lap time, best lap time (and which lap it was), average HR for each lap/interval, average HR for the workout, lowest HR, highest HR and your Recovery for that workout. In my above example of a 1-hour non-track speed workout, I ended up with two workout files: the Chrono file showed 1:00:00 elapsed time (40mins speed workout + 10min warmup + 10min cool down) with average, low and max HR for the workout plus recovery data, and the Interval file showed 40:00 elapsed time (5:00 + 3:00 repeated x 5) with average HR for each interval and average, low & max HR during the 40mins of the speed workout, plus my recovery while doing my cool down jog. Each workout also gives an approximation of the number of calories burned.

- Sync mode allows you to download the data to your computer wirelessly through the Data Xchanger USB widget. I can't comment on its function as I didn't bother with the widget.

Simple snap-in strap attachment at both sides for lefties and righties.

The strap's standard-size CR2032 battery is easily replaceable with a coin.
The watch itself uses the same battery, but requires a tiny philips screwdriver and a steady hand.

What sucks: While I stated above that the watch has been quite sturdy, there are a couple of major issues that are worth noting carefully. The first unit - purchased for me as a birthday gift - developed condensation under the crystal after the first time I took it for a swim. It was replaced by Mountain Equipment Co-op's Rock Solid guarantee, but our only options were to make a trip out of our way to exchange it directly at a store; wait through an approximately 2-week turn-around to mail it back to their distribution warehouse and have them mail the replacement back to us; or pay for a new unit and wait 1 week for it to be mailed to us while we returned the faulty one by mail for refund. The new watch worked as advertised and did not permit water entry, but I've had ongoing issues with the chest strap chafing when worn under my bust despite application of lubrication. Moving it further down seems to eliminate the chafing, but makes it more likely that the watch will lose the signal from the strap even when I have taken care to wet it. Even when riding the trainer in my living room with no fan, no bouncing and sweating buckets, the watch loses signal at least 2-3 times per hour. When it is receiving a signal, I've still got some ridiculously high or low readings, especially while running; I'm not sure if it's more affected by bouncing with my stride, but I'm positive I'm not doing my easy and recovery runs at 92% of my maximum heart rate - this has persisted through battery changes in both strap and watch. I'm pretty sure the refresh rate on the sensor is quite poor as well, as it has continued to display my heart rate for up to 3 full minutes after removing the strap! The buttons on the watch itself are hard to operate confidently with gloves or through multiple layers of clothing - I've been taking my phone with Endomondo running in my pocket all winter as a backup since I've had about a 30% success rate at getting the watch to start and/or stop properly in severe cold that requires bundling up. If you're travelling and don't have access to a computer, the 10 workout memory may not be sufficient, particularly if you're doubling your memory usage through using Chrono and Interval functions concurrently - you'll most likely have to manually record your workout data so you don't lose any. There is no way to delete a particular workout, which means accidentally starting the chronograph or interval timer and resetting will result in an "empty" workout that you can't be rid of until it drops out of memory - this occupies one of the 10 workout memory slots needlessly. The calculation of calories burned is ridiculously optimistic no matter how low you set your weight in an attempt to compensate; this online calculator gives an average of around 60-75% of the figure indicated by the watch for the same values. The head unit and band seem to be a bit bulky given this was designed for smaller wrists and catch repeatedly on cuffs and other objects. The available colours schemes are really girly, making it a rather emasculating choice for men with small wrists/hands and a plain annoyance for females (like me) who would rather avoid all the pink and lavender. The battery in the watch is user-replaceable, but despite my extremely careful methods (I'm pretty good with electronics, right up to and including successful brain surgery on a first-generation Xbox) the Indiglo would not operate at all after performing a battery change. My greatest source of annoyance comes from the watch band, though - the molded synthetic encases the head unit, meaning it can't be replaced with a nylon + hook-and-loop strap (my preference) for comfort, or to keep the damn thing on your wrist when it snaps...which took less than 22 months of use (around April 20th, 2012)! Infuriatingly enough, it happened just as I was going to start training with heart rate data again after taking a break over the winter and spring. My only option was to mail it to Timex with a credit card number to pay an amount they would arbitrarily determine once they had it, which looked like it would be approximately $45. As a result, I was without a watch for approximately a month, during which time I was given no indication that they had received it or how much I would be billed. They eventually charged me about $25 and sent me what appears to be an entirely new unit, with Indiglo working and no workout data stored. If the strap continues breaking approximately every 2 years, I will only be able to get it replaced once more, as Timex clearly states that "Watches older than 5 years are not repairable due to unavailability of parts." It's worth mentioning that the original quality control issue I experienced with this watch wasn't a fluke, either - in order to be able to continue recording at least some workout data (overall and split times), I purchased a Mid-Size Ironman Sleek 50-lap from WalMart. I used it daily for the month that my Race Trainer was out of my hands, but ended up having to return it - fortunately for full refund - after condensation turned up under the crystal following a swim (it had been in the pool somewhere around 17 times, but since it was rated water resistant to 100 metres I don't think swimming it in is unreasonable). That means two out of three Timex watches (well, I suppose actually four with the replacement) had water seal problems...and these are marketed to triathletes, bearing the Ironman name. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking, but apparently can't handle anything wetter than a lick.

Broken after less than 2 years of use.
Click on photo for large size that shows similar cracks developing along the rest of the band.

Snapped at what should have been a known stress point.
UPDATE JULY 2013: The new strap snapped on me, after just over a year! It broke in a different place this time, possibly after undergoing more strain as I now wear my watch on my right wrist instead of my left (since breaking my left wrist last August), but there was no specific incident that led to the failure - it happened while I was asleep!

Woke up in the morning to find my watch loose in bed..

Since it broke the morning of a race, I ended up using Krazy Glue to mend it. The fix held through that day and a swim the next afternoon, but half of it had let go afterward. I have since applied another, more generous coat (which you see in the photo above), which has survived a 10 mile run, an easy cycle and another night in bed. Only time will tell if this is truly a viable option, and I think I may be in the market for a new wristwatch soon.

What I'd like to see: Better heart rate monitor function, realistic calories burned algorithms, a user-replaceable band (or at least one that isn't so bloody fragile), a watch that functions fully after user replacement of the battery, less girly colours and better options for service from Timex.

Indiglo display is easy to read when lit, but only lasts 2 seconds unless you hold the button to lock it.

What I'm saying: While I do like the variety of the data the watch records and the format in which I am able to review it, there are so many issues that crop up on a recurring basis that I can't recommend it for purchase. Furthermore, there are clearly some major quality control issues at Timex that would make me hesitate to buy more of their products. I will most likely look elsewhere for a replacement when this unit dies (or the strap breaks again past the 5 year service period).

Sleek 50-lap bought to stand in while Race Trainer being repaired allowed water entry after 1 month of use. 

For further edification: See the review by or this one from

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dear Dog Owner: A Runner's Plea

I know your pup is the best doggie in the whole wide world, is nothing but friendly, and wouldn't harm a fly. I like dogs, too! However, I'm going to try to help you see from the perspective of a runner (or cyclist, or rollerblader, or nordic skier or even skateboarder) why you're endangering both your pet and other people with some of your behaviours.

First and foremost, if you're not using a leash on a public sidewalk or trail, you're showing a total lack of respect for the law, other people and your own dog's safety. I don't run or cycle through the off-leash park and local bylaws state that dogs must be on a leash when in public spaces. If you're on a sidewalk, what's to stop your pup from taking a fancy to run into traffic? If you're on a trail, how certain are you that your dog will come back from chasing a squirrel or rabbit just because you've called their name? Can you run fast & long enough to catch them if they're running away into the woods? Even if you're not concerned about any of that, are you sure that they won't have an encounter with a dog that may be larger and more aggressive? Leashes are for everyone's good. If you really want your pup to be able to get a good run in, either let them loose in your fenced backyard or take them to an off-leash park.

A dog's instinct tells them to chase - whether it's a furry critter, a car bumper or a runner makes no difference. When I pass you at a run or on a bike, there's a strong chance your dog will follow. The onus is on you to keep control, not on me to stop and let you catch your pet. If you can't run at 20+kph to grab a hold of the dog's collar (you DO have a collar on your pup, right?) as it chases my bike, you need to use a leash. Every. Single. Time. I'd run out of fingers and toes if I had to count the number of times a dog owner has had to come hauling after me because their pet thought I was the mechanical bunny at a greyhound track.

Clearly not me - I don't run with music.

So you've got your dog on a leash. Great! That doesn't mean you've necessarily got him or her under control. Sidewalks are usually only 3 feet wide, and trails vary from singletrack to converted rail line - at most about 7 feet wide. This means that even with a short (non-extendable) leash, your dog can traverse the entire width of the space other people have to travel. Are you prepared to rein fido in when he tries to lunge at someone?

As friendly as your dog may be, they may perceive me running toward you as a threat to their owner. Even if they've been fine with other people walking past, a runner looks more aggressive as they approach at greater speed. In an attempt to protect you, they may nip at me as I pass - my favourite running jacket has a patch over a hole where this happened, right at hip height (courtesy of a local greyhound, which was on a leash at the time). Had I not been dressed for a winter run, that hole could easily have been in my skin.

Even if your pup doesn't perceive me as a threat and just wants to be friendly, their approach puts both of us in danger. Unpredictable movements may result in your dog getting kicked or me being tripped by their leash (assuming you're using one). I'd feel awful if I ended up kicking your pooch, and I'm sure you wouldn't be happy either! This could easily be the end result from your dog trying to jump up to greet me while I'm at a run, though, and when a dog and cyclist meet it's more than likely that everyone loses in the end.

I can almost hear the sound of multitudes of dog owners asking why I can't just give them a wide berth if I'm so concerned. I try - I really do. I'll start talking to your pup as I approach in order to avoid startling them (especially if I'm coming up behind you), then try to give them lots of space and keep a hand out to gently fend them off if need be, but I risk injury by stepping off of the sidewalk or trail. Much better that you short-leash your dog than I roll an ankle because of a soft spot in the grass, a gopher hole or a sharply pitched drainage ditch.

So, you're doing your part. You've leashed your dog, kept aware of other trail users, and short-leashed them whenever someone approaches to ensure they don't lunge, jump or nip. I'll ask you to go just one step further and clean up after them, since noone ever wants to discover that something they own bears evidence of a pooch's digestive tract. Since many of you are under some kind of misconception about this, I'll try to clear things up - snow does NOT make dog poop disappear! One more thing; just because you've bagged it doesn't mean you're done. I see an upsetting number of plastic bags with doggie leavings in them left around in public places and really, if you've already taken the time to bag it is it really so much of a stretch to put it in a rubbish bin?

We really can get along!

I really like dogs, and it makes me happy to see people bringing their four-legged friends out to enjoy the outdoors while I'm partaking of some fresh air myself. A little consideration for the other bipeds - and your own pet - are all I'm asking for, ok? I'm not the only one, either, so...please?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Winter Running: More than just wardrobe

It seems like there are endless lists of what to wear while running in winter (assuming you live in a climate that experiences a change of seasons more dramatic than "hey, I'm not quite as drenched in sweat this month"), but I've been thinking recently about some of the tricks I've learned for surviving our annual ice age. I've had a fair bit of time to do so; despite January 2013 being the absolute most ass-tastic month out of the last 14 or so in Southern Ontario, I've just put in my third ever 200+km month of running, and the last time I did so was December of 2011. I came close a couple of months in between, and I know many of you will scoff at my piddling mileage, but we're not here to dick measure about training - the fact is I've spent a bundle of hours lurching around in the dark on uncertain footing while saner folk retreated indoors. Treadmills make me want to stick forks in my eyes, so I manage to get out there six times a week even in the worst weather - hell, my first run after making the decision I was going to try to do so regularly happened on November the 10th of 2008, so I spent the first few months of my running "career" dealing with miserable conditions. Here's how I survive them.

Doesn't that beat the view on a treadmill?

Don't get wet. This is a point that can't be over-emphasized. The Inuit have a saying - "wet is dead." They know a thing or two about winter, what with it lasting most of the year in their native lands. Take all possible precautions to keep yourself dry; especially your extremities. Walk around or jump over slush and puddles if you can; if you can't, either walk through it or try to run as lightly as possible to minimize splashing. Even the spots where salt has melted the snow on the road or sidewalk can get you wet, so I try to avoid them unless it's the only way I'll get traction. Be especially wary after dark - the surface of a slush puddle can look just like pavement with a thin layer of slurry on it. Speaking of puddles, you never know how deep they'll end up being; potholes can turn up literally overnight, and you don't want to soak a foot and possibly turn an ankle in a hole that turns out to be several inches deeper than you expected.

Since you're going to get wet anyway, know how to manage it. This comes down to apparel and smart choices. Cotton is your worst enemy, but wool can be your best friend. I have come out of runs in sub-freezing temperatures in which my feet got wet in relative comfort (and with all my toes) by relying exclusively on Merino wool socks in winter - I prefer SmartWool and Icebreaker, but if you can't stand the thought of even non-itchy wool on your feet try Wrightsock's model with Merino wool on the outside and wicking fabric on the inside. My next-to-skin layer is always Merino wool or a synthetic moisture wicking fabric (polyester or polypropylene); I refuse to use any clothing that doesn't breathe to allow moisture to escape, which means excellent fabrics and thoughtfully designed vents. If it's mild enough to rain I can generally keep my legs, arms and head happy with a permeable layer like standard running tights and a long-sleeve shirt - I don't feel the raindrops actually hitting my skin, and for some reason that makes a difference. I do, however, require some additional protection for my core.

I'm wet and it's windy, but I'm ok.

Windproofing trumps insulation. Especially for your chest and extremities. I have a pair of non-insulated gloves that keep my (always cold) hands happy down to about -6c/21f simply because they provide an environment in which my body heat can build without cold air getting in to strip it away - similar to the principle on which wetsuits function. Keeping a windproof layer on your chest will help to keep you warm even in that worst possible circumstance: wind combined with moisture. Even though it tends to soak through in any sustained rain, my vest has saved me from hypothermia in innumerable situations by trapping heat against my core. When windchills get below -15c/5f, I really prefer to have wind protection for my legs as well - I've run happily in a pair of microfleece pants I picked up at a local discount store, but for maximum protection I love Craft's nordic ski tights with windproof panels.

Screw "waterproof" shoes. They probably aren't, and won't drain any water that gets inside them even if they are. I've found that Merino wool socks will only make your feet feel really wet for a few seconds (even after stepping in a slush puddle up to your ankle; shit happens) - when combined with a shoe with a mesh upper that allows the water to exit, you won't end up sloshing, and the wool will keep your feet warm while able to breathe. You can buy a pair of wool socks for every day of the week for less than the cost of one set of waterproof running shoes, and you can continue to rotate through your regular footwear as usual (I won't run in the same shoes two days in a row, so this is a big one for me). You can use trail shoes, road shoes, screw shoes, whatever you want.

Not even any leaves to stuff in a jacket for insulation.

It is better to overdress than under-dress. Most of the advice I've seen says to dress as though it's 20 degrees Fahrenheit/11 degrees Celsius warmer than the thermometer says, and that's reasonable as long as you take wind chill and precipitation into account. You may also want to consider the intensity of run you have planned; if I'm dressed lightly for the conditions, I'll tend to push harder trying to warm myself up in the first few minutes than I intended for an easy run. Traction (or lack thereof) may leave you unable to work hard enough to keep yourself warm - this happened in the slippery mud at Horror Hill last year. You may get wet. Weather can change fast in winter, with a cold wind blowing up out of nowhere. It's better to have to zip down a layer (or remove it entirely) than to be caught at your furthest point from help & home under-dressed. Watch weather reports and be aware of any systems that may develop while you're out, then dress according to the worst possible conditions you may encounter and zip down or shed a layer if you need to.

Accessories are key. I've badly frostbitten my cheeks and earlobes in the past. Feeling ice crystals crunching inside your flesh is bloody disturbing, so I take precautions. I use either an earband or a seamless tube of fabric (commonly known as a buff) - the latter can be folded to make a multi-layer covering for my ears, pulled down to make a neck gaiter, pulled up to form a hood, or used in conjunction with a hat to make a balaclava. This last function makes a huge difference when the temperature drops below -10c/14f, especially with wind; I pull the tube up over my mouth and nose so only my eyes are exposed (Tanker calls me a ninja) and get to breathe in warm air while preventing frostbite on my cheeks. A pair of simple gaiters can keep snow out of your shoes and seal the gap between socks and tights or pants with a slightly-too-short inseam, minimizing your skin's exposure to the cold and wind. I've already discussed socks, but your upper extremities need love too - good gloves are essential. I have a bunch of pairs for different conditions, from a little stretchy pair of Mizuno Breath Thermo ones up through an old pair of snowboard mittens that I use when it gets Hoth cold out. These gloves are probably the closest thing I have to an all-rounder with decent wind protection, a bit of insulation, and good ventilation.

Eyelashes iced up at -15c/5f, but I'm good.

A hat with a brim is better than glasses. During the precious few hours of daylight it will keep the sun out of your eyes. In rain or snow it will cut a swath just big enough that you can see, and when conditions get really bad you can tilt your head down a bit for extra protection. Ice crystals in the eyes suck, but so does not being able to see because your glasses fogged up. In extreme cold, there is no known way to keep lenses clear, particularly if it's chilly enough that you need to pull your tube up over your mouth (the air you exhale will fog your glasses with each breath). The bows from sunglasses, depending on style, can also create a gap between your hat and/or earband/tube and your head allowing cold air to enter. Not good. For general cold or wet weather I use a baseball-type cap made of a water resistant and breathable material, but for extreme conditions I use the hat pictured above. The brim is smaller, but it still works and provides some insulation while still expelling moisture (as seen by the frozen condensation on the top of my head).

Use lights and reflective. There's a lot more dark than light in wintertime, and people are not expecting to see runners. Make them see you, because a car may not have the traction to brake or swerve to avoid hitting you at the last moment. Light yourself up like a Christmas tree, wear the most obnoxious colours you can, and even go so far as to wave your arms around and yell if you aren't sure a driver has seen you. Blinking lights get more attention than steady ones - I like the RoadID Supernova, which is blinding when it strobes and can be used with either a clip or a reflective hook-and-loop arm/ankle band. Go with overkill, and make eye contact. Help them see you by running facing oncoming traffic and stay aware, ready to jump out of the way if need be. Beware of the car turning right off a side street that crosses your path, though; they tend to look to their left only, so may not see you approaching. I've nearly become a hood ornament a few times, so if I can't make eye contact even by waving my light-bedecked arms around and yelling, I'll run around the back of the vehicle instead.

Typical winter gear: reflective-brimmed cap, wind-resistant earband with reflective logo and reflective, wind- and water-resistant jacket.

Traction may be hard to come by. Everyone knows that ice is slippery, but when conditions suddenly turn mild for a day things can get even worse. Beware the melt and rain! The ice that was slippery but runnable at  -5c/23f becomes impassable at 5c/41f when it develops a layer of water on top that might as well be teflon. Beware that thin skiff of snow overtop of ice in colder weather - it behaves almost the same as the water does, robbing you of your grip. While good running technique in the form of landing with your foot under your centre of gravity makes many surfaces that would be treacherous to walk reasonable for running, there's precious little that will help you on these kinds of ice. Beware also of metal maintenance hole covers, hatches and grates in the sidewalk - when wet or snow-covered, they're as slippery as ice. Learn to shuffle, even making your way across this stuff like you're trying to skate. You'll probably have to change to a more upright bearing than you're used to, and you won't be able to get much power from toe-off. Don't worry about it, as your natural stride will come back when the roads clear up in spring. Walk the corners, and realise it will take you extra distance to come to a stop. Crawl if you have to, because falling on ice is like falling on cement - a great way to get injured. In an extreme case I've actually had to use a railing to slide myself sideways, hand over hand, down a switchback covered in wet, lumpy ice.

Non-level surfaces make traction even worse. This goes for both hills and slanting surfaces like crowned roads or sidewalks that are contoured for driveways. Making forward progress is tough enough when you're in slippery snow on level ground, but adding a sideways slip or your feet sliding down an incline can make it difficult just to stay upright. Poor footing is not the time to put in speedwork - do what you need to in order to be safe, even if it means hands and knees. You don't want to injure yourself taking an unnecessary chance - I managed to roll an ankle trying to leap over a snowbank at the end of a sidewalk in 2009 and do something ill defined to my groin last January on a snowy run. The former only took a couple of days to recover fully, but the latter was a source of pain and anguish for over a month. You don't want to end up kicking yourself later, so be careful!

Hill repeats, anyone?

Do some strength work to deal with your feet sliding sideways from under you. Your adductors and abductors can take a beating when dealing with uneven, slippery surfaces. Hip hikes, clamshells and "fire hydrants" will strengthen your gluteus medius, while pliĆ© squats, squeezing a Swiss ball between your knees and side-lying adductor lifts will help your inner thighs keep your feet under you. Had I been more diligent about this last winter, my idiot injury might not have happened. Your ankles can take a beating running on  lumpy, tracked ice and snow, not to mention soft, untracked sections. Trying to trace the alphabet in the air with each foot daily can help build strength and mobility in your ankles to prevent tendon damage.

Warm up those muscles and connective tissues. The first few blasts of cold air when you head out the door can tighten things up and leave you open for injury. Get some blood flowing to your legs with some ankle circles, calf raises, leg swings, jumping jacks - whatever you like. If your heart is pumping a bit, you'll also feel the cold a little less when you do get outside.

Choose your route. Bus routes tend to get plowed first, have more street lights and usually have sidewalks - if you're lucky, they'll even be plowed and/or salted. Running a familiar route is the best idea in really nasty weather - I once nearly got lost in my sister-in-law's neighbourhood (which I was visiting for the first time) because it was -34c/-29f and my eyelashes iced up badly enough that I couldn't read the street signs. It's also a good idea to have the area pre-scouted for bailout points (I'm sure a well-placed Tim Hortons has saved at least one winter runner's life) or potential hazards (like narrow, heavily traveled roads with tall snowbanks and no sidewalks). Don't trust that trail conditions will be anything like road conditions nearby; the surface and traffic type/level is almost certain to be different, and will have a huge impact on the traction. Clear, salted sidewalks could mean anything from deep, untracked snow through lumpy ice or even shoe-sucking mud under the trees. You may find shelter from the wind, but lack of sun penetration may keep the air several degrees colder than out on the street - I've encountered ice and snow along trails after a week of mild weather that completely cleared the rest of town. Your safest bet is probably running the main drag through town - the combination of street lights, (hopefully maintained) sidewalks, businesses that can provide shelter if you need to warm up (or wait for a bailout ride) and other people around means you're less likely to get yourself into the sort of trouble that ends really badly.

A sign of going nowhere fast.

Forget about pace. No, really. You may have to walk, or you may just not be able to get sufficient grip to open up your stride. Beware "mashed potatoes" snow as pictured above - almost half of the energy you expect to drive you forward gets eaten by it mushing underfoot. I call running through snow "Canadian beach running", since the sensation really is like trying to hoof it through sand. Because of this, you may be unable to  predict the time a particular distance will take you to run unless you've done so in very similar conditions. You also won't be able to determine the intensity of your run until you're out and doing it on the day - you may be walking or shuffling at very low intensity due to poor footing, or you may find yourself in ankle-deep snow through which it takes redline effort to maintain even a basic running stride.

Be ready for early sunsets. Intellectually, we all know there is less daylight time in winter. For a couple of months out of the year the sun has already set by the time I get off work (at 5pm), but I will occasionally get suckered into thinking that I can eke out a trail run that's a little too ambitious for the time of day on a Saturday afternoon. Add in the above points about not being able to predict trail conditions or how long a given distance will take and you've got a pretty solid recipe for ending up in the dark a long way from street lights. The safe approach is to carry a headlamp with you if there's a possibility you may lose the sunset race - in a pinch, I've managed to use a clip-on single LED visibility light to navigate a bit of trail, but I wouldn't want to try it with just a blinky light. If you've got nothing else, pull up the lightest-coloured screen you can on your cellphone and use that to light your wary. Really though, a small headlamp would fit in even the tiny pockets provided on most running apparel and doesn't add much weight if you don't end up needing it, but can be a lifesaver even if it's just helping you find the car key you stashed in the fuel door. Buy an economical one and tuck it in a carrier belt if you've no other choice. You may want to try running with your light after dark on a dry, smooth surface before relying on it to get you off the trail in winter - terrain and snowpack can be tough to judge (and puddles hard to spot) in the bouncing light from a handheld torch or headlamp, so some training with it is never a bad idea before push comes to shove. Be aware as well that sunset can bring about heart-stopping drops in temperature; if you may be caught out late, ensure that you're either wearing or carrying an extra layer to ward off an extra 10c/18f degrees of cold.

What do you mean I have another 8km to go?

You still need to drink water. It may be cold and you might not feel thirsty, but you're still losing hydration through both sweat and breath. If you're running over an hour you should probably be drinking. If you're bringing the water with you, experimenting with shorter runs may save you from finding out that your bottle (or its spout) ice up in sub-freezing temperatures. You can either elect to stop along your route for water (but keep in mind municipal fountains tend to be turned off in winter), or find a hydration product that doesn't freeze - I can recommend both a handheld and a hydration vest that I've used successfully.

Contingency plans are good. Bring more water than you think you'll need, an emergency gel, some cash and a phone. Tell someone where you plan to run and approximately when you plan to return - it could mean the difference between rescue and dying of exposure if the worst happens. Nutrition such as gummies, bars and gels should be kept in a pocket close to your body (or even tucked into your mitts) to keep them from hardening to the point of uselessness, and an extra pair of dry gloves can save you a lot of anguish if you happen to get soaked. Tucking a multi-function fabric tube in a pocket to cover your head, face and neck can help keep you warm if the sun disappears and the temperature drops like a brick off a balcony. A simple whistle can be heard a lot further than a voice, is easier to use than hollering for help (three blasts of a whistle is a universal distress signal), and can be kept up much longer than yelling when you're tired. A headlamp or flashlight can help you find your way to safety, and if this sounds like an awful lot of gear a hydration vest can help you sport it around with ease and comfort.

Winter on the trails is a beautiful thing.

Beware of the dumb! The combination of energy expenditure and cold can rob you of good sense faster than you would think possible. If you're getting tired, you'll get cold more easily. When you're cold, you'll get tired more easily. Once that vicious cycle starts, your decision making abilities will flee along with your body heat - you need to act quickly if you feel your energy levels start to drop before your head stuffs itself with fog. Head back early, find an open door and get inside to warm up, or make a phonecall for a bailout ride - there's no shame in living to fight another day and anything is better than staggering around in confusion as hypothermia sets in. Be especially careful if you've caught a bit of the dumb and have to drive home from your end point! Driving with brain fog is a great way to get in a crash that may hurt you or others.

The risk isn't over once you're done. Change out of wet clothing right away. If you're returning to a cold car parked at your departure point, have an extra sweater or jacket waiting, and jack the heat right up. A post-workout snack is not only a great idea for recovery; digestion tends to raise your body's internal temperature. A thermos with some hot chocolate stowed in your glove box can be like heaven after a cold run! Of course, warm showers or baths can help get you back to normal, too.

I've made it all sound really complicated, but it's not. The hardest part about winter running is really just convincing yourself to take the first few steps out the door; once you're kitted up and out there you may just find the rewards outweigh the challenges. In certain circumstances - like an ice storm - even I will let discretion be the better part of valour and either take an unplanned rest day or even (gasp!) head for the hamster wheel, but for the most part I really enjoy being an all-weather outdoor runner. Get out there and see what winter running has to offer! Just don't lick anything metal, ok?

You'll never see that smile on the dreadmill!

Oh yeah, and I do realise that was a buttload of stuff about apparel for a post that purported to be about non-wearable winter running ideas. Sorry kids - I'll refund every penny of your subscription price!