January 31, 2014 12:55 AM   Subscribe

Running in Chicago in the wintertime. I'm not as worried about the cold (love running in the cold!) as I am about ice. (South Side location.)

I live in the Chicago and I would like to resume a running habit. I'm not afraid of running in the cold-- I enjoy it, and I have a lot of gear (balaclava, gloves, running tights, windbreaker, &c.) so I can adjust to most temperatures. This week it's supposed to be somewhere in the 20s, I think, which is fine.

However, I have no frickin' idea where to run. I'm used to cold temperatures in places where I know the terrain a bit better, and know where to avoid ice. I live on the South Side/near Hyde Park, and can't afford a gym membership right now unless it's dirt cheap. I assume the lakefront trail is way too cold and windy and possibly icy and full of snow? I assume most of the sidewalks probably are covered in hidden ice, or could be, and are therefore dangerous? Do most people just basically risk it? Am I being excessive about my fear of ice?

(I mean, I know ice is dangerous, but do most people just go for it? I see students running on the sidewalks all the time and assume they just usually don't fall and think their odds are good. Everyone is always like, "be careful of ice!!" but... how?)

Am I missing out on any hidden gem type running spaces in the Hyde Park area, indoor or outdoor? I was thinking maybe somewhere around the Midway, or near that ice rink there might be a paved area that stays clear where people would tolerate a couple runners?

Also, I bought expensive running shoes for like the first time in my life, and I love them, but are they going to be ruined by rain and snow? Am I supposed to have special waterproof running shoes? (As you can tell I am mostly a summer exerciser/gym rat and just don't want to pay the prices anymore.)

Thanks guys!
posted by stoneandstar to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have Chicago-specific info, but I love running outside in the winter. It is awesome and beautiful and you should do it. Being scared of ice is rational - ice is slippery and makes running more dangerous. For running on ice it helps to have yaktrax, which are shoe covers with wire-wrapped rubber mesh that give you traction. (These are great for walking as well.) Yaktrax website. Although they sell a running-marketed version, I like the walking ones better because they are cheaper and simpler (I don't like the spikes on the running ones).

If you'll be going through snowdrifts, gaiters are nice to keep the snow out of your shoes. If you'll frequently be running in deep loose snow you might want running snowshoes, but I'm guessing that's unlikely in the city.

Your shoes will not be damaged by water, they're designed to get damp (from your sweat or puddles or whatever) and dry out. If they get really soaked they might take longer to dry but they will be fine. There are waterproof running shoes, but personally I hate them because my feet get a lot more sweaty, even when it's cold.

My other suggestion is that when it's really cold I like a balaclava or face mask over my mouth because it warms up the cold air and makes breathing hard more comfortable.
posted by medusa at 2:05 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also love to running outside when it's super cold. I second medusa's suggestion of yaktrax, I just put them on right over my regular running sneakers. They are really lightweight and I have never fallen (knock on wood). That said, I don't generally just "go for it" and run through a patch of ice. I try to avoid them as much as possible.

Not in Chicago but I find that all you really need for the cold (we are talking zero degrees to, say, twenty) are: running tights, a thermal top, a fleece headband, gloves, sunglasses, and a pashmina type scarf that I wrap around my face and is really lightweight. YMMV as I hear Chicago has terrible wind (understatement..)
posted by pintapicasso at 2:36 AM on January 31, 2014

You don't need to do anything special to winterize your shoes. You can buy commercial products designed to give you traction on ice, but as long as you are running on paved surfaces (where you can see evidence of salt), you should be fine. Snow on top of ice will give you traction, so what you want to need to watch out for are areas where the snow has been removed, but the ice hasn't been melted. When in doubt, tread very lightly or walk. If you are having problems slipping and sliding, you can pick up some very small metal screws and screw them into your shoes.
As far as routes go, USATF has a database of running routes that allows you to search by city and distance. They have a separate database for tracks, if you're looking for one of those.
posted by Mr. Fig at 2:54 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

No reason to spend any money for cleats, really. Just make your own with an old/cheap pair of shoes.

I personally run outside in the winter and just plow through the snow (it never gets super deep here though) and wear homemade spikes when my running trail becomes super icy.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:38 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind treadmill running, the Chicago Park District fitness centers are as cheap as you can get: $45-60 for three months.

(Anecdotally: I run year-round, but refuse to run outdoors if there's even a little ice on the ground. Plenty of other people run on snow and ice just fine, but if you're not comfortable, you're not comfortable.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:51 AM on January 31, 2014

If you're concerned about slipping, you can get Yak Trax or try making screw shoes.
posted by ignignokt at 5:12 AM on January 31, 2014

I run in Minneapolis which I guess could be worse than Chicago when it comes to ice and snow. I use the Yak Trax. I also have a pair of shoes specifically for winter. Nothing gore-texy and technical, just another pair that is more leather than mesh.

I used to wipe out on ice all the time during early season training for track and field in high school. It was no big deal then but now that I'm old it takes a lot longer to come back from a slam.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 5:33 AM on January 31, 2014

What I've found is sidewalks near, or leading to schools, are usually the best tended. Similarly, retail areas have contracted snow removal and are cleaned up pretty quickly too. Sidewalks that are meant to be cleared by homeowners or apartment owners are the worst. The hardest thing for me is to plot a long route with uniform surface/snow removal. Bare pavement is fine for regular shoes but horrible for Yaktrax; hard-pack snow is fine for Yaktrax but horrible for regular shoes.

My expensive running shoes hold up just fine in the salty muck, but they do not look pretty. A dark color like black or navy might hide the winter grime.
posted by klarck at 5:55 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't even need to buy YakTrax, although you could. Here is a link to how to put screws into your running shoes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:49 AM on January 31, 2014

Chicago winter outdoor runner here! I do not recommend cleats/YakTax because you will more often than not be running on cleared pavement. I tried the screwshoes one year and I absolutely hated running on clear pavement with them so I now just use regular shoes. I run in the early morning, so it's still dark out, and that makes it hard to see the ice, so I guess I'm just in the "be careful" camp.

klarck's suggestions of running by schools and retail places is a good one, and usually what I follow. For some reason the exception to this is gas stations. They're the worst. I don't run on the lakefront path but my understanding is that it actually is kept pretty darn clear in the winter, and if you can get to it pretty easy I would definitely try it out. The wind will likely be rougher out there, though.

I definitely have to schedule my running around the weather - I'm getting my run in today before we get this supposed 6 inches of snow/ice and won't run again until people have a chance to work on sidewalks. I luckily have a drop-in track I can head to when it's really bad out, so that might also be something to look for. Are you working or a student? Your work or school might have something to look into.
posted by bibbit at 8:13 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've admittedly taken more advantage of the treadmill at work during the last 2 months (in my hardcore-Chicagoan defense, I bike to work every day and I feel like that's enough weather!), but I generally run in Humboldt Park and the sidewalks are pretty reliably cleared throughout the winter. So maybe take a stroll through your nearest park and check it out one day?

Otherwise I just pay more attention to where I'm stepping and take extra care when it looks icy. I wear Nike Frees which are pretty thin so make sure to wear thicker SmartWool socks and/or double up on socks to keep my toes warm.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:31 PM on January 31, 2014

I lived in Hyde Park for five years. My room-mate was pretty happy with the loop around Promontory Point, because it's kept clear and the surface is asphalt and if you're into running before dawn the sunrise is gorgeous. This other guy I knew ran along the Lakefront Path, but he ran from the point to Navy Pier and back, so maybe that says more about him than about the quality of the path. A bunch of people just did random streets near the main campus---Ellis/59th/University/55th for example. I think the university has special plows in addition to what the city runs.

Speaking from personal experience biking, yes, the path is windier than areas deeper inland.

Nobody I knew used any kind of traction device. The Navy Pier guy did mention that if he was going to do anything involving sharp changes of direction (e.g., ladder drills, suicides, etc.) he'd walk that stretch slowly first to check for ice.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:22 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

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