The dull disappointment of oncoming winter is nothing new to the triathlete. For some reason, my friends seem to train in some sort of fog of denial as they acknowledge in disbelief that cold slap in the face; the moment you first realize that your knickers and windbreaker will no longer hack it on canyon descents. Whining and moaning they retreat to their caves, be it basement trainers or gym treadmills to work out their salvation among the herd of New Years resolutions and college students. While I wholeheartedly admit it is impossible to avoid the indoor training altogether if you intend on staying fit through the winter, I cannot help but feel a slight sense of glee with the first drop of freezing rain. It means I will have virtually all my favorite training grounds to myself for up to five long months. With the proper gear, winter training can be absolute bliss. There’s a completely different vibe among the outdoor athletes you occasionally run into in the ‘off season’. Cyclists that barely glanced in your direction during the summer, though you've passed them daily for months, now offer a friendly “Hello”. Any runners you see on the muddy trails deep in the mountains give a familiar smirk as they pass. The smirk that says you’re running with one foot in crazy. The smirk that acknowledges you’re one of them, and believe me, there’s more of them gallivanting about the trails and ice covered roads than you think. They’re an amazing group of people hell-bent on living life in all it’s seasons, and it’s time you crawled out from your cave and joined them.
In my own search for shoes to run in through the winter, I stumbled upon many solutions, some helpful and some... well, not so much. More than a few people mentioned the practice of putting small screws into the soles of an old pair of shoes. I see two problems with this; one, it’s an OLD pair of running shoes (the one’s you were supposed to throw out because they’re ruining your feet) and two, they always followed up this piece of advice with a funny story about how the screw made it’s way through the shoe and embedded itself neatly into the foot of one of their training buddies. Enough said. Yaktrax were another suggestion. A great alternative for icy roads, but people seem to have problems keeping them properly placed and functional in mud and on trails. There were also a few complaints that the coils upset foot placement and made their contact with the road a bit “off”. Still, it’s better than being stuck indoors. Another suggestion was to only run on plowed roads. This wasn't a bad suggestion except that snow seems to trap the car exhaust even worse than in the summer and can make running in suburbs and the city a bit miserable. Not to mention dodging sliding cars driven by texting 16 year olds. Seemed I was going to have to eek it out in the city and make do like everyone else. Somehow, a random search engine result landed me on the page of a Swedish shoe brand called ICEBUG. After glancing at the shoes, I frantically searched for an English translation. If anyone knows ice, it’s Scandinavia and their shoes didn't disappoint.
The men's ATTLA and the women's Pytho2 are made with “BUGrip”, the name of Icebug’s grip technology. The sole is made of a special rubber compound and has 15-16 integrated steel studs. The design of the studs together with the properties of the rubber compound give these studs a dynamic function. They work independently from each other and are not completely fixed. When weight is applied the studs push in toward the surface of the sole. How far they are pushed in, depends on the pressure exerted by the user and the resistance from the ground. What does this mean for the winter runner? This means excellent traction on ice, snow and mud without compromising on fit and weight.
The first time I took the Women’s Pytho2 out for a run, I paired it with some gaiters and put them up against a good muddy trail complete with patches of snow and ice. My husband came along with his Men’s ATTLA, gaiter free. Thankfully, since it was 12° F, the generous toe-box allowed me to run with wool socks and molded PU cage still kept the fit secure. Where it’s normally recommended to buy running shoes a full size larger, I would recommend going only a half size up in both the ICEBUG models we tested. I slogged in the mud, jumped around in snow and even spent a few minutes in a small stream to test out the water resistant nature of the shoe. While the Pytho’s don’t claim to be water PROOF, I did find that I could give them all the mud and snow I could find without any problems. In addition, I lasted in the small stream for a good 5 minutes before I began to feel any water seeping through. Another nice feature that I discovered was the fantastic grip it gives on slick tree trunks. My husband commented that he felt like a ‘gecko’ with his ‘grippy feet’. His Men’s ATTLA’s performed much the same way, but with a bit heavier sole intended for light trail running and hiking, whereas the Pytho2 is intended for more advanced high speed trail running. While I don’t recommend them specifically for rocky terrain they do perform about the same as my other running shoes on slick rock. At the risk of losing a stud however, I would recommend against it if possible.
Since my search engine stumbled on the ICEBUG’s I have been blissfully enjoying all the winter terrain has to offer. My advice is this; don’t fear the winter, just get the right gear and stop breathing that stale gym air. Get out and get muddy, then soak up the look from the check out lady when you stop to get milk on the way home. You’ll be smiling from ear to frozen ear. I highly recommend taking the advice of our frozen Swedish brothers and investing in a pair of ICEBUG’s for yourself. Whether it’s the ICEBUG’s or playing Russian roulette with the implanted screws, I’ll see you on the trail my friends and remember to give me a smirk as you splatter mud in my direction; I’ll know what you mean.
For more information and locations to buy ICEBUG's, go to www.icebug.se and click to see a list of retailers.