Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

Chicago vs Boston marathon

I had the pleasure of running the Chicago Marathon in the fall 2018 and the Boston Marathon in the spring of 2019. In this post I’ll compare the two races. I hope one day you get to run them both but if you have to choose, maybe this will help you decide.

Chicago Marathon finisher medal

Getting a bib


One of the reasons a Boston marathon bib is such a big deal is because you cannot get a bib through a lottery.

Chicago, like New York does provide the opportunity to get a bib through a lottery, though unlike New York, you have a decent chance of getting a bib through the Chicago lottery.

in 2015, 53% of those who entered the lottery received a bib. I have a number of friends who have successfully received a bib through the lottery in the past few years. Unfortunately, you cannot submit two runners together and request that you either both get bibs or both do not get bibs (i.e.if you want to be sure the two of you run the same year the lottery doesn’t provide that option). But! Chicago does provide the option of deferring your bib for one year. So if you get a bib and your friend does not, then you could defer your bib for one year (for a fee) and see if your friend gets in the lottery the next year.

Race # Entries received # Entries selected % selected
Chicago 2015 54,800 29,044 53%

Time Qualifier

racetimerAlmost all the Boston marathon runners qualify through a time system

Chicago also has a guaranteed entry for those who meet qualifying time standards

Here are the 2020 qualifying standards for Chicago and Boston

Age group Boston Men* Chicago Men Boston Women* Chicago Women
18-29 3:00 3:10 3:30 3:30
30-34 3:00 3:15 3:30 3:45
35-39 3:05 3:15 3:35 3:45
40-44 3:10 3:25 3:40 3:55
45-49 3:20 3:25 3:50 3:55
50-54 3:25 3:40 3:55 4:10
55-59 3:35 3:40 4:05 4:10
60-64 3:50 4:00 4:20 4:35
65-69 4:05 4:00 4:35 4:35
70-74 4:20 4:30 4:50 5:10
75-79 4:35 4:30 5:05 5:10
80+ 4:50 5:00 5:20 5:45

*Unfortunately running your BQ (Boston Qualifier time) may not in fact guarantee you entry into Boston. Boston caps the number of bibs provided to time qualifiers. If too many runners register with a qualifying time, they reduce the qualifying times until they have the correct number of runners. For example in 2014, runners had to qualify with a time 1 minute and 2 seconds faster than their BQ times to get a bib in Boston and the cut off times are getting progressively harder.

2014 cutoff 1:38

2015 cutoff 1:02

2016 cutoff 2:28

2017 cutoff 2:09

2018 cutoff 3:23

2019 cutoff 4:52

Because the cutoff time was almost 5 minutes in 2019  they dropped all the qualifying times by 5 minutes for 2020.

Charity Entry

charityBoth races provide the opportunity to fundraise for an official race charity. to get a guaranteed entry to the race, but Boston sets the bar high for charity entries.

Chicago 2019 fundraising targets start at $1250 if you claim a charity entry during the application window and $1750 USD if you claim a charity entry after the application window (i.e. if you decide to enter the lottery, and don’t make it then decide to do a charity entry because you didn’t get in through the lottery, you have to fundraise more $)

Boston 2019 fundraising targets started at $5000 USD.

Local races

shamrockChicago provide the option to help local runners get a guaranteed entry by participating in local races.

Chicago has the Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Shamrock Shuffle 8k four or more times in the past 10 years and have signed up for the next Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee a spot in the Chicago marathon.

Boston does not provide any sort of run x races get a guaranteed bib for Boston.

Tour Entry

If you really want to race Chicago or Boston and you have the financial means to do so you can purchase a tour package that includes a bib from one of the official marathon tour partners. Check the race website for a current list of official tour partners. There are a small number of entries available through tour groups for Boston outside the US and Canada but they sell out fast.

Cancelled Entry

If you get into Chicago and are not going to run the race, you can cancel/defer your entry once. You lose the registration fee but it gives you a guaranteed entry the following year.

Boston does not provide the option of deferring. Which might account for the people you see on the start line walking or wearing crutches 🙂

In Summary

Are you noticing a pattern here? Suffice to say it is MUCH easier to get a bib for Chicago than a bib for Boston.


Fall races are typically more predictable weather than spring races, but, Chicago is generally hotter weather than Boston and had a few years where heat was a major factor for runners (80F+) including the very infamous 2007 Chicago marathon when they had to shut down the course.

Here’s a breakdown comparing the weather at the two races the past 10 years. Since Chicago is not a point to point race whatever the wind direction you will spend about half of it as a tailwind and half of it as a tailwind.

YEAR Boston weather Boston Wind Chicago weather Chicago Wind
2010 49-55F Partly Cloudy ENE 2-5 MPH (headwind) 59-84F Scattered Clouds No wind
2011 46-55F Cloudy WSW 16-20 MPH (tailwind) 57-80F Clear ESE 3 MPH
2012 65-87F Clear WSW 10-12 MPH (tailwind) 38-51F Mostly Cloudy WNW 6 MPH
2013 54-56F Clear E 3MPH (headwind) 46-65F Clear NW 4 MPH
2014 61-62F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 45-65F Partly Cloudy SE 8 MPH
46-46F Overcast and rain Calm 54-78F Clear SSW 11 MPH
2016 61-71F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 50-63F Partly Cloudy ESE 8 MPH
2017 70-73F Clear WSW 1-3 MPH (tailwind) 56-73 Partly Cloudy SW 8 MPH
2018 35-50F Rain NE 14 MPH (headwind) 57-64F Drizzle ENE 5 MPH

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

Both Boston and Chicago are well organized for packet pick up and both provide a shirt exchange if you discover the shirt size you ordered does not fit.

You must pick up your own race kit at both races. Don’t forget your government issued photo id!

Race swag

Official race gear at Chicago is sponsored by Nike. Nike focuses on running clothes for the official Chicago marathon gear. In 2018 they sold find t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, tank tops, visor, and jackets. If you want coffee mugs, laptop stickers, and cotton t-shirts you will have to explore other booths in the expo. You may also want to visit the Nike store on Michigan to purchase your official race merchandise, the lines were shorter, and they have a DJ and a fun atmosphere Friday and Saturday before the race. The Under Armour store just down the road from the Nike store on Michigan Ave also had some marathon branded running gear.

Official race gear at Boston is sponsored by Adidas. There is the traditional celebration jacket which is the most brilliant marketing scheme ever, since you feel like you have to buy one every year (and it isn’t even a good running jacket). There are often other jackets which are nicer than the celebration jacket (which might account why I have never run Boston without coming home with two jackets). There are also a good assortment of other official Boston marathon merchandise – a wide assortment of running gear but also baseball hats, visors, pint glasses, shot glasses, pins, stuffed unicorns, etc…Chances are you will spend more money on official merchandise at the Boston expo. You will find even more merchandise at other booths in the expo as well.

Pace bands

Boston had pace bands available at the booth just outside the race expo. They had the pace bands tailored to the Boston course. Boston has some tough hills in teh second half so it’s nice that they have the race specific pace bands.

In Chicago, they had arm tattoos instead of pace bands. I prefer the tattoos because the font on the tattoos was nice and big (I need reading glasses and some pace bands use print too small for me to read :))

Race morning

Getting to the start


The Boston marathon is a point to point race, with a finish in downtown Boston. The race starts in Hopkington. To reach the start you can:

  • take a shuttle bus from Boston commons (estimated travel time 60 minutes)
  • drive to Hopkington parking lot and catch shuttle to athlete’s village

The race starts in waves. As of 2019, the male elites start separately from the rest of the runners, so the elites don’t have to worry about that one runner who really wants to be on TV trying to lead the elite pack for the first mile.

  • 9:32 AM Elite Women start
  • Elite Men 10:00 AM
  • Wave one start 10:02 AM
  • Wave two start 10:25 AM
  • Wave three start 10;50 AM
  • Wave four start 11:15 AM *

*in 2019 due to the weather forecast they chose to start Wave four immediately after Wave three so they would have less time exposed to the elements in the athletes village)

Shuttle bus times depend on your start wave

in 2019

  • Wave one runners shuttles ran from 6:00 – 6:45 AM
  • Wave two runner shuttles ran from 7:00 – 7:45 AM
  • Wave three runner shuttles ran from 8:00 – 8:45 AM
  • Wave four runner shuttles ran from 8:55 – 9:30 AM

I was in Wave 3, I set my alarm for 6:30. I met friends in the hotel lobby at 8 AM and we walked over to catch the buses, one of the friends was staying further out of town and had taken the train into downtown to catch the shuttle bus. i.e. you don’t have to pay the $350+ USD a night hotel and stay within walking distance of the start.


The start is much earlier. Wave 1 starts at 7:30 AM. I was in wave 2, 8 AM start. I still set my alarm for 5 AM. My hotel, like many downtown Chicago hotels, was walking distance from the start line (I was at Ontario St and Michigan Ave).  All I had to do was walk. If you want to find a cheaper hotel, you can stay further from the start and take the Metro line to the start. Yes, the Metro will be packed with runners, the first train might even be too packed to get in, but once on that train, in 15-40 minutes you are at the start. Security is efficient and quick (just like New York).  You don’t have to worry about a bag check cut off time because the bag drop off and bag pick up are the same place. Since they don’t have to transport your gear anywhere, you can just drop it off 5 or 15 minutes before you walk over to your corral.  Getting to the start in Chicago is much less hassle and much less stress.


ChicagoPortapottyYou can’t compare marathons without mentioning access to port-a-potties at the start!


In Boston you will find a good selection of port-a-potties in the athlete’s village, expect a line of 20 or so runners. Depending on how you enter the village you may pass a smaller field before you reach the main athletes village, that smaller field appeared to have shorter lines.  There are additional port-a-potties on the way to the corrals as well (with much shorter lines), but you can’t use them until your wave is called to the corrals. Guys – if you get to the corral and realize you need a pee PLEASE don’t pee on the clothes by the fences, that is really disgusting. If you really have to go, since you start in the suburbs, not the city, you do go past a wooded area in the first km and many a gentlemen runner takes advantage of that first set of woods to find a convenient tree.


In Chicago The start area is split in two by the corrals. I found the lines for the port-a-potties shorter on the city side of Grant Park than the lake side of Grant Park. The lines at their worst were maybe 10-15 minutes long. Which is why there is NO EXCUSE for the dudes who were peeing beside the fence in the start corrals!  Witnessed by at least two of my running friends. Seriously! I have no problems with guys running out to find a tree on races past wooded areas, but peeing on the discarded clothing in the corral is really gross. Not what I want to see when I am walking over to the fence to toss a shirt or stretch. Boston and New York both threaten disqualification if you are caught doing something like that (FYI I have yet to meet a runner who has witnessed the famous ‘yellow rain’ on the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge in New York).

SIDE NOTE: Best solution I saw for this was the Vancouver marathon that had a fenced off set of troughs for guys who needed a quick pee before the start. This saved them a long wait at the port-a-potty and shortened the line for us ladies.


Both Chicago and Boston divide up runners into waves, and corrals This helps spread out the runners and keep the start areas less crowded. Both Chicago and New York will check your bibs to make sure you are in the correct corral. Both races allow you to move to a slower corral but will not allow you to move to a faster corral. All runners have a common waiting area, so you can hang out with friends in Wave one before you start (as long as you get to the athletes village before they are called to the corrals).  FYI, it’s not encouraged, but I do know runners who boarded the buses for an earlier wave with friends.

Race course


Below are the hill profiles for Boston and Chicago. Note the difference between minimum and maximum elevation in each image.

BostonBoston Hill Profile

Boston is a net downhill, but that does not make it an easy course! There are two notoriously tough sections late in the race. The Newton hills around km 25 and Heartbreak Hill around km 32. You won’t find many flat stretches in Boston. This is considered a difficult marathon.  I have my marathon PR and I have my Boston PR. They are 10 minutes apart and I am proud of both of them. It is possible to set a marathon PR in Boston, but let’s just say you had better do your hill work or you are going to have a VERY rough day.


The big climbs in Chicago are less than 10 meters. My friend Christopher said Chicago is “waffle flat”. I think that’s a perfect description. It is flat, with little bumps here and there. There is one “big’ hill in the last half mile of the course, but that hill is about as hard as one of the rolling hills in Central Park, it just messes with your head because it is so close to the finish line.  Chicago is a much easier course in terms of hills. Chicago is a good course to try for a personal best.


Crowds and Energy

racesignsBoston has an estimated 500,000+ spectators. The Chicago marathon press release estimates they have 1,700,000 spectators.  That number will of course vary depending on the year and on the weather. Both races have great crowd support. In Boston, you have a couple of “scream tunnels”: the famous Wellesley college girls offering up kisses to runners, and dare I say it, Boston college may not be handing out kisses but matches or might even exceed the decibel level of Wellesley. I loved the dancing drag queens in Chicago. Each race only had short stretches with thin crowds except in locations where they cannot cheer such as the tunnel at the start of Chicago.

Boston has the added element of “Boston Strong” ever since the bombing at the Boston marathon in 2013 there is a spirit of taking back the race shared by both the spectators and the runners. This adds to the overall intensity in Boston.  Personally I got more more energy from the crowds in Boston, but both races were amazing crowd support!

Running your own race

In 2010 there were 26,632 finishers in the Boston marathon. In 2018 44, 571 runners finished the Chicago marathon. At no point in either race are you going to be running alone.


There may be a few patches at the start in Boston where you feel a bit trapped and have to move around to find your pace. It’s better than most races that size because just about every runner in Boston required a qualifying time. That means everyone else in your corral qualified with a similar marathon time to yours. You will all go out at a very similar pace. The only people you see going very slow or walking in the first few km will be runners who are injured but are determined to cross that start line because they worked hard for that Boston bib and they are going to do whatever they can! It’s not unusual to see at least one pair of crutches on the start line.


In Chicago the wide roads reduce the congestion, and they do crowd management asking the spectators to move back off the road and leave room for the runners. As a result I found I was able to settle into my own pace within the first mile and only got stuck behind other runners very occasionally. I caught up to the 3:55 pace group and ended up following them for about 5 miles without any difficulty and I managed to pass them without a lot of dodging around runners as well (often pacers have a clump of runners around them making it hard to pass).

You can run your own race in Boston or Chicago.

International spirit

World_map-3One of the things I love about Chicago and Boston are the runners from around the world!

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2019 Boston had runners from 99 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

Chicago has a fantastic spectator guide  you can pick up at the race expo, the best I have seen.

Elites at the race

20171103_153854Both Boston and Chicago are likely to have presentations by well known runners on the main stage. Sponsors may have an autograph session with familiar names as well.  In Chicago 2018, Maui Jim sunglasses had Meb Keflezighi signing autographs at the expo and you could catch Meb, Joan Benoit Samuelsson and Paula Radcliffe on the main stage. Boston 2019 had Deena Kastor, Sarah Crouch, and Meb was around as well (he was the grand marshall)

Prize money draws big names. Both Chicago and Boston offer big prize money

The prize money is the same for the men and women – Hey rest of the sporting world did you hear that! Same prize money for both genders 🙂 okay I’ll get off my soap box now.

Ranking Boston Chicago
1st place $150,000 $100,000
2nd place $75,000 $75,000
3rd place $40,000 $50,000

There are also a variety of bonuses as well for running under a particular time, being fastest American, etc…

Boston elites in 2019 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston Winner
Geoffrey Kirui Male 2017 Boston Winner
Lelisa Desisa Male 2018 NYC winner & 2x Boston winner
Lemi Berhanu Male 2016 Boston winner
Wesley Korir Male 2012 Boston winner
Desiree Linden Female 2018 Boston winner
Edna Kiplagat Female 2017 Boston winner
Caroline Rotich Female 2015 Boston winner
Aselefech Mergia Female London winner
Mare Dibaba Female 2016 Olympic Bronze

Chicago Elite in 2018 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Galen Rupp Male 2017 Chicago winner
Mo Farah Male 4X Olympic Gold
Abel Kirui Male 2016 Chicago winner
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston winner
Dickson Chumba Male 2015 Chicago winner
Brigid Kosgei Female 2017 Chicago 2nd
Birhane Dibaba Female 2018 Tokyo winner

Boston attracts a few more of the top elite. BUT! you are more likely to see a record setting run in Chicago

Four world records were set in Chicago

  • 2:08:05 Steve Jones 1984
  • 2:05:42 Khalid Khannouchi 1999
  • 2:18:47 Catherine Ndereba 2001
  • 2:17:18 Paula Radcliffe 2002

in 2018 Mo Farah set a new European record 2:05:11

Finish Area


When you finish in Boston you move into a finish chute to collect the usual medals, blanket, water, banana, etc… I have never checked a bag, but pick up is just past the turn off to the family meeting area.  Copley station is closed on race day since it is inside the secure finish area, but Arlington station is a short (though it feels long) stumble from the finish area if your hotel is too far waay to walk. I admit my hotel was only on the other side of the commons but I decided to take the transit rather than walk across the Commons even if that meant navigating a set of stairs to do it.


In Chicago the walk from the finish line to the exit is similar to Boston. Bag pick up was quick and efficient and it was only a short walk to meet friends and family (although there was a short set of stairs, I think I felt all 6 of them 🙂

Both races insist you keep moving after your cross the finish line. If you sit down, a medic will be by quickly to either take you to the med tent or get you moving again. There are volunteers in the finish chute in Boston with wheelchairs ready to grab runners who need help.

Both races had the usual food and drink at the finish. I think Chicago had a slightly better selection than Boston, and the finish area and family meeting area definitely felt more celebratory in Chicago.  I got a kick out of the beer in souvenir beer cans in Chicago provided by Goose Island. Runners could also get a free beer at the tent in the next to the family meeting area. I don’t drink beer, so sadly wasted on me. As drinks go I prefer a chocolate milk post-race 🙂 Sadly neither Boston or Chicago offered chocolate milk, there was a chocolate protein shake in the kit I got at the race expo but that was all the way back at my hotel, so I had to settle for water and Gatorade.

Post-race atmosphere


After the race in Boston, everyone wears their celebration jacket for that race year. It’s kind of cool seeing the same jackets all over the place when you go out for dinner and being able to offer a smile and congratulations to each jacket you pass. Some hotels and restaurants will cheer you when you walk in wearing your jacket after the race.


When I hobbled into a pub in Chicago with my thermal blanket, there was no cheering, but the staff took amazing care of me. In no time I had sugar, caffeine and salt in the form of a coke and some pretzel bites. When I asked for a couple of wet naps to wipe my face they even brought me a clean rag soaked in warm water. If you want cheering head to the Nike store post-race for the cheering staff on every floor as you proceed to the 4th floor for free medal engraving.  The next morning there was no shortage of runners walking around with their medals and/or race shirts. The local pancake house had quite the waiting list for breakfast but was worth the wait.

The Chicago Tribune lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.  I don’t think the Boston paper publishes the results of all the runners, but they will have race coverage.


Volunteers rock at both races. THANK YOU to all the volunteers at both races!



It is harder to get a bib for Boston and the course is tougher, but that’s what makes it memorable. There was a lady with me at the start line who was running her first Boston and I remember her saying with determination “Whatever it takes, I am going to enjoy this race, if I have to walk, if my leg hurts, I don’t care, I am going to enjoy this, I am running the Boston marathon!” There’s a lot of that in Boston. If you don’t want to be there, there are many, many, others who would happily take your place.  But it’s unlikely you will set a personal best on this tough course.

Chicago is a lower stress race. It’s easier to get to the start,its MUCH flatter. its in fall so weather is less likely to be a factor, and I found the water stops had enough tables that I could get water and Gatorade more easily than Boston. You are much more likely to set a personal best in Chicago.

You may have a different experience from mine in Boston or Chicago depending on your start wave and the weather.  But there is a reason these races are so popular. If you get a chance to run either race, do it!

If you are curious how these races compare to New York, I have compared New York and Chicago in another post  and I have also compared New York vs Boston.  If you are interested, I also have other race reports and running related posts

Boston 2019 – This is your brain – This is your brain on Boston

2019 was my third Boston marathon. I am a squeaker, i.e. I never know year to year if I will have a time fast enough to qualify. My first Boston, I went out too fast and blew up on the hills. My second Boston was part one of Boston to Big Sur so I took it slow. This time, I knew the course and had no second race to hold back for. Whenever I run a marathon I know there are others injured who would love to be at the start line, and this is particularly true for Boston where it is so hard to get a bib, so I try hard to “enjoy” the race as much as anyone can “enjoy” running a marathon.  You have a lot of time to think on a marathon, so for this race report I’m just sharing a selection of the random thoughts that ran through my head at Boston 2019. Apologies if some of the recollections of specific race features and spectators are listed at the wrong locations, runner brain!ThisIsYourBrainOnBoston

Susan’s brain before leaving for Boston

Time to obsessively refresh the weather forecast. Oh no, it looks cold, windy and wet!  I was not there in 2018 but everyone I know who was there says it was the most miserable marathon they ever ran. Could this be another 2018? No, it’s still 5 days away it could change. This is my 10th marathon, one lesson I have learned the hard way, forget the long range forecast. Pack for EVERYTHING from -1C (30F) with wind rain or snow right up to +30C(86F) with high humidity!


Susan’s brain arriving in Boston

Okay we have just enough time to get to the optometry store where Meb will be at 1:30. I brought my copy of 26.2 marathons for him to sign, still can’t believe he ran an entire marathon with his breathe right strip inside his shoe digging into his foot at every step.


 Susan’s brain at the race expo

Got our bibs, got the poster, and I HAVE to get the celebration jacket, but this winter jacket is REALLY nice too, and oh yes a pint glass, and this shirt is great but wait no XS in the shirt, maybe on this rack, nope no XS, well that’s okay. OMG look at the line for the cash! That is insane, never seen it so long on a Friday! Hmm the rest of the expo is quieter so I can check out some shoes .. none of these Asics feel right, these 361 are comfortable, hey look Christopher the Dunkin Donuts Saucony are in stock, oh you want me to grab a pair for you, sure thing, but ooh look at this t-shirt and they have it in a women’s fit, and hey these Brooks shoes are comfy and oh look this booth claims to have anti chafe better than body glide. I would love to finally finish a race and be able to take a shower without yelping in pain from chafing, so let’s grab that and then let’s get out of here before I spend even more money!

Susan’ brain Saturday

Looks like serious rain for the race, but at least it will be warmer than 2018. Hey sis, do you mind if we go back the expo? I know I bought the Brooks but now I want to get the 361 as well, oh yeah and a laptop sticker since we didn’t get one in the race kit. Oh cool Sarah Crouch is at the 361 booth as well. Can we go buy some cannoli at Mike’s pastry? I have never tried them and safer to eat something like that Saturday than Sunday. I had no idea there were so many flavors of cannoli. Can’t go wrong with chocolate dip.

Susan’s brain Sunday

A nice easy 5 km run in the morning to loosen up, wow there are buds and flowers on the trees! Spring! I thought I would never see you again! Apparently I was not the only Ottawa runner excited to see signs of spring (Ottawa set a record for longest winter ever this year, sucked for training!).

SpringOnTheRunOkay run done, stay off your feet, eat easy to digest but high value food, check hourly forecast, repeat until bedtime. Oooh Boston Cream pie! No wait that’s a bad idea today, I guess I’ll have to run another Boston marathon some day so I can try the Boston Cream pie.

Susan’s brain Monday (race day) morning

Have a great race Judy, see you at the athlete’s village! Whoa those are crazy thunderstorms right now VERY glad those will be gone before I reach the village and VERY glad Judy picked me up some rubber boots to wear to the start and that I have garbage bags, spare socks, rain coat etc… to wear at the start


Susan’s brain on the bus to the athlete’s village

Don’t think about how long this bus ride is and that you have to run all the way back. Repeat until you arrive at village.


Susan’s brain at the athlete’s village

Whoa we are later than usual, but luckily I know where the shortest port-a-potty line is located. Follow me! Glad I brought the rubber boots. Wish I had brought sunscreen, too late now they just called Wave 3 to the start corrals.


Susan’s brain en route to the corrals

Oh look the cancer society has sunscreen. Thank you! Hmm this tape I tried to use to put my name on my bib is falling off. Oh well nothing I can do about that now.


Susan’s brain in the corrals

OMG I am about to run the Boston marathon how freaking cool is that, and OMG how miserable is this going to be? ya know what this lady beside me has the right attitude, her first Boston and she just said  “No matter what it takes I am going to enjoy this race, I am running the Boston marathon!”  I like that attitude, I am going to remember her saying that when the race gets tough.


Susan’s brain crossing the start

No wonder they don’t take pictures of anyone at the start, all you would see is all of us looking down to start our Garmins.

Susan’s brain for km 0-5 (5:28/km pace)

Don’t go too fast, don’t go too fast. Hmmm 5:20/km feels good on the downhill, given I would have to run that the whole race to finish in 3:45 I don’t think that’s happening today. Why does the top of my left foot hurt, maybe the tongue is folder over, I’m going to stop and try to fix that now, I still have plenty of race to go. Ashland has some good crowds cheering, love the puppy holding the two Boston Strong flags on either end of a stick in his mouth. Run across the 5 km timing mat and say “Hi mum & dad!” I am sure they are keeping an eye online and dad will be watching that first 5 km split to see if I went out too fast.


Susan’s brain for km 5-10 (5:27/km pace)

Just keep a nice 3:50-3:55 marathon pace until 10 km, treat the first 10 km as a warm up. where is Santa Claus? I hear music is that.. yes it is… Sweet Caroline ‘ ba dum bum bum’ . top of the left foot is still sore, I’m going to loosen the bungee laces a bit see if that helps. Cross the 10 km timing mat and say “Hi Christopher!” it’s early out West but I know he wanted to watch the women elites who will be around mile 20 by now, so probably has another browser tab open monitoring friends.


Susan’s brain for km 10-15 (5:30/km pace)

Okay I have passed 10 km, so how am I feeling, could I do a 32 km long run feeling like this? Yes I could. Okay then. hip is a bit tight and top of the left foot is still sore but if Meb can run a race with a breathe strip in his shoe I can run through this. Running around a 5:34/km pace I need to stay under 5:35 pace to BQ today, given I haven’t hit the hills yet, not sure that will happen. Sure am glad it’s cloudy otherwise it would get really hot. Cross the 15 km timing mat “Hi Trevor!” My hubby isn’t there in person, but I love the virtual signs he sends me from the family (including the cats)

Susan’s brain for km 15-20 (5:33/km pace)

Santa there you are! I was looking for you! “Dig deeper than a kid looking for boogers” okay that’s funny. Almost at Wellesley. Lots of people yelling out “Go Dana Farber” or “Go Teresa”  I wish I had successfully found a way to put my name on my shirt or a Canadian flag. I like the cheering. Cross the 20 km timing mat “Hi Robin!” I know you are cheering on your sisters from afar but also probably have some shoots today, so will be popping online from time to time to see how we are doing.

Susan’s brain for km 20-25 (5:38/km pace)

Where are the Wellesley college girls, yes there they are, any good signs this year, “Kiss me I’m Irish”, “Kiss me I’m graduating”, “Kiss me its my birthday”, “Kiss me I give tongue”, “Kiss me I’m Canadian” there we go – quick kiss on the cheek please and thank you. Okay back to the running and “JONATHAN!” exactly where you said you would be. So great to see a friend cheering.  Less than 23 km to go. If 23 km was my long run this would be a short long run, I can do this.

Susan’s brain for 25-30 km (5:59/km pace)

Newton – okay then here we go, can I get through all the Newton hills without walking, and oh look the cloud cover is gone, now it’s full sun beating down on us through the Newton hills.  Wow I had forgotten how long the first hill is. Does it ever end? Is this one heartbreak hill? Lots of crowds cheering which is nice. Wow look at all the people walking, I may be running slow but I am passing a LOT of walkers on the hills. It’s getting hot, I am going to walk the water stops to make sure I actually swallow something at each water station.


Susan’s brain for 30-35 km (5:57/km pace)

Maybe I will try dumping some water on my head, OMG that feels so good! I should have done than 5 miles ago. Now next order of business medical tent coming up… there we go… Vaseline? yes thank you! and oh wait I knew there were hills on this stretch but seriously?  Wait is this one heartbreak hill?  Is there any flat on this course at all?


Susan’s brain for 35-40 km (6:00/km pace)

Less than the Perth Kilt run (8 km/ 5 miles) in distance to go and the worst of the hills are over. I can do this. Pass the mile marker, walk to drink two sips of Gatorade, toss the rest, grab a cup of water, take two good sips dump the rest over my head, start running again, there’s the medical tent, now just hold on for about another 800 meters until the next mile marker and repeat. And look Canadian flag …VINCENT! Hi! Yay I found both the people I expected to find cheering on the course, I hope Diane is having a good race.


Susan’s brain for 40-42 km (5:43/km pace)

Well forget the BQ, but if I pick up my pace a bit I think I *could* still run a sub 4 hour, which would be a personal best for me in Boston. I’ll have to skip this last water stop and pick it up a bit, but I know the route from here just hold that pace until you turn right on Hereford left on Boyleston. Hold that pace – right on Hereford left on Boyleston. Hold that pace – right on Hereford left on Boyleston. Hold that pace – right on Hereford left on Boyleston. There’s the dip, hold that pace – right on Hereford left on Boyleston. There’s Hereford! right on Hereford left on Boyleston. I am turning onto Boyleston, damn that finish line is still a long way away, hold that pace, hey it just started raining, hold that pace, wow I am passing a fair number of runners along here, hold that pace hold that pace, smile for the finish line camera. Thank god that’s over. I sure hope runners brain didn’t screw up my math at km 40 and I broke 4.


Susan’s brain through the finishers chute

Okay this is good I am not about to pass out or throw up. Hey that wind is picking up and with the rain it is downright cold, yes can you put that medal over my head for me please and thank you. Water, yes please, can you open the bottle for me please and thank you? Yeah that wind is cold, definitely yes I want a thermal blanket and yes tape to hold it closed for me. Are there chips in that finisher bag? Yes? good I need salt. Oh boy now I have to get out of the finisher area and across the Commons to my hotel. Just keep walking, one foot in front of the other, oh screw it I am going to take the train across the Commons. Stairs.. okay I can do this lean on the railing go sideways. Made it to the bottom of the stairs… ohhh that runner is sitting on the ground in the subway station it’s warm here that’s a great idea. Yes, I’ll just slide down the wall and sit here for a bit.  Damn now how do I stand up again, okay through the turnstile, stand on the train as all the runners stare at each other huddled in our thermal blankets with this sort of sympathetic smile and nod of shared misery.  two stops and now only 100 feet from my hotel, straight to my hotel room thank goodness no stairs and the elevator came quickly.

Susan’s brain back in the hotel post race

I did it! Hey Judy, how was your race? Yes, I am happy with my race. I am going to shower and collapse thank you. I wonder if I remembered to turn off my GPS at the finish line, oh good I did and if the GPS is right I have my sub 4. Yay I think, I can’t remember exactly what I just read on the GPS and can’t be bothered to look again right now! Off with the shoes wow that is a good bruise on top of my foot! Oh! right I forgot when I put on the new shoelaces last week to leave the first hole unused since I get lace bite, that explains the discomfort on my left foot for the entire race. I am an idiot, NEVER change something right before a race, apparently that applies to shoelaces as well. Oh well, a bruise will heal. Now shower…. YIKES… okay apparently I still haven’t found a solution to my chafing issues, ow ow ow. Now PJs, salty potato chips, a sip of coke, and I am ready to go online and feel the love from all my amazing and awesome friends and family who have been cheering from afar. Thank you to each and every one of you, I appreciate every comment and cheer.BruisedToe

Susan after Ibuprofen has kicked in

I just ran the frickin Boston marathon, how cool is that! Now where’s my Boston 2019 jacket?bostonjackets

If you enjoyed this, I have other running related posts

Surviving runs on the treadmill (dreadmill)

treadmillI prefer to run outside, but sometimes the weather does not co-operate. My goal race is April 15th and Ottawa has had a winter of snow, frostbite warnings and freezing rain. In addition to a number of mid-week runs I have been driven to completing four of my long runs on the treadmill: 2X26 km, 29km, and 32 km. The most common question I get when I tell this to other runners is how did you do that without going insane? So I thought I would share some of my survival tips.

Some of these tricks may not work if you are using the treadmill at a gym, but some of the tricks work anywhere. 

There are two basic challenges when running on the treadmill: Boredom and Sweat

Battle the boredom

Build up your treadmill mileage

If you know your training season has a high chance of unrunnable weather, do some of your shorter runs on the treadmill.  It’s a lot harder to drag yourself through 26 km on the treadmill if it’s your first treadmill run of the season.  I usually end up running one run a week on the treadmill in the winter due to weather, road conditions, or scheduling. When I have run 5km , 10 km, and 15 km on the treadmill I am better equipped mentally to do 26 km.  Let’s be clear I *never* enjoy doing my long runs on the treadmill, but having built up the mileage and the mentality of being on the treadmill from shorter runs does help.

Watch a movie or tv show

the-barkley-marathonsExperiment with different types of shows to find out what works for you. Here is a sampling of my go-to treadmill viewing:

TIP: Turn on subtitles so you can catch the quieter dialog over the noise of the treadmill and fan.

Bluetooth headphones

HeadphonesAudioLose the corded headphones, it’s one less thing to worry about on the treadmill. Whether you are watching movies on your tablet or phone, or on the big screen. The exception is when you are watching the TVs at the gym. Those only work with corded headphones. I use AfterShokz Trekz Air

For Christmas my husband bought me a bluetooth audio transmitter from Avantree . This gadget allows me to have the audio from my home entertainment system connected to my Bluetooth headphones. This is great because I usually have to crank the volume to hear anything over the noise of the treadmill. As a result I used to avoid the treadmill if my husband was on the computer or the kids were in bed. Now I don’t have to blast my entertainment choices throughout the house when I am on the treadmill.

Having audio through headphones does result in some amusing moments. The other evening, my 16 year old came downstairs to see me run/dancing on the treadmill in a silent room (in my defense John Travolta was taking over the dance floor in Saturday Night Fever at the time).  Fortunately my family has learned to accept that mum can get caught up in her movies, they’ve seen me choked up as I watch Jesse Owens in Race, and singing along with Russell Crowe in Les Miserables. They’ve learned to accept that when mom is on the treadmill, anything goes.

Zwift it

Zwift is a very popular app for spin cyclists and they have expanded to running.  I have not tried it yet, but I can see the appeal. basically you join a virtual running group on a virtual running route.

Break up the run

I think the worst thing you can do on the treadmill is hop on, choose a program, set the time and run.  Mix it up and take control of the settings yourself.  It gives you something to do as you mark off the miles. Instead of setting the treadmill to random hills, I prefer to change the incline myself.

  • 5 km? Treat the first km as a warm up and then increase the speed every km.
  • 10 km? What if every time you finish a km you have to increase the incline by .5. But after 5 km each time you finish a km you get to decrease the incline by .5?
  • 15 km? Look up the inclines on your goal race, pick a hilly section of your race and simulate it on your run.  I actually sat down and calculated the inclines for every 400 m (1/4 mile) of the Boston marathon. Whenever I am on the treadmill I run a different section of the course.
  • More than 15 km? Plan on hopping off the treadmill every 5-8 km. Decide ahead of time when you will take your breaks, what shows you will watch (you may need more than one!), how you will mix up the runs (will you simulate the inclines of your race? will you play around with pace?).  Today I ran 26 km on the treadmill. I did 5 km slow, 5 km slow, 6 km at race pace, 5 km slow, 5 km slow.

How to cope with the heat

fanYou don’t realize how much being outdoors on a nice day cools you down until you run on a treadmill indoors. I don’t sweat a lot, but any run on the treadmill results in a shirt that is sticking to my body and some impressive water weight loss.

Buy a standing fan

Having a standing fan directed at you throughout your run will help. You may find it a bit cool when you start your run, but after about 15 minutes you won’t even notice it’s there. I had to put my fan on top of a stool to get it to a suitable height

Minimize the layers

Dress as if you are going out for a hot summer run. If you are home alone you can skip the shirt altogether, no-ones going to see you anyway and it will allow that fan to cool you off a little better

Double the water

Drink water any time you are thirsty.  When I do my long runs outside I sometimes practice taking water at the same intervals as the water stops on my race. Not so, when I run on the treadmill. I drink whenever I feel like it and I keep a second filled water bottle handy just in case the first water bottle runs out (which it always does on the long runs)

Bring back the 70s and 80s by rocking a headband

BjornJohnJohn McEnroe and Bjorn Borg knew what they were doing! Some sort of headband will reduce the amount of sweat dripping down your face.

Change your clothes

On longer treadmill runs, you may want to change your headband, shirt, socks, or running bra part way through the run. Today I ran 26 km on the treadmill. I changed my headband every 5 km and after 16 km I changed my shirt and running bra.  Fresh dry clothes can help you feel a little fresher as you hop back on the treadmill to finish out your run.

Grab a towel

I agree with Douglas Adams on this one, a towel is very useful. Great to wipe off excess sweat, though if anyone has found a way to stop it falling off the rail, landing between my feet and flying off the back of the treadmill please let me know!

Don’t forget your gels/chomps

For longer treadmill runs you should take your nutrition just like you would on an outdoor training run, that includes electrolytes and gels.

Hope this helps you cope with the dreadmill, please share any tips you have for getting through those miles on the treadmill! If you enjoyed this, check out my other running related posts.


Treadmill settings to train for Boston marathon hills

Since I have to train for Boston through the winter, I am driven to the treadmill far too often. I decided to try and make the most of it and provide myself with some distraction by calculating the incline over each quarter mile of the Boston marathon.   When I told a friend about this strategy, they asked for a copy of the spreadsheet, so I figured well maybe other runners would like it as well. You can also check out my post on how to make treadmill running more bearable.

How does it work?

My first run on the treadmill I start at mile 0 of the race, when I get to a quarter mile I change the incline to match what it would be on the course, I do this again at 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile and so on until I am done my workout. Then I use a post it note to mark where I finished.

The next time I am on the treadmill I pick up where I left off, so if I ran 6 miles on my first treadmill workout, I start my next treadmill workout with the incline for 6 – 6 1/4 mile stretch of the Boston course.

My treadmill does not do declines, so I compensate by treating downhill as 0% incline, and flat stretches I treat as 1 % incline.

Why do I do it?

Two reasons:

Reason #1 if I am going to be on the treadmill it helps me practice all the different stretches of the course.

Reason #2 it provides a distraction! Every 1/4 mile I am checking and possibly changing the incline. I also have to do math in my head… I started this run at the 6.5 mile mark, I’ve run 3 3/4 miles so I need to change to the incline listed for 10.25 miles.  It doesn’t make the treadmill any more fun, but it does provide a distraction.

How did I calculate it?

I printed out the hill profile shown below, and noted the elevation at each quarter mile.


Then I used the formula (change in elevation)/(race distance)*100 to get the % incline for each 1/4 mile.

My treadmill does not support declines so I may the following adjustments for my treadmill training. These values are in the third column of the table

  • I added 1% to each incline because I want a baseline of 1% incline for flat stretches of the course
  • I set all downhill stretches (negative values) to 0% because my treadmill does not support declines. I figure 0% is the easiest setting on my treadmill so I’ll treat that as downhill.

If you have a treadmill which supports declines, you can use the fourth column showing the actual incline and decline % for each stretch with no adjustments.

Not a lot of flat on the Boston course, so make sure you do your hill training, up hill and down hill!

Check out my runners page for other running related posts include race reports for Boston and a Practical Guide to Boston Marathon weekend to help you plan your trip to the race.

Here you go!


Miles Meters Incline With Declines
0 0 0% -6%
0.25 400 0% -5%
0.5 800 3% 2%
0.75 1.2 1% 0%
1 1.6 0% -2%
1.25 2 1% 0%
1.5 2.4 1% 0%
1.75 2.8 0% -2%
2 3.2 1% 0%
2.25 3.6 1% 0%
2.5 4 0% -4%
2.75 4.4 1% 0%
3 4.8 0% -2%
3.25 5.2 0% -2%
3.5 5.6 0% -2%
3.75 6 1% 0%
4 6.4 1% 0%
4.25 6.8 4% 3%
4.5 7.2 1% 0%
4.75 7.6 0% -2%
5 8 1% 0%
5.25 8.4 3% 0%
5.5 8.8 0% -2%
5.75 9.2 0% -2%
6 9.6 0% -1%
6.25 10 2% 1%
6.5 10.4 1% 0%
6.75 10.8 0% -1%
7 11.2 1% 0%
7.25 11.6 1% 0%
7.5 12 3% 2%
7.75 12.4 0% -2%
8 12.8 1% 0%
8.25 13.2 1% 0%
8.5 13.6 0% -1%
8.75 14 2% 1%
9 14.4 0% -1%
9.25 14.8 2% 1%
9.5 15.2 3% 2%
9.75 15.6 1% 0%
10 16 2% 1%
10.25 16.4 2% 1%
10.5 16.8 1% 0%
10.75 17.2 1% 0%
11 17.6 3% 2%
11.25 18 0% -2%
11.5 18.4 0% -2%
11.75 18.8 0% -2%
12 19.2 2% 1%
12.25 19.6 1% 0%
12.5 20 0% -1%
12.75 20.4 2% 1%
13 20.8 0% -1%
13.25 21.2 0% -1%
13.5 21.6 3% 2%
13.75 22 0% -1%
14 22.4 2% 1%
14.25 22.8 1% 0%
14.5 23.2 2% -1%
14.75 23.6 1% 0%
15 24 0% 0%
15.25 24.4 1% -7%
15.5 24.8 1% -1%
15.75 25.2 0% 2%
16 25.6 0% 3%
16.25 26 3% -2%
16.5 26.4 4% 3%
16.75 26.8 0% -2%
17 27.2 1% 0%
17.25 27.6 1% 0%
17.5 28 0% -1%
17.75 28.4 4% 3%
18 28.8 3% 2%
18.25 29.2 1% 0%
18.5 29.6 0% -1%
18.75 30 0% -1%
19 30.4 0% -2%
19.25 30.8 1% 0%
19.5 31.2 5% 4%
19.75 31.6 1% 0%
20 32 1% 0%
20.25 32.4 1% 0%
20.5 32.8 3% 2%
20.75 33.2 5% 4%
21 33.6 0% -1%
21.25 34 0% -3%
21.5 34.4 0% -2%
21.75 34.8 1% 0%
22 35.2 1% 0%
22.25 35.6 0% -2%
22.5 36 0% -2%
22.75 36.4 1% 0%
23 36.8 2% 1%
23.25 37.2 0% -1%
23.5 37.6 0% -2%
23.75 38 0% -2%
24 38.4 0% -2%
24.25 38.8 0% -1%
24.5 39.2 1% 0%
24.75 39.6 0% -2%
25 40 3% 2%
25.25 40.4 0% -2%
25.5 40.8 1% 0%
25.75 41.2 0% -1%
26 41.6 1% 0%
26.25 42 1% 0%

How to avoid slipping on icy winter runs

icysidewalkIn this post I’ll share a few options to help you gain some traction on those winter runs on icy and snowy roads. So you can hopefully do a few less runs on the dreaded treadmill.

I wrote a blog post reviewing my Kahtoola Microspikes which are great for winter trail running on snow packed trails but not suitable for winter road running. I got a lot of great suggestions on solutions for winter road running when I wrote the post so wanted to expand on those suggestions and share what I learned, if only because this is helping me evaluate alternatives for my own use 🙂

I would not run in these every day in winter. But for those 5-10 runs each winter when the footing is slick due to ice or packed snow on the road these provide better traction than trail shoes.

I’ll share the solutions from cheapest to most expensive.

Sheet Metal Screws (< $5)

Take a pair of old running shoes, grab or borrow a drill and a nut driver and buy yourself some hex head sheet metal screws to make your own cleats. The lip on the head of the screws gives you traction. (Thank you Daisy for sharing this picture of the exact package you use for this purpose). There’s a wintersheetmetalscrewsgood video with tips on how and where to drill them into your shoe.  There is also a good article by Skyrunner on how to create a ScrewShoe. Expect between 100 to 150 miles of traction before the screw heads are too worn down to help anymore. When you go shopping you want:

  • Hex head screws
  • Size #8 or #6
  • Head width of 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, or 1/2 inch

Nordic Grip Mini Traction Aid ($15 USD)


If you are looking for something to just give you a little more grip without drilling holes in your shoes, check out the Nordic Grip Mini Traction Aid. It slips over the toe box of your running shoe.  This will not provide as much traction as any of the other solutions, as it only provides two studs on the toe. It has the advantage that you if you start the run on icy sidewalks and then reach a stretch of clear pavement you can take it off and put it in your pocket or you can carry it in your pocket and if you start on clear pavement and conditions worsen you can put them on as needed.

It comes in two sizes Small and Large:

  • Small Fits Shoe Size: 3-8
  • Large Fits Shoe Size: 8-14

Ice Spikes  ($30 USD)

wintericespikesSimilar to sheet metal screws, Ice spikes are also spikes you drill into an old pair of running shoes, but, they are designed specifically for drilling into shoes as traction. There’s a great article by Blaine Moore comparing Ice Spikes to Sheet Metal screws as a solution. The article concludes they both do a good job with traction, but the Ice Spikes do a better job if you actually run over ice, and the ice spikes are more durable (i.e. you will get more mileage out of them). The writer also recommends using a drill to insert the spikes not the hand held device provided when you order them.

YakTrax  ($40 USD) and NanoSpikes ($50 USD)

YakTrax and Nanospikes are rubber and metal traction devices you slipover your existing running shoes.

The advantage over spikes is you can use them on any pair of running shoes and you can take them on and off as needed. So if you wear Goretex shoes in winter to keep your feet dry you don’t have to drill holes in them for traction on those icy days.

The disadvantage vs spikes is they add weight, how much weight depends on the size.

Brand Weight Spikes
YakTrax 9.7 – 11.7 oz per pair Carbide Steel
Nanospikes 7.2 – 9.0 oz per pair Tungsten Carbide

Because you pull them over your shoe it’s important to order the correct size, if you put them on a pair of shoes too big, or try to pull them over winter boots which are generally larger they may snap and break.

YakTrax offers 4 sizes vs 5 sizes in the Nanospikes so there is a less precise fit but Yaktrax can handle bigger shoes than the Nanospikes

YakTrax sizing

SMALL – W 6.5-10 / M 5-8.5
MEDIUM – W 10.5-12.5 / M 9-11
LARGE – W 13-15 / M 11.5-13.5
X-LARGE – W 15.5+ / M 14+

Nanospikes sizing


Running shoes with built-in spikes ($80 USD +)

They aren’t cheap, but there are a number of brands who produce running shoes with built in metal spikes including: Inov-8, Solomon & Icebug.

This is the simplest and priciest solution. You only want to wear these shoes for slippery conditions. The click click click of the spikes on pavement does get a bit annoying. Not an issue if you have to cross a road, or hit a clear patch of wet pavement during a run, but if the roads are bare pavement, you won’t want to run in these shoes, any more than you would put Yaktrax on your shoes for a run of pavement.

I’ve compared a few models below. here’s a few things to consider when selecting a spiked winter shoe:

Warmth – if you will be running in temperatures around 0C/32 F you probably don’t need to worry about technology to keep your feet warm. If you will be running in -20 C/-4 F or lower you may want to invest in shoes that have something windproof to keep your toes warm.

Water proof vs water resistant – trail runners often prefer NOT to get a waterproof shoe, because if you do step in a creek and get water inside the shoe it does not drain. Road runners tend to prefer waterproof shoes because if you run in slush your feet stay dry. It is less likely for a road runner to step in water deep enough to get inside the shoe.

Fit – Check the size of the toe box, and check the heel to toe drop, ideally you want to try them on to make sure they fit well. But the challenge here is that not many running stores carry these shoes, so you may have to order online. So compare the technical specs of these shoes to your current running shoes.

Stiffness – Winter shoes designed for trail running often have very stiff soles.

Spikes – Most of the shoes I found use carbide for the spikes or at least for the tips of the spikes, and have similar numbers of spikes, Any of the shoes listed below is going to give you improved grip on snowy/icy roads and sidewalks. I would focus on the other factors when deciding which shoe is right for you.





All the Icebug shoes with BUGrip have built-in spikes. Models availability seems to vary from country to country and I couldn’t find a site listing prices in USD, so I used the price from the Icebugs Canada website. Generally $1 CDN is about .80 USD, but exchange rates fluctuate.

Shoe Price Weight Spikes Notes
Inov-8 Oroc 280 $104 USD 9.9 oz/ 280 g 18 Carbide Metal Spikes Orienteering/ Off trail shoe

Water resistant

Narrow toe box

Inov-8 Arctic Talon 275 $80 USD 9.625 oz/ 275 g 14 tungsten carbide Spikes Winter trail running shoe

Narrow (a touch wider than Oroc 280)

Inov-8 Arctic Claw $120 USD 10.5 oz/ 300 g 16 tungsten carbide spikes winter trail running shoe

wider toe box than Oroc series

Solomon Speedspike $126 USD 10.8 oz/ 305 g 15 carbide spikes Training and racing shoe for winter conditions

Stiffer than the Inov-8 shoes

Waterproof Climashield membrane over forefoot

Icebug Anima 3 BUGrip $150 Canadian Not Specified 19 carbide tip steel studs lightweight all terrain shoe
Icebug Pytho 4 BUGrip $199 Canadian 325 g 17 carbide tip steel studs designed for long distance running (wider toe box)
Icebug Oribi3 BUGrip GTX $230 Canadian 261 g 14 carbide tip steel studs Lightweight winter running shoe

Goretex (i.e. waterproof)


Be safe out there. I think most of us who train through winter conditions have had at least one run or fall which made us aware of the risk of injury. My worst fall I had reached a smooth wet icy patch on a trail. It was a warm day and the ice patch was melting. The water on top of the ice made it especially slippery. I had stopped running and was carefully walking over the ice and suddenly I found myself lying on my back having just hit the back of my head on the ice. I was very lucky to not have a concussion, only huge bruises on my elbows which caught the brunt of my fall.

There are solutions for every price range, I have met at least one runner who has successfully used every solution listed above (that’s how I found out about all these options). Thank you to each of the runners who shared their stories with me (David, Randy, Mary, Jane, Andrew, Daisy, James).

Now I have to decide which of these solutions I personally want to try! Let me know if you found a different solution I should include as an option.

If you are interested, I have other running related posts





Winter running – review of Microspikes and suggested alternatives

In this post I’ll share my experience with Kahtoola Microspikes ($69.95) for running on snow packed trails.

You are ready to go for a run but the roads look like this:


Normally that means your view for the next hour or so would be this:


Microspikes to the rescue? Time to find out…

I live and run in Ottawa, Canada. We get all four running seasons. In spring, I run through puddles and grumble about winter dog walkers who didn’t scoop the poop. In summer, I lose about 3 pounds a run in sweat. Fall is a magical 3 week window for setting personal bests, it’s cooled off and the footing is great. In winter, I check the weather forecast obsessively trying to find a running window between snowfalls and freezing rain, and trying to convince myself -28 C windchill won’t freeze my eyelashes shut.

I am a road runner, but I enjoy running on trails through the woods. I don’t notice the mileage because I am too busy trying to make sure I don’t trip on that rock or log. Most of my “trail” running is on local walking trails. I am NOT a trail runner, but I am happy to do a 5 km trail race or to join a friend for a 10-15 km trail run, because it might be fun!

Once the snow falls, I am driven to the roads and the treadmill. My local trails are a mix of snow and ice. Trail shoes can get you through the snow, but the ice can be a problem especially on the hills.


On a recent run, my friend Chris told me he and his wife, Karen, trail run in winter with Microspikes .I was intrigued. My sister (a fellow runner) picked me up a pair from Bushtukah as a Christmas gift. I went out two days later to try them out with Chris & Karen. We ran 14 km on a partly groomed trail (Trails #66 #67 #68 from P1 in the Gatineau Park) designed for snowshoers and fat bikers (the tires are fat not the bikers 😉). The trail was packed snow with occasional patches of ice.

MicrospikesOldAndNewI wore my Goretex running shoes (Asics GT 2000) to keep my feet warm and dry. I did not wear Gaiters (essential accessory for running snowshoes). When we got to the parking lot, I took out the Microspikes and put them over my shoes. Chris & Karen have a slightly older pair with a metal rod across the front instead of rubber. They said the metal rod occasionally digs into the top of their toes. I did not have that problem with the current design which has replaced that metal rod with rubber. We started to run, and after 500 meters or so I basically forgot the spikes were there. I ran normally, confident on my footing regardless of whether it was snow or ice, uphill or downhill. I had some fun on the dowIMG_20190101_151215nhills letting gravity take over with complete confidence the spikes would give me the traction I needed. (This run was in the Gatineau Hills of Ottawa, so it was an actual trail run). You occasionally hear a bit of a jingle from the chains, and they add a little bit of weight (169 g each according to my kitchen scale), but all in all I just trusted the spikes to give me a good footing. I was pleasantly surprised.

Now as awesome as they were, they are not the magic solution for all winter runs.

When Microspikes are the right option

  • You have a snow packed or groomed trail, dirt patches on the trail are fine
  • You have a light snowfall over the top of a snow packed or groomed trail

When Microspikes are the wrong option

  • Trail has a lot of rocks  – the spikes are long enough to be awkward on rock
  • Trail has a lot of mud – the spikes are slim so don’t help as much in mud
  • 2-6 inches of fresh snow – time to break out the running snowshoes
  • 6+ inches of fresh snow – time to go cross country skiing
  • You are going for a road run and some of the roads or sidewalks are snowcovered and slippery. The spikes are too long for road use. Time to find a route that is well sanded and salted, or hit the dreaded treadmill! If you are going to be road running and the sidewalks are a mess check out my post evaluating different products designed for road runners on icy roads.

Sizing Microspikes

If you do purchase a pair, you do need to get the right size for your shoe (or boots, they can be used over winter boots as well). My Winter runners are a women’s size 10. I have the Medium Microspikes (recommended for Women’s size 9-12). I don’t have any trouble pulling them onto the shoe. Its a little harder taking them off after the run.


So if you have a favorite trail that is walkable with good boots, but not runnable in the winter, it might be time to splurge on a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes and take back the trail!

FYI – those pictures at the start of the post were from this morning. Today was one of *those* days. It was beautiful and sunny, but the roads are an icy, snowy mess! I broke out the Microspikes and ran on a neighborhood walking trail which is I’ve never been able to run in winter before because it’s too slippery with just my runners. I won’t use them every day, but today the Microspikes came to the rescue! I’ll take this view over the treadmill every time!


Happy winter running! Stay warm out there!

If you found this helpful, I have other running related posts

Garmin 645 Music – Listening to music on a run without a phone

645MusicIn this post I’ll talk about Garmins that store and play music and share a review of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music as a wrist GPS for those who want music without carrying a phone.

  • Which Garmins can store and play music
  • Which music apps are supported
  • My review of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music including: Size and appearance; Using Spotify on the 645; Bluetooth headphones; Battery life; How do I update/add Spotify playlists on my 645; What could be better?
  • Summary

When I first got into running, I needed music to get through the long runs. I had an iPod mini loaded up with tunes. In winter, I kept the iPod in a jacket pocket. In summer, I had to pick up an arm band. As time passed, two things happened:

  • I found myself doing longer and longer runs without music
  • I bought our family a subscription to Spotify and stopped using iTunes.

Recently I found myself wishing I could listen to music on my runs again. There were several challenges to overcome:

  • My phone was so full of Candy Crush versions and running selfies that I had no storage space for Spotify playlists
  • Canada is the land of overpriced cell phone plans, so streaming music on your phone costs about the same amount as a guaranteed entry to the London marathon
  • Phones keep getting bigger! In summer, I’m lucky if I can find a pocket in my women’s running clothes that will hold a car key.
  • My flip belt can carry a phone, but I have a tendency to sweat when I run, so that only works if I put my phone in a Ziploc bag.
  • My smaller running belt can only hold my phone if I take it out of the case, no proCarryingPhoneOnRun.jpgblem unless the day it’s not in a case is the day you drop it on the garage floor (do you like my spider web screensaver?)
  • My water belt has a larger pouch, but for long runs I can either hold my phone or my supply of Tap Endurance Gels (shots of maple syrup as my nutrition, what could be more Canadian).

I was at the Chicago marathon race expo with my sister Judy. Judy is my source of information for new running gadgets because she works at Bushtukah, a locally owned sports store. She told me Garmin had a wrist GPS that could store and play music. Garmin had a booth at the expo, the perfect opportunity to check out my options.

Which Garmins can store and play music?

There are several models of Garmin which store and play music.

All the models store up to 500 songs.

Model Price US$ Diameter Thickness Weight Battery Life with music
Fenix 5S Plus $699.99 42 mm 15.8 mm 65 g Up to 4.5 hours
Fenix 5 Plus $749.99 47 mm 15.8 mm 86 g Up to 8 hours
Fenix 5X Plus $1049.99 51 mm 17.5 mm 96 g Up to 13 hours
Forerunner 645 Music $449.99 42.5 mm 13.5 mm 42.2 g Up to 5 hours
Vivoactive 3 Music $249.99 43.1 mm 13.6 mm 39 g Up to 5 hours

Which music apps are supported?

When I wrote this post the following music services were available on the 645:

  • Spotify
  • Deezer
  • IHeartRadio
  • KKBox
  • Runcasts (for Podcasts)
  • AWA
  • Line
  • MiguMusic

My review of the Garmin Forerunner 645

My previous Garmin was the Forerunner 735 which I bought with dreams of triathlons since it tracks indoor and outdoor swimming. I decided to stay with the Forerunner series and bought the black Forerunner 645 Music with Rose Gold hardware.

When I bought it, Spotify was only supported on the Fenix, but the Garmin rep told me the software update for Spotify on the 645 was coming out in the next 3 months.

Size and appearance

Garmin Forerunner 735 Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Forerunner 735 and Forerunner 645 Music on wrist for  comparison

The 645 was smaller than my 735, and the rose gold was, well, prettier, than my 735. So I switched over to my 645 even though I didn’t have music yet. I got a number of compliments on the watch. Unlike the last two Garmins I have owned, the 645 doesn’t scream Garmin when you see it. I can usually spot undercover runners and triathletes at work at about 50 paces by their Garmins.

Let’s be clear, it’s not a dress watch. It looks out of place when I wear it with an evening dress (one day maybe I’ll replace the dead batteries in my actual dress watches but since I wear my Garmin 365 days of the year, that seems unlikely). Taking it off in the summer risks blinding everyone with the thick white tan line across my wrist. But, general opinion among my runner friends was this was the nicest looking Garmin they had seen. My sister even took a picture to send her store manager suggesting they start carrying the rose gold version.

Using Spotify on the 645

I waited patiently and sure enough in December the Spotify app was available for the 645.  The first thing I discovered was most of the instructions and videos online for downloading music to your 645 do NOT apply to Spotify. All those instructions telling you to download your playlist to your computer and then connect the Garmin to the computer with the USB port do NOT apply to Spotify. Spotify has its own storage format. After watching several videos, downloading apps and playlists to my laptop to no avail, I got desperate and tried something completely insane: I downloaded and read the manual from the Garmin website. 5 minutes later I had downloaded my first playlist to my device. Scroll down for a summary of the steps to get Spotify working.

Bluetooth headphones

All these devices only work with Bluetooth headphones, so I picked up a pair of AirShokz Trekz Air ($149.95 USD). These were recommended by Garmin and conveniently had a booth at the same race expo. I’ll write a separate review of them once I’ve tested them on some longer runs and a wider variety of weather. But I will say, I am happy with them so far and I feel safer with the bone conduction headphones because I can listen to music and still hear traffic and conversations.

Battery life

345972627-too-cold-for-a-runnerSeveral friends who rely on their phones for music asked me about battery life. Winter in Ottawa can result in temperatures that freeze your nose hairs (around -20 C), and even eyelashes (around -30 C but that’s why treadmills were invented). Those same cold temperatures drain phone batteries. I’ve never had a problem with a Garmin battery dying in the cold. I presume the fact it is strapped to my wrist instead of sitting in a pocket or pouch helps keep it warm. I decided to test it on a pleasant -15 C run. I started out with 100% charge. After running 1 hour tracking my run and listening to music I was at 83% battery life. For a marathon runner like me, that means I should not have any trouble listening to music for my longest training runs which max out just under 4 hours. An ultra runner might need the Fenix 5 Plus which promises up to 8 hours of music or the Fenix 5X Plus which promises up to 13 hours. The 645 only promises 5 hours according to the Garmin site.

On a side note, now that I have music on my Garmin, I’ve found myself listening to music more often. I wrote this blog post listening to music from my 645 while riding a train from Ottawa to Toronto with unreliable data connection and wifi. Mental note: download some non-running playlists for travel, I need to save the running playlist for when I want that extra boost (you just can’t run slow to Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones)

How do I update/add Spotify playlists to my 645?

  1. Install the Garmin Connect app on your phone and log in with your Garmin account (create an account if you don’t have one)
  2. Connect Garmin Connect on your phone to the watch (make sure you pick Settings – Phone – Pair Phone NOT Settings – Phone – Find Phone (doh! no wonder I was having trouble getting it to connect the first time).
  3. Connect your 645 to Wifi – FYI – I sometimes get an error that says ‘incorrect password’ when I know the password is correct, I an suspicious that you receive that error message when the wifi signal is weak as well as for incorrect passwords because when I get incorrect password, I usually just try again immediately and it successfully connects.
  4. Install the Spotify app on your 645 from your phone or your computer
  5. Using your phone
    1. In the Garmin Connect app on the phone select Connect IQ store.
    2. Locate and download the Spotify app
    3. Sync your 645 (Press and hold the Light button and choose sync from the menu)
  6. Using your computer
    1. Install Garmin express and use your USB cable to attach and add the ForeRunner 645.
    2. Select Manage Apps
    3. Select Get More Apps
    4. Locate and download the Spotify app
    5. Sync your 645 using the cable
    6. Once the app is installed, press and hold the lower button on the left side of the watch to go to music mode.
    7. Select the … to go to the music options
    8. Choose Library
    9. Go to the music settings, choose library
    10. Select Add Music/playlists to add the playlists you want downloaded to your 645. You Garmin will need a connection to wifi and the Garmin Connect app on your phone to add new music.

What could be better?

The software on the 645 definitely has a few glitches.  Once in a while it freezes, or you go to your playlist and it acts as though it only has one song on the playlist. I just turn it off and on again. On one occasion the power off button wouldn’t work when it was frozen, but after 10 minutes it worked again.

Every now and then the headphones will disconnect and you have to restart the music and reconnect the headphones to the watch. It’s happened to me twice with my headphones, and one of the Seattle Green Lake Runners said she has the same problem.


If you have Spotify already and you are looking for a way to listen to music without carrying a phone, check out the new Garmin devices with music. Despite the occasional software glitches I am very happy with my Forerunner 645 Music and I’m having fun building new playlists for running. It’s a shiny new toy that does the job, and if anyone (like say your significant other who is not a runner) asks you why you need another Garmin when you already have one, just tell them this one goes to 11! (right Christopher?)

See a list of my other running related posts including race reviews, and some just for fun