Photo:Guy Mayer on Flickr

Snow Running in Sapporo

Let’s get this out in the open straight away; you are not going to run any of your best times in the snow. You are doing it simply to keep in shape, and that should be your goal. The only records you are going to beat are your “jumping in knee deep snow to avoid an old lady who suddenly stopped”, “running while being blinded by a blizzard” and “running with cold, wet feet” records.


I started running about five years ago and I try to run most days. I have a number of routes around Sapporo that take me along rivers, through mountains, past temples and along busy main roads. However, this is Hokkaido, and it snows from December to March.


If you intend to run year round in Sapporo you have two basic choices: you can either not run for four months, or you can try to run in the snow. I choose the latter. So, what do we need?

First, feet. You will need a good pair of spikes. I use Yaktrax, available from Amazon or most sports shops.


You are going to be running on many different types of snow. When it’s fresh powder you won’t slip but once the snow is packed down and freezes you are going to be all over the place. A good pair of spikes will save you from a broken leg. Waterproof running shoes would be good but I use the same pair all year round; I’m not made of money. You will get wet feet. The Japanese style, tabi, socks that have five toes will reduce blistering.

Second, legs. A good pair of waterproof trousers for when you’re jumping through deep snow, or when the snow melts, or when it starts to rain, are invaluable. There are professional brands but I use a cheap pair bought from my local supermarket for 1,000 yen.


Third, body. On top we need layers. A running shirt, a jogging top and a fleece. You are going to be running in temperatures from -15℃ to 5℃ so you need to be adaptable. As you run you will warm up but even a good sprint won’t warm you at really cold temperatures. You also need to be careful about sweat freezing when you stop.


Fourth, hands. Gloves are the most important part of your ensemble. You can run in a t-shirt and shorts, but without gloves you are coming home early. I have running gloves with a fold over windshield. They don’t keep my hands totally warm on the coldest days but I can use them for longer through the season as they are adjustable.


On very long runs or very cold days you are just going to have to accept “the claw” and the pain when you jump in the shower.


Fifth, face. For your neck and chin a thin running scarf that can roll down. On the worst days you will need to cover your nose against blizzards but that will be rare. Then sunglasses. Without them you will be running blind, literally. On sunny days the sun bounces off the snow and everywhere you look is blinding. On snowy days they will be good eye protection.


Sixth, head. A hat. Again, something that you can remove when you get hot. You won’t need it every day but when you have horizontal ice rain you are going to want something to stop the brain freeze. I have had to run the second half of a 20k with both hands over my forehead because I forgot my hat and the ice cream headache was crippling.

You are also going to need to adapt your style. You are basically going to be running on four different surfaces: deep snow, cleared snow, packed and frozen snow, melting snow. For deep snow you need to develop the “light hop”. This pulls your feet out as quickly as possible to avoid getting snow in the shoes. It is actually extremely good training but exhausting if continued for too long. For cleared snow you can run easily but, depending on how wide the cleared space is, you may have to run with one foot in front of the other.


Packed and frozen snow is the easiest to run on, assuming you have spikes. You will be able to run almost normally. Your feet will slide ever so slightly each time you kick off, so you won’t get much speed, but you will be fastish. And, last, melting snow is the worst. Resign yourself to wet, cold feet before you start and just try to jump over as many puddles as you can. Some of them will be too wide to jump and here the “light hop” comes back into play.

With a bit of preparation and some 我慢 “ganman” (perseverance) you can keep in shape, and boy does getting back from a run in the snow feel good.


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