I love trail running in the fall.It is the best time of year for getting outdoors. The air is cool, the leaves are gorgeous colours and the weather is usually pleasant.

Anyone can learn how to run. I taught myself how to run by alternating one block of walking and one block of running. I was not in great shape at the time and I slowly built up my endurance levels to eventually run marathons and do a half Ironman.

These days my runs are more gentle and shorter (around 8km) but my love for running is still going strong! Recently, I spoke with Ian Adam Smith MacNairn an ultra-runner from Calgary, Alberta and a The North Face Athlete. Ian shared his top tips for running, how to pick the best shoes for your feet and much more..


How do you pick the best runners for your feet?

The best runners for your feet are the ones that fit; the ones that feel comfortable; and, the ones that can help inspire you to run, wherever that may be. Shoes are designed with a particular intent for a particular type of running – trail, road, track, racing or training. This is a great place to start when attempting to determine what is the best pair for your feet. However, no matter the intent, the best pair of shoes is the one that is most comfortable.

This pair should be comfortable from the first run. There should be little need for a pair of runners to be broken in over many runs or days. If they don’t fit and feel well right away, it is not the best pair for you. The average runner will take 40,000+ steps in the length of a marathon and countless more during training. Regardless of how far you plan to run, make sure your feet are happy in your kicks!

Do you need different runners for trails and the road?

Many runners transition between trail and road with the same pair of shoes. This works well for many trails if those trails are fairly non-technical and are hard-packed – similar, in a sense, to a soft road. For these types of trails most road shoes will suffice. When trails become more technical – rooty, rocky, loose and steep – trail shoes shine.

Trail shoes are often designed with a more durable upper and with an outsole (and likely tread) that is more suitable for trails. The varied nature of trails results in a range of trail shoes. Shoes with an aggressive tread are well suited for rocky and loose trails as well as trails that are muddy while those with more minimal tread are great all around and for flatter trails. Many brands now use a very sticky rubber compound on their outsole, which enhances the grip of the shoe on all terrain. Trail shoes with a built-in Gore-Tex liner can help in very wet as well as cold conditions and are, therefore, often used in winter running.

Top tips for someone new to running?

Selecting clothing and footwear for running is an inherently personal and intimate endeavour. I suggest spending some time exploring the various styles of footwear and apparel prior to investing. Thinking about where and when you will be running can help in this selection process. Winter and summer apparel has some crossover but the required pieces can be vastly different.

Those living in a humid and wet environment (e.g. west and east coasts) may benefit from waterproof gear more than those in drier climes. Considering your comfort with natural and synthetic fibres, including merino wool and polyester is also a good idea.

Everyday casual and dress shoes often have a heel-to-toe difference of more than 8mm. The trend in running shoes over the past five years has moved towards more minimal heel-to-toe differences. Those beginning running should begin with a heel-to-toe difference close to their current everyday footwear and transition over many months to a more minimal pair of shoes if desired. Doing this will reduce chance of discomfort, pain, and injury to your Achilles and lower leg.

For clothing – how to choose the best outerwear for running in the fall and winter?

Running in the fall and winter means running in colder temperatures than in spring and summer. Also, it means running in more rain or snow than encountered at other times of year. Despite this, you will always produce heat and sweat. Therefore, it is imperative that you mitigate being wet and, consequently, cold as best as possible. My top tip is to avoid cotton products altogether!

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Again, consider your comfort with natural and synthetic fibres. Merino wool is very comfortable and can come in a variety of weights. It has great cooling and heat-retaining properties making it a great choice year-round. Synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon have the great benefit of wicking sweat well, are typically quite durable, and can dry very quickly. Whether you choose natural, synthetic, or some combination of both, it is ideal to layer. I run wearing a base layer followed by a outer layer. For especially cold winter runs I also wear an insulating layer. And, on the coldest or wettest days, I wear a jacket or shell that is wind-proof and water-resistant or waterproof. Having a shell, even a lightweight one, is worth its weight (or more if it’s lightweight!) in gold.

This is most salient if you run in alpine environments or even on city streets and encounter a lot of precipitation and/or high winds. A jacket with a hood is helpful in battling wind and wet. Running in winter is a trade-off of being able to produce your own heat and not have to wear nearly as much as you would if you were more sedentary outside in the winter. Therefore, there is little value in producing your own heating if the wind or wet steals it all from you!

Having good accessories is crucial. Headgear ranges from something as lightweight as a Buff up to a heavy wool or fleece toque. These pieces can also be windproof and water-resistant. Gloves or mitts are a must, for most, throughout the year.

This is especially so in the winter when sharing heat with fingers is more difficult. I often wear a pair of lightweight gloves and, on longer outings, in the mountains I carry a pair of warm and waterproof mitts. Running with hand warmer packs provides additional warmth whether used in mitts, a chest pocket, or elsewhere for those that are particularly sensitive to cold.

The advice for fingers is the same for feet and toes. Warm and dry feet can be the difference between misery and joy on a winter run. There are many brands that make excellent socks that are comfortable and warm and have great wicking properties. Wearing a thin wicking sock and a second thicker warmer sock works well in extreme cold.

It is a great practice to carry a backup emergency layer if you plan an all-day (or even multi-hour) outing in the winter. I carry a base layer bottom and top as well as a fresh pair of socks stowed in my pack in a waterproof plastic bag on long trips.

If you can purchase one item to start running what would it be?

I would purchase a pair of shoes that is comfortable and fits well. The perfect pair helps me feel fast and excited to get outside and run. And, the perfect shoe makes all the difference when the road turns to trail turns to mountain slope.

How to care for your runners when they get wet, muddy, and smelly?

I rinse my shoes outside with a hose when they are dirty and muddy. If only the sole is dirty, I simply scrape and wash the bottoms. If the entire shoe gets nasty I scrub and rinse the whole thing. I remove the insole and rinse it separately.

The easiest way I have found to dry my shoes is by leaving the insole out and stuffing a piece or two of newspaper into the shoe. The newsprint works exceptionally well in drawing out the water from the inside of the upper. I place the shoes and insoles in a dry spot (ideally by the fireplace) and they are typically dry by next day if not within a few hours.

Any other tips?

During winter months days are shorter. Choosing winter running clothes that has reflective striping or marking helps provide visibility when contending with vehicles, cyclists, and other pedestrians. If planning to run in the evening, it can save a lot of frustration to carry a small headlamp or flashlight in the event that you don’t make it back before dark.

For those with corrected vision: instead of prescription glasses try contact lenses. I have never finished a winter run without my Rx glasses being rendered useless by being fogged up. Wearing contacts means I maintain corrected vision whether I wear sunglasses in bright light or if I am breathing hot air through a balaclava or neck warmer.

Running can be a great tool for reducing stress, providing time and space to think and meditate, connect with friends, enhance your health, and explore your mind, body, and the world around you. No matter what your desire or aspiration for running nor how far or fast you run, try to find joy in your practice. You will never have the same run twice and each time you lace up your shoes is a chance to explore and find happiness.
Your suggestions are always welcome, as I continue on my journey to live life to the fullest. Let’s have the very best 2015!

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