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Winter Running in Ridgefield

Now that the town seems perpetually snow-coated, here is the where and the how to running when it's freezing.

It's that time again: time to renew your vow to hit the gym.

But something stops you. Perhaps it's the extra 30 minutes a day it takes to get to and from. Or maybe you hesitate to pay for a membership you will only use for a few months (if that).

Never fear—you don't have to get to the gym to work out during the winter. Winter running is not reserved for die-hard runners. Anybody at any level of fitness can do it with a little preparation. (And since New England winters last from October to April, aspiring runners miss out by eliminating the season from their New Year's resolutions.) You just need a few simple supplies and some knowledge of how and where to maximize your safety and your workout when it's snowy.

Then, all you have to do is lace up your running shoes.

The How

"Assume no one is going to stop at a stop sign," said Marc Chapman, owner of Kilometers. "Drivers are very distracted, and they don't like bikers and runners. A $22 reflective vest can save your life."

Ridgefield resident Megan Searfoss, founder of the Mother's Day 5K "Run Like a Mother" and five-time all-American triathlete, agreed.

"Be aware that if your traction is bad then so is a car's," she said. "Be aware more than ever that you are truly sharing a smaller space of road." Searfoss said that she brings her workouts inside if there is ice, high wind (falling branches), after a snow that made the roads too narrow or at dawn or dusk.

Kilometer's manager Fred Cone urged runners to exercise caution when running on any road, especially in wintry conditions. Alter your gait, especially in icy conditions, so that you don't make any noise when your foot hits the ground, he recommended. This "lift and lean forward" form gives you better traction and helps you relax when running in slick conditions.

There is no shortage of Web sites with further tips about what to wear and keep in mind, so here is summary of the most important things you need to know according to two reliable sites, Active.com and Running & FitNews:

1. Wear layers that block wind and are made of a moisture-wicking fabric (like polypropylene), especially for the base layer. Hang up those old cotton sweatshirts and sweatpants; they retain moisture and keep you wet.

2. Dress for 15 to 20 degrees warmer, as you will warm up after the first few minutes and then run the risk of excessive sweating or overheating. Peel off a layer if you get hot.

3. Wear a hat and gloves made for running, which are ones that wick away moisture. You can also tuck disposable heat packets into your mittens.

4. Wear bright colors and reflective gear so drivers can see you. If you wear white, you may blend in with the snow.

5. Hydrate before, during and after the run to avoid dehydration. Carry a small water bottle in your pocket or invest in a running belt to carry water (great for running all year round).

6. Warm up for at least 25 minutes before attempting any speed work, and don't do any full-paced speed work when it's below 32 degrees. Instead, do pace and hill work to get in your speed training.

7. Leave your iPod at home. You need to be aware of your surroundings and you can't be a defensive runner if you can't hear.

8. Remember that Ridgefield's rush hour, or busiest traffic time, is between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. during school dismissals. Avoid running at these times if possible, or use extra caution if you do venture out then.

The Where

Here are some of Ridgefield's best streets for winter running. From home or from a parking lot, use Mapmyrun.com to map out your route. It's a free site that lets you store, annotate and share all your routes. You can even see the elevation of the course you are selecting (if you dare!).

Branchville area:

  • Nod Road/Whipstick Road/Nod Hill Road (you can park at East Ridge Middle School and only have to run on Branchville Road for a couple of minutes).
  • Rail Trail—you can park at Branchville Elementary School and walk up Florida Road to start at the end of the trail. In snowy conditions, try running with a trail sneaker (Brooks Cascadia or Saucony Xodus), which you can also use on the road without ruining the tread.

Farmingville area (this is a good area for hill work on short cul-de-sacs):

  • Off of Limekiln Road are several good streets for hill work: Belvedere Court, Lantern Drive, Linden Drive to Poplar Road, Rock Spring Road
  • Off of Farmingville Road, some great hills are Powderhorn Drive and Walnut Grove Road.
  • Norrans Ridge Drive is a good almost one-mile loop beginning from Farmingville Road (which you can run to easily by parking either at Rite Aid or Ridgefield Bank)
  • Running east on Farmingville Road past Walnut Grove Road can be dangerous, as it gets very windy until Lounsbury.
  • Fire Hill Road is fairly straight and, because it connects to loop streets, has little traffic.

In Town:

  • Though Main Street/Danbury Road seems an ideal choice because of the sidewalk, don't be fooled: the sidewalk is not always cared for evenly (the brick sections tend to be very slippery) and the Danbury Road sidewalk starts and stops a lot, with snow piles from plowing blocking any way around.
  • Westmoreland (Remington/Hamilton/Holmes Road) is a great development for running. Be careful running on Barry Avenue or Peaceable Street to get there. Barry Avenue is a better choice, or take High Ridge to Bryon Avenue.
  • From West Lane (35 West going toward Katonah), try Golf Lane/Lewis Drive/Manor Road. Beautiful scenery with very little traffic.
  • Silver Spring Road (the Ridgefield Half Marathon 4.5 loop) is quiet and scenic.

Scotland School district area:

  • 116 is very windy with lots of speeding traffic and therefore pretty dangerous.
  • West Mountain Estates (Eleven Levels Road) is a loop and therefore is relatively traffic-free.
  • At the top of Barrack Hill Road are some nice hills. The best roads are Scott Ridge Road, Sleepy Hollow Road, and Round Lake Road (a dead end).
  • Off of Scott Ridge is Rock Road, which leads to Caudatowa Dr. and down to Old Sib Road. If you are brave, try running up Rock Road. It's a mighty hill.
  • If you go west on Old Sib, there are trails into Westchester County's Mountain Lakes Park. You can also reach this trail from the end of Barrack Hill Road or if you bear left onto Pine Lake Road. The trail is a bit rocky so it is not recommended for winter running.
  • Avoid Blue Ridge Road if you can because it is very windy with a lot of blind turns.
  • Mamanasco Road is great because it is straight, but it is very narrow. You can also park at the high school and cross 116 to access it. Try turning on 12th Lane for a nice hill workout.

Barlow Mountain School District area:

  • Lower North Street (near town) can be dangerous but north of Wooster Street is much less busy.
  • Stonecrest Road is a long cul-de-sac with a good hill.
  • The Mimosa development is a good, low-traffic loop that has a good hill as well.
  • Take Barlow Mountain Road to Pierrepont Drive to Seth Low Mountain Road for a good loop.
  • Bennett's Pond (off of Bennett's Farm Road) has great winter trails.

Ridgebury area (runs marked with an asterisk were used by Kilometer's manager Cone, a former RHS cross country coach):

  • Take Ridgebury Road to Stone Ridge Estates is a good loop, but go out and back instead of running on George Washington Highway, which is extremely narrow with lots of traffic so it is best to avoid it.
  • Also try Ridgebury Road to Shadow Lake Road to Briar Ridge to Beaver Brook and back to Shadow Lake for a relatively safe, very hilly run.
  • * Ridgebury Road to Norton Lane (North Salem, N.Y.), to Vail Lane (North Salem, N.Y.), cross back into Connecticut onto Spring Valley Road, to Wheeler to Mopus Bridge Road, back to Ridgebury Road. You will run through beautiful horse country and hit some nice hills on your way.
  • * The Ridgefield High School parking lot (not including the Scotts Ridge Middle School lot) is a little more than 400 meters (a quarter mile), which is great for speed work.
  • * The high school cross country course, which begins on the outside of the fence around the track, can be good winter running if you have the appropriate footwear.

Winter running can be an extremely enjoyable way to stay fit throughout those long winter months, but the most important thing about winter running is to be safe. Once you take the proper precautions in terms of gear and location, you can relax in the fresh air and enjoy our beautiful town all year round.

For more information on winter running, see Winter Running Tips from Active.com for more information. Also check out the article "The Winter of Your Discontent" from Coolrunning.com.

Sarah Katz January 04, 2010 at 06:12 PM
I just came back from a run outside and it is BEAUTIFUL out there! I even had to take my gloves off because I was so hot. I did have to be very careful on Farmingville Road, as I stared down a few drivers who were trying to play chicken with me, but other than that, I think there is nothing more beautiful than our town with a clean layer of snow blanketing everything...
Christian Camerota January 04, 2010 at 06:39 PM
Trail running this time of year is the best, provided you've got shoes with some tread on 'em. Great article, too. I've been going a lot around Weir Farm and on the Wilton/Ridgefield border and it's been beautiful lately.

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