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Runner’s Tech: 5 Things You Must Know Before Running in Snow

Posted Nov 28 2012 9:33am

“Snowprint” by Thorarinn Stefansson

Is this you? You hear the alarm clock. You reach to mute it. You peek out of your window. It’s snowing. “Oh well, I guess I can’t run today”, you conveniently think to yourself. Then you dive back into bed under the sheets. Guilty as charged, I have done this in the past more times than I can count. The truth is, there is nothing wrong with having some snowflakes on your shoulders because running in snow can be fun, productive, or poetic – if done right. So I encourage you to step out of your heated room and lace up this winter. Remember: many “reasons” that lead to skipping a run are merely excuses. Weather is just another issue a runner will eventually learn to deal with – it’s rarely a legitimate reason to stop you. Below are some tips for you to consider when planning on a snowy adventure.

1. The Outfit

The usual dress code for cold weather running applies here – the key is layering thin and light tech fabrics. Add a wind-proof, water-resist shell if it’s snowing heavily with strong wind. Check out your local forecast and pay attention to the wind speed before you head out – as it should dictate strongly on what you need to wear. Otherwise there is no need to wear too much just because you see snow on the ground; as one common mistake for cold weather running is to overdress. Of course, don’t forget to cover your extremities and other “important parts” as they are more susceptible to the biting cold. For more on this, check out my  5 Sure-fire Tips for Succeful Running in Cold Weather .

2. The Shoes

Traction is crucial for running on ice or snow. There are several ways to improve traction and avoid slippage. Firstly you can invest in a pair of trail running shoes – because trail shoes usually feature deeper grooves on the outsole and have  a rockplate in the midsole for extra protection against sharp objects. However, your good o’ running shoes will do just fine. Just hook them up with a pair of snow spikes like Yaktrax and you’re good to go. Of course, if you want to spend less and don’t mind performing some shoe surgery in your garage, you can try the ICESPIKE  screws – or get your own screws from a local hardware store like in this YouTube tutorial . Lastly, avoid running in deep, fresh powder or hard, slick ice to make sure you stay on your feet.

3. On Safety

In addition to traction, you must be on high alert constantly while you tread along a snowy road for what’s below the white frost may potentially be hazardous. Use your arms to balance your steps while clearing obstacles. Shorten your strides and increase turnover speed to maneuver the terrain better. Keep your feet light and ankles loose in case you step onto a tricky surface beneath the deceptive snow. And to help with surveying what’s ahead and around, visibility cannot be overlooked. Use sunglasses when it’s sunny to reduce snow glare, and carry lights to combat the shortened daylight (refer to my  5 Eye-Opening Tips For Running In Darkness ).

4. On Intensity

You can practically forget about speedwork in snow. If you must insist and have an incurable need for speed, go to a track where there’s no snow or ice – warm up for a few laps and inspect carefully before starting your stopwatch. However, this doesn’t mean sacrificing much of your performance and endurance when you have to run in snowy conditions. Often you’ll find it necessary to engage different muscles in order to handle and adapt snow-covered roads. You might have to twist and turn your ankles more, raise your knees higher, and tighten your abs and glutes more frequently to balance and navigate through your runs. Also prepare to climb, reroute, and break a lot. These are precisely the reason your winter running schedule shouldn’t be too robust. It’s best to be flexible on distance or intensity on any run and improvise on-the-fly.

5. Go Play Outside

It’s imperative to run outside regularly for a many reasons. Most importantly, it will get you out of the winter slump and into the tip-top shape for spring races. Most people want to curl up into fetal position and stay in bed when it’s cold out. But if you can wrap your mind around training through the frigid months, you just might get a new PR (or PB) in spring. Besides, some people have no choice but to train through winter if they’re planning to run big races such as the Boston Marathon in April. So unless there’s a blizzard outside snowing or hailing sideways, drag your butt to at least a couple of miles away from your front door before you make the final decision to skip. As a side note, although it varies from person to person, your body has the amazing ability to adjust to hot or cold temperatures (known as acclimatization ) – if you could just give it enough time to do so. Don’t forget to check out my article on  7 Superpowers Every Runner Has . Trust me on this and stay off the the dreadmill. Because when it’s snowy out, the whole world is yours to run – you won’t have to share the trail or park with too many casual strollers or even “joggers”. And who knows? You could end up having the best run of your life if you’re willing to spend more time out there.

What do you think of these tips? What do you find most challenging about winter running? What are some of your secrets for running in snowy conditions?

- Kevin

(Kevin Lu is an engineer, currently working in the field of orthopedic devices. He received his B.S. and M.S. in biomedical engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology. Science, technology, and running are Kevin’s passions. In his spare time, Kevin trains for and participates in races of various distances. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter (@ SweatEngine ) and check out his blog  Beyond Distance .)

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