8 Tips for Running in Ice and Snow

Spoilers: try not to fall on some ice

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Snow in North Carolina can really put a crimp in training runs. Most of the powdery snow has already melted or been trampled into a thick sheet of ice so running is treacherous - so much so that as I write this I just watched a neighbor's kid face-plant on the street (it's fine; the kid is okay - they got up and just kept running. Good kid).

I had to be careful though through all four miles of my run. I constantly looked for the most powder and traction and tried to avoid sludge and solid sheets of ice. Most of the roads and sidewalks were packed into ice so I frequently ran just off the sidewalk on people's lawns (oh yeah, I'm sure the neighbors are thrilled with me). In some areas the snow was cold and untrodden and I just skimmed along the powder over the solid ice, but this bliss was few and far between. Most times I picked my way through other people's frozen and icy footprints or I plowed through snow and ice that collapsed under my feet, breaking in a web like a car windshield hammered with a bat.

It was rough going with all my energy lost in the snowdrifts and no power or traction to push me forward. More than once I almost twisted an ankle or fell on my bum, but I managed to recover every time. More than once I stopped and watched warily as a car rolled along the road, the driver white-knuckled on the white-slick road. Once as I was running over an area where brown blades of grass poked through the snow my foot broke through the sheet of ice and into awful red clay mud. The snow closest to the ground was melting and streaming in rivulets under the ice, swirling in thick red clay that sucked at my trail runners. I hobbled to the curb and shook off ice and mud. Good thing I was heading home at this point because my foot was completely soaked and already my toes burned with the cold.

Just as we don't know how to drive in snow and ice because we never get snow in North Carolina, we don't seem to know how to run in snow and ice. So here's a few tips to keep you safe:

1. Layer up.

Yeah, it's cold, so dress for it! Find the layers that work for you, but keep in mind that your body will warm up as you run, so don't go overboard. I was totally comfortable in a wool base layer*, fleece-lined running pants*, tall hiking socks*, trail runner shoes*, gloves*, and hat*, though this is the first time I've ever thought, "Man, I could really use a running vest right now." Keep warm, but still use wicking materials. I'm a fan of wool for my winter runs, and I'll use my tall hiking socks instead of no-show running socks to help prevent any exposed skin around the ankles. Leggings are a good option for when you break through the layer of ice. It's never fun to scrape up your shins on sharp ice.

2. Get good traction.

I don't have Yak Trax* like some other runners recommend because we just don't have enough snow that I would use it often enough, so I pulled out my trail running shoes*. If you don't have trail running shoes just pull out your running shoes with the most aggressive tread.

3. Stick to powder.

You can actually get decent traction on proper snow; it's when you end up on ice that you get into trouble. I looked for good sections of sidewalk and for fresh snow just along the sidewalk, though my best results came from running down less traveled streets and breaking fresh snow.

4. Adjust your stride.

Shortening your stride can help, and focus on keeping as much of your foot in contact with the ground as possible. You're already making your life harder by running, but if you can maximize the surface area of your foot in contact with ground you may improve your traction.

5. Walk through the rough patches.

It's better to slow down and walk than to force your way through a rough patch and end up with a sore rear end. I also carefully avoided the road just in case a car got a little skiddy. Be particularly careful with road crossings.

6. Take it easy on pace.

You can lose a lot of energy running on a soft surface. Force applied through your feet dissipates in shifting snow, just like running on sand. You may also engage a number of stability muscles that have not otherwise been used. Plus there are plenty of unknowns like how well your lungs will hold up to the cold and how often you'll have to walk through icy patches.

7. Dry out your shoes properly.

If you end up like me in a situation where you break through a layer of ice and soak your shoes in a melted section below, make sure you dry out your shoes when you're done running by stuffing them with newsprint and placing them in a well-ventilated area.

8. Stay hydrated.

Winter is tricky. You might not think you're losing that much water, but you still sweat and you lose quite a bit of water through your breath, so always remember to stay hydrated.

Don't forget to be careful, but still get out there and enjoy your run! Are there any other tips you've learned from running in the snow? Let me know in the comments!


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