For runners who live in northern climates, learning how to run on snow and ice is a necessary skill unless you want to be confined to a treadmill for several months out of the year. Running outdoors in winter has many advantages: fewer people on the trails, getting fresh air and exposure to sunlight (even on cloudy days), the bears and snakes are hibernating, and NO BUGS 🙂 But there are unique challenges, too. If you work day shift, it often means running in the dark. You have to know how to dress for the cold, how to stay hydrated (and prevent your hydration pack from freezing), and be able to maintain your balance while running on slippery surfaces. Even if you are strictly a road runner during the warmer months, running on snow and ice is going to feel more like trail running. Here are a few winter running tips to help you enjoy getting outside on the snowy and icy trails.
Winter Running Tips
First things first. Before you ever get out the door…
How To Dress For Winter Running
One word: Layers.
The challenge is to dress so that you will be warm enough to avoid hypothermia and frost bite without overdressing. Overdressing leads to sweating, which makes your clothing wet and actually puts you at greater risk for aforementioned hypothermia or frost bite. Overdressing is a common mistake and simply takes practice and experience to dial it in just right. But here’s a quick primer:
- Base Layer – should be moisture wicking and fit close to your skin. You need to be able to move freely and comfortably. Since this is the first layer and is in direct contact with your skin, flat seamed choices can reduce chafing. Avoid cotton since it absorbs water like a sponge rather than dissipating it and will keep you wet. Lightweight wool or synthetic blends are good choices. I also prefer high necked garments in my base layer not only for warmth, but to avoid chafing from the other layers.
- Insulating Layer – this is the meat and potatoes of keeping warm in winter and usually where people over-do it when going out for a run. If you pile on the puffy down jacket, you’ll probably overheat and get wet in no time. A lighter and less bulky insulating option such as fleece (my favorite) or low bulk synthetic layer works great, even when the temps are near zero F. For warmer days, a vest is an option.
- Windproof Layer – blocks the wind, but should still allow moisture to escape. This layer is typically not bulky and can actually be fairly thin, but can make all the difference on breezy days where wind chill is a factor.
- Gloves – I like fairly light weight gloves or my hands get sweaty. Moisture wicking liners can also help.
- Hat – I prefer wool. Depending on the conditions, you may also want something to protect your face, like a balaclava.
- Shoes – I prefer Gortex for running in snow as it helps to keep water out. It also keeps water in, so be sure to wear socks that wick moisture really well. My favorites are DryMax.
How To Prevent Your Hydration Pack From Freezing
If you’re going long enough that you need a hydration pack, the biggest problem is the drinking hose that leads from the pack to your mouth can freeze up fairly quickly. Simply blowing back into the tube after getting a drink will keep the hose free of liquid and prevent freezing. Some of my fellow ultra marathoners wear their pack under their outermost layer, but others find that cumbersome. I’ve never had a problem with a hand held water bottle freezing during a run, probably because of the constant agitation.
The biggest concern with running on snow or ice is traction. You can buy some spikes or other traction devices that fit over your running shoes, but they’re kind of spendy. An inexpensive and effective option is to make your own screw shoes. Keep in mind that you don’t want to be wearing any of these indoors and wrecking floors, so choose something that you can put on and remove easily, or a separate pair of shoes to switch in to if you go the screw shoe route.
How To Run On Snow & Ice
While traction can help, you’re still running on a slippery surface which requires some physical preparation. Single leg balance and fast reaction time are biggies for any trail runner, but even more so during winter. Good posture and core stability can help keep your center of gravity over your base of support, making you less likely to fall if you hit a slick spot. You’ll probably be running with a shorter stride length to prevent getting your feet too far out from under your center of mass. If you’re an over-strider, running on snow or ice will correct that problem pretty darn quick 😉 Try to run relaxed and with soft foot falls. Look ahead so that you can anticipate what’s coming and prepare accordingly.
A little preparation can ensure that you’ll have an enjoyable experience getting outside for your winter runs. Running on slippery surfaces can actually help correct some common running technique errors naturally because you’ll quickly adapt in order to maintain your balance. Lace ’em up and have fun!!