When I lived in New Jersey as a young runner, the few winter storms that would strike were infrequent enough that I would stay inside and find another way to train. Now that I spend most of my time north of Toronto, the snow-running season starts in November and could very well continue until March. During December and January, nearly daily snowfalls are common, so learning to navigate outdoor training has become a passion of mine.
Sure, it’s not as easy to pop out on a five-mile run anymore, but to be honest, nothing beats making the first tracks through three inches of powder as the sun is coming up. I’ve also learned how to make it easier, and I’ve got a few tips. The keys to success? Wearing a lot of layers, planning ahead and staying safe.
1. SWITCH UP YOUR SHOES
Those uber-minimalist running shoes that made you feel like a badass on the trails in the summer won’t do you any favors in snowy and icy conditions. Even if you’re not going to commit to a full-on winter running shoe or added traction grippers like Yaktrax, you might want to bulk up your shoe to something a little warmer with a chunkier sole to keep your toes from freezing and provide some much-needed traction.
2. CONSIDER SWAPPING SNEAKERS FOR SNOWSHOES
The cardio benefits from snowshoeing rival running, so why not take advantage of the slower, more seasonal way to move outside? Snowshoeing will make your quads burn like no other workout, plus you’ll avoid slipping and sliding down a hill on the trail. (And getting up a slippery trail will be a snap.)
3. THINK HIGH KNEES IN DEEP SNOW
Your normal running style may need to be tweaked to account for deep snow. It’ll likely look more like a skip than a bound if you’re going through a foot of fresh powder. Think of it as a different type of training, in some respects. Your speed likely will decrease while you’re navigating snow, but you’re working a lot more muscles than you would on a dry road.
4. CHOOSE SNOW OVER ICE
Personally, I prefer trails in the winter for one main reason: Sidewalks are slippery. Roads and sidewalks get hit with deicer, but once the snow melts, it becomes water that refreezes into a skating rink. Trails, on the other hand, tend to get packed down. Running is still precarious, but it’s less inclined to turn into impromptu ice hockey practice.
5. EXPECT TO FALL…
People will see you fall at least once this winter if you’re running in snow and ice. Get over the embarrassment: The only reason everyone else is upright is because they’re not going as fast or as hard. If you’re running on ice, focus on keeping your feet close to the ground and take shorter steps. If you hit a really icy section, don’t be a hero and try to bomb through it. Slow to a walk, and save your hips.
6. …AND TREAT BRUISING ASAP
If you fall in snow, it’s a funny story. If you fall on ice, you’re likely going to have a big, nasty bruise on your hip. When you get home, use a bit of compression or ice to start the healing process. If it hurts tomorrow, take the day off from your run, but if it’s not too severe, go for a short walk to keep blood flowing. The more you can move, the less stiff you’ll be.
7. BE SAFE
This is the time of year when we want to wear bright, high-visibility articles of clothing, and carry a few lights for those times when the run extends past sunset by accident or by design. When snow blows around, it’s harder for cars to see you, so stay as easy to spot as possible.
8. ENJOY THE SEASON
If you don’t embrace running in crappy conditions like snow and ice, it’s going to be a tough winter. Learn to love being the one tough enough to go out and hammer even though it’s freezing. Take that perfect Instagram in the snowy field you’re about to sprint through. Splurge on some great cold-weather running gear, or join a gym to take advantage of a post-run sauna, steam or hot tub session. Don’t forget to enjoy hurling a snowball at a running buddy, just for fun.