5 Keys To Dashing Through Winter Wonderland
Snow days provide crisp fresh air, quiet streets, and trails, and awe-inducing scenery—perfect for running. So forget the one-horse open sleigh and ditch the treadmill. Find snow-savy peace of mind with these five tips:
1. Practice Technique
“Snow days are the best days to go out and work on your form,” says Rachel Cieslewicz, professional triathlete, coach, and founder of New Age Athlete. On other days, she says, runners get away with terrible form, big slow strides, and under-utilizing their core efficiently. “Running on snow develops the ability to literally think on your feet,” she says. “Between obstacles, hills, and the general ‘art’ of snow running, it challenges the mind and the body to focus on form, uses multiple planes of the body and different muscle groups, and develops neural reflexes. This leads into a strong, fast race season.”
Underfoot, snow’s slippery surface forces you to pay attention to where and how you step. The key to proper snow technique: Keep your body over your center of mass (think hips) by engaging your core, picking up your feet (rather than pushing off the ground), by taking quick, light steps. Inhale and exhale deep, breaths to focus and relax. Honing in on form and breath can make you a better, faster runner who is less prone to poor-form injuries.
Cieslewicz, who trained for her first marathon in the snow (and finished 8th out of more than 9,800 women in the race), suggests envisioning your body suspended from your head like a puppet with many strings so your feet have the ability to change direction or catch a fall with ease.
Running coach Dave Schell seconds the key. “The idea is to take smaller steps, maintain an upright ‘proud’ posture, and land under your center of mass. When running on snow or ice this is imperative as striding out or landing with your foot out in front of you opens you up to slipping and injury,” he says. “And keep your runs short until you adapt your lungs to the cold air.”
2. Dress for the Weather
Professional multi-sport endurance athlete Sari Anderson says proper apparel and gear is an essential key to running in the snow. “Clearly, cold and snowy weather can make running tough in the winter. But there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear,” Anderson says.
Bundling up with synthetic or wool layers (the building blocks) is essential to cold-weather comfort. Start with technical fiber underwear—by all means, don’t wear cotton undies or a cotton sports bra, which leads to chaffing and discomfort.
Next, wear snug base layers on top and bottom—a moisture-wicking long-sleeve shirt and long tights. Under most conditions, top this with a micro-fleece, wool, or technical fabric shirt, plus a wind-blocking shell.
Hats and gloves in wicking synthetic or wool fibers are essential for comfort in cold or snowing weather. Hat brims help sheild your face during snowy or windy conditions. Wool or wool blend socks keep tootsies warmer than standard running socks; you may have to buy shoes a half size bigger to accommodate thicker socks in the winter, but the latest merino blends and other cold-weather running sock styles prevent too much bulkiness. In deeper snow, gaiters are great. Also, wear sunglasses to protect and enhance your vision.
Aim to dress for a temperature about 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature to compensate for your exertion, and use zippers to vent as you go.“The key is to not overdress, as you’ll overheat once you get going,” says Schell. “The first 10 minutes may be miserable, but once you are warmed up it will be perfect.”
3. Chose The Right Running Shoe
Wearing trail shoes for running in the snow is the equivalent of swapping out all-season radials for snow tires. Rugged soles provide more traction. Waterproof uppers keep feet dry and significantly warmer than sock-like, breathable mesh materials of standard running shoe styles.
4. Get Better Traction
Add-on traction gear gives runners a much-improved grip in icy, snowy conditions. Grip enhancers use forms of metal cleats and provide more dependable traction on slick surfaces than shoes alone. Depending on terrain, and depth and quality of the snow, options include: heavy rubber and steel coils of Yaktrax; slip-on microspikes like Kahtoolas; screw-in cleats like LaSpotiva’s hobnail kit; or sleek snowshoes.
5. Try Child’s Play
Don’t forget to have fun, too. Adapt your attitude about “bad” weather, suggests Cieslewicz. “The best thing about snow and its possible bloopers are that it brings back a feeling of being a kid playing,” says Cieslewicz. “Back off when needed and think of the words ‘flow’ and ‘fly.’”