Icy and Cold: Getting Traction for Winter Running During the Cold Snap

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Long Shadows Cast in the Winter

Another round of cold weather, with predicted rain or snow potentially making slick conditions on the local trails and seawall even slicker, has a few runners in my circle asking, “How do I safely train in this?”  So, a few tips on equipment and preparation, to reduce the risk of slipping and injuring yourself while winter training.

Right off, if you’ve a  good set of trail runners like the Brooks Puregrit or Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2, or Altra Lone Peak 3.0, you’re already ahead of the pack.  These shoes aren’t faultless on the ice and snow, but they trounce the “slip, slop and slide” offered by road running shoes.  Don’t have trail runners sitting in the rack at home?  Not lucky enough to be a “size 13 bargain-bin-shopper” willing to experiment with a pair?  There is a cost effective alternative, ice spikes!

No, you don’t need to take an old set of shoes, a handful of screws, and an evening of “in front of the TV” assembly – though that works.  Ice spikes, micro-spikes, or traction devices (the terminology is loose), are essentially a rubber webbing with spikes set into it to give you traction on the ice.  Models can be found at the Running Room or MEC in the sub-$50.00 Canadian price range.

For urban running, it’s best to look for a relatively low profile in the spikes and webbing of your micro-spikes, as you don’t want too much interference with your foot strike.  Also, spikes loose their tractive ability when you hit clear pavement or cement, so try stick to the moderate messy and soft stuff.

Regarding foot strike, if you’re one of the ~10% of the population who’s a forefoot runner, well done.  You’re landing on the part of the foot that gives you the best proprioception and balance, since it’s rich in nerve endings and can adapt on the landing.  For the rest of us, this is a great opportunity to shorten our strides, and strike more towards the mid-foot on our landing.  This is best done by relaxing your foot on the fall and reducing your stride length in front of your body (Credit to Dave Melanson of Project Talaria for that pointer).  Functionally this means you aren’t attempting to use your heel to balance, nor will you have a centre of gravity behind the foot connecting with the earth (ice).

Far as clothing, in the moderately cold temperatures of the lower mainland, you don’t need to bundle up in a ton of clothes.  Thermal tights, a thermal top and a light wind shell are great, especially when complemented by a light toque (I’m a fan of the MEC Bolt and Salomon Active Beanie) and gloves.  The toque can be removed if you start to overheat, providing an easy means of controlling your temperature. 

Finally, WARM UP!  Before you run, stretch out a bit, and loosen the your muscles up.  This will help your muscles be at their most adaptable in the even of a slip.  If you don’t have the time to stretch out, start slow, and ease into your work out for a kilometre or two.  Getting out and running is important to you, but avoiding injure by overtaxing cold muscles is more important to continuing your winter training.

Enjoy the crisp clear weather!

NOTE: I don’t get any kickbacks for the products mentioned, they are just equipment that I personally have bought and had good luck with.

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