Staying upright in winter weather: running strategies

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original Blogs.


You’re out running on a beautiful winter day. Gentle snow falling, a fresh blanket of snow over everything. You planned ahead and have your trail shoes, Yaktrax, screw shoes or whatever other device you decided necessary. Still, while beautiful to see, the fresh blanket of snow leaves your footing questionable at best. Now, what do you do?

Traction devices aren’t always enough. Worse yet, we don’t always get what we planned for and we can be caught without what would be best for the conditions we’re running in. So we need strategies for running when our footing isn’t the best. Here are a few strategies I’ve found useful after 20 Wisconsin winters.

As most people from wintery climates know from walking in the conditions, the key to staying upright is keeping your center of gravity over your feet. I’ve heard the philosophy of "walk like a penguin" several times over the last few years. The problem for runners is penguins don’t run real fast for a reason.

Still, we can carry over lessons from the penguins. The idea of keeping your center of gravity (more) directly over your feet still applies. Shortening your stride and keeping your feet more directly under you is the most important step you can take. This means you might not be able to run with that wide open, graceful stride you would like to. You need to become a shuffler. Just remember, it’s better than not running at all and you can use it to practice a quick turnover.

Once you get that short, quick stride down, you have running straight at a steady speed mostly taken care of. Next, you have to worry about changing speed and going around corners. When it comes to these things, the simple rule is nothing sudden. There are times when I come to nearly a complete stop to take turns. There are times when I begin slowing down several yards before I need to come to a stop. On downhills, I might start slowing 10-20 yards early or even more. Again, this is just what we have to do in some conditions. These things may break up our runs a bit but they are better than not running and they are better than falling and getting hurt.

There are times when you just know you’re going to slip. Those patches of glare ice where melting snow runs across the sidewalk or similar obstacles are just waiting for us out there. No matter what we do, we’re going to slip. In these cases, it can be better to take a controlled slide than try to run across and lose your footing. I remember one person I ran with a few times who said I would "surf the ice" to get across particularly bad patches. I would essentially get a wide stance, get my arms out for balance and just slide across the patch of ice. This was my strategy for getting across particularly bad patches and it has saved me from quite a few sure falls.

So what do you do if all the advice above doesn’t work and you do fall? I’ve run through 20 Wisconsin winters. Only once did I go through a whole winter without at least one fall, which means maybe all the above advice should be taken with a grain of salt and commenters will have advice that I should be following. Unfortunately, when we do fall, it happens so quickly that we usually respond instinctively. If you can temper your instincts in that split second you have, don’t try to catch yourself. This is often how people get hurt. The best strategy I’ve found is to just tuck and roll or tuck and slide.

Finally, the treadmill is not your enemy. If the conditions are bad and the treadmill is an option, don’t hesitate to use it. The good news for most of us is that slippery conditions typically only last a day or two. Roads and sidewalks will be cleared, we’ll be back to sure footing and you can head back outside without fear of falling.

What do you think? I know there are people reading this who have a lot of experience running through winter weather. What tips do you have to stay upright while running?

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