Running in winter can be difficult, and not only because it’s hard to get out of bed on cold mornings!
But even if your willpower is strong enough to get you out of your warm bed, there are some hazards in winter that you don’t find in summer.
For runners who live in cold areas, one of those hazards is running in snow and ice. If you are unprepared for these conditions, they can be dangerous and stop you from your daily run.
But running in these conditions is entirely possible – you might even find it’s fun! You just need to take some extra precautions to be safe.
Here are 12 tips for running in snow and ice so you can get your daily exercise even in winter.
Why run in the snow and ice?
For some runners, there is no other choice but to run in snow and ice.
Not every runner has a treadmill, and unless you want to skip your morning run, you have to endure the icy conditions outside. Even if runners do have the option of using the treadmill, many prefer to be out in the fresh air.
Often winter is a time to maintain fitness rather than train hard for races or specific events. It’s the ideal time to do some relaxed running, which is why running in snow and ice isn’t as bad because you can take your time and run slower.
Is it safe to run in the snow?
As long as you take precautions and use the right equipment, it’s safe to run in the snow. Preparation is important and you can’t run in the snow or on ice with the same gear that you would run in during summer.
You will need to accept that running on ice or snow will not feel the same as running on other surfaces during the summer months.
You will also not be able to perform at the same intensity, which is why it’s best for off-season maintenance. It could be a good opportunity to get back into enjoying running for the sake of running!
How much does running on snow slow you down?
You will run slower on snow than you will on other surfaces. If the snow is fresh, it should be easy to run on, but be careful and get a feel for your footing. If it’s been snowing for a while, it can be more difficult as the snow can be deeper or it can hide ice underneath it.
It depends on the exact conditions as to how much the snow or ice will slow you down. But it is definitely recommended to take it slowly to avoid potential injury.
Why should you add running in snow to your running routine?
If you live in an area that snows, running in the snow or on ice may be unavoidable, especially if you don’t have a treadmill. Even if you do have a treadmill at home, running on snow can offer some variety to your usual road or trail running.
Running on snow or ice can engage your muscles in a different way and add a new element to your training.
It’s also a good way to improve your aerobic endurance as you will find that breathing heavily in the cold stimulates your cardiovascular system in a more intense way than in the warmer months.
It’s excellent for slower recovery runs and can help you get back to the enjoyment of running that can be lost when you’re constantly monitoring statistics and data.
Tips for running in snow and ice
1. Wear trail running shoes
You can wear your regular running shoes in the snow, but you may find yourself with wet, cold feet and numb toes by the end of your run. To run safely and comfortably, wear a pair of waterproof or water-resistant trail running shoes.
Trail running shoes have better traction in the outsole which is much more effective for running in the snow than the moderate grip of road running shoes. They also usually have better waterproof qualities, with many trail running shoes incorporating GoreTex technology.
To protect your feet and legs in deep snow, wear a pair of gaiters with your trail running shoes.
2. Prevent slipping with ice cleats
If the traction underneath a pair of trail running shoes isn’t enough to prevent slipping, you can buy a pair of ice cleats. These are external traction systems that you clip or strap to your shoes and they offer extra resistance when walking on or through snow or ice.
You can buy ice cleats in a variety of styles and tractions. Some use chains, others use spikes. But they’re all designed to stick to the snowy and icy terrain and keep you safe from falling.
3. Dress accordingly
It’s important to layer up when you head out into the cold. This traps heat in between each layer and keeps you warm. But if you get too hot, you can remove layers until you feel comfortable.
4. Choose snow over ice while you run
Snow has a slight crunchiness to it which can help with traction and make your run easier. Ice can be difficult to run on and it’s not always possible to estimate how deep the ice is, especially if it’s under snow.
If possible, avoid icy spots. Step carefully over them to avoid the possibility of falling through. This is another reason it’s a good idea to take these snowy and icy runs slowly.
5. Be ready for slippery conditions
Preparation is important and you should always be ready for the conditions to be slippery.
This is why it’s essential to choose the right pair of shoes or ice cleats. Take it slower than you normally would so that you can avoid slipping if at all possible.
6. Know the trail, plan your route
Try to choose a route that is off-road. The road can become very icy in winter, but trails, grass, and fields are less likely to have ice underneath the snow. Just make sure a trail has been packed down if the snow is deep.
Either way, plan your route in advance if you can. Even on roads, you can scout conditions ahead of time.
7. Take smaller steps, shorten your stride
Shortening your stride and taking smaller steps can help you to spot ice patches easier as you’ll be moving slower than usual.
Remember that when running in the snow, expect to be slower than your usual pace. This is due to the slippery conditions that will force you to run slower than normal.
8. Consider a neck gaiter or balaclava if you are prone to coughing fits and dry lungs
In summer, the natural humidity makes it easier to breathe. In winter, the air is much drier, which can make it harder and more painful to breathe.
9. Hydrate like it’s summer
Hydration is often forgotten in the winter, but it’s just as important as in summer. Even if you don’t feel it, you still lose fluid during winter runs and it’s important to replenish your fluid levels as well as your electrolytes.
Your hydration habits should not change between summer and winter. Try to drink the same amount as you would in summer on the same length run. If you are going to be running for an hour or more on the snow, take an electrolyte supplement with you.
10. Plan that runs will take you a bit more time
Give yourself a bit more time to get through your run. If a 5k run usually takes you 30 minutes, allow for 45 minutes to be safe.
This is important especially if you’re running in the evening where it’s getting dark. You don’t want to be running in the dark when it’s freezing.
So plan to leave earlier than you usually would to make sure you have enough time to get back before night falls.
11. When in doubt – walk it out
If you aren’t sure of the terrain or you’re struggling to make your way through the snow, don’t be afraid to walk instead of run.
You’re still getting more exercise than you would be if you weren’t outside!
12. Bring a headlamp if running in the late afternoon
If you’re going for a run in the late afternoon, a headlamp is a handy piece of equipment that could save you if darkness falls faster than you expect. Night falls fast in winter and you don’t want to be lost in the darkness when it’s cold and snowing.
It’s a small, inconspicuous item that you won’t even notice while it’s light, but it could save your life in the darkness.