Running on Ice
If you live in a place with a real
winter, you’re probably
going to have to deal with snow and ice when you run. Running on ice
have to be that treacherous, and can actually improve your running
this article, I’ll talk about technique and strategies for running on
is not about traction devices. FWIW, the only traction device I use is
and simple to make screw shoes, and only on hilly & icy trails. I
anything on roads or flat trails.
Hit the ground
“Pawback” is a key part of an
efficient stride. Your foot
should be pulling back when it hits the ground, like a cat pawing. And,
should land with your feet under your body mass. This is true whether
on dry or slick ground. If you land with your foot still going forward
flat, with your foot in front of your body, or on your heels, you are
and losing momentum. Like driving a car in the snow, your best control
you are continuing forward.
Shorten your stride. Besides being
more efficient, a short,
quick (and light) stride gives you more control, and better ability to
quickly. With quicker strides, you are landing with less force, thus
likely to slide out of control. And, with lighter, quicker strides, you
better able to quickly adjust your stride and body weight if/when you
We have a natural tendency to lean
back and on our heels
when we’re afraid. If you do any skiing, you know that’s what most
do, and that’s exactly what makes skiing and control harder. The same
with running. You want to lean forward slightly, stay on the balls or
your feet, stride back, and keep moving forward.
This won’t prevent slipping on ice.
It may even feel a bit like
falling - good running form almost feels like falling forward. Your
slip back on ice, like running on loose dirt, but if you keep your
moving forward and your feet moving under you, you should stay in
balance and hardly
Powdered or Glazed?
Some surfaces are inherently more
dangerous than others.
Snow usually has better traction
than ice. Aim for the white
stuff, a dusting of snow atop of ice, over glazed ice. Dark patches may
indicate ice or dry pavement. That can be hard to distinguish at night
a distance. At night, I assume it’s ice and am more cautious (unless I
it’s mostly clear). The edges of snow, where it changes to pavement,
slick. This is where it melts and refreezes as ice. Try to avoid these
adjusting your stride. It’s better to take extra short strides, than to
lengthen your stride or leap (landing with more force).
If patches of dry pavement are small
and scattered, it may
be better to just stay on the snow and ice. You risk hitting more
different surfaces have different feels, and it takes a few strides for
body to adapt. Two or three strides on pavement may take more effort
than it’s worth.
Turning on ice is hard, just like
with driving. Slow down
and shorten your stride before a curve. Then, go through the curve with
short & quick strides, staying nimble up on the balls of your feet.
Painted road surfaces can be slicker
pavement. Try to step over or around them, without making abrupt
Changing surfaces can be tricky –
pavement to dirt, sidewalk
to street, path to bridges. Not only might the snow/ice differ on the
surface, but the feel is different. Subtle cues from your feet, allow
to automatically make adjustments and stay in balance. When the feel
it takes a little time for your body to adapt. If you know it’s icy, or
know what it’s like, slow yourself by shortening your stride (not by
your heels) before the change, and transition with caution.
Rapid changes in direction or speed
can be risky. Look ahead
to anticipate changes, and adjust your stride and line before you get
When you see that you are going to need to change lines, drift over
making small lateral changes, and try to hit any new surface going
Snow can make it easier or harder.
Running in a few inches
of new snow is a lot of fun. When the snow is soft, you fly right
Packed snow gives pretty good traction too, as long as it’s not crusty.
can actually make it easier on trails, by filling the gaps between
Old, crusty snow is different than
ice, but can be as hard
to run on. You don’t know what’s underneath – soft snow, ice, hard
often until it’s too late. When the snow is more than a few inches
crust can cut your ankles, and hard ridges of snow can twist them. If
avoid deep crust or exposed areas of hard, uneven snow, go very slow,
if needed. If there’s lots of it, find somewhere else to run.
When running icy/snowy hills,
control is best when your feet
are under your body mass. Shortening your stride even more, keeps your
under you more. Going uphill, try to hit the hill straight, and carry
into the hill. Think of lifting your knee up to initiate the next
leaning into the hill (from the ankle, not bending at the waist), using
to help propel you forward, rather than pushing down against the slick
Slow yourself before a downhill. Then, hit the descent as straight as
Stay up on the balls of your feet and don’t lean back. You lose control
can’t adjust your balance from your heels, or when your feet are in
you. It’s better to tip-toe down on your toes, than to slide down on
heels. If it’s really bad, you can turn your feet and side step up or
Running on ice takes practice to
learn the technique, and
experience to gain confidence. It takes practice to learn how to fall
and how to be comfortable doing it. That’s good running form - using
and momentum to your advantage - dry or slick. Start by practicing on
ground. Lean forward – keep your body straight, leaning from your
bending over at your waist – stride quickly and kick your heels back
starts to feel like you’re falling. Find your comfort limit, and then
little beyond it. See how fast you can go by striding faster, not
time, you’ll become more and more comfortable with this. When you take
the snow and ice, you’ll want to tone it down a bit – slightly less
lean, and slower running speed; though still leaning forward and with a
I actually look forward to racing in
While my times may be slower, I know that I handle them better than
runners, and can use it to my competitive advantage. The 2005 Greenland
50km had just about every trail condition possible - dry, snow, ice,
– at different parts of the course, and different times during the day.
passing lots of runners, gingerly taking 7 or 8 steps to get through a
drift or ice patch, while I cruised through with just 1 or 2 steps.
There was a
race at Cherry Creek, in February, with ice and slush on the road. I
straight lines through slush and ice, maintaining my speed, while
and/or maneuvered wide around slick spots. I don’t have to be that
when I’m just out for a training run, but I don’t fear the ice either.
You don’t have to be afraid of the ice and snow. You need to
be more cautious, but it doesn’t have to keep you from running or
Practice. Build confidence. Get out there and have fun.
Be smart. Train Smart.