Updated November 20, 2019
Running in snow is not easy. It can be a good workout. However, you have to be careful to avoid injury. Taking a few extra precautions can lead to a fun experience and a challenging run.
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I ran in a 5 km race this weekend after a significant snow fall. Actually, it was still snowing while we ran, which made it even more fun. There were several centimeters of snow already on the ground, making it tough to run at my regular race pace. I decided to slow down and just enjoy the run, as I knew I wasn’t going to be getting any personal best times that day. So, I got into a slower steady pace and started thinking about my blog and the next article I should write. Why not write about running in snow, I thought.
The result of that run is this article and a delicious chili lunch after the race, Such a wonderful way to warm up after a cold run.
Running in snow uses 1.6 times more energy
There have been numerous studies done about running in sand and walking in snow, mostly by the military. The effort of moving across a surface increases directly proportional to how soft that surface is. The exact number differs slightly depending on which study you read, however, roughly 1.6 times the energy is used running over sand and snow compared to a flat smooth surface. That means that my 5 km race in the snow was the energy equivalent of running an 8 km race on a clear road. Bonus!
We use different muscles running in snow
Snow creates uneven surfaces that cause our foot-strike to be subjected to various rotations and side-to-side movements. These changing forces on our feet travel up our legs, core and back. Our other muscles then react and try to stabilize our balance. Thus, we are essentially acting to control our movement rather than to just produce movement to propel ourselves forward. This can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. We are working slightly different muscles and ultimately strengthening them. These are the stabilizer muscles for balance and control of our running form, and it is good to strengthen these muscles. However, if we are not use to running on uneven surfaces, these muscles can easily become overworked and injured. It is best to keep our distances shorter until we are use to running in snow. Strength exercises with resistance bands can be a great way to work these muscles too.
Take smaller steps to run in the snow
The other issue with running in the snow is that it is slippery. When we push off during a stride, we tend to slide back a little in the snow. The saying “two steps forward and one step back” is very fitting in this instance. This can cause a slingshot-type movement in our foot flexion and put extra strain on our Achilles tendon. Shortening our stride length and taking smaller steps can help prevent this. Proper traction and shoe treads can also help prevent this.
Invest in a good pair of trail shoes
Traction is important when running in the snow. We are more likely to get injured if we wear road runners, as they don’t have the bottom treads for gripping in snow. Some people like the slip on cleats, like Yaktrax, for running in the winter. However, a good pair of Gortex trail shoes will have the added benefit of water and wind resistance. Slip and fall accidents can happen on ice, regardless of these products, so we still need to be careful and be aware of our footing.
Snow is a softer surface to run on
While running in snow can be harder on our bodies in someways, it can be easier in other ways. So, don’t shy away from running in the snow. Snow provides a softer surface for running during the winter. In cold temperatures, asphalt freezes and becomes harder. So, having a softer, more yielding surface to run on can be a benefit, especially for those prone to impact related injuries. Varying the type of the surfaces, sometimes running on soft surfaces and sometimes running on harder surfaces, can help prevent overuse injuries.
Running outside in the snow can be a great fitness activity and a lot of fun, but we need to be smart about it to avoid injury. Read more about winter running on Pink Ribbon Runner.
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