Alaskan runner and ultra-champion Geoff Roes’ advice for embracing winter conditions.
In certain parts of the country, ‘tis the season for icy, snowy trails. And if you’re a trail runner, you likely don’t want to spend your entire winter on a treadmill. Alaska-native Geoff Roes knows a thing or two about running on snow and ice. He’s won the Alaskan Iditarod Trail Invitational once and spent a few winters living and training in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
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Roes hosts winter running camps in the Alaskan wilderness and trains (and coaches) day-in and day-out on sometimes very slick surfaces. Here are his tips for staying comfortable and, most importantly, upright on tricky winter terrain.
1. Count miles as double. Running on snow/ice engages different muscles compared to running on dry ground. Don’t expect to be able to just jump into running the same mileage that you have been recently running on bare ground. To minimize the likelihood for injury, take time to get these muscles in shape just as you would if you had not run at all.
Consider counting miles on snow/ice as double miles until you feel your body has fully adapted to the new surface. This generally takes 4-6 weeks.
2. Size traction devices down. When using traction devices, go down at least one size from what the manufacturer recommends. Manufacturers tend to size these on the larger side, and there’s nothing worse than slipping on a patch of ice only because your traction has shifted around to the side of your foot.
3. Choose socks wisely. Keeping feet warm when running in snow/cold is more about circulation than it is about insulation. Thicker socks can be helpful, but only if you have plenty of space in your shoes to accommodate them. More often than not, a thicker sock just cuts down your circulation and actually makes your feet colder.
If you plan to use a thicker sock, consider a model of shoe with an extra wide toe box or using your favorite shoe a half- or full-size larger than your “summer size.”
4. Explore more trails. In many cases, there are actually as many or more trails available in the winter. Snowmobile routes, Nordic ski trails, and frozen lakes can all make for great winter trail running, so get creative.
When running on trails that are primarily used by other groups, be sure that they are, in fact, multi-use trails. Nordic ski trails often allow foot travel on the outside of the classic tracks where you are not damaging the skate lane.
5. Consider snowshoes. Consider purchasing a pair of running snowshoes. Snowshoes open up virtually endless possibility for new trails. It’s hard breaking trail the first time through, but after a few times out on the same path, you will be able to start running the trail you blazed surprisingly effortlessly.
6. Don’t forget to eat and drink. It’s easy in the winter to forget to drink because you’re not overheated and to not want to deal with eating because it’s cold. But when running in snow and on ice, you are almost always working harder and thus sweating more and burning more calories.
7. Shorten your stride. Focus on shortening your stride when learning to run on snow/ice. This will keep your feet under your center of gravity, and the added traction will go a long way in helping to keep you upright. Over time you may begin to feel comfortable with a your regular stride, but shortening up will always be a useful technique when things become suddenly slick.
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