Running in Icy Conditions

icyconditionsI’m not a fair weather runner.  This means that I tend to run in any weather conditions, although the only time I ever do sometimes draw the line when it’s really icy.  I run in wind, rain, sun, snow, cold and heat, but sometimes when it comes to Winter and I’m struggling to walk to work because of icy pavements, I give running a miss or accept that the treadmill – aka the dreadmill – might be the best option for me that day.

kaizen activeWith my Kaizen Run Club going out tonight in icy conditions, then running the Santa Dash on Sunday 9th, and with lots of people doing the Marcothon this month – an idea created by Marco Consani and Debbie Martin Consani – to run at least 5k every day in December … I thought I’d get together some tips for running in these icy, cold or snowy conditions.

yaktraxLast year I ran a few times in the snow with my yaktrax on, (8.5M in the snow, 9.15M in the snow) and I have to say it was hard work indeed.  I was forced to run slower, and found it pretty hard on the legs and brain (always having to concentrate where your feet went), but the conditions were great and made for an exhilarating and fun run.  When the pavements were too icy, I opted for treadmill runs and accepted the fact that the treadmill was the best option for me considering the icy streets.

Running on icy roads is not impossible, but does pose challenges that should be addressed before you hit the streets.


Your regular running shoes may not provide a sufficient grip or yaktraxprotraction along icy roads, which could make running difficult and result in serious injury.  Last year I got a pair of Yaktrax for £20 and it was well worth the price.  They’re not so good for running on thick ice, but they are great for giving more traction on snow and cold snowy cross country routes.  If you don’t have Yaktrax, you can try trail shoes which tend to have more grip than ordinary running trainers.

While Yaktrax are built to prevent slippage, they cannot protect you from every icy condition. Use your best judgment to determine when conditions are too extreme, and end your run if you cannot maintain balance.  If you feel yourself slipping all over the place, there’s nothing wrong with walking some of the route, but make sure you are well layered up and warm in case you might need to walk.

Road Hazards

If you don’t want to try to run on the pavement, you could try running on the roads if they are more clear, but be aware of traffic, wear bright colours (ie not black!) to be seen and run into the traffic so you can see it coming and the drivers can see you.

PICT0005Ice and snow can transform a safe road into a dangerous one in a matter of hours. When given the option, choose to run over fresh ice or snow, rather than packed ice or snow, to gain better traction and avoid slipping. Cracks and holes in the road that would normally have been easily identified on a warm-weather day may become filled by ice or snow. You’re your eyes on the path or road in front carefully and stick to roads that you have run frequently in the past

Running Speed

Run more slowly than you do in fair weather, and try not to worry about the time it takes you and don’t aim to do any time trials. Even if you wear traction shoes, ice and snow on the roads can create hazards for runners. To reduce the risk of falling, shorten your stride and keep your feet low to the ground.

PICT0036Keep a watchful eye on the surface you are running, and switch from running to a walking pace over difficult terrain or as weather changes.  Don’t worry about walking if you feel you should, and look out for and avoid the black shiny or sparkly surfaces.  Try to relax and enjoy the experience, and don’t worry about the time it took.

Know Your Limits

The cold weather may do more than create hazardous road conditions. It can mask pain in your muscles from strain or overexertion. While running on ice, your body uses the muscles in your inner and outer legs to keep your body stable more than you would use these same muscles when it’s dry. Running on snow or ice can be a lot harder than you think and as a result you may need to run slower, and feel more tired after your run in these conditions.

steep hill I slid down...If you have never run on icy roads, or if it has been several months since you have run in cold weather, alternate your runs between outdoor runs and indoor treadmill runs until your body adjusts to running in icy conditions.  The key to a successful run on ice or snow is to try to be relaxed, practice restraint and operate at a reduced pace until you are able to adjust to the cold weather.


Exposure to icy conditions and cold weather can also lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia is a state of medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. Your normal body temperature is 37 ‘C.

PICT0030Hypothermia begins as your body drops below 35’C. As your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and cardiovascular systems may all begin to malfunction. Dress in warm clothing, layer up; wear gloves, thick socks and a winter cap to retain body heat.

Plan your run so that you may return home easily if your temperature begins to drop at any point. Wearing several layers of lightweight clothing, with compression tops on the bottom layer will insulate your body. As your body temperature drops, breathing may also become difficult. Slow your running pace, and focus on drawing in long, slow breaths through your nose.

Wear a buff to cover your neck and so that you can lift it up to loosely cover your mouth and nose and breathe through the buff to take in warmer air if you need to.

And now here are a few things to consider:

Try running on other surfaces which might be less slippy or hazardous

Pavements, especially ungritted ones can be very slippy, so it might be a good idea to try out different surfaces to run on.  Recently laid snow is usually ok to run on, you just need to be careful where you put your feet, and you will probably get wet feet.

If you think running on the road is too dangerous (it might well be), then you could run on pavements which are in town and are generally gritted or cleared.  Also, in town or built up areas the temperature tends to be warmer than on side streets, so you might find the pavements are less icy in more built up areas.

If the pavements are still too icy, you could consider running on a beach, in a park on the grass or on trail runs in forests.  You could run loops of a park so that you know the area you are running on and you can cut the run short, or do an extra few loops if you fancy it.  The beauty of running in forests or cross country is that the ground underfoot should be softer than on pavements and the up and down terrain usually slows your pace naturally, so you’ll probably be at less risk of falling anyway. (see below for some tips from my Facebook friends)

running icy tips

Is a run on icy surfaces worth it?

Before you go out, check the weather and the surfaces you are going to run on.  Consider if the run you are going to do is worth the risk of injury or worth the hard work you might need to put in to complete it.  If you think it’s not, then give it a miss, go on the treadmill (and try to be optimistic about it) or try something else like swimming or a gym class to get your exercise done.

For those aiming to complete the Marcothon, 5k every day in December, missing a run one day would knock you out of the Marcothon, and I admire anyone who sticks with the Marcothon for the full 31 days!  (although I have to say I’d never do it as I like to have my rest days or options to take days off running – I’d probably only last about 3 days, so there’s not much point in me signing up to it!).

But if you aren’t doing the Marcothon, or even if you are, would it hurt that much if you missed a run because of the ice and cold outside? 

Why not take a bit of time out and do something else?  There’s always other things to do, other types of exercise, or give exercise a miss and see friends and family, do Christmas shopping, do some cooking or baking, be creative, watch Christmas telly /movies, sleep or have a lie in. 🙂

More links:

Running in the dark

Wk48 – Early morning Icy run

Top 10 ways to have a safe trail run

8.5M in the snow,

9.15M in the snow

Wk51 – 5M steady run on treadmill

Wk52 – Last Marathon of 2011

Wk50 – 5.1M outside run (cold!!)

Friday 11th December – 5 mile run

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7 Responses to Running in Icy Conditions

  1. Paul Machin says:

    Try Norway, i have about at least 3-5 months now of ice runs and temperatures below -13,

  2. Paul Machin says:

    I tend not to Layer up to much as i find that no mater what i always sweat plus i am naturally fairly warm so if i slow down the sweat gets really cold, but I have dry clothes ready for when i stop, and quickly change my tops and dry my hair. before driving back.

    I avoid streets when i can, as although they maybe gritted you get complacent and forget to look for black ice, so i go for cross country or trails, as even if its really icy it tends to be lumpy, so if both legs go different ways less chance of me suddenly being able to do the splits!

    If its really cold cover your nose and mouth so the air you breath in is not frozen and damaging your lungs!

    This year i am loving the Nike Element Shield Bottoms they never seem to make me to hot, you can feel the edge of the cold in them but they keep you at a comfy temp, when is really nice,

  3. Pingback: So this is Christmas, and what have we done? | Lorn Pearson Trains…

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