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How to Run in the Snow

Never mind being hesitant about running when it’s cold out, what if there’s snow on the ground? Whether it’s deep powder, slushy snow, or maybe even actual ice, running on snow-covered ground can be a tricky — and slippery — feat. The solutions outlined in this guide will keep your mileage up, providing you with tips and alternatives to running in the snow.

Avoiding the Snow

There are a few options for you that simply avoid trekking out in the snow. While each has its drawbacks, every option also has its own benefits (the most important of which is keeping you dry). If you’re opposed to running in the snow, try one of these alternatives until you find one that suits your running needs best.

Run on a Treadmill

Running on a treadmill is perhaps the most obvious solution. While the nickname “dreadmill” is considered justified by many runners, there are some serious benefits.

Regardless of where you fall within the treadmill-versus-outdoor running debate, treadmills offer stable, dry ground and warm conditions. If running on a treadmill will help you get your miles in, that’s enough justification to use one.

Most treadmills make it tough to do fast workouts, though some do go upwards of 15 miles per hour. Still, if it’s really snowy, even the slowest of treadmills is likely to be faster than you’ll be able to run outdoors.

If you don’t own a treadmill, you can head to a gym in your area. In really bad weather, a line of treadmills can even serve as a likely place to meet a new running friend.

Run on an Indoor Track

If you can find an indoor track near you, it can be another dry-footed alternative to outdoor running. Large universities in regions where it frequently snows are generally equipped with indoor tracks, and many have hours where the facility is open to the public.

While it might get a bit boring, an indoor track offers significant advantages over running in the snow or on a treadmill. Aside from it being dry and warm, an indoor track will let you run faster than on a treadmill or on snowy grounds in cold conditions. Further, while your stride will change slightly on a treadmill, it won’t on the track.

You can also take advantage of knowing the exact distance of each lap and do some speed work. Because running 10 miles on a 200-meter indoor track is 80 laps, it can be nice to raise the quality of your running while lowering the mileage.

A word of caution: The tight turns of an indoor track will take a toll on your body. Ease into training on an indoor track to avoid risking injury.

Outdoors with Ground Cover

There are a few building structures that offer protection from the snow. Parking garages and various types of overhangs are the most prevalent.

Overhangs can sometimes be found at strip malls or high schools, where walkways might be covered. Sometimes there will also be overhangs surrounding athletic stadiums. Wherever the overhang might be, if you can find one,  it could potentially offer a long enough stretch to get some mileage in. The catch might be that you’ll have to turn around many times in a single run. Do what you have to do to get your miles in!

When it comes to parking garages, taller and less-frequented ones are better for training and they are generally safer. If the garage has enough stories, one lap from the bottom level to the top could be upwards of a half mile.

Amazingly True Story

Elevated to just below 6,000 feet, Ifrane is Morocco’s high-altitude training Mecca, much like Boulder, Flagstaff, or Mammoth in the US. In the fall and early winter, hundreds of the country’s best distance and middle-distance runners can be found training there. Because of its altitude and idyllic scenery, athletes often stay even after the weather begins to worsen.

There is a single track — or stade — in Ifrane. When the snow gets deep or it starts to hail, runners swarm the Stade de Ifrane to run back and forth over a 600-meter stretch under an overhang that wraps partway around the stadium. Having to turn around every couple of minutes seems to matter little to the athletes, who are going to get their run in one way or another.

Coping with the Snow

If you don’t want to (or can’t) head inside, there are some outdoor methods of coping with snow-covered ground. The best one for you will depend on your personality, the type of running you’re looking to do, and the type of snow you’re dealing with.

Sometimes when the snow isn’t too deep, the snow can feel a bit sticky. This can actually be a pretty good running surface, except for all-out sprinting. When the snow is slushy, deep, or icy, you’re more likely to run (or slip) into problems. Here are some preventative things you can do to avoid any problems on your run:

Wait for the Streets to be Plowed

Your best bet for running on snow-covered ground is heading for a street or sidewalk that is regularly plowed or shoveled. You might have to compete with more car or pedestrian traffic than usual, but if you have leeway to run at any time of day, you should definitely take advantage of these areas.

The downside is that streets are usually plowed in the morning. If your schedule forces you to run before the streets are plowed or later in the day when it’s snowing hard, you’ll likely be out of luck.

Run in the Car Tracks

If you can’t get to a plowed street or sidewalk, but the snow isn’t too deep, running in the tracks of cars is sometimes an option. The trick is to pick a road that has enough cars travelling on it to pack the snow down, but won’t force you to run in traffic the whole time.

Sometimes cross country ski trails or trails frequented by snowmobiles can also be packed down enough to run on. These options are especially viable in combination with the suggestion below.

Modify or Replace Your Shoes

Certain modifications to running shoes better equip them for the snow. Companies have come out with shoe add-ons, like screw-in snow-spikes and strap-on snow plates, to make running in the snow a lot easier. Spikes aren’t going to let you run in 14 inches of snow, but they might let you run faster and more safely on icy, slushy, or hard-packed snow.

For deeper snow, running-specific snow shoes are also available. They won’t let you run as fast or as easily as normal, but you’ll be able to run and train.

Be Flexible

None of these options will give you your ideal running conditions, so be as flexible as you can. It will often be a judgment call in figuring out how comparable your alternative workout is to your regular routine. Be sure to take in all of the variables, and give yourself the credit owed!

You’ll also need to realize that your body is going to need to make adjustments in unfamiliar conditions. For instance, if you run in deep snow, expect your hip flexors to be more sore than usual. You’ll want to ease into running in the snow, just as you would a new type of training. Running in the snow should never be an all-out loss. You’ll benefit from using different muscles, not to mention the mental toughness gained by putting in good training during a hard winter.

Aside from the cold, running on snow-covered ground presents a whole new set of challenges. Check out this guide to learn how to adapt your run to snowy conditions.
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