Running On Ice – A Guide

Abelone Lyng using the Artic Talon by inov-8

Depending on where you live, the arrival of Autumn and Winter can put fear in many a runner. Snow and more importantly ice, are not a runner’s friend.

I get no traction cause I’m running on ice

It’s taking me twice as long

I get a bad reaction cause I’m running on ice

Billy Joel – Running On Ice

Imagine a scene, the snow is on the ground, the sky is blue, and you just can’t wait to get out. Within 10-strides you are on your butt… ice was under that wonderful white powder.

However, it doesn’t need to be that way. It’s perfectly safe to run in winter and contrary to what you may think, it’s fun and exciting. Read an article HERE about preparing for winter.

Firstly, snow is fine to run on and in all honesty, a good trail running shoe with a good aggressive outsole will work fine, providing no ice is underneath. Look at shoes that perform well in mud and they will provide great grip in soft snow. Think about how you will keep your feet warm? A Merino sock is essential as they still keep feet warm even when wet. However, if you anticipate feet to be constantly wet, the use of a barrier sock in addition to a Merino sock is a great idea, SealSkinz being a good example. Importantly, take into consideration that your winter shoe may need to be a half size larger to accommodate for extra sock width.

The use of a gaiter is a good idea as this may stop or delay snow going in the shoe around the ankle. As an example, inov-8 produce specific fixture points and gaiters on many of the shoes they make.

Accept that in snow you will move slower and that runs will be more demanding. You naturally get a harder work out, so now is not the time to try speed or intervals.

Fresh snow is great to run on providing it is not too deep. Constantly sinking into deep fresh snow is exhausting, look for footprints or flattened snow, this will make moving easier. If you do wish to run in soft and deep snow, snow shoeing is a great option.

Think about when you run, early morning and evening you run the risk of more ice, then you need to consider the information below. Ice forms around dawn and late evening, when temperatures are typically drop. The ground temperature causes precipitation to freeze, thus creating ice. Of course, some places have permanent ice due to consistent sub-zero temperatures, in many ways, this makes shoe choice easier as you know what to expect. Darkness can make ice and particularly black ice difficult to see, so, be careful. A good headlamp is essential and a waist/ chest lamp in conjunction with a headlamp really makes viewing the ground optimal.

Trail is often better than the road, so if you have the chance, use trails. Trail has a naturally rough surface making traction and the risk of slipping reduced.

Snow running is a little like running in sand. You will use more muscles, get fatigued in a different way, you will use your core more and mentally you will be constantly engaged, it’s difficult to just switch off when snow or ice running.

Needless to say, layer clothing (article HERE) and make sure you use long tights and higher socks. You do not want to get snow burn!

Once snow becomes packed down, hard and frozen, you need to re-think and consider ICE running.

ICE

inov-8 Artic Talon winter shoe has 14 studs for grip.

Have you ever been running, hit some ice and had that feeling of the world going into slow motion? Your core engages, your arms go high, your feet go in different directions and somehow, you stop yourself from falling… Or you hit the deck! It’s an awful feeling and one that stops you in your tracks forcing you to move at a snail pace afterwards. It doesn’t need to be like that though.

You have 3 options when it comes to running outdoors in ice conditions:

  1. You stay inside and do not run opting for treadmill, gym, cross training or other exercise options.
  2. You use your normal run shoes and are prepared with the addition of nano or micro spikes.
  3. You use specific winter shoes with studs OR you add studs to your run shoes. 

Option 1 is easy – a treadmill is safe if not a little boring and yes, cross training is a great addition to any training plan. However, you do not want to be indoors all the time.

Option 2 is a difficult one from the perspective of I would only use nano or micro spikes if I was expecting the road or trails to be mostly runnable BUT there may be a chance of ice. The main reason for this, although these spikes work great, they are not ideal if used for prolonged periods of time as they are not as comfortable. So, these spikes tend to be in my run pack and then used for short periods of time as and when road or trail conditions dictate.

Option 3 is dictated by permanent ice on roads and trails and quite simply it makes shoe choice easy. I personally dislike that transition period hovering around zero when ice may or may not be around. Give me cold temperatures and ice any day over the question mark conditions. With ice everywhere I use specific winter shoes that have studs embedded into the outsole that create grip and provide security. Once you have used a specific shoe like this, you will never go back.

TECHNIQUE

Like anything, you need to learn to run on ice and the biggest tip I can give is, trust the shoe! If you are using a winter shoe with studs or a normal run shoe with nano or micro spikes, accept that it will do the job and trust them!

Body weight and force is a friend with ice. Don’t fear it and hold back, run with force and really plant your foot. Pressure (with body weight) sticks the studs into the ice and that is what gives you the grip.

A shorter stride, firm foot placement and confidence.

If possible, try to land on the middle of the foot, this will allow more of the outsole to have contact with the ground, again, this gives more grip and security.

A shorter stride and higher cadence works in most scenarios and look ahead, typically 2-3 meters and plan a route.

Going uphill the front of the outsole will be used, run strong and forceful. Downhill, trust the shoe and try to place your foot flat optimising the whole of the outsole and its studs and/ or nano/micro spikes.

Accept that ice running is tiring, many consider it to be harder on the body even in comparison to road running.

PRODUCTS TO HELP YOU RUN ON ICE

MINI NANO or MICRO CRAMPONS

Kahtoola Nano Spike ©khatoola

These are low-profile ice spikes (varying sizes and types) which enable you to run or walk on slippery frozen surfaces with confidence. Typically, they have an elastomer harness that stretches over any run shoe and they come in sizes, just like socks.

Kahtoola Nano Spikes offer studs that are very similar to specific winter run shoes like those listed below. They have 6 studs at the front and 4 at the rear. They come in XS, S, M, L and XL. I personally go down one size when using any of the ‘add-on’ spikes as I feel that they are more secure. 

Yak Trax offer several options and the ‘Pro’ is recommended for running as the ice grips have stronger, shaped-edge, coils and a retaining strap which goes over the top of the footwear for extra security.

Nortec are specialists with ‘add-on’ spikes and they have three distinct models. The Corsa is very much like the Khatoola spikes with a 6/4 configuration. The Trail has spikes just at the front and rear and are more aggressive. The Nordic are ideal in more mountain and severe environments when one is encountering Alpine conditions.

Nortec Nordic.

Snowline like Nortec produce many ‘add-on’ crampons, a personal favourite is the Chainsen Pro.

WINTER RUN SHOES

VJ Sport Xante has 5mm lugs and 20 carbon steel studs.

Specific winter run shoes offer the best run, the most secure grip and the most comfortable ride when running on ice. Many brands produce specific shoes as part of their range to offer an excellent winter running experience.

Karin Franck-Nielsen using the Asics Gel-Fujisetsu 3 GTX

Top tips: Low temperatures don’t go well with a narrow-fit shoe so a roomy toe box may be worth considering. Also, ice running is tiring, more cushioning may well prove to be advantageous. Finally, you may wish to wear two pairs of socks and/ or barrier socks, so, keep this in mind, sometimes a half or full size bigger may be a consideration BUT make sure you try the shoes on with the socks you expect to wear.

Read a guide HERE.

Recommendations:

VJ Xante

VJ Sport Xante is a cushioned shoe and very comfortable for longer runs. It has a 10mm drop and medium fit. Cushioning is 10mm/20mm with 5mm lugs and 20 carbon steel studs.

Arctic Talon inov-8

inov-8 Artic Talon has a 4mm drop, 7mm lugs, great cushioning with 17.5mm at the front and 21.5mm at the rear, excellent weight, a more precision fit and 14 studs that are longer than those offered by VJ and Icebug.

Abelone in Artic Talon, Ian in VJ Sport Xante
Newrun by Icebug

Icebug NewRun BUGrip GTX – includes a BOA adjustment which works really well in cold conditions when gloves could hinder adjusting laces, they have 17 steel studs that adapt to the surface, a wider toe box, 7mm drop and good cushioning.

Other recommendations:

Vibram Artic Grip has no studs.

MAKING YOUR OWN ICE SHOES

One option is to make your own winter shoes. Maybe you have a favourite trail or road shoe that you’d like to adapt? I’d recommend that you use a shoe that has seen some use, say 2 to 300-miles. If you were using a new pair of shoes, it would make better sense you purchased a specific shoe as listed above. However, this way you breathe life into a shoe that would soon not be used due to wear.

Purchase Hex Head Screws from a DIY store. Be careful on size, typically 3/8 or 1/4 is best.

Screw the shoes into the outsole of the shoe using an electrical screwdriver, makes things much easier. I suggest you mark the areas with a pen first. Think about foot placement and where you want grip. Ideally 10 at the front and 6-8 at the rear.

Tighten the screw into the outsole until the head is flush with the shoe. The head of the screw provides the traction. Be careful not to screw too far and go through the shoe and into the insole.

Job done.

Elite runner, Jeff Browning wrote and article on this.

Jeff Browning adapted his Altra shoes for ice running. Image ©jeffbrowning

*From experience, I do feel that a hex screw does not give as much grip or confidence as a specific winter stud. Also, you will find that you will need to replace them regularly.

CONCLUSIONS

Snow running is great fun, provides a great workout and provides a great change from your typical Spring and Summer runs.

Ice running is often feared, but if you follow the tips above, there is no need to fear the conditions. If you have a specific product that will provide grip, that can be a Nano Spike, a specific winter run shoe or even a *homemade run shoe, then you can be confident that you will have grip.

Only you know your needs.

If ice running is something you will do only now and again, I recommend using a product like the Khatoola Nano Spike for roads and trails with ice. If heading off-road where ice will be mixed with snow, a more aggressive spike such as those by Nortec or Snowline would be better.

If snow and ice running is going to be a day-to-day occurrence, investing in a specific winter shoe is a great choice. The comfort levels and grip are considerably better.

Have confidence and enjoy the running.

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3 thoughts on “Running On Ice – A Guide

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