Ronan Mac Con Iomaire has some much needed and practical advice for all of us facing into more ice, more snow and more slippery winter running.
6:00am. It was pitch-dark as I headed out for my morning run. With a luminescent glow from the moon, the head-torch was almost unnecessary running down the little road from my house. As I came to the main road, however, I hit some black ice. My feet went from under me, I came down heavily on my hip and slid across the main road on my side, ending up in a ditch. I stood up, shook myself down and kept going, only feeling the shock and pain from the fall a few hours later.
That was last January, in the west of Ireland. Here, where buffeting winds and rain are the norm, we tend to be ill-prepared for cold weather. Snow settling on the ground is a novelty, or at least it used to be, as for the second time in a year, ice and snow has turned Ireland into a dangerous ice rink for a nation of people unaccustomed to the work of Jack Frost.
Given that our level of preparedness for a freeze is little short of abysmal, on both a national and personal level, it was of little surprise that local authorities, and runners, all over Ireland were caught out once again recently by the first cold snap of this winter. Roads were treacherous, footpaths even more so, and with further icy spells promised for a nation used to mild winters, it’s about time we faced up to running on ice.
The basic advice given to anyone contemplating running on ice is “don’t do it.” Unfortunately, many people don’t have this choice. They are either training for a spring marathon, have a last chance to settle a year-long score during a race over the Christmas period, or they just go nuts if they can’t get out running. So what can you do? Well, the first option is to stay off the slippery surface (and more importantly, stay away from cars sharing the same slippery surface), and get on a treadmill. Many runners, however, have no access to a treadmill, or can’t afford gym membership, or despise running on a twenty inch width of rubber.
The truth is that it’s actually difficult to beat the exhilaration of outdoor running, and the cold, crisp air of winter filling your lungs is an added bonus. The prime danger is slipping and falling, so avoiding this should be your number one focus. A practical way of doing this is to run during the day, as you have a much better chance of spotting black ice and avoiding it, although northern hemisphere runners find daylight hours pretty scarce in the bowels of winter. If you are running at night or in early morning, wear a good head-torch and reflective clothing.
Mostly though, there just isn’t any getting around icy stretches. What you need is footwear to combat the ice. There are plenty of choices out there, starting with the homemade option of inserting screws in the soles of your running shoes. It’s best not to sacrifice your brand-new €120 shoes freshly purchased at the last marathon expo, or for that matter, a pair of racing flats with a sole so thin that the screws could screw you! Most runners have an old pair of shoes somewhere in the back of the wardrobe and they are your best bet for some winter DIY. Another homemade option I’ve heard of is dissembling a cheese grater and sticking it to the sole of your running shoes, but personally, it doesn’t strike me as a very Gouda idea…
(Sorry Ronan, I couldn’t resist! – Ed.)
Personally, I pull a pair of Stabilicers over my regular running shoes when the weather turns icy. Other than the fact that I sound like a horse when I’m running on thawed road, I find them great. I’ve run up steep hills coated in ice and not lost traction. Stabilicers are made of rubber, with little metal cleats that bite into the ice, coupled with an aggressive rubberized grip. Another popular pull-over solution for running on ice are YakTrax, which uses a metal coil rather than cleats. The great thing about these two solutions is that you can pull them over any running shoe (or regular shoes for that matter), and you don’t have to sacrifice a pair by destroying them with screws.
The other thing you have to consider is clothing. Cold weather is where technical, wicking clothing comes into its own, as a sweat-drenched cotton t-shirt under a running jacket can get very cold very quickly in sub-zero temperatures. Different clothing requirements are needed for different levels of cold, but in Ireland, a tight-fitting base layer and a warm long-sleeved top above that will usually suffice. Any breeze will bring a wind-chill factor, however, and a light jacket above the other two layers should be enough to counter this.
Shorts are hard men, or for those too bashful to wear tights. Wear tights, it’s ok, we’re not looking. As for the extremities, ears, fingers and toes can get pretty chilly, so gloves and hats are a must, plus thick socks to counter some of the non-existant uppers on lighter running shoes.
Looking out at the cold weather from a snug, warm house can turn anyone off a wintry run, but by the time you get back to the house after a nice, brisk five miler, you’ll realise that there are few runs more satisfying than a run through the crispness of deepest winter