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Ask the Expert: How to Run in Icy Conditions

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Ask the Expert: How to Run in Icy Conditions

It seems like with winter running outside, you've got two options: tiptoe gingerly, or fall flat on your back. Patches of ice make for treacherous terrain on your otherwise wonderful route, so we turned to our resident expert Brian at Athletico for some answers. What's the best way to deal with icy running paths? Is there a way to shift our form to avoid the dreaded banana peel slip? 

Says Brian, "There is really no good way to deal with ice. It comes down to physics in terms of whether or not you’re going to slip. Most people, when they’re running long, strike with their heel first, and when you push on something, the ground pushes back on you. So the angle from which you push on the ground, you get a directly opposite push back and normally friction keeps you upright. But the friction on ice is completely different from pavement or asphalt. Rubber grips pavement well, but ice does an effective job of eliminating that friction factor and you end up on your backside."

So without friction, what can you do? 

"The only way to prevent slipping is to come straight down so you don’t have any friction with the ground and so the ground pushes straight back up on you. But, there are two problems with that. One, it's nearly impossible, and two, that's an inefficient running style."

On a run last week, Brian was running along Lakeshore with a friend who mentioned that "shortening stride" has been tossed around as an effective theory on preventing falls. But as Brian says, "that's essentially what stepping straight down is. If you're aware it’s coming up, you can slow your pace and decrease how much you’re hitting on your heel."

Plenty of people turn to Yaktrax or spikes in their shoes, but be wary of that-- that may cause more damage than good. 

"If you have a sharp couple of objects or cleats on the bottom of your shoes, they’re going to grip the ice, but then you’re running on spikes for however many miles and that’s not good for your feet either," says Brian. "Some people say they'll just put one spike on, but then you're putting stress constantly on one pressure point which can lead to a number of problems—plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, puncturing the bottom of your foot, and more."

So if spikes aren't good for you, and hitting on your heel causes you to slip, what can we do? The best thing, Brian says, is to just know your path. Know if it's been cleared, and oftentimes the more popular routes will be better taken care of. The weather keeps less seasoned runners off the roads any way, so make sure you're going well-traveled routes that you know, and keeping an eye out at all times for ice patches.  

Related Topics Ask the Expert, Winter Running
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