As we move into consistent winter running conditions it is easy to forget the hard learned lessons of winters past. To hopefully help speed up this year's learning curve here are the top five things to remember about running on the ice:
Shorten your stride - Shorter steps in icy conditions help prevent slippage in two ways. First, on take off. Shorter steps require less backwards power, which means your toe off motion is less likely to result in your losing traction. Second, on landing. A longer stride often results in your foot landing farther out in front of your body. This can mean that your foot then acts as the tiniest of brakes until your body catches up with your foot position. When on ice this braking motion often equates to runners ending up on the ground.
Roll when (if!) you fall! - Despite our best efforts there will be times when the ice gets the best of us. Nothing can bring runners to the ground faster than a hidden patch of ice. So many times I've been flat on my back before I knew what happened. But, when it's a fall you can see coming, try and roll when you fall. This will help dissipate the impact and not cause all of the force to go into one point (like if you stick out a hand to catch yourself). Pretend you're coming in for a landing with your parachute: same concept!
Spike up early - I can't tell you how many times I've slipped on ice and have Nanospikes in my pack that I haven't donned yet because "it isn't slippery enough." Ultimately it's better to run with spikes on dry pavement than slip and fall on ice because you haven't wanted to stop for safety. Now I treat spikes as an integral part of my winter running outfit, just like gloves.
Adjust your training volume and intensity - This mostly applies early in the season. Running on ice (and snow) requires your little balancing muscles to work much harder than they did previously. Just like the rest of your body, these little guys need some time to adjust to the new stimulus the snow and ice is causing. Help them out by taking some extra rest, backing off mileage a little, or keeping the pace slower until they have time to adjust.
It freezes at sunset - Running in the afternoon in the winter is often a great time because it's light and temperatures are the warmest of the day. If it's a sunny day the ice and snow melts and runs across previously dry segments of the trail or sidewalk. When that sun sets early it's easy to forget that that fresh water on the sidewalk is now treacherous ice, especially in shady areas. Beware!
Running in winter can be magical. Running down a freshly snowed-on trail illuminated by the bright winter sun is wonderful. But just like running in any season, there are hazards to be aware of. Don't let that ice bring you down this year!