Saturday, January 15, 2011

EDU: Running On Ice

Winter provides some daunting challenges when it comes to exercising, leaving the casual runner with precious little daylight and bone-chilling conditions. As if those two strikes weren't enough, Mother Nature completes her ensemble by casting her sunny glow just long enough to melt snow that swiftly turns into ice when she looks the other way. This is quite a conundrum for the average person, leaving few palatable options. The first option,and by far the most popular is joining a gym for the season. Here you can take spinning classes and drink Margaritas in hot-tubs and never feel drop of discomfort (outside the normal agony of exercise). The other option is HTFU-ing and adapting your running methods to the elements. The following are critical instructions to follow if you wish to keep your fleshy parts intact.

DO NOT: Run After Dusk - All the following tips are useless if you can't see where you are going. Running in the dark is dicey under normal circumstances, and a death wish in the winter. Luckily, days are getting longer now and I don't have to rush home from work and immediately change into my running clothes. I can dilly-dally on my computer for a few minutes and even make a cup of tea beforehand. Much of this depends on your running speed and distance, but if you aren't out the door by 4:30, you should take a raincheck. If this means you have to push your longer runs to the weekend, so be it.

DO: Wear real shoes - I don't have a dog in the race of barefoot running vs. running in shoes (though they look absurd), but I do know that something that professes to feel "just like running barefoot" is not a huge selling point when you are running on shards of ice and sheet-of-glass sidewalks. Do yourself a favor and wear some shoes with traction and protection.

DO NOT: Follow too closely - Ask SS to tell you the story of our bike trail runs and the time I slipped and took him out at the same time because I was running too close to him and have an appalling lack of body control ("MIIIIIIIIIIIIKKKEEE!"). I treat running on ice like I do driving at night and biking on the bike trail: I assume everyone is drunk.  I give people wide berths, and expect the unexpected. If a lady is pushing a stroller, I assume the kid inside of it would like nothing more than to stick out his pudgy foot and trip me up. If an old woman is walking gingerly, I have no choice but to treat it as an act of aggression and preemptively cross the street.

DO: Run in a straight line - Most runners a like Billy in a Family Circus cartoon. They shift and dart all over the damn place. This is fine and dandy for a 5k, but angles and shifting weight is not your friend on an icy sidewalk. This is the hardest part of ice running to master, because it is the most counter-intuitive. Logic says that you should jump from one island of clean pavement to the next, but one of those leaps will be your last. Tis better to maintain a steady pace and a straight line. You will inevitably slip and may even look like a cartoon character in a chase scene, but you will not fall. It's only when you struggle that you fall. When you flail or try to change position or stop that your weight balance is compromised. Once you understand this, your elbows and knees will thank you.

DO NOT: Bother with Hat/Gloves - I know it's freezing out, and I know you think that a hat and gloves are the perfect way to combat this AND tell everyone how much you love Twilight, but resist the urge. Sure your first 5-10 minutes might be unpleasant, but you will quickly equilibrate once you start breaking a sweat. Once this happens, you will have to carry your stylish gloves and hat for the duration of your run. If you are extremely sensitive to cold, I will allow you to wear those 180 earmuff things (ears don't really warm up), but that's it. Anything else you will be cursing inside of twenty minutes.

Well there you have it. With these tips in mind, you can HTFU and save yourself a pretty penny in the process. I'm going on 25 years without a gym membership, and am no worse for wear. Resist!


  1. This is a good post except for a few things. 1: Most importantly, most people don't get out of work early enough to START THEIR RUN at 4:30pm. Also, it's getting dark at 4:30pm for about a month so what do you recommend in that case, not running at all? Talk about HTFUing... Why don't you HTFU and run at night like the real hardmen. 2: Gyms are good when you are cross-training (read: doing things other than running monotonously like a robot). Gyms provide the opportunity to run, bike, lift, swim, do classes, drink alcohol, and all sorts of other fun stuff. 3: Never ever ever ever wear those ear muff things unless you want to look like a complete idiot. 4: thin gloves and hats are fine if it's REALLY cold out, though I agree with you that generally hats are bad a bad idea. 5: I agree with you about the barefoot thing. I want to see more of these barefoot evangelists running in the winter... 6: Definitely do not follow too closely. 7: Interesting thought on straight line. I'm going to try that.

    I say all this as someone who runs outside all year long, in every weather, and at most times of day. I also bike outside. I only say this by way of explaining that people that gym it up don't need to all HTFU...

  2. I'd like to defend the wearing of hats and gloves. For some of us, cold weather feels really cold! You lose 40% of your body heat through your head and 25% through your hands. You can also get frostbite on your ears and fingers. To be safe, wear a hat and gloves - they make really thin, moisture wicking fabrics these days.

    I won't bash you for not wearing a hat and gloves if you won't bash me for wearing them.

  3. I agree with Ann - hat and gloves are fine - if you want them - and if you want to take them off tuck them in your waist line..NEVER carry them! As for running in a straight line - I also disagree - how are you able to dodge icy patches?

    I also think people make too big of a deal out of running like oh you have to have the right gear and the right conditions. Get over it and get outside...the end.

    PS I'd love to hear this sam/mike collision story!