Running in the snow - how hard can it be?

Posted in The Sweat by Matt Ward on Fri 08 Jan '10


You might think that running in the snow is hard work but good fun. It can also be dangerous, with all of those hidden dips and rocks nicely concealed by fresh, white powder. Funnily enough Ironmate Mark Kleanthous states that the deep powdery stuff is safer that the hard-pack…

From snow conditions, kit selection, injury prevention and training advice, Kleanthous lays down his thoughts in an interesting and compelling manner:

Snow is on the ground outside don’t let this stop you losing fitness.
It can add variety to your training. First you have to know a little about snow & ice?

Fresh Snow
Fresh snow can even out the terrain & hidden dangers with snow drifts and one second you are in 5cm of snow then the next 25 cm! Did you know that generally the safest type of snow to run on is fresh snow; it is soft and will absorb shock but also covers up obstructions such as stones branches tree roots and uneven ground? If you slip or fall the soft snow should prevent you from hurting yourself.

Old snow now re-frozen
2-5 cm of packed snow from the previous day that runner’s biker’s walker’s horses have trodden down will be compact & solid in texture. This type is very dangerous and you can easily turn your ankle or slip or a foot can get stuck for a split second and injure yourself.

Frozen on the top snow
The worst type of snow looks pretty to look at because its shiny snow that has melted and frozen overnight looks wet but is the most lethal. Rest up and live to fight another day because an injury may last a lifetime. Motivated athletes who find this impossible then look for some crunchy white snow if it means doing multiple loops.

Snow tips
Keep warm enjoy the experience concentrate and don’t over do it. Don’t assume you know what’s underneath you only need to be a few inches out from where you thought that covered up branch is, an accident to waiting to happen. The snow can reflect light and make it difficult to look directly at the snow; this can make it difficult to find your footing and judge where the surface is to plant your foot.

Running in the snow tips
Make sure you have suitable shoes for the conditions. Imagine you are running across tyres (stepping into each tyre) push off from the toes upwards and forwards this reduces the chances of slipping. Run with your thighs not calf muscles so if you need to react and regain your balance your lower legs will be less fatigued and more able to react. Don’t use cotton socks because as soon as they are wet your feet cold choose a dri-fit or outdoor

Running in the snow is very demanding and strenuous like running on soft sand on the beach. Each time a foot lands it presses down the snow and extra energy is used up to allow us to lift the leg and propel us forward. Our strides are shorter so will need to take more steps for the same distance.


If using a pedometer expects to take up to 20 more strides a minute to cover the same ground (this all depends on depth of snow, going up or down hill and your running style). A word of warning running in the snow will take you longer to cover the same distance. So don’t assume your know what’s under foot, be extra careful that that hidden root you always have to skip over or manoeuvre round may still be ahead of you.

Running in the snow
Can be a great workout because each time you land in deep snow you have to work harder than normal. This is far more run strength specific than hitting the gym. Don’t forget to use your arms for balance and help with knee lift out of the snow. Have a relaxed upper body and swing your arms smoothly back and forwards being relaxed, this allows correct push off. Being tense when you come across slippery white snow/ice will end in you slipping over!

See below my tips to help you run safely and comfortably in the snow. Off road shoes for grip are essential. If you have to use road shoes realise they are going to be covered in snow so avoid the types that have mesh on the front as allows the snow and water to get in.

One of the most important things is wearing the right type of socks avoid cotton that get wet and will keep your toes cold and damp. Choose instead some dri-fit or an outdoor wicking style, there are even some water proof socks like sealskins and if you don’t like their texture wear a thin pair underneath but you will have to alter the shoes laces to get your feet to fit as they are a little bulkier. I often carry an extra pair of dry socks which you can change into.


Clear or tinted glasses – stops the glare that shines off the snow or if it snows it can be very uncomfortable on the eyes without protection from your favourite shades.

For long runs carry a drink to keep hydrated and even a tin foil blanket I have only used one once when a runner went into shock from breaking their ankle. We can lose up to 40% of the heat from our head and 10% from our hands so you must cover the skin to keep the skin warm and prevent frostbite & chapping.

A thermal hat that is fleeced lines or scull cap with a gore waterproof type layer on the outside is essential. If you start to over heat you can always take it off or unzip your top a little. Gloves are also essential to keep your hands warm, avoid the types that make your hands sweaty as this can soon chill your fingers

Wear several layers on your body, the outer layer should be water proof or the very least wind proof. A zip helps should you get too warm, some tops have arm pit zips to allow extra ventilation. Your legs will be working harder than normal so you should only need one layer on your legs.

Carry a few sizes of plasters, due to running differently its not uncommon for skin to run as you continually lift each foot out of the snow. Carry your mobile phone and a gel or sports bar just in case.

Leave a message where you have gone and your planned route and don’t deviate no matter how tempted you might be.

Injury prevention tips
Land on the mid foot then with the heel. Landing on the heel on slippery icy snow is an accident waiting to happen as it’s a matter of when not if your heel will slip forward

North facing hills can be more treacherous and icy. Along some roads the conditions of the pavement can be completely opposite on opposite sides of the road. North facing can be frozen icy and dangerous while the south facing pavement can be soft snow and safer to run on. Train at the warmest part of the day. Temperatures drop in the afternoons then plummets at night so don’t venture too far from home.

Running multiple laps you will soon discover that as the ground freezes an earlier lap was crunchy now it’s like an ice rink. Then its time to go home. Watch where you are going using your eyes to constantly look ahead then in front of you for slippery spots and exposed hidden obstructions.

When planning a run session in snow then reduce the time in training by 25% because running in the snow is very demanding on muscles joints and ligaments and can cause an injury.

A what if session should be a safe alternative workout
Unable to train outside safely due to the snow and ice here are some sessions to consider. Off Road Mountain biking can use up to 25% more calories per hour so a planned 100 minute road ride can be substituted for a 75 minute mountain bike ride.

Don’t underestimate a long walk in the snow it’s a great fat burning stamina work out and especially for those of you that find it hard to keep your heart rate below 70% when training .

Stretch more after a warm bath.

Improve your core fitness with a Swiss ball.

Ironmate Mark once completed a Triple Ironman in the snow!

Reactions so far
  1. alpenglowbc Jan 9, 06:15 AM

    Living in the snowy Sierra Nevada in California has its challenges for running in snow. I’m not sure if they are available in the UK, but I’ve had good luck using Microspikes by Kahtoola, A far more affordable option that works even better are screw shoes, By the way, great website! Thanks.

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