Start Training Now

You have a big race coming up, and a training plan that’s maybe 20 weeks. When should you start training? Should you count back 20 weeks from the race to start?

When was the last time you made it through a training cycle without something interfering with your training – injury, illness, life, loss (temporary) of motivation? Chances are rarely, if ever.

Then, what do you do? You could double up to make up for missed days or try to cram three weeks into two. That only increases the risk of further illness or injury. Maybe you go into the race underprepared. This also can lead to injury, an unenjoyable experience, and much longer recovery. Perhaps you adjust your time goals or, even skip your goal race as a last resort.

A better approach? Don’t wait. Start training NOW! Give yourself extra time to:

  • Take and come back from time off;
  • Adapt to increasing training volume and intensity;
  • Spend more time working on weaknesses; and
  • If all goes well, get into even better shape.

StartTrainingNowI know the idea of a longer training plan may not sound appealing. However, adding time to your training plan can reduce stress by allowing you to take a more relaxing and flexible approach.

Stretch out the start of training or the biggest ramp up period. Take four weeks to build go through three weeks of training progression, for example. This allows for greater adaptation, and reduces the risk of injury and psychological burn out.

Take an extra easy or rest day during the biggest ramp up period. This also allows for greater adaptation, and reduces the risk of injury and psychological burn out.

Break away from your plan for a bit to give extra focus on your weaknesses, the things that are limiting your improvement.

If it goes well and you avoid significant time off, you can repeat peak load (volume and/or intensity) training an extra week or two, or spend more time working on your weaknesses. This will get you into even better shape, and better solidify your fitness.

Currently (May, 2018), I’m on a multi-year plan to run Boston in 2020. This is allowing me time to gradually build from running weekly mileage in the teens last year, to the 60s and 70s I’ll want to hit my marathon goals. I don’t have to rush my training progression. I don’t have to force training when my body is telling me to back off. And, it’s giving me time to be able to get a lot of repetition of both the desired distance and intensity training. I know the more training I can put in at those peak levels, the better my race will be.

Train smart. See you on the roads and trails.

Adam
http://www.runuphillracing.com/

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Benefits of downhill training.

bDown hills. They pound the quads and stress the knees. Most runners seem to dislike down hills (even many of my trail running friends). However, downhill running can build strength and endurance, and make you more efficient, even if you only race flat roads.

Dirt road downhill

Steep downhill

Another piece of The Wall
The wall, late race fatigue, traditionally is blamed on low glycogen (blood sugar). That idea came about before the advent of easily portable calories and fully stocked aid stations every mile. Sometimes forgotten is that muscle fatigue is another big cause of the wall, late race slowing. Eccentric contractions, the type prominent with downhill running, are a big cause of that fatigue.

Muscles are at their strongest when they are shortening. For example, when you do a leg press or extension, the bulge and definition you might see is from the shortening of your quads. Eccentric contractions are when your muscles work while lengthening. This happens when you land. Your quads work to stabilize and absorb impact while your knees bend, while your quads are lengthening. Even the most efficient runners have some eccentric contractions on flat roads. This is a major factor in late race muscle fatigue, and why, for example, it hurts to walk down stairs after a big race.

Downhill running exaggerates the impact of landing, the eccentric stress. Thus, training downhill is a great way to build eccentric strength and condition your legs to handle the impact in longer races, and to reduce late race fatigue.

Downhill running also magnifies flaws in your stride. Inefficiencies that you may not notice on flats or up hills are brought out when running downhill. Improving your downhill stride will make you more efficient all around.

Another benefit of downhill training is to improve your leg speed. A faster leg turnover can be easier to do on downhills.

Downhill Training
For most runners, downhill training should be added fairly early in the training cycle, after you have a few weeks of running on your legs, but before start adding a lot of intensity and other stress. The stress, the resulting soreness, so is likely to disrupt a rigid training schedule. You might want to consider adding a few weeks to your training plan for this.

To start, try training downhill every 1-2 weeks. It doesn’t take a lot of downhill training to adapt. It’s likely you’ll be extremely sore after the first downhill session, but this will lessen and then go away with subsequent sessions. Once you no longer have significant soreness after a downhill session, change to a maintenance mode where you train downhill every 2-3 weeks. This can continue until you start your taper

Downhill training is best done where you can get a good pace going. I like to do this on moderate to very steep, dirt or paved roads, or smooth trails, with good footing. This allows me to open up my pace and get some good quad pounding. If it’s too steep and/or technical, where you have to slow down and alter your stride, you lose some of the eccentric stress.

You want to get 10-20 minutes of cumulative downhill. One of my favorite nearby places to do this is on Lookout Mountain Road, Golden. There, I’ll run up the Chimney Gulch trail, ~1.5mi (700’, 9%) from the lower road crossing to Windy Saddle, then down the road, ~2.5mi (5%). https://goo.gl/maps/V4wWu6TfMXq

If you can’t find a long hill, you can do repeats on a shorter hill. Here are some Denver area hills that are good for downhill training:

  • I70 frontage road, Genesee – Golden.
  • Kerr Gulch, Evergreen.
  • Grapevine Rd, between Genesee and Idledale.
  • Oh My God/Two Brothers Road, Idaho Springs.
  • I-70 bike path: Loveland Ski – Bakerville, Silverplume – Georgetown.
  • Witter Gulch, Evergreen.
  • Magnolia Road, Boulder.
  • Sunshine Canyon, Boulder.
  • Repeats of the service road at Lakewood’s Green Mtn
  • Repeats at Bluffs Regional Park in Lone Tree. From the lot, stay left, clockwise. Jog up the long hill to the top. Continuing W, run the long (~1km) downhill. Jog back up the way you came. Repeat the same hill, or run hard down to the start (~0.45mi).
  • Repeats of dam roads at Bear Creek Lake Park, Cherry Creek, Chatfield.

How to run downhill efficiently
This is not a how-to article, and it’s hard to teach in writing, but here are some tips:

  • Focus on lifting your feet, not putting them down (they’ll come down on their own). Imagine you’re running on hot coals to keep your foot strike light and quick.
  • Lift your heals behind you, like butt kickers. Where it’s not too steep, you want to paw back against the ground. The steeper and more technical it gets, the less the amplitude of the paw back and butt kick.
  • Keep your body in alignment, heals, hips, chest/shoulders. Don’t lean back.

Here are some tips and drills to help with your downhill form:

  • Downhill butt kickers. Do this on a gradual hill. Exaggerate your heel lift in back up to your butt. This will help with your paw back, which reduces braking.
  • Run downhill with loose shoes, first with a normal stride, then doing butt kickers. Pay attention to whether your feet are pulling back into the heel of the shoe or you’re jamming your toes. The goal is to pull back.
  • Downhill striders – short, quick strides, paw back.
  • Run with a pack loose around your shoulders, with some amount of weight (e.g., a filled bladder). Practice leaning back to feel the pack pull away from you, and forward to feel it pushing you. You want it to rest lightly on your back, not pulling away from you, and only lightly pushing.

In 2004 (?), I did a snowshoe race that  finished with a 5mi, 2,500’ descent, mostly on a packed ski run with good footing. I was in a fierce battle for the lead, so I went all out, averaging 5:00/mi for the downhill. The tails of my snowshoes hit my butt with almost every stride. While my butt ended up black & blue, my quads did not get that sore.

Stories and interviews of champion runners on downhill training:
Camille Herron (world record 12:42 at the 2017 Tunnel Hill 100)https://www.polar.com/blog/camille-herron-uses-sports-science-to-run-farther-and-faster/
http://www.roadtrailrun.com/2017/11/a-world-record-racer-story-camille.html

Nick Clark (15:44 at Western States)
https://activeataltitude.com/interview-with-nick-clark-2010-review-and-prospects-for-2011/

The Folly of Mileage Goals

CalendarThis is what I sometimes call the Silly Season – where people report their annual mileage (and elevation) as if it matters. It doesn’t. Volume does certainly matter – running 2,000 miles/year will likely make you a better runner than running only 1,000 miles, all else being equal. However, it depends on how you get there. Miles/elevation are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. It’s what those totals are made up of that matters more than the totals themselves.

Mileage totals should be a byproduct of your training. Train to get faster, you’re A races, your time goals. Let the miles accumulate naturally, a byproduct of a sensible training program.

Here are some principles to guide you, and things to be aware of when tracking miles:

  • Increase your volume, and intensity, gradually. Don’t rush to meet mileage targets if your body isn’t ready.
  • Stress is cumulative. Pushing yourself far and/or hard may feel good for a while, but repetitive overstress and under rest will lead to injury and illness.
  • Include variety, in speed and terrain. Don’t pad your totals with easy, flat miles, when what you need is speed and/or hills. Total heart beats might be a better measure of training volume/stress (don’t rely on any single measure).
  • Include breaks and downtime in your training. It’s important to include some off or low stress time within a training cycle to let your body catch up, and between cycles to better recover before ramping it back up again. Don’t neglect important down time to meet mileage goals. Remember, stress is cumulative.
  • Listen to your body. When you’re sick, beginning to feel a potential injury coming on, stressed, fatigued, hit a plateau, etc., back off to let your body recover and refresh, rather than pushing through to hit mileage targets.
  • Don’t add an extra run, or a few extra miles, just to meet an artificial mileage target. Run them only if they value to your speed and endurance, without overly risking illness and injury. Use mileage targets to motivate you – to get you out the door when you’re feeling lazy – but don’t become slaves to them.

If you have 2018 mileage goals, write them down, then put them away and don’t think about them again until the end of the year. After your race and time goals are past, and after some recovery/down time, then go back and look at your annual goal. See if you’re within reach of your goal, or any milestones. Within reach means it’s OK to push yourself a bit, but don’t overextend yourself to the point where you risk injury, continued improvement, burn out, and your next years’ goals.

The mileage, and components thereof, are a means to an end, and should not be an end unto itself.

Train smart. Run happy. See you on the trails.

Adam

Injuries – a philosophical pondering

When we get injured, it’s often easy to point to a specific cause, e.g., overtraining, speed without enough warm up, twisting your ankle on a rock. However, maybe those causes and the injuries are just the manifestation of deeper meanings.

Sometimes, your body, the universe, etc., sends you signals that you need to back off, not press so hard so quickly, or that your priorities are out of whack. Sometimes, we miss those early signals, or choose to ignore them. Perhaps, when you get sick or injured, that’s your body’s way of shouting, “PAY ATTENTION IDIOT. You didn’t listen earlier. Now I’m going to make you listen!”

Next time you get sick or injured in the middle of a training cycle, after your anger and frustration settles, take a deep breath, step back, and contemplate your whole life. Ask yourself:

  • What else is going on in my life?
  • What/who is really important?
  • What/who have I been neglecting?

Then, before you get back to training, look for ways to rebalance your life, your priorities. Training, life, should be sustainable. There are times when it helps for life to get out of balance; e.g., when you have a child, finals week, very brief periods of training. However, running is just running, it’s not life (unless you’re a pro). In order to maintain a long term, sustainable, and healthy relationship with running, I think it’s important to keep it in perspective and life in balance.

So, before you get sidelined, step back, take a few deep breaths, see how running fits in your life – whether it’s in balance, or crowding out other important things. Listen for subtle messages before they start screaming at you.

 Have fun. Train smart. Stay healthy.

Muscle Cramping

I recently listened to a very good podcast (https://soundcloud.com/user-562497687/fast-talk-ep-26-busting-myths-about-cramping) on muscle cramping. From the website, “For decades (almost a century, in fact), we’ve been told that cramping is caused by electrolyte imbalance or bad hydration. But new science suggests that this probably isn’t why you cramp during exercise. So why do you cramp? It all comes down to something called altered neuromuscular control.” Briefly, fatigue is the main component. However, it’s more complex than that (as with most things).

The podcast is long, 70 minutes, but is both informative and entertaining. It gets deep and technical at times, but they do a good job at bringing it back to an easily understandable lay level. I encourage you to listen. However, it you don’t want to, or as a preview, here’s a synopsis and my take-aways.

Muscle cramps defined – A muscle that contracts without relaxing. Cramping is a syndrome that can have multiple causes.

Altered Neuromuscular Control

Historically, the theory that cramping is due to electrolyte imbalance and dehydration, comes out of observations from workers on the Hoover dam, and coal shovelers in old steamships. That became the predominate belief for endurance athletes too. It wasn’t until the 1980s that scientists started to look at cramping.

Ironically, it was attempts to prove the electrolyte/hydration theory that led to the altered neuromuscular control theory. Sampling of athletes in competitions found no difference in electrolyte balances or plasma levels between cramping and non-cramping athletes. Cramping almost always happens at the latter stages of races, often just before or after the finish, another strong sign that fatigue is the key factor. Also, questions of athletes showed that those who were injured, sick, or fatigued (i.e., not adequately tapered) going into the events were more likely to get cramps.

These types of observational studies seem to be the best for studying cramping. It’s hard to study cramping in the lab because electrically induced cramps are not the same as cramping during exercise.

There are two key organs that control the contraction and relaxation of muscles. The muscle spindle organ excites, or contracts the muscle. The golgi tendon organ relaxes the muscle. Muscle fatigue can cause the spindle to send excess signals, and the golgi tendon to send fewer. This imbalance can cause twitching or cramping.

Not all fatigue is equal. Cramping tends to happen when competing at a higher level, or in different conditions (e.g., racing in a hot spring race when you’ve trained in the cold, or racing hills when you’ve trained mostly flats) than which you are trained. Cramping tends to happen at the latter stages or after the race. Intensity. It’s also more likely in the early season, when you are racing at intensity before you have adequately trained at intensity.

Other factors that contribute to cramping:

  • Pre race muscle damage, such as from an injury or inadequate taper. This can be tested with high creatine kinase (CK) levels, which indicate muscle damage.
  • Not feeling well, which can lead to early fatigue.
  • Heat and humidity may be a factor, but only because they lead to early fatigue. There are no studies that show a correlation between heat and cramping. Cramping can happen in cold too.
  • Males are more likely to cramp than females. Older athletes are more likely to cramp than younger ones. The reasons are unknown.
  • Certain medications can contribute to cramping, e.g., statins and Beta2Agonists. Also, some underlying medical conditions, e.g., hypothyroidism.
  • Weakness in supporting muscles; e.g., lower back, core, abductors and adductors.
  • Family history of cramping. People tend to have different cramping thresholds. There may be a genetic component.

Other interesting info on cramping. Camping is more common on muscles that cross two joints; e.g., calf, hamstring. Cramping happens when muscles are in a shortened, contracted state; i.e., when the spindles are engaged. So, cramping can occur after a race, for example, when you bend your leg while sitting.

Repeated cramping may indicate some underlying medical or physical issues. In that case, it might be worth getting a CBC blood test and consulting a physician, one who is familiar with endurance athletes.

How to Prevent Cramping

The best way to avoid cramping is to train, to be adequately trained for the race and intensity you are planning to do. There are not magic bullets. While most speed workouts are done when relatively fresh, you should also add Intensity when you are fatigued. This will prepare you to push through the latter stages of a marathon, or to make that finishing kick without cramping.

Back in the day, one of my favorite ultra workouts was to run up Waterton Canyon to the Platte and back, ~31mi, along the northern end of the Colorado Trail. Towards the end of the run, coming back down the canyon, I would run progressively harder the last few miles, sometimes hitting 6:00 for the final almost flat mile.

Add strength training. Stronger muscles better resist fatigue and cramping. Strength training doesn’t necessarily have to involve weights or a gym. Plyometrics, or quick, explosive moves, such as box jumps, jumping rope, or 6-10 second hill sprints.

Don’t make your first race of the season your key race. Do some earlier, shorter, high intensity races, to prepare you for your big race.

Vary your stride. This is, perhaps, the biggest reason why trail running is easier on your body than road running.

What to do if you cramp

If you do get a muscle cramp, don’t try to run through it. That is likely to make it worse. Instead, you should slow down or stop. Muscle twitching may be an early warning sign of impending cramping.

Stretch, longer stretches. The initial stretch may activate the spindle, making it feel worse. If you hold it, typically longer than 10-20 seconds, the golgi tendons will activate allowing the muscle to relax and lengthen; i.e., settling into a stretch.

Put pressure on the golgi tendon cluster, jam your thumb into and vigorously massage. This is a theory, it hasn’t been shown in studies, but seems to be effective for some athletes.

Eat something sharp, pungent, and spicy. There seems to be something in the neural pathways in the mouth that can affect the whole body. The mechanism for this isn’t known, but it may be because sharp tastes overwhelm the neuromuscular signals elsewhere. Related, studies have shown that a sports drink rinse, not ingesting, can increase time to fatigue, meaning that just the sensation of taste can effect muscle control. Many of you may have seen ads for the product Hot Shot. The key ingredients in that product are capsaicin (the chemical in peppers that makes them hot) and cinnamon. You may able to get the same effect from biting on a jalapeno pepper.

Hyperventilating or drinking pickle juice. Studies have shown that increasing blood acidosis can relieve cramping. There is no evidence that electrolyte supplements help. The reason pickle juice may work is because of its acidity or pungent taste, not the electrolytes.

These may fix the immediate problem, but don’t address the underlying causes. Long term, better fitness reduces the likelihood of cramping.

Shit Happens – How to handle it when problems occur at races.

Once again, another major race had problems this past weekend – busses didn’t show, so some racers didn’t make it to the start of the full marathon in time, and the half marathon was cancelled, sort of. This is not the first, nor will it be the last time something like this has happened. Yet, many race organizers don’t seem to be prepared to handle these situations, haven’t learned from mistakes others have made in the past, and end up making the situation worse than it could be. Here’s a guide of what to do when problems occur.

As some of you know, I am a race director and have been putting on races for myself and others for many years. Although my races are much smaller, I have had management positions with major races including BolderBoulder and the original Boulder Backroads Marathon.

Communicate: Let the racers know as soon and often as possible when there are problems that will affect them. When racers are standing around, delayed, but not knowing what or why, that creates frustration, anger, resent.

This appeared to be the case at Revel as a couple of thousand racers were left waiting for busses, standing, getting cold and stiff, not knowing what was going on. It would’ve been better if, as soon as they knew there was a problem that was going to affect the race, to let the racers know. Don’t wait until you have a resolution or answers. They could’ve had a series of messages, starting with something like, “There’s a problem with the busses. We don’t know what happened, but we’re working on it. Please be patient as we try to resolve it.” Then, come back fairly soon with updates, even if you the situation hasn’t changed and you don’t have any answers yet, and continue coming back until you have a resolution or decision.

Control the message: Or, it will control you. This has always been true, but is even more so in this era of lightning fast social media. Get out early with information, as much as you have. Don’t keep secrets. Don’t keep people guessing. Don’t let those who are the most vocal, often the most angry, lead and dictate the conversation.

Apologize, be humble, and explain. Don’t assign blame to others. Don’t defend yourself. Explain what happened without assigning blame. Tell them you’ll make it right. Simply say something like, “I’m sorry. Busses we contracted for didn’t show up. Because we couldn’t get most of the runners safely to the start, we thought it best to cancel the half-marathon. We allowed those who were already at the start to run the course. We know some full marathon runners also didn’t make it to the start. We will do our best to make it right for those affected. Now, we are busy managing to situation. We are listening you you, and will come up with a plan to make it right shortly.”

Follow the conversations and respond, cautiously, if you have the resources. If you don’t have the resources, a simple post that you are listening. Look for major, repeated themes in the conversations and correct gross misinformation. Don’t get into arguments. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t assign blame. Don’t respond to the most vitriol and outrageous comments and commenters. Often, the population of other racers will control that on their own.

Lifetime didn’t do this after the problems with the 2013 Leadville 100 run. They let the blogosphere and social media run wild and free with comments and criticisms. They didn’t say anything for months, only after they had a full response. By that times, many who might’ve listened had already tuned out.

While Revel could’ve said more earlier, they did have a good response that included the following, closing line, “We take complete responsibility for this distaster and will gladly accept your constructive ideas and critism [sic] as we evaluate and analyze the various options.”

Be consistent in your message and actions: As decisions are made, be communicate and follow them consistently. If you are canceling the race, cancel the race. If, as in this case, you are going to let people run the course anyway (in this case, those who were at the start were allowed to run down, and many who didn’t make it there decided to run up-and-back half-way from the finish). It’s one thing to time those who ran, but don’t give out awards when so many couldn’t (and certain don’t give out the wrong awards).

Safety first: The safety of runners, volunteers and staff should always be an overriding consideration when making decisions. Other major factors to consider include the impact on the environment and the neighborhoods.

In this case, while many people posted that they would’ve driven to the start had they known, there wasn’t parking available near the start to handle many cars. At the 2006 the Imogene Pass Run, they altered the course due to snow the night before, starting and finishing in Ouray. Although is was sunny on race day and some runners did choose to go over the pass, snow towards the top meant it would’ve been difficult to get rescue vehicles up, and more likely that people might’ve needed help (with frostbite). In both cases, I think they made the right decisions.

Make it right: Offer full refunds or free entries to other races. It may be appropriate to offer racers a choice. You might even consider throwing in some free merchandise. Whatever financial hit you may take in doing this now, pales in comparison to the hit on your reputation and subsequent loss in reputation in not making it right.

It is impractical to make everyone whole. There are people who spent money traveling to the race, time off of work, away from families, etc. You are not going to be able to make those people whole. Do your best to be humble and apologize, and make reasonable offers. More than a few of the comments about Revel have asked for some of that. Recognize that some people are just going to be angry, and there’s not much you can do about it. Don’t waste too much time trying to make everyone happy. If you do a good job with most, they will help counter those comments for you.

Plan and over correct: Any large race organization should’ve thought through potential logistical issues and have contingency plans in place. It’s something called Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). That’s just a fancy way of saying that you look at all the critical functions and steps in a process in advance, analyze the risk and consequences of failure, come up with solutions in advance if possible, and contingency plans if not. You ask a lot of what ifs. Any major project, whether it’s a NASA mission or the Boston Marathon, has done something like this.

Over correct for whatever problems you have. The worst thing that could happen is to have the same mistakes or problems happen again. For next time, get even more busses, have backups on stand by, get even more aid station supplies, volunteers, swag, whatever it was.

If you are humble and apologize, if you make it right, the people who were affected can become your greatest advocates in the future.

Running on Ice

Techniques for running fast and efficiently on ice, and how it can improve your running form.

If you live in a place with a real winter, you’re probably going to have to deal with snow and ice when you run. Running on ice does not have to be that treacherous, and can actually improve your running form. In this article, I’ll talk about technique and strategies for running on ice.

This is not about traction devices. FWIW, the only traction device I use is cheap and simple to make screw shoes on hilly & icy trails. I almost never use anything on roads or flat trails.

Hit the ground running
“Pawback” is a key part of an efficient stride. Your foot should be pulling back when it hits the ground, like a cat pawing. And, you should land with your feet under your body mass. This is true whether running on dry or slick ground. If you land with your foot still going forward or even flat, with your foot in front of your body, or on your heels, you are braking and losing momentum. Like driving a car in the snow, your best control is when you are continuing forward.

Shorten your stride. Besides being more efficient, a short, quick (and light) stride gives you more control, and better ability to adjust quickly. With quicker strides, you are landing with less force, thus less likely to slide out of control. And, with lighter, quicker strides, you are better able to quickly adjust your stride and body weight if/when you slip.

We have a natural tendency to lean back and on our heels when we’re afraid. If you do any skiing, you know that’s what most beginners do, and that’s exactly what makes skiing and control harder. The same is true with running. You want to lean forward slightly, stay on the balls or middle of your feet, stride back, and keep moving forward.

This won’t prevent slipping on ice. It may even feel a bit like falling – good running form almost feels like falling forward. Your feet may slip back on ice, like running on loose dirt, but if you keep your momentum moving forward and your feet moving under you, you should stay in balance and hardly notice it.

Powdered or Glazed?
Some surfaces are inherently more dangerous than others.

Snow usually has better traction than ice. Aim for the white stuff, a dusting of snow atop of ice, over glazed ice. Dark patches may indicate ice or dry pavement. That can be hard to distinguish at night or from a distance. At night, I assume it’s ice and am more cautious (unless I know it’s mostly clear). The edges of snow, where it changes to pavement, are often slick. This is where it melts and refreezes as ice. Try to avoid these edges by adjusting your stride. It’s better to take extra short strides, than to lengthen your stride or leap (landing with more force).

If patches of dry pavement are small and scattered, it may be better to just stay on the snow and ice. You risk hitting more edges. And, different surfaces have different feels, and it takes a few strides for your body to adapt. Two or three strides on pavement may take more effort adjusting than it’s worth.

Turning on ice is hard, just like with driving. Slow down and shorten your stride before a curve. Then, go through the curve with very short & quick strides, staying nimble up on the balls of your feet.

Painted road surfaces can be slicker than unpainted pavement. Try to step over or around them, without making abrupt lateral changes.

Changing surfaces can be tricky – pavement to dirt, sidewalk to street, path to bridges. Not only might the snow/ice differ on the new surface, but the feel is different. Subtle cues from your feet, allow your body to automatically make adjustments and stay in balance. When the feel changes, it takes a little time for your body to adapt. If you know it’s icy, or don’t know what it’s like, slow yourself by shortening your stride (not by braking on your heels) before the change, and transition with caution.

Rapid changes in direction or speed can be risky. Look ahead to anticipate changes, and adjust your stride and line before you get there. When you see that you are going to need to change lines, drift over gradually, making small lateral changes, and try to hit any new surface going straight.

Snow can make it easier or harder. Running in a few inches of new snow is a lot of fun. When the snow is soft, you fly right through it. Packed snow gives pretty good traction too, as long as it’s not crusty. Snow can actually make it easier on trails, by filling the gaps between rocks.

Old, crusty snow is different than ice, but can be as hard to run on. You don’t know what’s underneath – soft snow, ice, hard ridges – often until it’s too late. When the snow is more than a few inches deep, the crust can cut your ankles, and hard ridges of snow can twist them. If you can’t avoid deep crust or exposed areas of hard, uneven snow, go very slow, and walk if needed. If there’s lots of it, find somewhere else to run.

When running icy/snowy hills, control is best when your feet are under your body mass. Shortening your stride even more, keeps your feet under you more. Going uphill, try to hit the hill straight, and carry momentum into the hill. Think of lifting your knee up to initiate the next stride and leaning into the hill (from the ankle, not bending at the waist), using gravity to help propel you forward, rather than pushing down against the slick ground. Slow yourself before a downhill. Then, hit the descent as straight as possible. Stay up on the balls of your feet and don’t lean back. You lose control and can’t adjust your balance from your heels, or when your feet are in front of you. It’s better to tip-toe down on your toes, than to slide down on your heels. If it’s really bad, you can turn your feet and side step up or down.

Practice
Running on ice takes practice to learn the technique, and experience to gain confidence. It takes practice to learn how to fall forward, and how to be comfortable doing it. That’s good running form – using gravity and momentum to your advantage – dry or slick. Start by practicing on dry ground. Lean forward – keep your body straight, leaning from your ankles, not bending over at your waist – stride quickly and kick your heels back until it starts to feel like you’re falling. Find your comfort limit, and then lean a little beyond it. See how fast you can go by striding faster, not longer. Over time, you’ll become more and more comfortable with this. When you take it to the snow and ice, you’ll want to tone it down a bit – slightly less forward lean, and slower running speed; though still leaning forward and with a fast stride rate.

I actually look forward to racing in tricky conditions. While my times may be slower, I know that I handle them better than most other runners, and can use it to my competitive advantage. The 2005 Greenland Trail 50km had just about every trail condition possible – dry, snow, ice, slush, mud – at different parts of the course, and different times during the day. I remember passing lots of runners, gingerly taking 7 or 8 steps to get through a snow drift or ice patch, while I cruised through with just 1 or 2 steps. There was a race at Cherry Creek, in February, with ice and slush on the road. I took straight lines through slush and ice, maintaining my speed, while others slowed and/or maneuvered wide around slick spots. I don’t have to be that aggressive when I’m just out for a training run, but I don’t fear the ice either.

You don’t have to be afraid of the ice and snow. While you need to be more cautious, it doesn’t have to keep you from running or racing. Practice. Build confidence. Get out there and have fun.

Be smart. Train Smart.

Adam