A brief tirade on the subject of snow

In Barefoot running, Injury problems, Running by All This Running Around1 Comment

Snow: love it or hate it, you’ve got to admit that it is precipitation in the form of flakes of crystalline water ice that fall from clouds. And we’ve had some of it over the last week, a fact you might just have gleaned if you’ve been within ten metres of a newspaper, television or weather-obsessed imbecile, of which there seem to be quite a lot these days.

I’m currently running six days out of seven. Not particularly because of any plan or training schedule, it just seems to be working out that way. Although I do have some degree of flexibility when it comes to choosing a time to run, there are inevitable times when I’ve got to go out in shitty weather. I’ve always quite enjoyed running in the rain. Strong winds can be a bit of a pain, but if you keep reminding yourself that a bit of extra resistance is doing you good, you’ll come to enjoy that as well. However, the last few days is really the first time I’ve properly run through snow, and I’ve learned something. I’m crap at it.

The first time was last Friday, during what constitutes a blizzard in this country but would doubtless be considered a light dusting in less clement parts of the world. The roads were clear so I decided to stick to them rather than chance it across country. I went out prepared. Too prepared as it turned out, since it wasn’t actually all that cold. However, I managed to make one glaring oversight: I didn’t wear sunglasses. The wind was strong, so naturally I ended up getting a lot of snow blown straight into my eyes. And that’s where my problems started.

It took me a while to realise what was going on, but I tucked my chin into my chest and started leaning into the wind. A perfectly natural response to the problem, but one that just doesn’t work when you’re trying to run with a forefoot/midfoot strike. My posture was terrible, and as a direct consequence I began to get pain in my shins and ankles after about the third mile. This was not a particularly long run (a little under six miles), but by the end I was really struggling. The thing is, I’d identified the problem but just couldn’t seem to help myself. I was hobbling a little bit the next morning.

I didn’t think it was a particularly big deal, and the solution appeared obvious. I recently bought a pair of hybrid skiing goggle/sunglasses things, so I would wear them. But there was another problem on my next run. This time, it wasn’t snowing and what snow there was had been on the ground for a couple of days. I elected to run across the fields, and discovered something else. Not only am I crap at running while it’s snowing, I’m also crap at running through snow.

I was all over the place. I tried hard to concentrate on keeping my body upright, on shortening my stride and running as lightly as possible but my form was terrible. (I should explain that I wasn’t running through particularly deep snow either – maybe 15cm, compacted in places.) It wasn’t that I was slipping around; I was overcompensating so as to avoid any mishaps. This was an even shorter run, just over three miles. But once again, I was hurting by the finish.

I then spent a couple of days running on the road in reasonably clear weather with no problems. But we woke up to today to more snow, and I didn’t want to risk it on the road since the visibility was pretty poor. I decided to drive up to the Greenway, which my two regular readers will recall is a disused rail line that has been converted into a footpath. It’s straight and it’s flat. I guessed there would be some snow on the ground but didn’t think there’d be all that much since it’s incredibly popular with walkers, cyclists and other runners. (Although I haven’t been there in a while; running from A to B and back again in a straight line is about as interesting as it sounds, particularly when you’ve done it a hundred times before.)

Again, there was probably around 15cm of snow on the ground, but due to all the foot traffic it was fairly compacted. I set off at a reasonable pace but once again, after a couple of miles I was starting to feel uncomfortable. I tried hard to keep my feet striking directly under my body, something that I normally don’t have to even think about any more. There was some snow coming down, but I had worn my glasses and was making a concerted effort to keep my body upright. Again, this isn’t something I generally have to consciously think about these days. But try as I might, I just couldn’t maintain it. My body would bend forward slightly at the waist, and my feet were striking in front of my centre of gravity. It’s a weird sensation; you concentrate on doing something right, relax a little bit and suddenly become aware that you’re doing it all wrong.

I went five miles. The final mile wasn’t too bad, but up to then it was a struggle. It seems that me and snow just don’t go together.

I’ve just realised that this post can basically be summarised by me asking the following question: “can anybody give me any tips on running in and through snow please?”.

By the way, the banner picture above is the first snowman I ever made with my daughter. The plan had been to make a traditional looking snowman. By the time I’d jammed two bits of coal and a carrot into its face, it looked more like something you’d find locked in a small cupboard in a Quentin Tarantino film.