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Tips for the Trail - Running on the Snow
By Rachel Cieslewicz
Friday, February 11, 2011
Successful trail running is not always about who has the best heart or Lance Armstrong's lungs. Technique can be a great equalizer on the trails. There are many good runners who I have yet to challenge on the road, but I have been fortunate enough to beat some of those runners in trail races, and I credit proper form and technique for that success.
Odd as it might sound, snow days - if you are lucky enough to have snow -- are often the best days to go out and work on your form.
Although snowshoes are great and my beloved microspikes help me with fast and fun slip-free snow/ice runs, I often leave both at home and take my Newtons out for a snow run. Running without any anti-slippage devices creates a fabulous opportunity to learn critical techniques by force of nature. The most important things you can learn are: how to keep your body over your center of mass (COM); picking up the foot, rather than pushing off the ground; light quick steps; a relaxed mind and breath. As a certified Natural Running coach, I will share the following snow running tips to help you get to the next level!
First, what is good form? Watch great runners and you will see that they keep a slight forward lean while running. This comes from the ankles, not the hips. Their shoulders are down and back, core engaged and they are light and quick on their feet. To find this position, stand tall with core engaged. Then simply start to fall forward until you need to step out. Practice this while running. Think of letting your heart lead you and watch gravity work for you instead of against! If you start to feel a pain at any time, stop. Find the form again and then go. It's amazing how injuries can be exterminated before they start. Staying over your COM is everything for snow running. Master this and the risk of falling comes close to zero - even if you have to take a sudden detour to avoid a big mean moose.
Have you ever been on a run in the snow and felt like it was no fun because all you did was sink or slip, instead of moving forward? Want to know the secret to leaving everyone behind while you easily glide along? Simply engage your core and pick up your foot instead of pushing off into the snow or ice. Yes I just said ice because you can run on ice without falling! Take short quick steps again to stay over COM and feel how magically you float instead of sink or slide. And then notice how this same technique transfers from snow to other terrain beautifully.
I recently raced my first marathon ever. I hadn't done any training for it other than my training for XTERRA trail run worlds, at half the distance. I finished 8th female out of almost 9,830 and 55th of 22,860 if you include the guys! This was despite being tired after a 5th overall finish and an age group worlds win the week before. Why do I bring this up? Because I practiced what I learned on the snow! High cadence and shorter steps are golden. I will share more on this another time. But know in general, shorter steps keeps you over COM, has much less impact on your body, and ultimately keeps you in control regardless of the terrain, snow included. Don't believe me? I had zero muscle soreness after the marathon and kept all 10 toenails intact!
Another factor that helped me in my big races was practicing what I like to call an effortless effort. Of course my body is working hard. Core is engaged, focus is strong, etc. But sometimes we forget that we need oxygen as well. Snow running is a great time to focus on this. While working on all of the above, try to notice if you are feeling extra tired on your snow excursion. Are you holding your breath? Are your shoulders up in your ears? If so, back off! Take a couple of big deep breaths, tell your shoulders, neck and head to chill out, and then notice how much more energy you have to play on the snow. If snow running doesn't feel like it is flowing, take the time now to figure it out. Then you will know just what to do for your next big trail event.