Running in icy conditions can be hazardous but thanks to Microspikes you can still enjoy those cold, crisp winter days.
What are Microspikes?
Basically they are a form of crampon designed for walking or running rather than climbing. They consist of a set of small, stainless steel spikes connected by chains and attached to a piece of tough rubber (an elastomer). They are designed so that they can be worn on your footwear simply by stretching the rubber cradle over your shoes.
Microspikes attached to a running shoe
Microspikes held in place by a strong rubber cradle
Kahtoola microspikes are probably the best known brand but I also have some Chainsen Snowline Snowspikes which are virtually identical (but a bit cheaper!) I have the Light version which only weigh 235g for a Medium sized pair. The Kahtoolas are slightly heavier at 338g. They are available in different size ranges, I’ve found that you need have them quite tight to prevent them coming off whilst running through deep snow.
The Chainsen Snowline spikes, 235g size Medium
What conditions are they for?
The sharp spikes grip really well on smooth ice and hard packed, frozen snow. It takes a bit of time to build up your confidence but after a while you realise that you can run at your normal pace, even on the iciest of surfaces. Whilst they can be worn in snow they don’t really offer much more grip than a running shoe with a good tread. They also work well on frozen ground such as grass and mud, even if there is no ice cover. You tend to find that you alter your stride slightly and land more flat footed than you would ordinarily do. Whilst they aren’t uncomfortable initially they can start to hurt a little if running for long periods on very hard surfaces. I once ran for about 15 miles wearing a pair and the soles of my feet were a bit sore afterwards!
Microspikes work best on hard ice
Most winter runs involve a variety of conditions; you might be running through fresh snow where few people have been but then encounter a well walked path where the snow has been compacted and refrozen. The first part wouldn’t require spikes but the second bit could be pretty treacherous. The good thing about both Kahtoola and Chainsen Microspikes is that their size and weight means that they can easily be carried in a bumbag or running pack and it only takes a few seconds to put them on. So you can take them on a run, put them on if you encounter any icy stretches and quickly take them off afterwards. The Chainsen spikes even come in a tough little pouch to prevent the spikes from damaging your bag.
Chainsen Snowline with sturdy pouch
I have used them for winter running in the Peak District and also on a recce of the Charlie Ramsay Round in spring when conditions were still wintry. (note Microspikes are not suitable for ice climbing!)
I used Chainsen Microspikes whilst recceing the Charlie Ramsay Round
Are they worth it?
At around £40 a pair they are worth getting if you intend to continue running outdoors throughout the winter. They don’t need to be confined to running, they can be worn over walking boots and even shoes meaning that you can tackle the icy pavements with confidence. I know people who’ve worn them for a trip to the pub!
So, if we continue to have cold winters a pair of Microspikes are a good investment, allowing you to enjoy running safely in conditions like this!
safe running wearing microspikes
The video below shows how easy the spikes are to put on and how effective they are on icy terrain:
It’s cold, wet and windy and dark by 4pm. Doesn’t particularly inspire you to go fell and trail running does it!
But what’s the alternative: Sitting at home watching telly with that nagging, guilty feeling that you haven’t been training? Or paying for a gym membership to run on the DREADmill? (set on an incline so you can pretend you’re running up the Ben!)
So what can we do to help motivate us to get out the door? Here’s what helps me:
Get kitted out. You’ve heard people say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing? Well they’re wrong! there’s some particularly grim weather, usually found on a bleak hillside miles from where you left the car!
Being cold and wet equals miserable at best and in danger at worst. Yes fell running is a cheap sport requiring minimal kit but it’s best enjoyed in the knowledge that your waterproof jacket will stand up to the rigours of the horizontal rain. Get the best waterproofs you can afford, (if that means economising by buying cheaper base layers, socks, underpants, going hungry, no Christmas presents for the kids etc then so be it!) After running shoes it is the thing I would spend most money on. I have 3 decent running waterproof jackets; an OMM Kamleika smock, an Inov-8 Race Elite Stormshell and a Montane Minimus smock, all of which I recommend.
Minimus in a hail storm – a day when I wish I’d worn my leggings!
I rarely wear more than a long sleeved base layer under my outer layer which is fine whilst you’re moving and generating heat. However if you need to stop for any reason you’ll soon get cold so I carry an extra layer. My favourite is my OMM Rotor Smock which, made from primaloft offers excellent insulation for its weight.
OMM Rotor smock
I hate cold feet. You know those first couple of minutes when you set off for a run and try to avoid all the puddles in a vain attempt to keep your feet dry. You know full well that they’ll soon be wet but you try anyway! I find that wet doesn’t need to mean cold. I use SealSkinz socks which claim to be waterproof but in my experience only remain so for a handful of runs after which they allow in some water so don’t keep your feet completely dry – more moist yet warm. They are quite expensive but what price warm feet? Thin racing socks are a definite no no!
Likewise cold hands, I remember a long winter race when I couldn’t grip the zipper on my bumbag to get to a gel, my hands were that cold. I’ve since learnt that a cheap pair of fleece gloves under a thin windproof pair works quite well. On really wet days I wear Tuff Bag mittens over the top which are great for warmth but not so for dexterity so map and compass work, opening food etc. becomes tricky. Also they don’t mix well with rough gritstone so no hands on rock scrambling adventures if you want them to last.
I’m not too fond of a cold head either so any form of hat is a must but nothing too bulky in case you want to take it off and stuff it in a pocket. In dry cold weather I go for a Buff with a second one around my neck that can be pulled up over my nose and mouth to make a balaclava. I also have a windproof beanie which I wear in wet weather. It doesn’t keep my head dry but I can live with that. I don’t like running with a hood up so would only use my jacket hood in the worst rain.
Although I carry waterproof bottoms for emergencies I rarely wear them on the run. What I do swear by are my Lowe Alpine Powerstretch leggings – which even when wet are comfortably warm. They can sometimes be too warm so if it’s not too cold then a pair of close fitting tights will do. I have some cheap Decathlon ones plus some Ron Hills (not the old school blue ones with red stripes!) Anything that doesn’t absorb water will do.
In summer I run with a bumbag but winter running requires more kit so I prefer a rucksack. This allows me to take the extra clothing I need plus extra food and some bits of emergency kit (see here). I use an Inov-8 Race Pro as I find rucksacks with zip pockets that can be reached whilst on the move are best as they allow quick access to food, map, compass etc.
Don’t be put off by snow. Most of our winters are wet and windy but in recent years we’ve had snow. This puts some people off running as they see it as dangerous. I see it as a chance for adventure!
Get a grip. For me there is only one shoe for winter conditions. From boggy ground to deep snow, it has to be the Inov-8 Mudclaw.
Mudclaws – must haves for winter fell running
MicroSpikes give a reassuring grip on ice and compacted snow and can be slipped over your trainers in seconds and are easily carried if not in use. Get a pair of these and you’ll be longing to get out in the snow like you did when you were a kid!
getting to grips with winter running
Running in falling snow or hail is the hardest thing to deal with as you instinctively close your eyes to protect your eyeballs (lovely soft snowflakes actually really, really hurt if you get them in your eyes!) I use ski goggles to prevent this.
Embrace the night. The long summer evenings are a fading memory but there’s no reason not to continue running at night. Night time fell runs are an adventure so persuade your mates that it is a good idea and head out to the trails and fells. You needn’t go far, even a run through the local park or woods adds a bit of variety and a new challenge. Choose somewhere you are familiar with at first as it is very easy to become disorientated in the dark.
head torch running
The first time you see sheep’s eyes staring back at you or you startle a sleeping grouse can be a shock but you do get used to it. (Actually I haven’t yet got used to stepping on grouse but I’m ok with the reflecting eyes!) So you’ll need a decent head torch and there are plenty to choose from nowadays. You can spend a fortune on programmable, reactive light models like the Petzl Nao but that’s probably overkill unless you’re doing some seriously remote running and need long battery life. You don’t need to light up the whole hillside with hundreds of lumens unless you’re in Mountain Rescue! My LED Lenser H7R does a great job and is USB rechargeable so I can always set out with it fully charged. Be aware that some modern torches don’t get gradually dimmer – they simply turn off when the batteries get low, something I found out to my cost! So remember to take spare batteries and unless you can find them in your pack, take the old ones out and put the new ones in all in pitch darkness with cold hands and in a howling gale you’ll need an emergency light or a partner with a torch.
Strength in numbers. Unless you’re very experienced it might be best to do your remote winter running with a partner or group. Make an arrangement with some mates to go for a run and stick to it – whatever the weather! It’s easy to decide against it if it’s just you but you’ll be more likely to run if you feel you are letting the side down. Get a gang together and share the love (of the rain) Having a few of you together is also safer should something go wrong.
share the fun and stay safe!
Time for a quickie. Even the hardiest of runners will not relish going outdoors when it’s dark and lashing it down. It’s here that you need to be flexible with your training. If you’ve planned for a long run and the weather’s awful, go for a quick one instead. A quick 20 minute tempo run will have a good training effect and keep you warmer than a steady plod.
So let’s face it winter’s here and there’s nothing we can do about it, but there are things we can do to make fell and trail running more appealing. So stick with it this winter, you never know we might even have a few days like this:
Icy conditions have made fell running training a little difficult recently.
Although deep snow is difficult to run through it is actually great for training. You have to work harder as the snow provides resistance to your forwards movement, you have to lift your knees higher and so bring into play muscles that you don’t normally use and if you do fall over (which is inevitable) you usually end up with a soft landing.
The problems start when conditions underfoot are icy such as when the snow melts during the day then refreezes at night or where it gets compressed into a hard, frozen layer. I have been asked by several people recently how I continue training when it gets icy.
One way is to use Micro-spikes. I use Kahtoola. These are basically scaled down walking crampons that simply attach to your shoe and are held in place by stretchy rubber. They can be put on in around 10 seconds per foot and taken off in a fraction of that. Reasonably small and light I simply carry them in my bum bag or rucksack and put them on when needed.
I find them a really great piece of kit which allow me to keep training on terrain that might otherwise be too difficult to run on.
The video shows you how easy they are to use:
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Fell running in the Peak District isn’t always about blue skies & sunshine.
Today the wind howled, snow blew horizontally and the world was reduced to cold shades of grey.
cold shades of grey
This was no day to be out on the high fells, even at low level the wind’s icy fingers found their way through the smallest chink in my armour of windproof clothing, feeling for, finding then chilling any exposed skin.
Facing the wind, big damp gobs of snow numbed my face and drove into my eyes.
Last week I learned a hard lesson when in even worse conditions on a remote hillside I had wished for my ski goggles lying unused back home. Today I had anticipated the worst and packed them and it didn’t take long, running semi blind into the fusillade, before I stopped to put them on.
Other than the blowing wind, running conditions weren’t too bad. It seemed that my route, exposed as it was, wasn’t producing those horrible, energy sapping drifts where you disappear up to your knees (and beyond), rather it was scouring the ground leaving a thin compacted layer. I had chosen a short tour of Burbage, using the snow covered Ringinglow road for the last 2 kilometres. Here the few vehicles that had passed had compacted the snow into a thin icy layer and I stopped to don microspikes over my Mudclaws.
Once down towards Lady Canning’s plantation the trees afforded some protection although large flakes still sped horizontally past – whirling away in their own mad dash, racing each other into oblivion – as I ran down the road.