Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Push to the Edge

This summer I stumbled across a long lost friend, a partner, a tool. It had been many years since we'd last raced together and sadly I didn't even know it.
Years ago when I first started running I quickly established myself as a front runner. I always raced better during track and cross country season then I did on my own during the summer, but either way I was a threat. During the summer I always placed top 3 in my age group and during cross country and track season if awards were given, I was usually one of the recipients.
It didn't take long for me to figure out though that I ran better with a team
than I did when running solo. And the more the team needed me, the better I
Another thing I quickly learned was that the worse I felt, the better I did.
Heaven help the opponents if on a day I didn't feel well or was hurt that the
team really needed me to step it up because I was guaranteed to blast one out.
I was the go to guy on race day and the more my team needed, the more I gave.
I went on to run college cross country for a couple of years after high school.
I started out my first season with a big bang, winning my first race. My team
needed me and I came through. We won the meet, barely, and against the one
school's second team, but it was our first victory. And our last...
The following week in a much bigger meet pulled off a top 10 finish to lead my
team to dead last. The next week I dropped to top 20 and we again finished dead
last. My finish place declined steadily thereafter.
My second, and final, college season didn't fare any better. I never placed and
until the final meet of year we placed dead last. That last meet we achieved
our teams lofty goal of beating someone, anyone, and finished second to last.
My team didn’t really need me and I was fine with just running, but not
actually racing.
I continued running and racing for many years after that. Often doing well in
smaller local races and always finishing in a respectable time, but never quite
getting back on top of things. A few years ago I added triathlons to my race
schedule with similar results. I was finishing run and tri in top 30% but not
really being competitive. I was running hard, training hard, but falling short.
I was good, but just not good enough.
Last season a friend, much younger than me got into triathlons and I sort of
became his mentor. Shortly thereafter a coworker did the same and we became
friends as well and now I had two 'mentees'. They both showed promise and did
well in their first seasons. Both were faster than me for very short distances,
but lacked strength and experience to challenge me so far in an actual race.
At the beginning of the season the youngest and newest of my mentees, Jason, convinced
me and the other mentee, Doug, to do a sprint tri to kick off the season. I
reluctantly signed up. I've known for years my strength is in distance, and
avoid most shorter races, but decided it would be fun to go 'head to head' with
Race day came and I found myself starting a couple of waves in front of both of
them. Part of me had planned to take it easy and have fun, but once I knew they
would be behind me trying to catch that all changed. I was all business by race
start and pushed myself through water with everything I had. As I exited the
water I pounded across the grass to transition and I was quickly out on the
bike. Once I got on the road I just hammered away on the pedals and it seemed
like I was back in transition in no time. I flew out of T2 and speed around the
run course and before I knew it I was across the finish.
I knew that I had a good race and thought that a possible age group award might
be coming. What surprised me was that I finished 3rd overall and managed a 6:28
pace on the run. I hadn't run that fast in years for any distance, much less at the end of a triathlon. I was thrilled, evidently I was finally doing something right, because I was getting faster again.
The following week I had two more tri's, an olympic on Saturday and a 1/2 iron on Sunday. I went into the season with high hopes that I was going to have breakout races. Saturday I PR'd but not by as much as I had expected and Sundays race was solid, but nothing to get excited about.
I was puzzled as to what happened. Yes they were longer races, but some of my
new speed should still have carried over. I pondered this for a couple of weeks
while I tried tweaking my training in an attempt to figure out why I had done
so well one week and then just ok the next.
About two weeks later I read a blog post written by a friend, Ann B, about underachieving. Something clicked on and I suddenly had a neon bulb shining on things. In high school and college I stepped up my game and pushed with all I had to help the team. Since then it was just for me and that extra push, just faded away. I still ran hard but not as hard. I pushed through pain, fatigue, cramps and more, but I hadn't really been pushing myself to the breaking point. I was willing to go there for the team, but had ceased doing it for myself.
Until the sprint triathlon that is. Something about being beaten by younger and
faster friends brought it back out and I pushed to the red zone and slightly
beyond. I have more experience than either of my friends and currently I'm a
much stronger runner and cyclist, but I know they are faster than me. They may
not be able to hold the speed for long but I really thought they had enough to
beat me at a sprint and I just wasn't ready to let that happen. As a result I
pushed through the pain, hit a point where I thought I was all out and pushed
beyond it and had a break out race. The following week I hit that same point,
but didn't try to push through, I thought I was at the limit, but wasn't.
The rest of the summer I had hits and misses with my performances. I pushed
through that extra barrier several times, but not consistently and didn't
always hold it, but I was relearning. My final Tri of the year, a couple of
weeks ago, I found that push again on the run and it carried me to a 5 minute
run PR.
Despite finding that extra push and now knowing it is there, I still can't tap
into it regularly. I can still run/ride/swim long and hard and push through the
comfort zone and well into the pain, but I'm not finding that extra push that
takes me into the red zone as often as I would like. Maybe part of me realizes
the danger of it more than I did when I was younger. It is a point beyond pain
where you know you are teetering on the edge of crash and burn and possible
injury, but you ride it as long as a hard as you can. Experience helps keep you
riding that razors edge without plummeting over it, but it also takes
experience and a lack of fear or care about what may happen if you push too
hard to get there.
Pushing to the edge helped me tremendously back in high school, but it was also my downfall back then too. It took me to many wins and high placings in many races, but I went over it several times as well. I lost half of my sophomore cross country season with
injury from pushing over the edge, and 2/3 of the track season that year for another injury. Junior year I managed to walk the edge without a slip, but my senior year I pushed so far over I fell into the abyss. The summer leading into my senior year I pushed it to the edge and held it. I held it through most of the season. I was on a mission. Our team had a goal of placing at the state championships and possible getting the school’s first ever win there.
That senior season I PR’d week after week, and we won meet after meet. There was only one meet we didn’t win during the regular season. We then went on to win our conference, sectional championship, regional championship, and the school’s first ever semi-state
championship. Unfortunately, I rode that edge too long and at regionals I felt myself sliding over, and by semi-state I went into a free fall. I still raced well in those races, but I knew I was in trouble. The legs were pure rubber and I couldn’t get them back. At the state championship, not only did we not win, and not place, we were 15th out 16 and I was one of the last 10 finishers.
Yeah, it takes a team to win, but an individual can bring them down. After two years of being one of the main team leaders, I had nothing in me. Unfortunately, my team mates instead of passing me as they should, most of them ended up grouped with me. A mental block made it hard for them to pass the guy that had been leading them. I yelled and
encouraged and finally with ¾ of a mile to go literally grabbed one of them and
shoved him in front of me and pushed him away. Finally trance broke and the all
took off and left me. It was over 2 months before I got my legs back and could
run with any speed or strength. The loss that day was not purely mine, and I
know it now, but it was a tough price for a great season.
Pushing yourself to the edge is what defines a true competitor. There is a big risk with each race, but a potential big payoff as well. My mind set has difficulty accepting that pro athlete that will drop out of a race, just because they are not among the leaders, but part of me knows that they do it so they aren’t risking that fall over the edge for nothing and that they will be ready for the next challenge.
For me the difference between a jogger and a runner is motive and how much they push, not the pace they actually run. Joggers run up to the edge of comfort and no further. Runners push into the pain and go with it. A competitor will push a bit farther and risk injury or DNF to try and get the win.
I used to know that razors edge well and I miss it. I've raced very well over the years despite losing it, but I'm getting hungry for more. Thanks to Jason and Doug pushing me
and Ann for switching on the light, I think I'm on my way to regaining it. I will never win anymore championships, but this old body still has some big races left in it and I mean to find them. I’m ready to take the risk again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Hill Not Taken

I've been a strong runner for years and more importantly a strong
hill runner. Friends, coworkers and other runners have often asked how I became
so good at running hills and what can they do become better at them. There are
many answers to the second part of the question, but the answer to the first
goes back many years.
I started running competitively in 7th grade. I had wanted to go
out for football when I got to middle school, but due to my size my parents
wouldn't let me. The previous spring I had done really well at our school's
field day in the mile run, so I decided to try cross country instead and fell
in love with running.
The two years I ran in middle I worked hard, did what coach asked,
but no more. All of my team mates avoided hills whenever possible and I
followed suit. Hills sucked! I hated them! They hurt and just weren't fun to
run. Some of the race courses we ran had them, but why run hills repeatedly
when you may only see one hill in a race. So, unless we had to run them in
practice, we didn't run them.
I carried this philosophy with me to high school and quickly
learned that it was shared by my new team mates. We'd run the hills that coach
made us run, but when we were just given a set time to run, we always avoided
them, which, considering I grew up in northern Indiana, was very easy to do.
I began my 9th grade season on the freshmen team but quickly moved
up to the junior varsity (JV) team. At certain big meets where they had a
freshmen team race, I would drop back down so we could try to win it. One of
the races I did this for was the New Prairie Invitational.
A week before the New Prairie Invitational the upper classmen
started talking about Agony Hill. Supposedly there was this monster hill on the
course that humbled seniors and ate freshmen alive. The closer we got to the
meet, the more they talked about it, until we went to sleep dreaming about it.
I didn't take them too seriously, these were the same guys that took us out
snipe hunting at cross country camp almost two months ago, so I took what they
told us with a grain of salt. I was convinced this was just another part of the
Race morning we pulled up to the school in our bus. I was glued to
the windows with the rest of the freshmen looking for the monster hill. But no
hill was to be seen anywhere. The area around the school was flat farmland, the
school property was flat and the small woods adjacent to it showed no
indication of hiding a hill in it. The trees weren't tall enough and showed no
increase in height anywhere. We knew we had been suckered.
We got off the bus and did our warm up around the school property.
We found one small "hill" that took all of 2-3 strides to get up and
joked around about it being Agony Hill. We started joking around as all fear
left us. After running we stretched and got ready to race.
We lined up to start the race with 16 other teams, each team
allowed to have 2 people on the actual line and the rest behind. We had about
100 yards before a sharp right turn so it was very important to get out fast.
The gun went off and I took off like a shot. I was one of the first
10 to reach the turn and found myself in great position. The whole first mile
was on flat, hard grass. We did have that one "hill" to run up with
that we joked about, but it didn't slow things any. I don't remember that mile
split, but to give you an idea how fast that course was through the first mile,
as a senior I was in lead group of 8 that went through the mile mark in 4:45.
We weren't that fast, but we were moving quickly.
About 100 yards after the first mile mark we went into the woods
and started to run slightly down hill on the trail to a dried up creek bed. The
next 1/2 mile wound along that creek bed which had a sandy bottom, making
running difficult. The banks were kind of steep so it was hard to run on them
and you were pretty much forced into the sand. However, the sand was not my
main concern. I was starting to get very worried because, even though very
gradual, we were still going downhill. Distance can be deceiving in the woods,
but I was pretty sure that we'd been going downhill for quite a while and I was
starting to think maybe the upper classmen hadn't been joking after all.
Sure enough, we made a turn and there it was, Agony Hill. It
looked more like a dirt wall than a hill. This thing went almost straight up
and it was a solid distance to the top. I hit the thing at full speed and was
instantly slowed to less than walking speed. Some the runners in front of and
behind me were using their hands to help claw their way up and I quickly joined
It seemed like an eternity before I finally reached the top. I
crested Agony Hill and knew I was done. There was still over a mile to go and
my legs were cashed in and gone. I staggered on and just focused on keeping my
feet moving and nothing more. After what seemed like an eternity I crossed the
finish line. I had been beaten. Not just by other runners, but by Agony Hill.
It was my master.
It was a long ride home after the race. I had been humbled and was
embarrassed by my performance. But a new runner emerged during that bus ride.
By the time we pulled into our school's parking lot I had resolved to never,
ever, let a hill do that to me. I didn't know how I was going to beat Agony
Hill, only that I would do it.
From then on, any time I got a chance to run a hill, I would. My
team mates would get upset with me, but I became obsessed with them and any
time I could I would steer runs toward them. This wasn't easy to do either,
there really were very few hills in the area, but I soon knew them all. I would
run them on weekends, and breaks. I would do loop after loop after loop over
them. I still hated running them, they still hurt, but I was determined to
master them.
By the end of the following summer I was looking forward to my
rematch with Agony Hill. Race day couldn't come soon enough. Unfortunately, one
week before the meet my season came to an end with an injury. I would travel to
New Prairie with the team, but instead of facing Agony Hill I would be taking
times and cheering from my crutches. The hill seemed to laugh at me that day,
knowing I would not beat it again that year.
Over the course of the next year I ran hills even harder and went
into my third match up with Agony Hill confident I was going to be the better. I
looked forward to every race, and put my all into each one. But the one I
looked forward to most wasn’t until midseason. When the day of the New Prairie
Invitational finally arrived I was ready. As I had two years previous, I again charged
onto Agony Hill and again it showed its might. But, this time when I crested it
I still had something left in my legs and was actually able to run on. I still
slowed tremendously, but I was definitely running strong. The win that year was
mine, but it was like Rocky beating Apollo, it was only because I got back on
my feet first. I still had work to do.
After another year of hard work my senior year came and the final
match up with Agony Hill with it. I already mentioned how the first mile went.
I finished the 5k course in about 16:23, a PR, and more importantly, when I
crested Agony Hill I took off and hammered the last part of the race. I crushed
it. Agony Hill was mine.
Beating Agony Hill was great, but the real victory occurred
somewhere along the way to get to that point. I don't know when it happened,
but it did, and that's all that matters. Somewhere I lost my fear of hills, I
didn't dread them anymore. I enjoyed running them and they became my friends.
They still hurt, but it was a good hurt that I welcomed. Running hills will
never be easy, it is just like running the 100 meter dash all out. If you are
really, truly pushing as hard as you can, it will hurt, it's just the better
trained you are the less it hurts and the quicker the hurt fades away. Same
with running a marathon. I will never say running hills is easy, but if easy
was what I wanted I wouldn't be an athlete to begin with.
This same philosophy and love of hills that I got from running has
carried over to cycling as well. I go at hills on my bike the same way I do
when running. I challenge every hill I see and grind it out in the biggest
gears I can. Both when riding and running, if I come to an intersection and I'm
unsure which way to go, I always take the one that looks like it goes up the
When I asked my recommendations for getting better at running
hills it is simple, run them. Run them often, run them hard, don't fear them,
embrace and respect them, but strong. Since my freshman year at the New Prairie
Invitational I have run every hill possible, there hasn't been a single hill
not taken, and that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

National Athletic Training Month: Not all athletes wear jerseys

This March, as every March for last several years, the National Athletic Trainers Association and it's member try to raise awareness of our profession and what we do. Please take a moment to check us out:

Thank you and have a healthy and safe month of training!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Valentine's Day Marathon '11

The morning of the Valentine's Day Marathon I woke up, got dressed, walked the pooch and then hopped in my truck and left. I made a quick stop at a deli for a nice roast beef, egg and cheddar sandwich with hot sauce and a large cup of black coffee. Good fuel to get me through the 26.2 miles that were coming up.

I made the short drive to the park, found a place to park and went to check things out. This was a very informal race: no registration, no fee, no awards, and aid station only at end of each 6.55 mile loop. With all of the snow we had I wasn't sure about running the race at all. The only reason I was really there was to use it as a training run for the 50k trail run (The Hat Run) I had next month. Due to weather I hadn't been getting many miles in and this was good way to push myself into a long run.

The race would also be a good test for Vibram Five Fingers KSO Treks. I had done some limited trail running in my Sprints and KSOs but was worried about how well my feet would do for a long trail run if there were a lot of rocks and roots. For short distances rocks and roots didn't bother my feet, but a 50k could prove different. So, shortly after signing up for the Hat Run I bought the KSO Treks, which have a slightly thicker sole. They also have a bit of a tread, more like a typical trail running shoe, which could prove valuable. The Valentine's Day Marathon I hoped would give me a good idea whether my feet would hold up with the KSO Treks or whether I had to quickly come up with another plan.

Upon arriving at the start/finish area I "checked in". I quickly donned my red stocking cap, which we were asked to wear to help ID "racers", but not required to wear and my bib number. I was assigned the number 2 and was feeling pretty special despite the fact that all of us got the same number. I didn't really understand that, but didn't care, figured it was all part of the fun.

There was a bit of a wait for start time and then for everyone to get organized. A few minutes after 10am, our official start time, we were set and the National Anthem was sung and race instructions given. Lots of warnings of ice and hard packed snow in them and cautions especially when passing. Then we were off!

The start area was only standard sidewalk width so I positioned myself a bit back from the line. The race included a 10k and 1/2 marathon option and I wanted to let the shorter distance runners a chance to get free without tricky passing. My mistake!

Within 50 yards I, along with many others, found myself trapped by a couple groups of some of the rudest and most inconsiderate women I've encountered during a race. I understand running with your friends, it makes the miles go by easier, but when you have a narrow path with deep and dangerous to run on snow and ice to each side and insist on running on 3 a breast so you can talk you are being inconsiderate. And to do it at the start of a race with several hundred runners trapped behind you goes beyond breaking race etiquette. They made no effort to move over as runner after runner slipped and scampered off path around them. They just kept chatting oblivious to the rest of us who were taking up space in THEIR world.

It took me almost a 1/2 mile to work my way around them and I was off. The opening 2 miles were as icy as promised. I was very glad of the extra traction my Treks provided me. As long as I kept my strides relatively short and took it easy around corners it wasn't too bad. There was one steep hill, to get up the side of an overpass, that proved too treacherous to run, but rest was doable.

The first 2 miles went by relatively quickly. There was some slipping, but damage done by it was minimal. But I was looking forward to the hard packed snow with good footing that we were promised for the remainder of the 6.55 mile loop. Once there though, I was less than thrilled.

The snow became hard packed alright, but was like ice and had all sorts of bumps and angles to it. Pace quickly dropped as it became a major effort just to stay upright, much less move forward. I had managed sub 9 minute miles to that point, but knew I was quickly around 11-12 minute pace now. The only fun part was 1/2 mile into it trying to hammer the gong they hung by the trail without slipping and turning my butt into a toboggan on the downhill where it was placed. I kept my feet somehow and rang out a solid bong on it.

The rest of the first loop consisted of some nice scenery and occasionally passing or being passed by other runners. A few comments during the brief meetings to distract from how the body was feeling helped pass the time. Footing remained horrible and feet continued to slide all directions twisting them up as well as my ankles and knees. Everything below the waist was a bit upset with me as I hit the end of the lap.

The aid station at the start/finish area was self serve, so I grabbed a bottle of water to refill my bottle that I was carrying in my waist pack. I quickly filled up and took off again for the start of lap 2. The temperature had warmed slightly since the first lap, which wasn't surprising since it took me around 1:06 to complete it. But, the footing hadn't improved much.

On the 2nd lap the ice was still slick, as was the hard packed snow, but both had improved very slightly. Unfortunately my legs were fried from the first lap and the 2nd lap just managed to put an even bigger hurt on them. I was still occasionally passing and being passed by other runners but things had thinned out considerably. I spent a good portion of the loop on my own. Even the 'highlight' of banging the gong was dampened when I slipped causing myself to straighten up right into the branch it was hanging from. I caught a bend in the branch right in the belly of my right side trapezius muscle. No major harm done, but an added insult to the injury I'd already been facing.

I completed the first half of the marathon in approximately 2:15. Far from a PR performance, but I was happy with my efforts. I quickly refilled my water bottle again and took off on my third loop. Things had continued to warm and there was now a 1/2 mile stretch of the start/finish stretch that was getting soggy. My feet were quickly soaked and over the first 2 miles got very cold. There was good news though. The ice had melted slightly and the hard packed snow had softened considerably and wasn't nearly as slippery. If my legs weren't already extremely sore from the first 2 loops I probably would have made much better time on this loop. But, as it was, I just kept plodding along at the same pace, unable to go faster. On the positive side though, the beating my legs were taken was considerably lessened.

The third loop was pretty uneventful. I saw very few runners, hit the gong without hurting myself and slipped around considerably less. I ran a slightly slower lap than the second, but didn't feel much worse. Unfortunately the final 200 yards was now a big puddle and my feet were thoroughly soaked and muddy by the time I reached the aid station.

I again quickly filled my water bottle and plunged into the fourth and final lap. The first 600 yards were more mud puddles and I slogged through them. The rest of the course had improved tremendously and if I had fresh legs I think I could really have cranked out a good lap on it. However, my legs were done and I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. This lap there would be no luxury of having other runners to occasionally focus on, I was pretty much alone. In the first 4 miles of the loop the only people I saw were 2 unfriendly walkers going the other direction. Somewhere around the 4 1/2 mile mark a runner, not in the race blew by me. I saw and passed one other racer a mile from the finish.

The last lap was an exercise of will power. My legs and feet were in pain. My toes were frozen. I was starting to feel dehydrated and my blood sugar was plunging. I wanted to stop badly and say the heck with it. It was a race, but I was doing it as a training run. No harm in quitting. But, I've never had a dnf and that more than anything kept my feet moving. My spirits did buoy in the final mile when I saw and over took another racer. It wasn't so much from passing him as knowing I wasn't the only one still left on the course. At times it felt like I was alone in the world and just that one person made a big difference.

I finished strong, but still had my slowest lap of the day. My unofficial and official (timing was all on our honor, we recorded our own finish times) was 4:43:24. I felt like crap, my feet, ankles, knees, and all leg muscles were killing me. My right shoulder was throbbing, I was dehydrated and blood sugar shot. But, I was in and alive and met my goals. I got in a training run that would help me be ready for my 50k. My feet, though sore, showed they could go the distance in vibrams, no way the 50k course could be harder on them. I made it through almost 5 hours of running with zero calories or electrolytes, doing 31.2 miles with them would seem easy.

All in all it was a good day. I learned and gained a lot. I knew I would pay for it for a couple of days, but that's ok, as an endurance athlete I know to expect it. I may have even set a new PR, for my slowest ever marathon, but still haven't been able to find records to confirm. I had my first ever top 10 marathon finish and since there only 15 finishers I was also in possesion of my second worst finish, being only 6 places from my second dead last place (the only 1 I had was in a an injured 5k high school cross country race that would end up costing me the season). Looking back, I'd gladly do it all again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Change of Season

I first started running when I was 11 years old and as a 7th grader joined my middle school's cross country team. However, it wasn't until 2 years later, as a freshman I high school that I started running year round. I quickly found that I was just as at home running in worst part of winter as I was the rest of the year. Whether it was because I was comfortable wearing shorts no matter the weather, my sure footedness or something else, running came naturally to me.

I took a 3 year hiatus from true winter running while I lived in Texas. Laredo rarely got below 40 degrees and we never saw snow while I was there. Despite the time away from it, when I returned to the north, I found that I hadn't lost a step in regards to winter running.

The ability to wear shorts year round I long ago wrote off as being a simple case of mind over matter. I didn't mind the cold, therefore it didn't matter. My ability to keep my feet under me no matter how slick and icy the roads became, I never really thought about. It wasn't until a few years ago that I even bothered to take notice of my luck.

About midway through that winter after hearing many a runner complain about their many slips and falls something clicked in me and I finally started to wonder why I had never joined their ranks. Sure I've slipped many a time and done all sorts of spins, twists and maneuvers that would make even the most experienced ballerina jealous, but I had never gone down. That isn't to say I never fell, but those few times I had was not because of slips, but rather from tripping over an unseen object hidden beneath the snow on the trail upon which I ran. Tripped and fallen yes, but never slipped and fallen on the ice.

It wasn't until the following fall that I finally caught a glimpse of the reason why. As the weather grew colder and the winter rapidly approached I started to notice something different about my running. How I had gone over 20 years without noticing, I don't know, but I was now. I found that my stride was slowly getting shorter. My pace wasn't changing much, but I was definitely shortening and quickening my stride. The colder the day, the shorter the stride. I wasn't sure why, but I was positive this is what was happening.

It took me a while to figure out a possible reason, which it wasn't until this winter that I finally felt was confirmed.

My normal stride is fairly long and as a result my heel would strike well in front of my body at a sharp angle to the ground. This was fine most of the year, but on ice it would prove dangerous. Only a small part of the sole would come into contact with the ice, which would lessen traction, and the angle would velocity across the surface of the ice. By shortening my stride I was allowing the heel to strike at closer to a 90 degree angle which would bring more tread into contact, therefore more traction, and would provide less angular velocity across the ice.

I won't try to go into physics to explain this, but it's a relatively simple idea. A simple way to look at it would be to think about an object sitting on ice. If you give it a push from the side it goes sliding across the ice. If you push straight down on it, it doesn't move. From there it is easy to see that as you vary the angle between straight down and directly from the side that the distance the object will slide varies. Same thing for our feet. That's why when most of us walk on ice we do so gingerly, carefully putting our feet down directly below us, flat footed.

Despite not realizing it, I had for many years been changing my stride every winter to maximize traction and returning to my optimal stride as winter passed. I would still slow further and run cautiously on ice, but my slipping was minimal.

Last winter I spent most of the winter working on becoming a forefoot runner and learning to run in Vibram Five Fingers. I was too busy concentrating on learning how to run differently that I wasn't paying any attention to any of this. After a couple weeks of running on snow and ice this year I came to a realization that helped confirm my theory on the shorter strides.

As I was running on a very slick, icy road, I realized I was running normal speed for dry ground and I hadn't shortened my stride. After thinking about this for a while I realized that when running forefoot my foot was landing directly below me at a 90 degree angle to the ground. This meant no angular velocity. In addition I was maximizing the amount of tread in contact with the ground, further improving traction. At least to me this confirms my theory about the shorter strides.

I still don't know why or how my body just automatically made this change in stride, but I'm sure I've been doing it since day one. I remember my freshman year my track coach getting on me all through February and March about lengthening my stride. He was same coach I had all fall for cross country and he never had problem with my stride the entire season. Every spring and fall while I was in high school he never commented on my stride, yet every winter same thing, lengthen my stride.

Winter running will always carry some risks and nothing can make you immune to falls. But, experience has shown me that the risk can be lessened by having your foot land as close to a 90 degree angle as possible and pretty much directly under your body. You still may need to slow down on ice, but by following this you should have maximum traction and minimize slipping. Don't let winter frighten you out of running, dress correctly, adjust your form if necessary and have fun.