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What runners can learn from penguins about dealing with snow and ice

It's time to do the Arctic shuffle

Penguins are not great runners, but since they live most of their lives in snowy and icy conditions, they know a thing or two about traversing slippery terrain. It won’t be fast and it won’t be pretty, but if runners want to stay on their feet this winter, they should take a page out of these Arctic experts’ book.

Should you avoid trail running in the winter?

 

The Arctic shuffle

No matter how hard you try to avoid it, you will inevitably come across at least a few slippery sections on your run during the winter. Regardless of what type of run you’re doing (an easy run, tempo or interval session) you should not — we repeat, should not — just run right through it, unless you want to end up staring at the sky. Instead, you should slow down and adjust your gait to walk like a penguin, following these steps:

  1. Point your feet slightly outward, penguin-style, to increase your centre of gravity.
  2. Lean forward slightly so that your centre of gravity is over your feet (as a bonus, if you do fall, in this position you’ll fall forward, which is safer than falling backward).
  3. Slow down and take short steps to mimic the penguins’ shuffling movements.
  4. Extend your arms away from your body to maintain balance.

 

How to fall safely

Sometimes even the most cautious of runners slip and fall on an unseen patch of ice. The main concern when falling is the potential for head injuries or bone breaks or fractures, so if you find yourself in this situation, follow these steps to incur as little damage as possible.

  1. If you feel yourself starting to fall, bend your knees and try to fold your body into itself. This will decrease the height of your fall, which will reduce the impact when you hit the ground.
  2. Tuck your chin against your chest to avoid hitting your head.
  3. Don’t try to break your fall with your arms (this will likely lead to a sprain, fracture or break). Instead, cradle your arms around your head to protect it, cross them over your chest or simply keep them away from your body. This will prevent them from being crushed underneath you.
  4. If you can, try to turn your body and fall on your side.

The key to winter running? Modify your expectations