Traction Aids for Runners

“Well the weather outside is frightful…”

This popular Christmas song was in my head as I braved a run outdoors in the river valley this past week. This week in Edmonton, we reached a record high of 16.4 degrees Celsius and we have been well above normal temperatures for several days, creating a landscape of ice and slush. Unfortunately, the warm temperatures have melted what precious snow we had for skiing and the trails and sidewalks have become skating rinks, creating traction problems for running.

Retailers are now busy advertising traction aids for shoes like Yak Trax or Sure Foot, to reduce the risk of falls. These can be helpful. However, personally, I do not enjoy running in them. Firstly, I find they increase my shoe’s stiffness. Secondly, though effective on packed snow, they are unfortunately, not effective on glare ice (at least not the running versions, with lower profile spikes). In fact, this false sense of security, increases my risk of slipping when I don’t adjust my stride length when I transition from snow to ice. As well, on any given run, I will encounter dry pavement, ice, slush, snow and puddles and so this inconsistency in surfaces makes the traction aid effective only for a small portion of my run.

Like me, if you do not enjoy running on a treadmill and insist on running outdoors in these poor weather conditions, then what is a runner to do? Here are some suggestions:

1. Reduce your stride length. Or increase your cadence or step rate. During conditions of reduced traction, reducing your stride length will reduce your risk of slipping or falling.

2. Walk around icy patches. As a runner, we do not enjoy slowing down or walking. However, losing 5-10 seconds on a run to avoid an icy patch is far better than weeks or months of rehab after a bad fall or fracture.

3. Walk down hills when you are unsure of your footing. It may look like dry pavement but as water melts down hills, they leave a covering of invisible ice. Running down hills on pavement is actually riskier than running off to the side on snow. As you know, you will get better traction on snow than ice.

4. Do your speed work or tempos on dry pavement. Mark out a route that is dry during your warm ups and then perform your speed work along the same route now that you have established that it is indeed dry.

5. Traction aids like racing spikes increases your peak vertical impact forces, loading rate, peak braking forces and stiffness. Since they are used so infrequently, ease into them gradually. Do a few short, easy runs in them to allow your body to adjust to the increase in impact and braking forces. Remember to not neglect advice 1-3 above despite their use. These aids may provide added traction but they should not replace common sense when running in poor conditions. Just like driving your vehicle, snow tires are helpful but they do not replace careful driving habits. Also, be careful when running on pavement with the traction aids. The spikes will stop more abruptly, resulting in higher braking forces which can be hard on your joints, especially your knees. The sudden deceleration of the spikes on a dry surface have even caused runners to trip and fall!

6. As mentioned, the spikes on the traction aids will increase your peak braking forces and the increase will be higher if you are over-striding. Reducing your stride length becomes even more important when using these aids.


Submitted by Albert Chan

Logan S., Hunter I., Hopkins JT., Leland JB., Parcell AC. (2010) Ground Reaction Force Differences Between Running Shoes, Racing Flats and Distance Spikes in Runners. J Sports Sci Med. Mar 9(1): 147-153.

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