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Snowshoe Running – Trails Not Required

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Check out a brief video of snowshoe running in the cornfields of Minnesota.

Snowshoe Running – Trails Not Required from Yellow Bird Flight on Vimeo.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a snowy destination and are yearning to get in some trail running, give snowshoe running a try!

Snowshoe running is a lot like trail running yet the intensity and challenge offer a great way to get your heart racing and your quads burning with only your winter trail running gear and two additional requirements – snowshoes and snow.

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Snowshoes have been around for thousands of years and were originally made from a heavy frame wrapped in hide strips designed to create a deck allowing the user to float above soft snow. Today’s snowshoe materials are drastically different but provide the same basic function. However, snowshoe running differs from traditional snowshoeing in a variety of ways.

First, the snowshoes are lighter and have a shorter and narrower deck. Adjustable straps are designed to hold running shoes in the binding and a central pivot point allows the foot to rock back and forth while sharp teeth-like crampons allow the snowshoe to dig into ice and snow with every toe-off run movement. Some models also come with interchangeable crampons designed to handle a wide variety of terrain from ice to powder or hard pack. Prices range from $150-$350+ and more popular brands include Dion, Atlas, and Crescent Moon.

What about poles? Not required.

Anatomy of a snowshoe.

Anatomy of a Snowshoe.

Snowshoe running requires significantly more effort than trail running including higher leg lift and slightly wider gate to accommodate the snowshoes. This slight change in form engages the stabilizing muscle groups in the core and hips. It also works out the ankles and calves thanks to banked, slick, or unpredictable terrain. Plus there are now two pieces of equipment between your bare foot and the ground: the running shoe and the snowshoe – each working in concert to propel you forward…most of the time. The first 10-15 minutes takes a little getting used to, but after a while you forget you have anything on your feet and your run stride only has to slightly adjust to its new form.

If you are new to snowshoe running plan to reset your pace expectations. Running a 10K on snowshoes in two feet of fresh snow across a rolling meadow can take up to 3-4 more minutes per mile longer on your min/mile pace than cranking out a 10K on dirt pack through your favorite patch of woods. Being at or above altitude just adds to the lung burning fun.

No trails? No worries! Snowshoeing allows you to make your own trail whether it’s through a rural corn field, a mountain forest, or even an urban golf course! The overall experience is like running in slow motion yet your heart rate is sky high.

Legs and hips get a hard workout from lifting each leg higher and slightly wider to accommodate snow and snowshoes, especially when cutting new trail.

Legs and hips get a hard workout from lifting each leg higher and slightly wider to accommodate snow and snowshoes, especially when cutting new trail.

Snowshoe racing is an officially recognized sport sanctioned by the United States Snowshoe Association. Races are held throughout the winter and early spring with distances ranging from 5K all the way up to 135 mile ultra endurance events. But snow is required. If you are thinking about signing up for a race in an area where snow is unpredictable wait until literally the last minute to register – a warming spell or blizzard can make the difference between an event being on or cancelled.

I first tried snowshoe running in 2012 on a trip to Minnesota. I had no gear and no experience but I just decided I wanted to give it a go. I found a website that put me in touch with a local group of trail runners who met twice a week throughout the winter to snowshoe run. Luckily they were 15 minutes from where I was staying. One of the guys, who just happened to be the race director for the Braveheart Snowshoe Race Series, had an extra pair of snowshoes and let me use them for the first run. We ran at night on some groomed trails in a local park and after two hours I was exhausted, sweaty, and completely hooked on the sport. I bought my own pair of snowshoes the next day. I continue to run with the group whenever I am back in Minnesota. I also run in the cornfields and woods next to my parent’s house sometimes following the existing snowmobile tracks and other times forging my own trails.

im Mc Donell introduces me to trail running – clearly I am overdressed. Running with the Braveheart run group across a golf course at Carver Park in Minnesota.

Left: Jim Mc Donell introduces me to trail running – clearly I am overdressed.  Right: Running with the Braveheart run group across a golf course at Carver Park in Minnesota.

Tips to get started with snowshoe running:

  1. Search for a local club, group, or organization to run with or find out about local trails.
  2. Search for a place to rent snowshoes such as a local sports outfitter or resort. Make sure you rent snowshoes designed for running. Standard snowshoes typically used for hunting will work but they are heavier, wider, and can result in banging up the inside of your ankles.
  3. Dress in layers. You will start out cold but will quickly warm up and sweat a lot! Plus your butt, calves, and shoes will get wet from the flying snow so best to wear materials that wick or repel water.
  4. Bring a hydration pack and some calories.
  5. Pace yourself accordingly and plan to take walk or rest breaks. Use this time to stop and enjoy the scenery!
Plan accordingly for pants, socks, and shoes to get wet.

Plan accordingly for pants, socks, and shoes to get wet.

If you do decide to buy your own snowshoes, there are many resources available on the web. When doing your research ask yourself how and where you plan to use the snowshoes (Ice or snow? Flats or hills?) If you plan to do any racing, look at USSSA’s website to ensure your snowshoes meet the sizing requirements for sanctioned events.

Snowshoe running is a great way to enjoy the outdoors year round and get in your trail fix during the winter months. And with the right gear, you can make your own trails.

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Forging new trails in fresh snow.

– Susan Farago

About the author

Susan Farago Susan Farago discovered her love of the outdoors as a child during family hiking trips to Lake Superior’s north shore in Minnesota. As an adult, her passion for sport and fitness evolved into competing in long distance events. Susan discovered trail running in 2005 as a way to cross train, and she has been enjoying running with the birds and trees ever since! Susan co-founded Trailhead Running in 2012 in order to share her love of the trails with other women. For more information on Susan, check out the About page.

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