Running on Snowshoes Part 2
Editor’s Note: Just when you think winter has released its icy grip, it lashes back with March and April snowstorms. Like all good Minnesotans, we know that snow can last late into spring; here’s a fun and different way to enjoy it! This two-part series is written by guest contributor, Jim McDonell, and has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minneapolis Running.
About Running Snowshoes
“Flotation” is the surface area of a snowshoe measured in square inches. More is better for deep snow. Less is lighter and better for packed or thin snow. Most races are packed snow, but conditions vary tremendously. Expect to run in snowshoes that are 20”-25” long, and 2-3 lbs/pair. With 2 or 3 crampons or cleats on front and back, you can run up an icy 45-degree hill! I once won a race overall in snowshoes when everybody else was wearing spikes. When running in snowshoes, Expect to run 2-5 minutes slower per mile vs. regular running. Most racing snowshoes are 7-8” wide.
You can rent snowshoes before you buy to try them out, however, many stores that rent snowshoes rent the walking type and not the smaller running type. Many snowshoe races rent the running type, such as the Twin City Snowshoe Shuffle held in New Brighton, or the Treehaven race held near Tomahawk, WI, (both races are held in early February). Alternatively, if you’re local to the Twin Cities area, you can join my training group and try my Dion demo snowshoes for free!
Running Snowshoe Brands
Below are a few of the major running snowshoe manufacturers. You can purchase snowshoes online, or preferably locally at running stores such as RunMN owned by elite runner and snowshoe enthusiast Kelly Mortenson. Kelly sells both Dion and Northern Lites, 2 of the best brands in my opinion. Snowshoe prices run around $250 for a good pair. Do not buy something at a discount retailer! If you’re weary about the cost, consider that a runner spends $100 for a pair of running shoes that last 6 months-1 year while snowshoes last 5-10 years.
Atlas, made in China
Crescent Moon, made in Colorado
Dion Snowshoes, made in Vermont
Modular system. Choose frames, crampons, and bindings. Easily changed crampons/bindings.
Kahtoola, made in Arizona
MSR, made in Seattle
Northern Lites, made in Wisconsin
Redfeather, made in Wisconsin
TSL, made in France
Below is a pair of 7” x 21” Dion 121 racing snowshoes showing the hook and loop binding for fast entry and exit and the stainless steel crampons. Crampons are easily interchangeable unlike most that are riveted and need to be returned for repair.
Snowshoe Running Clothing
The clothing that you wear for snowshoe running is somewhat similar to what you would wear for regular winter running, although almost everyone overdresses when they start. You do burn more calories snowshoe running than regular running. I find that the key to staying comfortable is keeping my ears, hands and toes warm. Here are a few items I like to wear:
Head gear: “180’s” or similar earmuffs. I generally find hats cause overheating but everyone is different!
Footwear: Lightweight running shoe. 2 layers of wool socks with instant adhesive toe warmers between. Altra running shoes are my favorite due to the large toe box that keeps your toes warmer due to less compression with heavier wool socks.
Hands: Mittens NOT gloves. Lightweight nylon shell. If colder add wool liners. if colder still add instant hand warmers.
Face: When very cold you can use a face mask but I have found even the best ones with nose and mouth holes restrict breathing in a race (OK for training). Instead use vaseline or warpaint.
Top: Breathable and layers is key although I prefer a singlet.
Bottom: Spandex tights can accumulate ice balls behind the knees. Spandex can also collect burrs. Nylon does not have those problems but can be noisy. In warm weather shorts with vaseline on your legs works. Wind briefs are a good idea when colder. I have even been told of bubble wrap under nylon wind briefs! Or just wear a kilt and go commando!
Related: The 2017 Winter Running Gear Guide
How to Train for Snowshoe Running
You can train to use snowshoes by Using elliptical machines, kettle bells, doing squats, lunges, pushups, stability ball crunches, interval runs, and trail running or, you can simply put on a pair and go!
You do not need to be in great physical shape or have any special skills to snowshoe run. Run as you would without snowshoes, but allow for very slight straddling. Lift your legs slightly higher [than you would in regular running], come down, and lift off on the crampons on the ball of your feet. Do NOT snowshoe on blacktop or concrete (or surfaces with light snow) even for short distances. This will dull or even break the crampons. Running uphill uses a shorter stride, and puts more weight onto your toes to firmly plant the crampons. Downhill running uses a longer stride. When traversing a hillside, place your weight on the edge up the slope and firmly plant crampons to avoid slipping. Although not used in racing, you can traverse up steep slopes with a herringbone, like X-country skiing, by side stepping or by kick stepping up. Never bridge your snowshoe over rocks or logs, instead land directly on the stone or log or jump over. In powder, rotate the lead like in a bike race (deep snow in a shoe run is just like wind on a bike). In icy conditions, keep a lower center of gravity. On crusty snow, lift more forcefully to avoid faceplanting. (That said, it is guaranteed you will do a faceplant at some point!) On packed snow, expect to add about 2-3 minutes/mile to your 10K race pace. On powder, you might double your 10K time. Elite snowshoe racers are capable of sub six minute miles and sub 40 minute 10K’s!
Training with a group is always easier. In preparation for next year, join my email group with weekly group snowshoe runs (days and evenings by headlamp). Group snowshoe runs in various locations, such as Carver Park, Woodbury, Afton State Park, Sunfish Lake Park, Elm Creek, etc. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. City, county and state parks and golf courses are a few good locations to snowshoe, just be sure to stay off groomed X-country ski trails.
Snowshoe Running Races
There are lots of snowshoe races from the 5K to 26.2 miles and beyond, including ultra races such as the Arrowhead 135 miler from International Falls to Tower, MN and even multi-day races. Participants form a close-knit group, and almost always number in the hundreds (with the exception of the La Ciaspalado race in Italy which sees around 6,000 people!) There are hundreds of snowshoe races in the USA alone.
2017 is the 8th year of a snowshoe series held in the Midwest….the “Braveheart Snowshoe Running Series”. FREE and win PRIZES like snowshoes (DION), running shoes (ALTRA), gift certificates (RunMN and Silent Glide). Check out cutemoose.net now (in preparation for next winter) for more information on the races and the Braveheart series.
The season this year may be winding down, and conditions sub-optimal for many winter sports, but snowshoe running does not need tons of snow. (I know some racers from Florida and Texas that do it on the beach!) Even if you don’t want to snowshoe on the beach, be sure to try it out this year or next and map out your races now for winter 2018! Races start the first weekend of January and there are several every weekend until mid March. Ten weeks of Joie de Vivre!