Snowshoe Running 101: Good Practice

Twelve tips to keep you healthy and competitive

Start of the Low02 Challenge 10K snowshoe race.     Photo: Ellen Miller Goins

1. To avoid injury, warm up and stretch. Although this might seem obvious, it is especially important with snowshoeing because your ankles are always off-camber. Take a warm-up lap or two, then stretch. Give special attention to your ankles and hips.

2. A short workout is better than no workout. Keep in mind that snowshoeing is a tougher workout than regular running, so 30 minutes of snowshoe running will burn more calories than 30 minutes of road running. If you’re short on time, opt for hill repeats or a tempo run, which will add some intensity to your workout.

3. Practice running uphill. Hill repeats will make you stronger, faster. Going uphill requires one of two methods. Number one, point your toe into the hill while keeping your heel raised. This requires extra foot and calf strength, as you need extra power to push off. Number two, strike your whole foot down against the incline at once. Be warned, this may strain your Achilles. Either way, take smaller steps for faster turnover, and keep your arms moving.

4. Practice running downhill. “Let it go, and trust your feet,” Lambert says. Going downhill allows you to make up a lot of time and cover a lot of distance quickly. The more comfortable you feel with forward momentum, the better prepared you’ll be in a race. Once you get a feel for how the crampons grasp the snow, you’ll feel more confident going downhill fast.

5. Practice running on both packed singletrack and fresh powder. “The singletrack will help with learning quick foot placement in narrow conditions,” Lambert says. “The unbroken powder will help you learn to finesse through the unknown.”

6. Practice running curves and off-camber trails. Find a winding single-track that forces you to think quickly. You will naturally learn to run the tangents, swinging your outside foot around the curves. With narrow, unlevel trails, remember to plant your upper foot well into the trail as flatly as possible to get adequate grip.  Even if your other foot slides off the trail or into sloppy snow, you will likely have enough grip to keep your footing. 

7. Pre-run the course. You'll want to become familiar with any hills, turns, and snow conditions. Lambert recommends scouting out locations where you’ll want to speed up. If you know the finish line is around a bend, for example, you’ll be less likely to slow down around that turn. Lambert also recommends finding locations to throw unwanted clothing or gear. “Snow eats things,” she says, so when you can’t spot your $200 sunglasses on top of drift, at least you’ll have an idea where to look.

8. Hydrate. If you’re dehydrated, you’ll likely lose two minutes on a 10k and be 25 to 35 percent slower. Water stops are not common during snowshoe races of 10k or less, so start hydrating at least two days before. During winter training, consider an insulated Camelbak. Again, don’t wear a water pack during the race—it’ll slow you down.

9. Fuel yourself. Take a Gu—or some type of energy shot—30 minutes prior to racing. “It’s unlikely that you will need to refuel during a 5K or 10K snowshoe race, but if you are new to this, it's a good idea to slip a gel packet into your glove or pocket,” Lambert says. “Better to be ready than to bonk.”

10. Relax. Relax your face, your shoulders, everything. Don’t waste energy by tensing your muscles. Plus, you’ll look awkward in photos with your face all twisted up.

11. Keep warm clothes at the finish. You’ll get cold quickly after you stop moving.

12. Join the United States Snowshoe Association. Do it before you race, especially if you think you might qualify for nationals. Registration is just $30, and includes a subscription to Trail Runner magazine.

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