Training Cold Weather Running
By Lisa Jhung (Runners World)
How to Run in Snowshoes
Interested in trying snowshoe running, but not sure how to take the first step? Follow these tips from veteran runner and racer, Richard Bolt. Running on (frozen) water is easier than you may think.
Interested in trying snowshoe running, but not sure how to take the first step? Follow these tips from Richard Bolt, member of the Atlas Snowshoe Racing Team and five-time competitor at the National Snowshoe Championships. Heading out on a run in the snow is easier than you may think.
1. A little technique. “Running or walking on snowshoes is just like walking or running without them,” says Bolt. “You’re just making small technique changes—a slightly wider stance, and lifting your knees higher.”
2. Where to go. While many cross-country centers have marked snowshoe trails, you really can snowshoe just about anywhere there’s snow (but see tip No. 5 below). To find a trail near you, check out snowshoes.com, which currently has 3,300 user-submitted trails via Google Maps. “The site shows push-pins for people to find where to go,” says Bolt.
3. Dry run. Don’t wait until a cold parking lot or trailhead to figure out the snowshoe’s binding. “Try putting them on for the first time at home,” says Bolt, who recommends stepping into the binding (while wearing a running shoe) on grass, or even carpet (be careful not to snag your carpet, though). “Walk around in your backyard, on grass. Even run a few steps. You can’t wreck snowshoes on grass,” he says.
4. Stay close. When you go out for your first run, pick someplace close to home. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to do something epic,” advises Bolt, who acknowledges that it’s another story if you have to drive a ways to reach snow. But, if the ground is covered in snow where you live, take your first snowshoe run on a local golf course or park. “That way, you’re not investing a lot of time and logistics in it.”
5. Hard pack. “It’s easier to get the hang of snowshoe running if you’re on a groomed, firmer surface at first rather than plowing through knee-deep powder,” says Bolt. For your first snowshoe run or hike, head for groomed trails. “Most cross-country ski areas allow snowshoers. A lot of snow parks and forest-service areas, especially in the Rockies and Sierras, have more areas that are groomed. And the northeast has wide network of snowmobile trails,” advises Bolt.
6. Rent first. Bolt suggests renting snowshoes at places like REI, Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS), Cabela’s, or at a cross-country ski area before buying. While renting running-specific snowshoes is a rarity, Bolt advises renting the smallest, lightest snowshoe available. “Even in the most powdery conditions, floatation is less important than the ability to maneuver and save energy with a smaller snowshoe,” he says. And, keep an eye out for demo days put on by snowshoe manufacturers early in the winter. (Both demo day and fun run schedules can be found on snowshoes.com and snowshoeracing.com.) And, check out the Winter Trails Day event that takes place throughout the country. “That way, you can try snowshoeing for free,” he says.
7. Then buy. For people who want to then buy snowshoes, it’s important to get ones suited for running. Bolt explains that features of an ideal running snowshoe include a spring-loaded binding, a narrow-waisted frame, an emphasis on lightweight construction—with less material in the binding, fewer crampon teeth, aluminum or titanium instead of steel. “The goal of a running snowshoe is to be better balanced for rotational weight and greater maneuverability.”
8. Get dressed. Keep in mind that some snowshoe bindings kick up snow onto your backside. “Knowing that should influence what kind of clothing you use,” says Bolt, who recommends a light shell jacket and pants that shed snow (instead of fleece). “If you usually winter-run in a softshell, try a hard shell,” he says.
And don’t overdress. “If you’re comfortable before you start out, temperature-wise, you’re over-dressed,” says Bolt. “If you’re a little bit cold when you start, you’re probably perfectly dressed.”
Bolt advises to bring layers in a fanny pack or small shoulder pack. “Having spare gloves, a light shell, and a dry hat don’t cost you a lot of weight, but give you great backup. If you fall and get your gloves wet, you’ll appreciate those spare gloves.”
9. Group run. “Your first snowshoe run can be more fun when you can do it with other people,” says Bolt. Try going with a group, like in an organized tour during Winter Trails Day or other events. Or try to get a group of your friends together. “That way you can learn and gain experience together.”
10. Advanced skill. Once you’re ready, running on un-groomed or narrow singletrack that might be slightly packed down by a few other trail users can be really fun…but it is harder. “Think about trying to slow it down a little bit,” says Bolt. “You have to be more relaxed. The surface that you’re landing on is going to be more pliable, so it helps to be more reactive and resilient.” Your running gait will vary between longer and shorter strides, and your snowshoe might slide a little left, or a little right as you take steps. Some footfalls will be harder than others. With experience, advises Bolt, you can learn to read the snow and the subtle changes in the surface, and then you won’t have to slow down as much as you might think. “Flow with it, don’t fight it,” says Bolt. “Snowshoe running in powder can be like skiing and even surfing.”
11. Race…if you want. Snowshoe races of all distances—the most popular being 5-K and 10-K—take place throughout winter around the country. To find a race, check out usssa.com and snowshoeracing.com, and in the northeast, Runwmac.com. “But don’t feel like you have to race,” says Bolt. “Snowshoe running can be as fast or as slow, as competitive or leisurely as you want.”