Snowshoe Running-The Top Secret Success to a Fitter Ultra Runner.

As I have transitioned from my snowshoes and into my trail running shoes for a busy Spring of races, I feel fitter and stronger than ever before. Why is that the case? Is snowshoe running to thank? Why do not more people snowshoe?

Let us look to our European friends. Some of the top athletes in the sport of Ultra Running like Kilian Jornet, François D’Haene, and many others practice Ski-mountaineering in the winter-time. Being on the snow, helps them build different strengths, revving their aerobic engine on full-blast but without the true pounding of hard running on roads and technical trails. They come off of their skis each season fitter than before. Not all of us though have mountains. I live in Rhode Island, and Skimo just does not exist as a possibility for me. But I can snowshoe.

World Cup photo from Olympic site.

So it still boggles my mind that more trail runners do not snowshoe run. Snowshoe running is in many ways trail running on snow. Sure it is a much harder effort to go not as fast on a regular trail, but through practice and time invested, you get better at understanding the different snow conditions and how to move faster through them. Snowshoe running just adds another dimension to trail running that similar to Skimo, gives you that new-found strength that builds your overall fitness without taxing your body the same as running year-round.

The Half Marathon at Nationals 2019. Photo Credits Charles Crosby

Snowshoe running can even be done on sand so for those that live in warmer climates, you can sandshoe and gain similar benefits to running on the snow. When you snowshoe, you engage your hip flexors, hamstrings, ankles, legs, quads, and core. In many ways snowshoe gives you not only a major aerobic workout but also a full-body workout helping to strengthen muscles, ligaments, tendons etc. without the stress of pounding. Also a little goes a long way. You do not have to snowshoe everyday to become fit. I typically will snowshoe run once or twice a week when I have snow to run on in the winter months. That is why I love it. The little effort you put into it, can provide massive gains. Snow provides resistance so more energy is needed to move through it. Having an extra pound on each foot also is like weight-lifting for your legs and in turn, increases your heart-rate and demand for more oxygen. Over time, you just become stronger and stronger.

This article by Irunfar.com tells a lot of what makes snowshoe running such a great resource for runners in the winter: https://www.irunfar.com/snowshoe-running-basics-why-and-how#:~:text=Ballengee%2C%20who%20has%20a%20degree,flexibility%2C%20and%20enhancing%20muscular%20balance.

Getting up to speed. Photo Credits Charles Crosby
USA Nationals 2022. Video By Gregory T Photography

(Ring …Ring)-Call to the trail runner and ultra runners out there…

Rather than spending all-winter on the treadmill and counting down the minutes until winter is over, why not embrace winter? Because I snowshoe run, winter feels a little brighter. It gets me outside and allows my body to gain better circulation and adaptation to the cold. I look forward to snowstorms so I can grab my snowshoes and explore. Snowshoe races are fun and affordable. Heck, running snowshoes are cheap compared to all other winter sports where you could very well spend thousands of dollars just to participate.

To sum things up. Snowshoe running has me ready to go for Boston and the Cocodona 250 mile. Training has been going really well and I feel more resilient than ever before.

I ran a race in February where I ran 90 miles and 30,000 feet of ascent and 29,000 feet of descent all on snowshoes. Because I did this on snow, my body recovered in a couple days. It was eye-opening. Any other ultra effort would be weeks. With that time on feet, Cocodona 250 with 160 more miles and 10,000 more feet of gain does not seem so intimidating.

You have to at least give it a try. Give it some time. Snowshoe running is awesome and is a BIG secret that trail and ultra runners out there have not grasped fully. I hope that changes. It may not be for everyone, but I hope that more of you out there give it a go.

In the meantime, I will be out there logging some snowy miles, pushing my limits, and reaping the benefits of snowshoe running.

The North American SNowshoe Champs at Cockadoodle Shoe. Photo credits Jeremy Drowne.

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