I Learned About Snowshoes Today

As the reality of agreeing to run a marathon at the North Pole settled in today, I was bombarded by intros from Tom Heinrichs to great cold weather / snow runners that had lots of advice to share.  All were incredibly quick to respond, encouraging, and full of great info. 

One of the first email exchanges was about snowshoes.  There’s at least a 50% chance I’ll have to run the race in snowshoes, so I might as well learn about them, train in them, and be ready for the possibly that my IceBugs won’t be enough.  The United States Snowshoe Association has tons of info about snowshoeing so that was a good start, but Tom’s friend Hal had a great summary of the stuff I needed to think about.

  • Success in snowshoe racing is very dependent on the conditions. Most official snowshoe races in the US are a mix of groomed trails (by snowmobile) and “single track trails” that have usually been broken in – there are not many cases where racers are running through virgin powder. As a result, snowshoe racers commonly wear very small shoes.
  • You should prepare for various conditions. You want a pair of very small, light weight shoes, a pair of “middle of the road” shoes, and a larger pair of hiking snowshoes.  Snowshoes tend to have a give and take between surface area and size/weight (inversely proportional).  Consider the following models:
    • Small – Crescent Moon Dual Trac Super Lite (135 sq. inches) for groomed trail
    • Medium – Tubbs Catalyst (used to be Tubbs 10K and many dealers know it by this name).
    • Large – Atlas or Tubbs hiking snowshoes.
  • It is very hard to hike in powder and I’m not sure how long it would take to do 26.2 miles of hiking in this. Some of the hardest stuff to hike in is crusty snow, but that usually occurs after a rain on snowpack or when diurnal sun cycle is high (when sun is rising in day and setting at night, causing melting and re-freezing.) I don’t think it’s possible that the temp is going above freezing at north pole, especially in April, so you should be fine with this. There is no melting/ freezing diurnal cycle because the sun angle is basically constant at pole.
  • As for training, it’s a bit different than running. Training hip flexors is key and the best way to do this is to get on the snowshoes as early as you can in season.  Another way is to train with Power Cranks on a bike.
  • If you started training in the fall you should be good. Some of the best snowshoers in USA are coming out of Colorado. There are usually several big races in Colorado each winter and I would definitely check these out as you will get practice running in shoes and meet other people into this.
  • The advantage of snowshoes, even on light powder, is that they help keep each step consistent. With sneakers sometimes you’re staying on top of snow for 3 or 4 steps, then punching through and this disrupts your rhythm or can lead to injury.

If any of you have information or experience running in snowshoes, I’m all ears.

  • http://www.artemfrolov.com/ Artem

    I am not an experienced snowshoe hiker, but I had at least one great hike. It took us 2.5 hours to go 2.5 km in virgin powder – we were slowed mostly by sinking waist-deep into the snow. Returning by our track took us ~1 hour if not faster, but running certainly was not an option either way.

  • Anon

    C’mon Brad, your title sounds like a 4 year old’s

  • http://completerunning.com Mark

    Hi Brad! This is the same mark that just left you an email about our new network. Guess what? I PERSONALLY know the Guiness Book record holder for the fastest mile run in snowshoes. His name is Nick and he ran a mile in (I think) 5:56. Pretty impressive to someone like me who’s never run a mile that fast in RUNNING shoes!

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