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Why You Should Add Snowshoeing to your Winter Training

By Tim Edwards

Photo by: Karen Edwards
Runners and triathletes are always looking to increase their strength during the offseason so they can improve their performance during the competition season. One of the best ways to do so is to strap on a pair of snowshoes.  Many different training intensity zones can be worked while on snowshoes and you will be building strength the whole time. Since snowshoeing uses the same leg muscles as running, it is definitely applicable when it comes time to hit the trail or the road. Tackling hills and surging the pace while running are based on the amount of strength you have in your legs. Courses that have many twists and turns also require strength to accelerate out of the corners and get back up to speed.

Snowshoeing is easy to gear up for. For about a hundred dollars, you can get a fully functional set of snowshoes. Racing style snowshoes are more expensive but are lighter weight, narrower and more aggressive. Some of the winter clothing that runners use in the northern climates works well for snowshoeing. One difference between the disciplines is that snowshoeing kicks up a “rooster tail” of snow behind you and having some sort of nylon or water resistant pants and jacket will keep you dry and happy. Water resistant gloves are also handy in case you put your hand down in the snow at some point of the workout. As with any winter sport, keeping dry is the key to staying warm. Make sure all your clothing is non-cotton and wicks the sweat away from your skin.

Your two intensity choices for snowshoeing are hiking or running. Hiking can be done on trails or cross country. When going cross country, it is difficult to get lost as all you need to do is backtrack if you’re not sure where you’re going. Snowshoeing across virgin snow, whether deep or not, is always more work than packed trails. The rule of thumb is the deeper the snow and softer it is, the larger the snowshoe you select.

Running should be attempted with shorter snowshoes with a tail to help direct it when it drags in the snow. Slightly higher steps are required in each stride but all in all, your normal running gait will do you well. It should take you less than a few minutes to get into a comfortable running pattern.

Snowshoes are the all-terrain vehicles of winter travel. You can go over downed logs, up and down hills and even traverse iced waterfalls. The only terrain you want to avoid is pavement and water. The former will dull the crampons, or teeth, on your snowshoes while the latter will give you wet feet which can be uncomfortable at the least.  If you are attempting to go across a frozen body of water, verify the ice is thick enough for safe travel.

Many of the same running workouts you do during the season can be done on snowshoes. Hill repeats are a blast and quite tough after the first couple. Tempo runs really sharpen your cardiovascular system. The number of foot strikes decrease by about 20 to 30 percent with snowshoes so perform your foot speed workouts on the treadmill. Cruise intervals are excellent on a nicely packed flat trail while fartlek works well on rolling terrain.

Snowshoeing allows the runner or triathlete to significantly increase their leg strength during the offseason. Substituting a couple of running workouts per week with snowshoeing will make you a better runner come the spring and put you in position for an excellent competitive season.

Tim Edwards is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach, USA Triathlon Youth and Junior Certified Coach, USA Cycling Certified Coach and an American Swimming Coaches Association Certified Coach. He is the head coach of the Cleveland State University Triathlon Team and owner of North Coast Endurance Coaching. He is also the Cleveland Triathlon Club’s Newbie Coordinator.