Challenge Yourself with Snowshoe Racing
Put on your snowshoes and run! If you enjoy regular races, you just might like the added difficulty of running on snow
Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble in North Conway. Photo by Gianina Lindsey
If you’re going to keep active in New Hampshire all year ’round, then at some point you will have to have to embrace the snow. OK, maybe not embrace it, but you are going to find it difficult to ignore and even harder to get around. You could keep fit by shoveling your driveway and roof off three or more times a week, or opt for something a little more entertaining. For active runners, snowshoeing can be the athletic focus of year, not just a supplement to the usual training.
Jim Johnson says, “For me, and for most of the runners I know who actually do the snowshoe racing thing each year, for a lot of them it is their season. Most of us look forward to snowshoe season as actually a highlight of the year.” Founded in 2009, the Granite State Snowshoe Series, which expects to have a total of eight races in 2016, offers “gentle, rolling 5Ks to the grueling mountainous 10K at the NH Snowshoe Championship,” and provides Johnson and other athletes like him a great opportunity to keep focused on fitness all year. Johnson says, “I just treat it as a normal part of my year and a normal part of my racing schedule. I use the races as strength building [as speed plays very little role in these events] but still treat the races as true races compared to all my other events throughout the other seasons.
“Putting on a snowshoe race is much like directing any other type of running race, but we also have to worry about snow conditions. Many years we worry about whether we will have enough snow before the event, and some years there is so much new snow that it is almost impossible to run the whole course. Snowshoe racers are a hardy, but laid-back group. They take on the course no matter what the conditions, and have fun doing it.”
-Kevin Tilton, race director of the Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble
The Redfeather Vapor ($249.95) was voted the “Best Running Snowshoe” by Backpacker Magazine. At 2.35 lbs., the Redfeather is used by the US Olympic team trial marathoner runners for their winter training and features a V-tail design that all but eliminates drag when running.
Johnson says that over the years he has found that even a normal pair of running gloves (or two) isn’t enough. He recommends a very warm pair of mittens with a soft interior and a windbreaker-type material for the exterior. The EMS Women’s Altitude 3-in-1 Mittens ($49) fit the bill, featuring Thermolite Micro Insulation, a waterproof shell and removable liner.
For snowshoe racing, you should dress like you would for a winter running race. A pair of warm, comfortable tights is a must and the Mizuno Men’s Breath Thermo Layered Tight ($69.95) has found favor among athletes who brave the cold, featuring a Breath Thermo panel technology that traps escaping body vapor and generates it into overall warmth. They also feature a back center pocket and Blacklite color reflectives.
Expert Advice With Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson, 38, has run in snowshoe races since 2008, but is a long-time runner and has numerous race event wins to his resumé. He has been doing the Granite State Snowshoe Series since 2009 and has been the champion six years running now. He lives in Madison with his wife Kristin and his daughters Tabitha Rose and Morgan Sage. He keeps a blog at doublejrunning.blogspot.com.
What is your biggest challenge with a race of this nature? Aside from adjusting to the conditions (running in possibly deep snow, heavy, wet snow, on ice, etc.) is adjusting to the effort versus the pace. If you are used to running a five-minute pace per mile in a 5K on the road for example, you may have to wrap your mind around putting in that same effort for only a seven-minute pace in a snowshoe race.
What is your training like for these events? I try my best to keep my weekly mileage the same throughout the winter, as I normally do in other months, but it is admittedly more difficult. I do spend a lot of time on the treadmill, which obviously doesn’t sound like it would help you with snowshoeing, but simply being fit and training is really all it takes. If you can get a snowshoe run or two in a week, that definitely helps but isn’t really mandatory. Even if you don’t run much during the winter months, you can still show up and have a great time and challenge yourself.
Do you have any particular race day strategies, rituals, etc.? The races vary significantly from course to course and event to event. Some races are all single-track trail. Some are all snowmobile trail and open terrain. And some are a mixture of both. I need to get out and lead immediately, and try to put distance on the field by trailblazing the course without anything in front of me. A lot of times it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Piece of gear you can absolutely not do without? If you plan on actually running the race, you will need to get a smaller pair of snowshoes specifically designed for racing. You don’t want to show up with a big pair of hiking or backcountry snowshoes. Most snowshoers at these events use Dion snowshoes, who are also the current title sponsor of the US National Snowshoe Championships as well. The second not-so-obvious piece of essential gear is a good, warm pair of gloves. The weather for snowshoe racing can be brutally cold, as you can imagine.