As the trails fill with snow and the thermometer hovers below freezing, it can be tempting to close the curtains and hunker down until next spring. But we all know how grouchy endurance athletes get without a daily dose of fresh air. In the winter, even with Microspikes, you can’t always run trails. When the options are hibernate or innovate, we choose the latter. Over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you our ideas for what to do this winter. Up first: snowshoe running.
When I first heard of snowshoe running, it sounded like a ridiculous proposition. I can barely avoid tripping over my feet in running shoes. Adding snowshoes into the mix sounded unwise. But then I saw running snowshoes, and I realized they are much leaner and lighter than the ones I was accustomed to. Maybe this could work. And when I first saw someone running on snowshoes, I was amazed. It was surprisingly graceful.
There’s no question that snowshoe running is a great way to stay fit until spring. But snowshoe running offers more than just fitness; it also offers you a chance to stay connected to the racing community that you enjoy in the summer. The calendar is packed with New England races, and this year the United States Snowshoe Association National Championships will be held in Bennington and Woodford, Vt. So if you are tempted to give it a go, now is a great time. Here are a couple of tips to get started.
First, do a little background reading about snowshoe running. A great place to start is with Snowshoe Racing 101. This article by Chris Dunn, owner of acidotic RACING and director of the Granite State Snowshoes Series, goes through the basic questions you might be too shy to ask—from what to wear to how to train to what pace you might expect to maintain on snowshoes. Richard Bolt, a member of the Atlas Snowshoe Racing team, wrote some helpful tips on getting started for Runner’s World a couple of years ago. If you are a hands-on learner, consider signing up for a snowshoe running clinic. White Mountain Running Company will be hosting clinics this winter and they will have Dion snowshoes for participants to test.
Second, choose snowshoes. The articles above address this topic. If you are going to try to run, as opposed to walk, think lightweight and small. Vermont-based Dion Snowshoes, which sponsors many of the local snowshoe races, is a popular choice. Dion allows you to select your frame, cleat, and binding, then assembles the finished product and sends it your way. This can sound a little overwhelming, but the website walks you through the options and you can also call or email for help making a selection (hint: the 121 is the racing model). Here’s a detailed article on what to look for in running snowshoes and why Dion is a great choice. Other popular options include Atlas, Redfeather, and Crescent Moon.
If you are really nervous about making a purchase without trying out the gear first, contact your local outdoor sports store. Many stores, including EMS, REI, and Outdoor Gear Exchange have rentals. If you are interested in racing, many races also have snowshoes for rent, so you should check the race website or contact the race director to see if this is an option. You don’t really need any other specialized equipment to get started, though you might want to consider some running gaiters and winter running shoes if you don’t already have them.
Third, sign up for a race. Okay, technically this isn’t required, but why not? As with any other race, there will some people there who are fast and very technically skilled. There will be others who just wanted to try something new and are moving at a shuffling pace. Then there will be many people in between. So don’t be intimidated.
Some local races include:
Granite State Snowshoe Series, hosted by acidotic RACING. The first race is January 11, 2014, and the championship will be held on March 8. Make sure to check out the Kingman Farm Moonlight race on February 15, which is held at night by headlamp. The photos of last year’s event are amazing.
Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series, hosted by Trail Monster Running Club. Races will be held January 19, February 16, and March 9, and range in length from 3.5 to 5 miles.
Dion Snowshoe Racing Series, hosted by the Western Mass Athletic Club. Starting December 29, 2013, and continuing until February 22, 2014, there are 12 races on the schedule ranging in distance from five kilometers to seven miles and four additional races that don’t yet have dates.
Empire State Snowshoe Racing Association oversees snowshoe racing in New York. Their calendar is not yet online, but we can confirm that the Winterfest will be held in Rochester on January 19. A number of other races in New York can also be found on the United States Snowshoe Association’s website, which lists regional qualifiers for the national championships.
New England Winter Wild is not technically a snowshoe-only race, but you can wear snowshoes for the open category. Eight races will be held from January 4 through March 15. Added bonus: the races are free for school-aged kids.
If you are eyeing the national championships, a list of regional qualifying races is available here.