Running during the winter can sometimes feel awkward. Depending on how deep the snow is, it’s kind of like running on the beach, minus the tide rolling in, palm trees, warm sun on your back, okay maybe not at all like the beach. Regardless, with many outdoor activities and recreational sports on hold this season it’s probably no surprise that snowshoes have recently increase in popularity. Add in the fact that many ski resorts are still maintaining snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails (despite hills being temporarily closed) which means that if you’ve always wanted to hit the trials in winter, this is the best season for getting to it.
With the racing season still in limbo, runners looking for a new challenge this winter might want to consider snowshoe running. Here’s what you need to know about this sport which has gained popularity among trail runners in recent years.
Hitting the Trails
Ottawa runner Stephen Bierbrier says he fell into snowshoe running because of his love of trail running. After attending a Bushtukah Stittsville winter trail running event where everyone was giddy to run in their snowshoes, Bierbrier wanted in on the fun. “I saw the joy in their faces as they went on their snowshoe run and had to get in on that,” he said. The next weekend he grabbed his old-school snowshoes and got out there with everyone else. “It was so hard, but I saw everyone was struggling,” says Bierbrier. “Snowshoes on runners IS the great equalizer between the elites and the newbies.” For Anne Champagne a runner in Lanaudiere, Quebec a desire to keep running all winter that got her hooked on using snowshoes four years ago. “I love to use snowshoes because it doesn’t keep me from running in the mountains during the winter, I can do specific training whatever the weather forecast.”
Take Small Steps
When it comes to getting started Champagne recommends runners start by trying shorter distances. “You have to adapt to the snow shoes so start on less technical trails and progress,” says Champagne. “After that, just enjoy, explore and discover.” With snowshoe running there are so many different factors that it doesn’t make sense to stress over the distance or your pace, especially when you’re getting started. With most trails being packed down running in snowshoes really just takes some getting used to. “For every 2km you run on road, you’ll be able to run 1k on snowshoes,” says Bierbriar. “Remember the first time you’ve ever run, pace yourself because you are now into resistance running.”
Before you go out and spend money on snowshoes, it’s a good idea to try out a pair first. Not unlike running shoes, you need to find the right fit for you. And while the style and length does carry, runners will want to look for a pair that is light-weight and shorter. “You want the least resistance and the best fit,” says Bierbrier. “Snowshoe running is still going to be challenging, but you really don’t want to create extra hurdles for you on the trails.”
Go Discover & Explore
Strapping on snowshoes means that there is no limit to where you can explore. “The running technique and efficiency is better. You can go wherever you want with snowshoes,” says Champagne. For both Champagne and Bierbrier, this is a chance to enjoy winter from the trails to the mountains, no matter the conditions. And if you prefer the solitary pursuit of running, like Champagne, then she suggests running on the National Trail particularly Parc Regional de la Foret Ouareau as a favourite spot. For Bierbrier Gatineau Park has become his favourite spot in every season and Wolf Trail a top option for snowshoeing. Bierbrier also recommends Pinhery Forest Pine Grove Forest and the City of Ottawa’s South March Highlands Conservation Forest.
Between the exploration of new trails and enjoyment of nature, the unique challenge of snowshoe running is one more way runners can really make the most of these snow days ahead.
Anna Lee Boschetto is a regular iRun contributor. This winter she began snowshoeing and snowshoe running much shorter distances on the trails in and around York, Peel and Halton regions.