Embrace Winter Training - Advice from Coach Derrick Spafford

Rob Whelan (robwhelan.ca)

Rob Whelan (robwhelan.ca)

Want to know a little secret about what you can do this winter to get in the best shape possible to rock the Golden Ultra this fall?

…Snowshoe Running!

Up until now, many trail and mountain runners relied heavily on running on treadmills and roads during the winter months, or switched to cross training with other activities such as nordic skiing or indoor cycling to maintain fitness. These are certainly good options, however not as sport specific as the effects you get from running on snow in snowshoes.

Forget about the image of trying to run in those beefy wooden framed tennis rackets hanging on your grandparents wall. Snowshoe running is high tech, with small, featherweight snowshoes that are built specifically for speed.


The added weight of running in snowshoes, even though very minimal, combined with the increased resistance of running in deep snow will give you incredible strength gains after a winter of training.

You don’t even need to live in the mountains as running on the flats in deep snow will provide a similar training stimulus to any mountain you could run up.

The reduced impact on your body from running on snowshoes is also great to prevent any overuse or high impact injuries. (Fact: Did you know that studies have shown that a normal road running shoe absorbs up to 20% less shock in the winter compared to the summer due to the cold temperatures stiffening up the midsole?).

Running Snowshoes:

Wearing running specific snowshoes is important to better enable you to run as efficiently as possible. The weight of each snowshoe should be about a pound each. They should have an aggressive cleat on the front for traction/toe off, and a rear cleat for braking and control on downhills. Running snowshoes should be less than 8 inches in width to allow for a natural running stride, which will also prevent hitting the inside of your ankle with the frame of the snowshoe. A running specific hinge is also vital to allow for a more natural running stride and energy return. While you can run in a regular hiking snowshoe, however it’s comparable to a road runner trying to run in a hiking boot in a road race.

Other than snowshoes, you don’t need any other specific gear as your regular running attire will suffice. A few additional items that you may find helpful however would include a shell type jacket and pant to prevent snow from sticking to your backside, and Goretex trail running shoes and/or gaiters to keep your feet dry.

Need to Know:

The learning curve for snowshoe running is very short. If you can run, you can snowshoe run!

When heading out for your first snowshoe run, begin by hiking for the first few minutes to get the feel for the snowshoes, then slowly increase to a relaxed jog. It’s probably best to keep your first few snowshoe runs on a flatter route that is a little more packed down. Once you are comfortable with the movement, then you can begin to venture off into the deeper snow and hilly routes.

It’s best to go by time when snowshoe running. If a regular road run for you is 8km long, and usually takes you 45 minutes to complete, ignore the pace and distance, but just go for a 45 minute snowshoe run. Your body won’t know that you haven’t run the same distance, but you will get the same training effect…or possibly greater!


Once you have mastered a few snowshoe runs, your thoughts may turn to competition. More and more snowshoe races are cropping up across Canada. This is a great way to stay fit, motivated in your training, and enjoy a competitive running season during the winter. Snowshoe races often have the same laid back and supportive approach as trail and mountain running races, which you are bound to enjoy!

So, there’s no need to avoid your favourite running trails this winter because of snowy conditions. Strap on a pair of running snowshoes, and get out there. You’ll have a wonderful time, and will come out of the winter in a new, higher level of mountain running fitness.


Derrick Spafford is the owner of Spafford Heath and Adventure (www.HealthandAdventure.com), which offers running coaching, snowshoe races, freelance writing, and specialty running gear sales, including the Canadian Sales of Dion Running Snowshoes.