Snowshoe Runner or Trail Runner?

I was asked the other day whether I think of myself as a trailrunner who also does snowshoe races or a snowshoe racer who also runs trail races. That got me thinking. Obviously there is a real crossover between the two sports and many do both, but how you think of yourself as an athlete does have a big affect on how you train and the importance you place on certain aspects or periods of your training year. Following the 2007 snowshoe race season, I must say that I was really looking forward to stripping down, hitting the trails in lightweight gear with the warm sun hitting my back and not thinking about snow or snowshoe running for a while.

The last few years have been a bit of a challenge for me coming back from a broken ankle and trying to get back to where I was or wanted to be. With my ankle finally strong again, I was prepared to approach or exceed levels of training that I have never done before.

The start of the summer season began with a benchmark race. I had done the Ganaraska 25km Trail Race the previous year at Horseshoe Valley near Barrie, Ontario. I was very interested to see where my fitness would put me and was a little disappointed to see that my time was within seconds of what I had done the previous year. Hmmm, not really where I wanted to be, but at least wasn’t a step backwards.

That race got me pretty fired up to train, which was the whole focus of the rest of the summer. Train hard, but train smart. My training kept increasing and I soon began to hit mileage totals approaching 15 hours of running per week including speedwork sessions twice each week, plus a long run on the weekend. The thought of snowshoe running during the summer was never far from my mind though. I remembered with a smile the times we’ve strapped on the snowshoes and gone for summer time snowshoe runs on the sand dunes near our house. Yes, some people thought we were a little crazy.

Next up, the Damn Wakely Dam 52km was going to be a good test to see how training was going. This is a self-supported point-to-point race run in the Adirondacks on the Northfield-Placid Trail. Once you start the race, there is no way to quit until you finish, as there are no cross roads or aid stations. You must also carry all your own water and fuel. I did find myself at times during the race thinking about how beautiful the trail would be, covered in snow and hearing that familiar ‘flap, flap’ of snowshoe running. Some stomach ‘issues’ soon brought me back to the present though. I got through the race having survived some bad patches in the middle, but ended up feeling pretty strong at the finish. So strong in fact that I decided I wanted to try my first 50miler in a few months. But first, it was back to more training.

I was very surprised that my body was responding really well to the increased mileage and my long runs were going great. I went into the Haliburton 50miler with cautious optimism. Start slow and see what happens. The Haliburton Forest is a very special place in Ontario located on the western edge of Algonquin Park. The course was very technical and hilly but the beauty certainly made up for the challenging terrain. Once again, I daydreamed of snowshoe running during the race and once again, stomach issues brought me back to reality. I finished the race and was pleased to finish 2nd in my first 50 miler.

The rest of the fall season has seen higher and higher mileage that I never thought myself possible of doing. I reached a maximum week of almost 21hours of running and am looking forward to another 50miler on November 10. After that it will be time to recover a little and start looking towards the snowshoe season.

The weather around here has been pretty cool lately and there were even a few snow flurries one day. Our huskies are a little more frisky and are also looking forward to the snow flying and getting that first dogsled run of the year in too. Unlike the end of the snowshoe season last year, I can’t wait for that first substantial snowfall to happen now and I can get back out there running on the soft snow with the cold biting at my nose. We’ve already penciled in a pretty busy winter of snowshoe races, highlighted by a snowshoe marathon in Pittsfield, Vermont.

So, that leads me back to my original question of ‘am I a snowshoe runner or a trail runner?’ I guess my answer to that is… It’s all good. That’s one of the things I enjoy about living in Canada and having the changing seasons. It really depends on time of year and what the weather gives us as to what my favourite activity of the day is.

But having said that and also by the fact that I’m continuously checking the weather forecast these days, longing for that cold front to materialize…….Bring on the snow! I just can’t wait to snowshoe run again!


About the author


Sara Montgomery and Derrick Spafford

Derrick and Sara are trail runners from Eastern Ontario who discovered that running on snowshoes in the winter months is a great way to enjoy their favorite trails year-round. They competed in their first snowshoe series (The Mad Trapper Series in Low, Quebec) in 2005, each finishing 2nd in their respective divisions. Plans for 2006 are to return to the Mad Trapper, to take in some races in New York and Vermont, and hopefully cap their season with the U.S. Snowshoe Championships in March, as Canadian guests. Derrick runs a company, Spafford Health and Adventure (, which specializes in coaching and event promotion. He is currently planning an annual snowshoe race to be held in the Kingston area, starting this winter.