How To Win Medals at 2011 USSSA National Championships

After the Syracuse National Championships, what was the number one factor front runners referenced that aided medal winners? Well, Snowshoe Magazine gave you the answer BEFORE the Championship race at Fabius, NY, even before any of the 2010 Qualifiers. To help you next year win, place, and show, we’re adding additional information that ace feature writer, Brad Canham, recently uncovered expanding the original concept and inserting that in the original article. And rerunning the whole piece just for you. It was titled “Snowshoeing &  Triathlons: Build Overall & Cycling Endurance Strength.” Now we’ve renamed it, How to Win Medals at the 2011 USSSA National championships.

Building biking endurance and strength is a key training focus for success of longer distance triathlon events such as the half-Ironman and full Ironman distance, according to the best-selling Ironman training tome “Going Long” by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn.

With that in mind, Minnesota snowshoe racer Brad Canham – training for the August, 29, 2010 Kentucky Ironman — has been looking for ways to incorporate snowshoeing into building his biking endurance during the winter months.

“Cycling endurance training is the most challenging part of my Ironman triathlon training. During the winter months I find spinning on a indoor bike trainer for several hours a week saps my motivation. I need to break it up and was hoping I could “justify” taking a snowshoeing break from indoor cycling training,” said Canham who has also established a charity associated with his 2010 Ironman event

With that in mind, Canham has been looking into how snowshoeing can both aid in building cycling strength and provide a break for winter indoor bike training. And what he found was general agreement that snowshoeing significantly work hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and gluteus — all key to strength while cycling. “My challenge is to best align the realistic benefits of snowshoeing with the need I have to build my biking endurance given the time I have to devote to training in general,”said Canham.

“Conditions for snowshoe running are challenging, but good in Minnesota,” said Canham. Minnesota has had significant snowfall — but also thawing and re-freezing — making for some especially rough snow-crust over a layer of lighter snow buildup, as well as some very uneven and icy single-track conditions.

While snowshoeing is not a substitute for long distance bike training, it can be used to supplement and break up some of the monotony of winter indoor bike training and it does have general and specific positive endurance training affects.  In fact, world champion Ironman triathlete Peter Reid has extolled the benefits of snowshoe running to break-up winter training blahs and also work both the general cardio work-out.

The benefits of snowshoeing for cycling endurance seems to be best suited for adding a new dimension to building the strength of hip flexors, quads, hamstrings and gluteus muscles.  Specifically, in reviewing a number of online sources for snowshoe training programs Canham found several worth calling attention to for “layering” into a winter endurance training plan:

*In general, breaking up the winter blahs and refreshing your perspective with outdoor snowshoe training is a helpful motivator

*Snowshoeing serves as full-body cardio work-out, which according to several sources burns between 8-12 calories per minute depending on your size and fitness level

It has been noted that general snowshoe training on flats and trails will strengthen your hamstrings more that any running program, making you more balanced when springtime rolls around.

Uphill snowshoe running specifically works the hip flexors, extensors, and quadriceps muscles which are key for building cycling strength.

An “On and Off” VO2 Max (maximum lung capacity) training exercise with a specific  strengthening of hip flexors is recommended here. The exercise essentially suggests snowshoe running hard in powder or an un-groomed area for 2-5 minutes at 95% maximum heart rate, and then running on groomed trail for 1-3 minutes of recovery in several repeats, for a total of up to 15-20 minutes.

Also, a recommended Lactate threshold training or “tempo workout” on snowshoes that translates to cycling strength is noted at with a 20-40 minute snowshoe uphill or in powder/un-groomed areas.

Strength training: Few outdoor sports offer as good an outdoor strength workout as snowshoeing uphill. While arguably strength training is really a smaller part of overall Ironman distance training it does have its place and having the ability to get outside AND strength train cycling muscles is a good option to have. One uphill snowshoe “tempo” strength training recommended by Pro triathlete and adventure racer Danelle Ballengee is set up in a three-week process: week-one is 5-7 uphill efforts of two-minutes each; then week-two a steeper hill, 60-90 seconds, but 8-10 uphill efforts; then week-three, 30-45 seconds but up to 15 efforts. Each downhill return serves as a recovery.

Upper body: For all of the training noted above adding poles to the snowshoe   workout brings the upper body into the equation, including: chest, lats, triceps, biceps, shoulder, abdominals, spinal and other core muscles. (A Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise Supplement to VOL. 24, NO.5, May 1992, notes a 38% increase in upper body muscle endurance in 12 weeks of use of ‘Nordic poles.”)

Another benefit of snowshoeing related to triathlon training is the generally low impact nature of  snowshoeing.

As noted in an earlier Snowshoe Magazine interview with Atlas racing team members and citing a University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse study,, the generally uneven condition of winter terrain and snowshoe trails has the affect of strengthening core muscles involved with balance and movement, so called “proprioception muscles,”, muscles in the foot and ankles, as well as core muscles.

Triathlon running elicits hyperventilation, increased heart rate, decreased pulmonary compliance, and exercise induced hypoxaemia. This may be due to exercise intensity, ventilatory muscle fatigue, dehydration, muscle fibre damage, a shift in metabolism towards fat oxidation, and depleted glycogen stores after a 40 km cycle. The energy cost (CR) of running during the cycle to run transition is also increased over that of control running. The increase in CR varies from 1.6% to 11.6%.

The need for, and current methods of, training to prepare junior and elite triathletes for a better transition are critically reviewed in light of the effects of sequential cycle to run exercise.

1.  helping biking for triathlon (“normal” running is not viewed as helping triathlon biking)

2.  creating muscle-memory or muscle strength that “improves” the bike-to-run transition and recovery

3.  overall physiological performance for triathletes
and, of course, vice versa such as:

1. how a triathletes ability to overcome the increased “energy cost” of the triathlon bike-to-run transition may enhance a snowshoe racer’s ability to run through sugar snow on an incline. Ever seen one of those at a finish recently, snowshoers?

2. how triathlon bike strength (bike muscle specific) translates into longer endurance “power running” in difficult snowshoe racing conditions (powder, inclines, uneven surfaces) since it is known that “tri biking improves tri running performance, but tri running does not improve tri biking performance.”

3. (and this one is compelling to me, as on the face of it it seems counter-intuitive) how does a triathlete’s “swim-bike-run-type” overall endurance (versus pure runner endurance) improve snowshoeing performance.

In general, snowshoeing can serve to build endurance strength training during the winter months. It works to build strength key cycling muscles and is a refreshing change from indoor training.  “I’ve layered snowshoeing training into the overall training mix during the winter months. It has resulted in additional endurance strength and added to the fun aspects of training. My expectation is that on balance the snowshoe training will mean a higher level of endurance and cycling strength going into  spring, and in the end a better Ironman experience in August,” said Canham.

I’m curious about whether snowshoe racing has a unique impact on triathletes in these areas:

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About the author

Phillip Gary Smith

Phillip Gary Smith, Senior Editor, published "The 300-Mile Man" about Roberto Marron's historic doubling of the Tuscobia 150 mile endurance snow run. He publishes "iHarmonizing Competition" on various forms of competition, including drag racing, his favorite motorsport. Earlier, he wrote "HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life" as a manual for life with chapters such as Winning by Losing, Can God Pay Your Visa Bill?, and a young classic story, The Year I Met a Christmas Angel. His book, "Ultra Superior," is the first written on the Superior Trail ultra-distance events. He mixes writing with his profession--the venture capital world--a dying art. He is a creator of CUBE Speakers, a group espousing themes in "HARMONIZING: Keys" in a unique way. Currently, he has two books in the works.
Write to him at, or find him on Twitter or Facebook @iHarmonizing.