Ask the Coach: Snowshoe Running and Conditioning


I’d like to try snowshoe races this winter, but my coach told me it would make me a slower runner. Is that true?

–Ann M.


Snowshoe running is a great way of getting fit and staying fit during the winter months when some runners may struggle to maintain motivation. Snowshoe races are definitely a fun option to keep the competitive juices flowing.

Regardless of whether your goal is to condition for a snowshoe race or for a summer race, there are a few things that you should consider when planning your winter to better optimize your training and racing. There should be absolutely no concern about slowing down if you take a few precautions in your approach. Here are a few tips:

1. Time vs. Distance: It’s always wise to go by time instead of distance when doing your snowshoe running workouts.  Depending on the snow conditions and terrain, it could take as much as twice as long to cover the same distance on snowshoes. For example, if you usually run seven miles in 60 minutes on the road, you should build-up to the point of snowshoe running for 60 minutes instead of trying to get a specific distance of running completed. This will ensure that you aren’t overdoing it.

2. Snowshoe Speedwork: Don’t doddle when snowshoe running. If you run slowly on snowshoes, chances are that you’ll race slowly as well. Be sure to mix up the paces that you run on snowshoes. You probably do fast-paced runs during the summer months on the roads or trails to improve your running performance.  The same should be done on snowshoes during the winter. Faster-paced snowshoe runs are fun, exhilarating and can be very challenging. Twenty minutes of snowshoe running in the middle of a run – at 80 percent to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate – is a great workout that can help to prepare you for the rigors of snowshoe racing. Running shorter repeat intervals of one to three minutes at a faster rate is also a great way to improve your leg speed on snowshoes.

3. Snowshoe Frequency: Just because you have access to great snowshoe running conditions each day doesn’t mean that you should neglect your regular running without snowshoes. You should aim to get at least a couple of runs per week without snowshoes to help maintain your stride efficiency and turnover. This will help to allow for a smoother and quicker transition back to the roads and trails once the snow melts.

4. Speedwork Without Snowshoes: I know that I mentioned above that you should include some speedwork on snowshoes as part of your training, but it’s also a good idea to keep doing speedwork throughout the winter months without snowshoes. No matter how quickly you run on snowshoes, you will always be able to run faster without.  It’s important to maintain some of your quality running. Short intervals of under 60 seconds (i.e. 10 x 1 minute hard with 1 minute easy) or even a handful of 20-second strides within a regular run can help greatly.

5. Midwinter road race: Adding a mid-winter road running race to your season is always a surefire way to maintain your speed. It also helps to have you focus on your non-snowshoe running legs.

So, get out there snowshoe running and racing this winter and enjoy what the season has to offer. If you follow these simple suggestions, you might be surprised that you are actually fitter and running some fast, new PBs on the roads during the spring time.

See you on the trails!

Derrick Spafford

*If have a question about trail running or snowshoe running, please send it in to ‘Ask the Coach’ –