Things are about to get cold! Really Cold!! Australia’s first ever snow race the Big Foot Snow Trail is almost upon us. Offering two unique courses, inaugural snow runners can choose between the challenging 42km Snow Marathon or the fast but furious 27km Snow sprint. Both of the races showcase the great mountain running that can be found around Falls Creek Victoria with a healthy mix of groomed snow trail and challenging off trail snow shoeing. To get a better appreciation of what we will be in for Skyrunning ANZ caught up with legendary Ultra coach Andy DuBois (Mile 27 Coaching) who hosted the official Big Foot Snow Trail training Camp in July.
Grab a hot chocolate and jacket and read on!!
Skyrunning ANZ: So Andy, firstly thanks for taking the time to chat to us. I think that big question on everyones mind is how much snow do you think will be around by race day? and how do you think that will effect the runners?
Andy: Thats the million dollar question isn’t it. From what I know the course has been designed to take in routes that are most likely to have snow at that time of the year.
Some of the route is on groomed trails which will be very runnable , some of it will be on ungroomed trails so may well be in deep snow and will be slow going . At the recent snow camp we took around an hour to descend 5km as the snow was 80cm deep, all powder so distances and times will be deceptive on the day!
Skyrunning ANZ: Oh okay! So what things do runners need to consider when using snow shoes? Assuming most people will have never even seen them before?
Andy: The technique of running in snow shoes is slightly different to traditional running. The biggest mistake people make is trying to lift the shoe up with every step instead of using more of a shuffling/ sliding action . The (snow) shoe’s have a lip on the front which means you don’t have to lift your foot out of the snow with each step to move forward, save your energy and think more about lifting and sliding your foot forward rather than lifting your foot out of the snow forward and back down again .
It will be very obvious when you need to use snow shoes or running crampons – if the ground is hard icy and slippery use crampons , if you are sinking in with each step use snow shoes ( Note snow shoes can be used on icy trails as well ) , if the snow is firm then trail shoes will be ok.
Skyrunning ANZ: That’s some great technique advice! So should runners have been doing something special in their training to prepare for a race in the snow? If so what tips would you give.
Andy: There isn’t much to simulate snow , hiking in soft sand is not a bad option though. Whilst I wouldn’t normally recommend ankle weights – some light weights ( i.e. 1kg) and then running/ hiking in the sand would be about as close as you can get to snow shoeing without the snow. Don’t simply switch your easy 3 hour run to a 3 hour soft sand run with ankle weights though – 20-30 minutes is plenty initially , add 10 minutes or so more each week so your legs can adapt.
When the snow is deep you won’t be running! The effort involved in running in snow shoes in soft powder is not sustainable for any length of time so you will spend a fair bit of time hiking , hence hiking with a weighted pack to increase the intensity would also be good training.
Skyrunning ANZ: Roger, expect hiking and pain! Race clothing is going to be very important as being too hot or too cold can really effect performance. What ideas/tips do you have for finding the right Balance.
Andy: Layering is crucial. Layers allow you to fine tune your body temp. The key is not to let yourself get too warm and therefore sweat lots which then cools you down too much as soon as the intensity drops off. Take a layer off before you start sweating and put layers on before you start feeling cold. If you wait too long then you will already be covered in sweat or too cold and that makes it much harder to regulate body temp.
So even though it might be a pain to stop and take off a layer or put a layer on the extra minute to two you lose is a much better alternative than getting DNF because you are hypothermic . Things can change very quickly in the mountains, especially at this time of year, if you left a layer on too long and got all sweaty then all of a sudden the wind picks up then its going to be very hard to keep body temperature up. So adjust layers regularly to maintain a good body temp. i.e. a temp where you aren’t sweating much at all but also don’t feel cold. Also remember as you tire and therefore move slower you will generate less body heat and need more layers to keep warm. So the layers that kept you warm at the start may not be enough to keep you warm by the end.
Waterproof socks would be a good option as your feet will get very wet in powder snow and therefore very cold.
Good gloves are essential, the snow shoes will flick up snow behind you just as your arm moves behind you as you run/hike and your hands can get quite wet with snow and therefore cold.
Skyrunning ANZ: Do you think that the colder weather will affect nutrition/hydration for the runners, if so how?
Andy: If the temp gets to below freezing combined with a wind chill factor then yes nutrition and hydration can be effected, Your sense of thirst doesn’t work as well in extreme cold and nutrition you will need to factor in keeping items warm enough so they don’t freeze BUT conditions like that aren’t expected in September ( although with a strong wind chill factor its certainly not impossible) and if its around 0 degrees or warmer then all the same principles you normally use for your nutrition will apply .
Running in snow can be slow going and the idea of doing 6 minute ks or whatever you would normally do the trails needs to be forgotten about – at times you might struggle to do 12 minute ks going downhill due to the snow conditions. So make sure you factor in enough nutrition to last a lot longer than you would normally factor in .
For example, you might look at the route and think its 10ks between aid stations that’s around an hour – it may be more like 2 hours or more depending on snow conditions which you won’t really know till you are out there so budget plenty of extra compared to what you normally wold in a trial race of similar distance and elevation.
Wow great advice Andy, we never considered all of that in such detail! Much more to snow running than just tramping around in the cold! So there you have it folks, some timely advice for the journey of a lifetime at the Big Foot Snow Trail.
If your after more advice or coaching you can contact Andy directly at.