They should rename this race: The Hurt Bad Farm Snowshoe Race.
Today, I ventured down, over across, under and through to the Feel Good Farm Snowshoe Race in Lyndeborough, NH. The race was the second in the Granite State Snowshoe Series, but it was the first-ever snowshoe race for me. I've been doing some running on my snowshoes, so I thought I knew what to expect, but the thin snow cover, tough course and large field made it an eye opening experience. I have a lot to learn about snowshoe racing, but it was a decent first attempt.
The unseasonably warm temperatures (low 40's at race start) had me worried on my drive to the race: Will there be enough snow? I even called D to double check the race website to see if it was still on. No news of cancellation, and I ended up being one of 100 finishers on the day. I did the usual pre-race ritual: registration, change clothes, short warm up (on the road.) After much debate, I went with just a t-shirt under my Trail Monster singlet. Rookie mistake: the short sleeves were fine for the temperatures, but I got sprayed with so much snow, my arms were cold. (Some racers went with shorts. Ouch.) After hearing the course description from the race director—9k, two laps, two climbs of Moose Mountain each lap for a total of 2200 feet of climbing during the race—we were off.
Absolute bedlam. That's the only way I can describe the race start. Complete insanity. Snow flying everywhere: up my nose, in my mouth, in my eyes. Snowshoes on top of snowshoes. Bodies flying everywhere. And this pretty much continued for the first 5 minutes of race. While all this was going on, I was trying to find the right pace. I felt pretty comfortable for the entire first climb up Moose Mountain, so I just stayed where I was.
Of course, had I wanted to pass, I'm not really sure how or when to do it. Most of this race was just single track, so passing opportunities were limited. You would have had to have memorized the entire course to know the real passing opportunities, that would be impossible. And, without really knowing whether the pacing was right, I didn't know when the right time to go was, and by "go" I mean tromp into the untracked snow. It's somewhat complicated, and I just need to do more races to figure it out. It's much different racing with people as opposed to just time trialing as I have been during Nordic Meisters. A LOT different.
I took my first and only fall just before the summit of the mountain. A racer in front of me stepped on a stick, and it shot sideways into my snowshoe. I was only down for a moment, but it was just another reminder that this was different.
"A stick?" you ask. There were a lot of sticks. And stones. And other things to hurt you, such as open water, more rocks, logs, more rocks, bare ground and more rocks. The snow cover was inconsistent and lean to say the least. The track attempted avoid many of the larger rocks, but it was futile. The snow cover was so thin, that it was impossible not to hit multiple snowshoe breaking obstacles. The race director even took the course off trail in places that the trail itself was bare. (The astute reader out there will realize that I just said portions of the course were more like bushwhacking.) All of this made it extremely tricky. Plus, all the lateral movement took a lot out of me.
The difficulty of the conditions became clear to me on the first descent from the summit. It was unreal. It was steep enough that you really needed to be careful to not crash. But, the bedlam factor was in full effect. Snow, snowshoes, arms and legs everywhere. We were still packed in, and there was a certain disregard for human life. At one point, I felt a very hard thump against my left elbow. I'm pretty certain it was someone's head. My self preservation instinct told me to slow down, but then that same instinct realized that I would get run down if I did. The thin cover was a huge issue on this descent because it was particularly uneven with plenty of large rocks and roots to deal with. Like I said, absolute bedlam.
I managed to survive the descent, and there was actually a fairly runnable section before the second climb up the mountain. Ten minutes into the race, and I felt like I was running for the first time. Then I was walking. The second climb was equally steep and tough. I just hung in with the train.
At the top, you could run again. Briefly. On the descent, you needed a parachute. At the top, it was snow covered, so you could open it up. Really fun. Then, *&$#@%$%&!!!!!! Where did the snow go? Just as the trail was the steepest it was the barest. I tried to slow to avoid...well, death. I lived, but my right snowshoe did not. I heard an especially loud pop, and I knew it was bad. I didn't realize how bad until the finish. I broke the toe cleat and snapped the front cleat at one of the rivets on my right snowshoe. It definitely hampered my climbing ability on the second lap, but I certainly wasn't the only one to break a shoe on the day. In the spring, anyone out on those trails is going to find a lot of metal.
The end of the lap was very runnable, so by my math, in a 4.5k lap, I calculated about 1.5k of truly runnable terrain. I went through the first lap in about 27 minutes, feeling pretty good. Although, I knew that the downhills had taken a lot out of my legs.
The second lap was more of the same, just more spread out. I walked the steep sections, ran when I could and tried to stay upright on the downhills. I couldn't believe how trashed the trail was the second time through. The snow, dirt, leave mixture on some sections was just gross looking. I wished I was using an enemy's snowshoes. I just bought mine! The downhills were more civilized as I was able to go at my own pace, and admittedly, I was still it shock from the the chaos of the first lap. A handful of people passed me on the uphills, but I always closed the gap on the downhills and the flats. Coming into the finish, I was moving pretty good, and closed in on two guys who had passed me near the top of the mountain, but I ran out of real estate. I finished in 55:27 (9:55 pace) in 47th place. About 2:30 slower on the second lap. My guess is that I lost the majority of that time on the first descent, since I wasn't sprinting to stay alive like I was on lap #1.
Overall, I'd grade my effort a B-. I never really felt like I was racing today. I never went to "that place." I pushed, but never all out. I was definitely concerned about blowing up, and I only really opened it up after the final descent and run into the finish. I think that's because at that point I finally knew that I wasn't going to die (either literally by crashing or in the running sense). Additionally, I was still just trying to figure it out. The first ten minutes of the race really threw me, mentally. With the chaos, I'm sure my heart rate was a touch higher than normal. I can also admit that this course didn't really play into my strengths. It reminded me a lot of the Bradbury Breaker: it was more of a mountain run than a trail race. My strengths lie more with the flatter, speedier courses. That was clear based on how I felt aerobically—fine the whole way, but my quads were very unhappy. I haven't exactly had the type of mileage or hill work in my training to perform well on this type of course. It definitely hurt, and as I expected, there were a lot of fit, fast, hardcore people out there. Had I been fully race ready, I'm sure I would have gone a bit faster, but I still would have been pretty far back. Snowshoe racers are a tough lot. (Hmmm...that wasn't meant to sound like a paragraph full of excuses.)
All that being said, I had a lot of fun. It was an eye-opening experience. I'm really looking forward to more races. And, not just the race itself. Great atmosphere all around. Just like trail racing, there's a great sense of camaraderie. It doesn't matter how fast you run, just that you show up and go for it. I had a good time chatting with the Tuesday Night Turtle guys I parked next to, and ran my warm down with my buddy Kevin (1st place) and his friend Ben (3rd place). They chatted about their Inov-8 sponsorships among other things. I didn't have much to add to that part of the conversation. :)
Race Photos (Great shots! I even look like a racer in a couple!)
Up next: Pooh Hill Snowshoe Scramble in E-Mad! We used to live about 1.5 miles from the race site, but I was too fat to run on any of the trails, so I don't know much about this course. However, Kevin assured me that I'll like it more. Looking forward to cutting it loose next weekend.