This race report is really a race report and a race directing report. So, I'm not sure if that means it will be twice as good or twice as bad, but I'll do my best.
The race directing portion of this report really starts somewhere in my head last winter during snowshoe season, when I thought, "We really need to have snowshoe races at Bradbury." A year of scheming later and after a summer "apprenticeship" helping Ian with the Bradbury Mountain Trail Running Series, I arrived at Bradbury Mountain State Park at 7:45 on Sunday morning ready to direct my first race. Ian, who was unbelievably helpful throughout the entire process, arrived shortly after me and summed it up best with the first thing he said to me, "How'd you sleep last night?" Red Meat arrived moments later, and the three of us headed out to mark the course. I had marked the singletrack section, Krista's Trail, on Saturday so that saved some time, but it still took longer than I had hoped. By the time we finished, my tremendous crew of volunteers—Linda, Valerie, Jamie and Jim, had already arrived ready to do anything and everything I needed. The race absolutely would not have happened without them. Thanks, guys!
The next hour and forty-five minutes were a total blur, and then suddenly I was changing into my racing gear. Then I had a surreal moment as I was the guy standing in front of the start line thanking sponsors and giving race instructions. I was very relieved to get on the starting line and just be a racer.
The cowbell rang, and the first-ever snowshoe race at Bradbury Mountain State Park was underway. My plan was to go out hard to get to the singletrack .6 miles into the race as far up in the field as possible, and as I reached the end of the field I was right next to Judson Cake—a 2:22 marathoner. Yup, going out hard. He pulled away from me, and another racer, a young kid whom I didn't recognize, moved past me and up alongside Judson. The snowmobiles had "groomed" the Northern Loop Trail and the Ski Trail making it very runnable, and I watched that duo steadily pull away from me with each stride. I had no illusions of running with Judson, so I didn't worry much about them. However, I did keep waiting for any one of the many talented Trail Monsters to join me. As I reached Krista's Trail, I was thrilled to be in third place and was very curious who was behind me as I could hear footfalls but hadn't looked back. It was not who I expected. It wasn't any of the Trail Monsters, but the tall, fit looking guy I saw at registration.
Once we hit the singletrack, he moved right up behind me, and I told him I would pull over if he wanted to go around. He declined, which was fine with me, as I appreciated the push. Aside from the two racers in front of us, it was clear that no one else had been through that trail since I had marked the course the previous day. It was classic snowshoe conditions: barely tracked powder, which means it was fun, but tough going. From behind me I heard, "Man, this is deep." I couldn't disagree. I did catch a glimpse of some of the pack behind us at one point, and I knew that they were right on our heels. Running that singletrack was really fun, but taxing. I made the pass offer once again, and once again he declined. We hit what I knew was the top of the climb on Krista's Trail, and I was able to open up a small gap as we descended through the twists and turns.
Once we hit the Tote Road, which was decently packed but only "groomed" by ski and snowshoe traffic, I'd maintained a small gap, but he soon closed it. About a quarter mile later, he said, "I think I'll sneak by now." I moved over and let him by pass as the trail climbed slightly. He put a good amount of distance on me in a short amount of time. Then we hit a short downhill, and I closed a bit. This would be the story for the rest of the race: he'd pull away on the uphills, and I'd close on the downs. For the most part, the Boundary Trail is downhill, so I was able to work back to only a few steps behind him at the low point of the whole course. After that low point, was what earlier that morning Ian had called "the worst part of the whole race." When he said it, I knew he was right, and I felt he was right as the trail steepened and then steepened again. That uphill on the Boundary Trail was a killer. And, true to form, I was loosing ground. I just couldn't stay with him.
I knew we had about three-quarters of a mile remaining, and I kept chasing. I never fully expected to catch him, but I was using him as a carrot. Throughout this race, I had a very strange feeling: I was running scared. I knew the caliber of guys behind me: Ian, James, Stephen, Jeff, Blaine, David and Chuck to name a few. I kept waiting to get caught. In any road or trail race, it would be a tough task to race with these guys, and I really wasn't sure how it would translate to snowshoes. I do have more snowshoe experience, but just because you've run more races doesn't make you faster. I knew that if I backed off at all, I'd get caught. Plus, I was racing for a podium spot, which was uncharted territory for me.
Eventually, the Boundary Trail brought us back to the snowmobile-groomed Northern Loop Trail, and I have to admit, it was nice to have a surface I could really open up on. But, it wasn't enough as I never made the catch. And, to my surprise, I also didn't get caught. I finished in fourth place in 32:24. It was great to get back to snowshoe racing, and I'm really happy with my race. Of course, it would have been nice to podium. At the finished, I congratulated and introduced myself to Scott Hornney. It had been a good race.
A lot of great performances by my Trail Monster Running teammates, many of whom were running their first snowshoe race. More importantly, it really seemed that everyone who raced had a lot of fun. Snowshoe racing is tough, and it was great to see so many smiles at the finish line. Well, maybe they were smiling because it was over. It was also good to hear that no one got lost. I did question every single flag and arrow as I ran past them during the race, so even while racing I was aware of my directing duties. I was as much pleased as I was relieved.
Awards, raffle, soup, chatting (getting warm) by the fire... It all added up to a great day. Very happy to have the first race under my belt, but really it was a team effort. I had so many people pitch in so many ways that I felt like everything was under control. Ian and I headed out to pick up the course marking, and we both bonked on the way back. Seemed like a fitting end to the day.
All photos courtesy Maine Running Photos.