I suppose this race report should begin the same way the lead up to this race did: lots of whining and complaining. I'd been battling some type of sinus monster all week, and my legs were feeling pretty shot after a 20-mile road run on Thursday. I went for an easy snowshoe run on Friday, which ended up feeling anything but easy. Needless to say, my confidence was not high. However, I did have big plans for this race, since it is...well, a big race. A good chunk of the best snowshoe racers in New England make the trip to (the) Center (of nowhere) Sandwich, and I was anxious to see how I would stack up this year.
Fellow Trail Monster, Four, made the trip with me, and it was great to have someone to complain to about how tired my legs felt for the entire ride. A race like Sidehiller is great because it's basically old home week, and it was fun to catch up with so too many familiar faces to mention here. In many ways, it makes the race seem like an after thought, and in my humble opinion, the snowshoe crowd is among the best you'll find anywhere. Like the trail and ultra crowds, no matter where you are in the pack there's a great sense of "we're all in this together" that creates an awesome camaraderie. I also have to admit that it was nice to just be a racer and not have to direct as well, like last week at the Bradbury Squall, and, as a result, I was quite relaxed.
Four and I got in a 2-mile warm up, and I chatted with Scott Mason on the way back. It's always great to see Scott running at races rather than just shooting photos of them. I made my way to the start and said hello to a number of others, including Steve Wolfe, while doing a few strides. Steve had a "I can't believe I'm racing today" look about him and was a little off his game, unfortunately. After race director extraordinaire and White Mountain Miler top dog, Paul Kirsch, gave his pre-race instructions, I somehow found myself in the second row on the start line directly behind Kevin Tilton and Jim Johnson. I knew these guys would be duking it out for the top spot, so I was a bit concerned that I was going to get pulled out way, way, way too fast. As the gun went off that's pretty much exactly what happened, and if the race was 200 meters, I would have finished in the top 5. Luckily, the trail at the start is a wide Nordic trail, so I had enough space to let a number of guys by until things evened themselves out.
Race start. Photo by Joe Viger.
After getting a course description from Paul earlier in the week, I felt like I knew what to expect and set my strategy accordingly. The course began with about 3/4 of a mile on the groomed Nordic trails around the fairgrounds before crossing the road and into the woods for about 3 miles of singletrack. We would climb after leaving the road, cross a field, drop back down to the road, and then finish back on the groomed trails at the fairground. Knowing my strength/disregard for my own life on the downhills, my plan was to go out hard—borderline suicidally hard—then push the uphill with the hopes of maintaining on the downhill and surviving to the finish. Getting pulled out so quickly at the beginning certainly set me up nicely to implement my plan, but what I did not expect was the softness of the groomed trail. Normally, a groomed trail will be firm and well-packed, but we were still punching through with just about every step. In the first half mile, I knew this was going to be a very tough race.
First road crossing. Photo by Joe Viger.
Circling through the fairgrounds, I settled in behind Tuesday Night Turtle's Dave Principie and was not far behind him as we crossed the road—when the real racing and climbing begins. Dave passed another racer, and I went by him shortly after. I was being trailed by...well, I'm not exactly sure how many or who. I was really focused on climbing and moving forward, so I forced myself not to look back. The climb wasn't steep, but the snow was very loose. A smarter person would have backed off the pace, but I was determined to stick to my strategy, even though I thought a couple times, "I'm not sure how long I can keep this pace up."
After more climbing, I eventually reached the first field just behind Dave. I was relieved to be off the climb. My relief soon turn to despair as the fields turned out to be harder running than the climbs. I will have nightmares about these fields for years to come. The snow was a mid of sugar and wind-packed crust. If you ran in the footfalls of the person in front of you, you sunk deeper into the hole. If you tried to run in between the holes, the crust and sugar mix dragged you down. It was pure evil. I made it across the first field right on Dave's tails, and Crow Athletics' Peter Keeney went by both of us here and basically took off. We came to a second field, and it was more of the same. I was deep into a zone here and just focused on Dave's snowshoes. Four described running through these fields the best: it was like the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the knight is running across the field, but not getting any closer. Drum, drum, drum, drum... If anyone was out there watching us come at them, I sure it would have been an apt description. I felt like I was hammering, but Dave looked like he was barely moving...and I couldn't catch him. Like I said, pure evil.
I don't think I've ever been so happy to see a stone wall in my life, as we exited the field a began the downhill to the road...or so I thought. As we started downhill, I picked up some chatter behind me and realized that Chris Dunn and Amber Ferriera of acidotic Racing were right on my heels. The racing history between Chris and myself is very one-sided and always follows the same script: he passes me within the first .5 mile of the race, and I never see him again. At this point, not quite three miles, into the race, I had been wondering when he was going to catch and pass me. He was right on my tails, and I said, "Either you're slipping, or I'm suicidal." He told me I was doing fine, and I knew he was content to stay behind in this instance.
Moments later, we reached another (really, the same) stone wall, and we entered another (really, the same) field. A third field crossing?!?!?! I thought we were headed down to the road?!?! I wanted to do terrible, awful things to Paul. Dave must have been thinking the same thing as he slowed, and I let him know I was coming around. Chris and Amber did the same, and I lead the three of us across the field. It was at this point that it occurred to me that I had been running a pace I had no idea if I could hold for more than 3 miles now. I was pretty certain I was going to blow up at any second.
The field ended and we started downhill. "Finally, we're headed for the road," I thought. Since Amber weighs about half of what I do, she literally floated by on my right side. I stayed with her on the downhill, and I could tell we gapped Chris slightly. Then, the trail started climbing again! Now, I was really mad at Paul. I was right on Amber's heels as we climbed, and she asked if I wanted to get by. I said, "I'm barely hanging on," and it was the truth. Chris had closed on us and was nice enough to announce that this was the last climb. "I didn't realize we were climbing," I quipped, and it was honesty the most sarcastic thing I've said in my life (that's saying a lot.) because that climb just flat out hurt. The order remained the same at the top of the climb, and I knew we were indeed headed down to the road. I nearly fell, and would have crushed Amber, on a sketchy, rutted-out corner, but stayed upright, and we crossed the road together. I thought Chris had fallen a bit back, but as we crossed the bridge to head across the field he was right behind us. I was beginning to think he was a horror movie villain. "Why won't he die?!?!"
"Pulling" Chris to the finish. Photo by Krissy K.
In the final stretch to the finish, I thought I was going to go around Amber and just at that moment she accelerated. I knew I wasn't going to get her, but, in all honestly, I wasn't racing her. I didn't care if she got me by a mile or vice versa, as long as I stayed ahead of Chris. About a second later, I felt Chris come right up on my shoulder, and I did the same to him. In the end, the order remained the same with just 3 seconds between the three of us. I finished in 16th place overall in 38:17.
Getting dusted by the reigning national champion. (Who probably would've run faster had she been able to see my face.) Photo by Joe Viger.
Finish Line. Photo by Joe Viger.
Post-race, Chris said, "Your fitness...man!" That really sums it up. I'm definitely in better shape this snowshoe season, and, additionally, I'm learning how to race. I thought I was done on 6 or 7 separate occasions during that race, and it helped a ton to have great competition all around me. I certainly would not have run that fast without those guys pushing me. During the race, nothing was fun, but it felt really good after. Needless to say, I'm very happy with my performance, and it was an all around great day at the races.