Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bradbury Blizzard Race Report

The final race of the Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series and another double duty race day for me. With 750' of climbing over 5.25 miles, the Bradbury Blizzard was definitely the hardest race course of the series, and it was covered in fresh snow making it that much tougher. What made it even tougher was a tactical mistake/accident on my part and this race for me was anything but a time trial like the Bradbury White Out. This was a race, and I raced like I don't think I ever have.

Once again, I was at Bradbury Mountain State Park early to get the course marked, and Ian was, once again, there to help me out...with everything. We split up to tackle the course, and I headed up the Switchback Trail. On Saturday morning, I was the first to hit the trail and find where I wanted to send the race course. By Sunday morning, the park had seen a lot more traffic, as I expected, and the entire side of the mountain was crisscrossed with snowshoe and ski tracks. My usual paranoia about each and every flag was in full effect, but in the end, the course markings worked out great. When I finished marking the Switchback Trail (about 6 hours later), I headed out on the Tote Road to throw down a few more flags and make sure the trail was in good shape. Unfortunately, it was in a little too good of a shape, as the park had run a snowmobile up and down the trail a couple times to "groom" it. I'd been hoping for more singletrack, but based on the reactions of those that ran the race, maybe it's a good thing the course wasn't any harder. And, in truth, even the snowmobile packed trail wasn't that well packed, so the running was still tough.

Our biggest field of the series assembled at the start line, including Chris Dunn, Geoff Cunningham and Judson Cake from acidotic RACING; Peter Keeney from Crow Athletics and a stout group of fellow Trail Monsters. I knew this was going to be a tough race. Aside from my course marking more than two-hours prior, my only warm up was a little jogging and strides just before the start. Not exactly ideal for a race that climbs 220' in the first half mile. I had decided to go with my (now) usual plan (antics?) of going out hard knowing that even if I was thrashed after the first climb, I'd have a long, gradual downhill to recover on the other side. My rationale being that I could, hopefully, run away from my competitors as I'd done at the White Out.

Bradbury Blizzard start. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

As the race started, I was out front with Geoff and Judson right next to me as we reached the bottleneck to begin climbing the singletrack, I was in the lead. Well, I'd planned to go out hard, but not quite this hard. Geoff and Judson had both race at the Northest Snowshoe Federation Championships the previous day, so neither were exactly fresh, but there's no logical reason I should be ahead of them. Judson had beaten me by more than 3:30 at each of the first two Bradbury Snowshoe races, and I've never been within sniffing distance of Geoff on any surface. Of course, about halfway up the Switchback I had delusions that they were really trashed from Saturday's race, and I'd be able to stay out front. Then, about two-thirds of the way up the Switchback, I realized I was in way over my head. I could feel Geoff right behind me, and thought about pulling over. He didn't ask, so I just kept pushing. Maybe I should have tracked out a couple passing lanes. Once we reached the top of the climb, Geoff asked to pass, without sounding out of breath. Never liked that guy. He and Judson cruised on by down the Tote Road, and I realized that I couldn't see anyone else behind us.

I kept Geoff and Judson in sight for as long as possible, but after I couple minutes I was alone. It was starting to look like the White Out time trial all over again. That being said, I wasn't comfortable. It took me a full half mile after the climb to feel normal again. Snowshoeing up the Switchback Trail is hard.

As I turned right onto the Northern Loop Trail to begin the second climb to the summit, I looked back...still alone. Then, my spidey sense started tingling, I must have looked back another 6 times in the next quarter mile, and a few yards before I reached the Terrace Trail to begin the descent, I saw that Peter Keeney was closing the gap. I'd managed to stay ahead of Peter at the White Out mainly because he couldn't see me, but that was not the case today. It was a race.

Knowing that I'm a decent descender, I hit the Terrace Trail hard hoping to disappear for a bit. Running down the Terrace Trail would be fun. Racing down the Terrace Trail was on the edge between fun and insane. Who designed this course? I didn't quite disappear, but I couldn't see Peter any longer. I hit the cruel piece of singletrack around the Feldspar Quarry that marked the very end of each lap and thought, "How am I going to run another lap at this pace?" My Garmin read 25:20 when I made the turn to start back up the Switchback Trail.

Nearing the end of the first lap, already hurting. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

Powdery. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

The good part about the Switchback is that it runs through open woods, so I could see exactly the field around me. Geoff and Judson reappeared, and I timed them at about a minute ahead of me. Peter was not far behind me and gaining, and Chris was about a minute back. This really was a race. With every turn Peter was getting closer, and my whole goal was to stay in front of him through the climb. I didn't want to give him the psychological edge of passing me on or near the top of the climb. I did manage to reach the top ahead of him and pushed hard down the first stretch of the Tote Road. I looked back and realized I'd gapped him. "I may have a chance," I thought. Being the race director as well I also thought, "If I stay ahead of him, the overall and masters podiums will be nice and tidy." Double duty is weird.

Just like the first lap, it took me a good half mile to recover from the climb, but this time I was in a race. Peter had reappeared, and a big part of me was really hoping he'd slow down. He never did and just kept pushing me throughout the lap. By the end of the Tote Road, he was only a few seconds behind, and I was deep into the pain cave. I doubted I would able to pull it off, but my new goal was to stay ahead of him through the climb up the Northern Loop. It was obvious he was climbing stronger than I was, and I was certain he knew that. I hoped that if I could stay ahead of him on the climb, I could put a little doubt in his mind. This was racing. As we climbed the final stretch, he was right on my heels, and I was waiting for him to move around. He never did. Mission accomplished.

The second time down the Terrace Trail crossed the line into insanity. I knew it was my best chance to get away from Peter, unless I fell. I nearly went down a couple times, but I not only managed to stay upright but also get a bit of a gap. Unfortunately, that gap quickly evaporated as he surged pretty hard as we turned right off the Terrace Trail. It took about 3 miles from when I first saw him, but he finally passed me. We exchanged labored words of encouragement, and I knew he was hurting as much as I was.

When I devised this course, I figured that if two people were racing together, the first person to reach the Feldspar Quarry singletrack at this stage in the race would win the duel. Now, I was in second place in such as duel with more than a quarter mile to go before we hit the singletrack. In the past, I would have conceded and run it in for fourth place. Something was different on this day. When Peter went past me, I stayed right with him. He would open small gaps, and each time I closed them back up. And each time, I thought I couldn't push any harder and had no idea how I'd just done that. We lapped a group of runners, including fellow Trail Monsters Ann and Kate, and it was awesome to have them cheering for me. Home field advantage!

Peter reached the Feldspar Quarry singletrack first, and I was right on him. I had to put out of my mind what I had previously thought about this finish and just try to stay close. If I could stay on him, it was going to come down to a sprint in the last 30 yards.

The Suffering Sequence:

Starting up the Feldspar Quarry singletrack. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

That can't be efficient. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

Why does Peter look so comfortable? Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

No extra charge for the drool. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

Getting gapped. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

As we turned left to head to the field, he opened a gap that looked huge, and I thought, "You didn't push all this time to not even let it come down to a sprint." I hammered the last couple yards of singletrack and was right on his tails again just as we turned right onto the field. He moved right. I moved left and gave it all I had. It was just enough to go by him and finish in third place in 49:54. Although, Peter quipped post-race, "You should be able to beat an old guy like me."

Sprint finish. Courtesy Maine Running Photos.

I owe a ton to Peter for pushing me throughout that entire race. A lot of mutual respect was earned on this day. Geoff and Judson (holing hands...maybe) finished together a little over a minute ahead of us. Peter earned top master with Chris not far back in a great weekend double of racing. Fellow Trail Monster Chuck Hazzard was sixth overall, third master, running a really great race. A lot of other strong performances by other Trail Monsters as we took places six through fourteen.

Photos from Maine Running Photos: Set 1 | Set 2

Looking back, it was foolish for me to push so hard in the first half mile and lead the race. I didn't plan on it, and it just sort of happened. (Conspiracy theory: it was an acidotic RACING plot to sabotage my race!) Glad it didn't cost me in the end, although I'm certain it made that end a little more painful. That being said, I'm really proud of this race. I raced. I didn't just show up and time trial. At any number of points, I could have backed off and taken fourth, fifth, sixth place with the field assembled. I was able to will myself to keep pushing. I thought I was toast after the first lap, but the second lap was actually a bit faster. That shocks me. I learned in the race that I can suffer for a long period of time, and then push even more. Hopefully, this is a lesson I can carry forward.

Thanks to everyone who came out to race, volunteer and support the first annual Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series. Yup, annual! We'll be back next winter.

Leading the crowd in song at the awards. See you next year! Courtesy Maine Running Photos.


vja said...

Great job with the races, in the races, and reporting the races! You're finish was way fun to watch : D

middle.professor said...

Yes that's impressive recovery after going out fast. Great racing!

Kevin said...

What kindo of idiot races on snowshoes?! Nice race and nice report. You're getting in great shape for Gator Trail and Mt. Washington.

Jamie said...

Now that's an epic battle if I've ever heard about one. Nice work, Ryan. Thanks for putting on a killer race series. Bring on that Gator Trail.

mindy said...

Your race report was just as exciting as watching you guys duel it out in the field. Keep harnessing that inner fire, its pushing you into the stratosphere!

sn0m8n said...

Thanks y'all!

Kevin - I'll be in great shape to drive up Mt. Washington and yell at you as you hammer up the Wall.

Mindy - You sound like a classic rock DJ.

mindy said...

It's my central PA upbringing, what can I say.