Thursday, March 17, 2011

Granite State Snowshoe Championships - Race Report

The 2011 snowshoe season is in the books, and I wrapped it up with the Granite State Snowshoe Championships at hosted by acidotic RACING at Great Glen Trails. This race would be my fifth race of the season, qualifying me for a ranking in the Northeast Snowshoe Federation Cup standings. More importantly, it would also be the fifth race that Trail Monster Running fielded a full team, and we had a shot to first third amongst some very stiff competition.

A number of things were different for me in 2011 vs. 2010. First off, I kept my car on the road, but, the biggest difference were my performances thus far. I've been running well in 2011 and felt some pressure to keep it up. Admittedly, I had some pre-race jitters and found myself missing the race directing portion of racing. With only my race to focus on, I didn't really know what to do with myself. This was also one of those races at which you look around and everyone looks fast. All the usual suspects rolled in from acidotic, Tuesday Night Turtles and my Trail Monster Running teammates, and I knew it was going to be a tough task to meet my pre-race goal: a top ten finish. I think my nerves were obvious as I couldn't wait for anyone else to do a warm-up with and headed out on the roads solo. I met up with Scott Mason, who was planning to be behind the camera, on the way back, and we chatted for a bit. Then, I jumped in for a short stint with my teammates, giving me a solid two-mile warm-up. Back inside to change, then off to the start line.

Race start. Joe Viger Photo.

I lined up on the far left of the front row, which kept me out of the fray and spray (of snow) at the start. The conditions were strange. The first half of the 10-kilometer course is on the groomed Nordic trails, and despite looking firm, they were anything but. The temps were fairly warm, so you'd sink a bit with each step. So much for a fast first half. I settled into a comfortable pace that put me in seventh place, directly behind TNT's Dave Principie.

A quarter mile in. Great Glen Trails photo.

Dave slowly and steadily pulled away from me, and by 1.5 miles, he had a big gap. I was really questioning whether or not I was running too comfortably, but with a 7:26 first mile and knowing the climb that lay ahead, I didn't want to overcook it. I could hear footfalls behind me the entire time, but forced myself not to look back. Then, at about 2 miles, aR's Ryan Welts went by me on a downhill. I stayed right with him, and we exchanged places and conversation for the next mile. He let me know, what I already knew, that Captain Snowshoe himself, Chris Dunn, was right behind us, and that he wasn't really enjoying the groomed trails. Admittedly, neither was I. I wasn't anxious to get to the good stuff.

5k down. 5k up. Joe Viger Photo.

I passed through the start line/3 mile mark in 24:09 and began to mentally prepare myself for the climb ahead: 350' in the next 1.25 miles. I was expecting the soft, slushy-ish conditions to carry over from the groomed trails to the singletrack. Instead, the singletrack was fairly firm. However, it wasn't stable. The treadway was quite uneven, and with each step, you would posthole...or you wouldn't. You never knew what was going to happen from one step to the next.

Starting the climb. Scott Mason photo.

More climbing. Great Glen Trails photo.

Still climbing. Great Glen Trails photo.

Since I knew the trail from running it at least a dozen times this winter, I wanted to push the uphill, and I led the Ryan-train throughout the entire climb. I'd hear Ryan right behind me, then it would get quiet, then I'd hear him again...rinse and repeat. We kept getting glimpses of Dave up ahead, and it became clear that we were gaining on him. At the very top of the climb, Ryan asked to go around, and I obliged. He had clearly been holding back a bit, as a gap quickly opened up between us as we ran along the "flat" section at that led to the high point of the course and eventual left hand turn signifying the almost one-mile-long downhill. I consider myself a strong descender, so I hoped that I could close that gap.

As I made that left hand turn, I took a peek back and didn't see Chris or anyone else, which really helped sharpen my focus on the two ahead of me. However, in the process of looking back, I nearly went down not looking at the singletrack as I postholed unexpectedly. Unexpected posthole would be the theme for the next mile. The tricky conditions on the uphill were multiplied tenfold on the descent. It was extremely hard to stay in rhythm or get any momentum going. This section of course is a fire road, so it's wide open and fairly straight. I could see Ryan and Dave almost the entire time, only losing sight on them briefly on a few corners. I'd see Dave posthole, think I'd have a chance to catch up, and then I'd posthole. I'd see Ryan posthole, think I'd have a chance to catch up, and then I'd posthole. Over and over again. It was both frustrating and worrisome. I didn't want to wrench an ankle or a knee, so I focused on staying upright more than trying to catch those guys.

The downhill ends just after the 5-mile mark, then the course turns left onto the last piece of singletrack. I looked back when I reached that corner. I couldn't see anyone behind me, and Ryan and Dave had essentially left me behind. This section starts with an uphill that would be tough even without a mile-long downhill preceding it. I was talking to myself up this hill, knowing that I really needed to work if I had any hope of seeing Ryan and Dave again or staying ahead of the strong field chasing. I think I scared a couple who were just out for a leisurely snowshoe in the tranquil forest. I started seeing glimpses of Dave through the pines, and I knew that not only Ryan had passed but I was also gaining on him. Once I hit the powerlines, I had Dave in my sights, and I could tell that I was running the uphills faster than he was. Of course, the uphill that starts with a half mile to go is the toughest climb of the entire race, so neither of us were really flying at this point (read: shuffling). I pushed this hill as hard as I could and pulled up directly behind Dave at the very top. I could barely see straight, and really wasn't able to ask Dave if I could get around. As we turned right past the Honeymoon Cottage, he was able to put a few feet between us, and extended his lead through the insane final quarter mile. It may have been the equivalent of just one lap around a track, but it was anything but flat. The downs were...well...sketchy, and it was all I could do to stay upright and alive. It was also through this section that I was aware that someone was gaining on us. I had no idea who this someone was, and I wasn't sure if it was even human from the noises it was making. Wounded water buffalo in heat? I've been known to grunt and froth in a race, but this was closer to demonic possession.

Trying to stay alive. Gianna Lindsey photo.

Final uphill. Scott Mason photo.

In the end, Dave was able to better navigate the final section to finish a comfortable 10 seconds ahead of me. I crossed the line in 8th in 57:09. Ryan had put more than a minute on me in the final miles. The bellowing didn't cease until fellow Trail Monster, Jeff Walker, crossed the line just behind me. It's a good thing this was the last race of the season because Jeff really has figured this snowshoe racing thing out, and I was lucky to be the top Trail Monster.

Obligatory painful finish photo. Joe Viger Photo.

Scott Mason's Photos
Joe Viger's Photos
Gianna Lindsey's Photos
Great Glen Trails' Photos

I have many reasons to be thrilled about this race, but I'm not. I achieved my goal of a top ten finish, but I didn't really race. When Ryan went by me at the top of the climb, I let him go. I didn't race. When I caught up to Dave, I never made a real push to get by him. I didn't race. I just didn't have the same fire that I had at the Bradbury Blizzard. I was fairly complacent, which is disappointing. I'm really just nitpicking here (and possibly whining a bit), but I feel like I left something out on the course. I was a very good effort, but not a great race.

That being said, I'm proud of where I've come in the past year. Because I'm a nerd, I compared the 2010 and 2011 results. I wanted to see just how much slower the course was this year. (It's not a perfect comparison because the first 5k on the groomed Nordic trails were slightly different [and possibly a bit easier] and the finish was different [tougher and longer], but we all ran the same courses in the same conditions.) Nineteen people raced both years, and on average, times were 10% slower. Only one person of those nineteen was faster in 2011: me. I think that says a lot, but again, I'm not entirely satisfied. I know I could have raced harder, and I know I'll remember this lesson at the Gator Trail 50k and beyond.

As far as the Northeast Snowshoe Federation Cup, Trail Monster Running finished third overall in what was really our rookie year of racing. Club-wide, I think we'd only ever run 5 snowshoes races combined—four of them my four races last winter. It was exciting for me to see everyone really get into it. Individually, I finished 22nd overall, only 2.5 points out of 15th. Needless to say, the Northeast has a very competitive snowshoe field.

Looking ahead, it's taper time. The real test is on March 26 on the shores of Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina!


middle.professor said...

You had an awesomely strong year racing and it was fun to follow your progress. Now carry it into trail running. I enjoyed getting sucked into snowshoe racing and will pick it up more seriously next winter - like skiing its shockingly low impact and a great break during the winter. So yeh, I'm hooked. Trail monsters will rock the NE races next winter.

sn0m8n said...

Let me know your race schedule next winter, so I can skip those races.