Photo by Scott Mason
"Russians don't take a dump, son, without a plan." Admiral Painter, "Hunt for Red October"
I'm not Russian, but I did have a plan for Saturday's race. After running the course with DD on Friday, I knew that the course was killer and patience was going to be key. The course featured two big climbs totaling 1500' of ascent and 1500' of descent in 5.4 miles of mostly singletrack. This would be a mountain race on snowshoes.
I knew with this race being the first Northeast Snowshoe Federation Championship it would draw a stout field, and it did not disappoint. CMS/Dion/Inov8 teammate Jim Johnson was there as usual, along with DD, Tim Van Orden, Judson Cake, Ryan Kelly and the numerous runners of Acidotic Racing. This would be a pretty deep field, then you add in the likes of new snowshoer and 1:07 half marathoner Nick Wheeler to the mix, and it just gets deeper.
My plan for the beginning of the race was to hang back knowing that a few people would be more than willing to take the lead on the groomed first 800m of the race. Not long after the gun went off I found myself in 4th place behind JJ, Nick and Judson. JJ and Nick were probably 10 seconds ahead of me as we rounded the pond near the finish line. I was already ceding a sizable lead in the first half mile of the race, but I knew were weren't even close to being done.
I stayed behind Judson as we entered the singletrack and slowly started to climb. I was content to stay behind him for a little bit as we were running a decent pace and I could still see the leaders not too far ahead. When we crossed the first groomed trail Judson let me by and I started my pursuit of the leaders. The first climb was close to 1.5 miles long, so I knew I could take my time and still cut into their lead, assuming that I was climbing any faster. I was struggling to climb a little at first, wondering if the 10,000 ft of climbing I had accumulated during the week were catching up to me. I kept taking small steps and before I knew it I was right on the back of Nick. I was able to pass him part way up the Pipeline Trail, and I set my sights on Double J.
Jim was just a few seconds up on me as we started the day's first descent. Jim usually blows my doors off on this stuff, and today was no exception. I lost sight of him fairly early and about half way down Nick rolled up on me and now I was fighting for second. Luckily the trail flattened out a little before big climb #2. Nick was doing a good job of dogging me and I thought he was ready to pass me as we started the climb. I asked him if he wanted to go by and he emphatically said "No!" I put my head down and kept grinding.
The second climb consisted of two parts: the first part was pretty long and made you think that you had finished the climb when you finished the first part, but in reality you were only about halfway done. The second part almost took you to the same elevation as the first big climb. About 2/3rds of the way up the 2nd big climb I was able to reel Jim in. He graciously let me go by and tucked in behind me after I gave him some "encouragement". I didn't want to see his race fold here, even if it meant him recovering and blowing my doors off on the last descent.
After finishing the climb we started the descent from Rose Ledge at the 4 mile mark. I did my best to bomb down the twisty, crunchy singletrack, especially when Jim told me that Nick was gaining on us. I thought about letting Jim by to lead us down, but there was no place to do so without losing a ton of time, plus I didn't want to give up the lead. No too long after that Jim took a digger reminiscent of last weekend's race at Kingman Farm, but he popped back up and got right on my heels. At this point Nick was running in our back pocket and we had a 3-person freight train bombing down the trail.
Photo by Scott Mason
Luckily for me there was one more speed bump on the way to the finish. A cruel, short little climb reared it's ugly head right before the powerline section. Knowing this was my last chance to open a gap, I hammered it with everything I had. I opened up 4 seconds on Jim and ran for dear life after that. The last little climb was after the bridge at 5 miles. I passed Scott Mason wanting to look back, but I didn't dare. I burst out of the singletrack and did my best Carl Lewis impression. I was able to glance over my shoulder as I rounded the pond. I maintained my 4 second gap to the finish. I gave an uncharacteristic fist pump as I crossed the line. I was pretty psyched to run a smart race and win in a really solid field.
Post race I bonked pretty hard after doing a road cool down with the Turtles, JJ and Nick. It's kind of ironic that I get all of my road miles while warming up and cooling down at snowshoe races.
My next race will be the National Snowshoe Championships in Cable, WI on March 12. The course is going to be flat and fast. Not my strong suit, but I have two weeks to prepare and I have a hell of a base to start with.
0.4 2:24 (6:00 pace)
45:49 (8:29 pace)