Wednesday, March 05, 2014

2014 Dion Snowshoes U.S. Snowshoe Championships Race Report

What an epic day. This was an amazing event that I was extremely honored to have participated in, and what makes it better is that I had an awesome performance to boot. The course was amazing. The volunteers were awesome. The overall organization, setting and competitive yet friendly vibe were fantastic. Hats off to the organizers, it was obvious everyone had a blast.

I'll rewind a bit... Kate and I made the 3 1/2 hour trek over to Bennington, VT the night before. Great little town, and it made me want to read Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" for a third time.

We woke up Saturday morning and made the 10 minute or so drive over to the Prospect Mountain and got our bibs. After cheering on Chris in the juniors race, and seeing Kate and Emma in the women's race, it was soon time for me to get geared up and warm-up.

During my warm-up, I spoke with a woman who was on her cooldown after finishing in the top 10. She gave me a lot of great insight that validated my strategy of being very conservative in the uphill first half and let it loose in the downhill second half. She noted the mass carnage of runners who gave too much too soon, allowing her to pick them off easily later in the race. She mentioned that once you see the cell phone tower, it's halfway and time to let'er rip.

I lined up with Trail Monster Running teammates, noting how in-shape and fast the entire field of runners looked. Well of course, this is THE national championships after all. Yep, I think I'll take my spot here several rows back from the start line...

Miles 1 and 2
With 213 finishers in the men's race, I knew the beginning would be mayhem, despite the very wide trails in the beginning. It was. In the first half mile, my snowshoes were accidentally stepped on or kicked about a half a dozen times. I saw a few folks fall and two poor fellows lose their snowshoes. All part of the sport, but when you factor in the amount of runners, those incidents were pretty few.

My patience came easy, as I mused that those that were jockeying hard for position early on were wasting energy. Ten kilometers is a long race for snowshoeing. Plenty of time and opportunities later on.

By the time we reached a very steep climb about a half of a mile in, things felt much less hectic. The field was no much more spread out. We meandered around some single track sections for the second mile which marked the beginning of a two and a half mile climb that would rise over 600'.

Miles 2 to 3.1
The climb to the top was relentless. However, I remained pretty conservative here by running up at a good lick, but not going all out to where I'd burn out. It turned out be a fine balance that paid dividends later on. Passed several folks along the way up who took it too hard and fast early on and were now tired.

Much of this way I ran with Chuck. We were actually conversing here and there, commenting on how awesome the course was, the views and whatever else. I was aware that a potential side benefit was that it might be psyching out runners in our vicinity who were breathing harder.

We navigated the alternating sections of single track and XC ski trails to the top. I should note that the course design was excellent. There were passing lanes stomped down every so often on the single track sections, and along with the Nordic trails, getting caught in congo lines was never an issue for me. It was great.

The climbing soon leveled off near the 5K mark and the cell phone tower was in view. The downhills were about to begin... well mostly downhill.

Miles 3.1 to 5
Gears changed in a hurry. We soon found ourselves on a very steep and twisty single track on a very steep descent. Holy cow. This was an adrenaline rush. I was flying with every ounce of downward momentum I could handle, redlining my ability to control the speed. Trees were used around sharp turns to help pivot my momentum and every ounce of concentration I could muster focused on keeping within the trenches. It was awesome and I'm thankful my klutzy self didn't wipe out.

Around four and a half miles in, we changed gears again on a steep ascent up some very sugary and loose double track. This wore me out, but it was also tiring out everyone around me. I began to see Ian and Scott ahead and closed in on them and the other runners around them.

Mile 5 to the end
We were soon back on single track that was somewhat level, but now the next long downhill section was about to begin, this time on fast and packed Nordic trails. Passed quite a few folks here and energy was relatively great. I knew here that I had walked the line of going out conservative but not too conservative nicely.

We reached the twisty switchback down a ski slope that I knew marked the hey-you're-very-close-to-the-end mark. This zig-zagging section scared me, and I opted to sacrifice speed for more control. I could hear Kate and Emma yelling for Ian, but it wasn't until I was in front of them that they recognized me. I'll write that off as having just shaved off the beard, ha ha. The zig zags were over in no time though, and I was back on wide packed Nordic trails for the next quarter of a mile until the finish.

Close to the finish.
Photo courtesy of Acidotic Racing. 
I let loose from there on out, and was creeping up on two guys. A final hairpin before a straight shot to the finish, and I passed one guy on the turn. Kate was yelling at me for me to catch the other guy who was in a bright green shirt, which gave me a huge boost. I went for it, and got right up on his shoulder about a dozen feet from the finish before he realized I was there and then he kicked in a little and juuuuust got the edge on me. It was epic. I love dogfights like that, even if I don't win. They're just fun.

I ended up crossing the finish line in 56:01. Good enough for 70th place out of 213 in the men's race and 8th out of 18 in my age group. For a national event, I'm very proud of that. Honored to be there to begin with, but stoked to at least be in the top third as well.

Seconds after crossing the finish. Grateful for the
 close fight with the fellow in the green shirt.
Post Race
Collapsed on the ground next to the guy I was in the dogfight with and we thanked each other for the push/pull. See? Running is awesome. I love the good sportsmanship that abounds. He got up first and then helped me up. Then I walked over to a snowbank and puked.

Recapping war stories with the boys. 
Recapped war stories with my Trail Monster Running teammates. Several times we was noted how awesome that course was.

Afterwards, we all went out for fish and chips and then returned for the awards ceremony. Then, the long drive home, but not before stopping for food and beverages in Brattleboro, where Scott did an amazing job of parking his car on a snowbank.

I don't think I could have raced this any better. The decision to take it easy and be patient for the mostly uphill first half was clearly the way to go. At the same time, I knew that I had given it my all as there was nothing left in the tank after I crossed the finish line. It was really nice to bomb those downhills and have enough left in the last half mile especially to really pour it all out. That being said, I don't think I sandbagged it at all in the first half.

Other notes
- Teammate Chris C. was in the junior's race. He sacrificed his own race to help out a fellow runner who had passed out. After ensuring the guy was safe, Chris went on to finish.

- My wife Kate was joined by a pregnant Emma and they ran the women's race together. Trail Monster Running teammate Mandy later joined them and they finished together.

- I forgot my snowshoes at the race and didn't realize it until I got back home. Fortunately, Ian was still there and he found them the next day. Whew.

- Speaking of Ian, I only beat him because one of his Atlas snowshoes broke a mile and half into the race. I think it was a binding?

Snowshoe Ran 6.2 miles @ 9:01/mile pace.
Official time: 56:01
Overall place: 70th out of 213
AG place (40-44): 8 out of 18.
Packed single track and Nordic trails.
Extremely hilly.
Mid-upper 20s, partly sunny.
Dion 121 snowshoes, New Balance MT1010, long tights, short sleeved shirt, long sleeved shirt, buff (neck), beanie, gloves.

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