Boulder Lake Snowshoe Stomp Race Report
Race Day: Sunday, January 18, 2015 — 11:06am
This race was number three of the weekend. Historically, I’ve noticed that snowshoe running is very physically taxing and I had never raced before. After 15k of hard racing the day before at the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run, I was a little curious to see how this race was going to go. To qualify for the Snowshoe National Championships, one needs to complete a qualifying race, and the Boulder Lake Snowshoe Stomp is a qualifier.
Nick, Kyle and I were geared up and ready to go by 9:30 or so and I drove to Boulder Lake, which is a sweet recreation area about 30 minutes due north from Duluth. We checked in and grabbed our bibs. The conditions were shaping up to be really nice, despite the temperatures fluctuating around the freezing point of water. That, perhaps, made the snow a bit soft, but we dressed light and that helped. In fact, Nick wore shorts! (They were more like half-tights, but either way, his knees down were exposed). I wore these compression-type tights, which I thought would be protection from the flying snow, yet cool enough where my legs wouldn’t get sweaty.
We did a few practice laps, and my legs felt surprisingly fresh and springy, which gave me a major boost of confidence. At this point, there is no point to hold back. God knows it’s not my overly tired legs that will result in a slow beer mile…
After ten minutes of warmups, we tried to stride out a little bit, and it felt good. Nick has had some issues with falling and tripping on his snowshoes, especially early in the season, so he especially was curious to see how a high turnover at a fast speed was going to fare. Taking a big fall in the heat of the race could be morale-buster for sure. Luckily, we arrived back at the chalet, huffing and puffing from the short but intense effort, without falling at all! I felt ice chunking up on the back of my thighs and calves where the snow flings up and leaned over to flick it off, but realized that my tights were just really wet and my legs cold. It looked like the snow was sticking to my tights, then melting–warmed by the heat of my legs. Could this be an issue? I pondered…
After a quick stop to the chalet to warm up, our race was about to start. We watched the skiers start, then six minutes later, we lined up the opposite way, aimed into the woods. The start line was really wide, then there was a 50 yard dash to a big funnel. What a disaster it would be to get caught behind a slower group, just flinging snow into my face while I’m unable to pass!
Boom! The race started suddenly and I forgot to set my watch. I sprinted ahead, the adrenaline of the race start propelling me forward, and I fiddled to get my watch started. As the funnel drew closer, I managed to merge in right behind Nick. We entered onto a section of ski trails, perhaps 10 feet wide and not really groomed. There were sections of really soft snow and the sand-like consistency made for tough running. I was right behind Nick, another guy was right behind me, and Kelly and Eric were up front pretty far. Looking at past results for Snowshoe National Team, Kelly and Eric usually represent pretty well. Eric has been National Champion a few times and Kelly is always way up there, too.
We approached the first big hill and I said to Nick, “This hill separates the pretenders from the contenders!” Turns out, I was the pretender! Nick responded by telling me that we have 35 or 40 minutes of racing ahead of us and not to burn myself out. We train together pretty much every day, and he’s not cocky to tell me that I can’t hang with him and to drop back for my own good! I looked at my watch, 4:50 or so, and realized that sprinting up hills is not in my best interest, especially with 15k of running in my legs! Almost immediately after the hill, I fell back and tried to get into a sustainable pace. A few minutes later, the guy on my shoulder probably got sick of snow being flung onto his face and passed me with ease. One miniscule turn in the trail and I never saw him again.
Perhaps halfway through the first lap of two, the ski trail bumped onto some sweet singletrack. This was right through the woods, and with the low snow conditions, every root, rock and log created a contoured path. One could never predict how dramatically a footfall would twist and stretch one’s ankle, and I definitely had a few painful ankle-twisters. Snowshoe running is not for the weak-of-ankle, that’s for sure! Either way, the singletrack section was super fun and I really appreciated the beautiful section of woods. It seemed like easier running, but perhaps it was just the technical nature of the singletrack versus the tame ski trail. As well, the woods section required concentration to make sure we were on the right trail. There were plenty of trail intersections, and it was extremely helpful to follow the four other tracks that were ahead of me, even though I followed them onto the wrong path a few times! At least I was confident it was the wrong direction as the prints stopped abruptly. I could only image Eric’s anxiety with picking the correct path.
The singletrack dropped us right onto Boulder Lake itself, and I could see Tony at the water stop signalling the second loop. My watch was right about 30 minutes. I made it my goal to finish in under an hour, but a negative split was a tall order! At least I knew the course the second time around. At this vantage point, I could see that there was nobody even close to me in either direction. Looks like I’m running by myself.
The second loop was just torn up. Each step was so soft and there were sections of really powdery holes, essentially, right in the trail. I was happy to get to the singletrack, which was torn up, but bound to be slow regardless. This way, I knew the course and zinged through it. Once I got to the lake again, I pushed it hard to the finish and got in a few minutes before my hour goal, good for fifth place.
Contrary to my solo timed run, Nick caught up to Kelly and duked it out the whole second lap for a sprint finish.
Although it’s kind of nice not to go into the hurt box too bad, I wish I would have been able to keep up with the fourth place dude at least!
As Nick and I warmed up in the chalet, we had a perfect view of Kyle coming through. Upon finishing, he collapsed to his knees, then rolled over onto his back. He left it ALL on the course! Or perhaps he was saving it for the impending beer mile… (That is called foreshadowing).
Shoes: Nike Zoom Kiger, size 11
Snowshoes: Dion Model 121 Racing Snowshoes
Pace: 5:20/km (9:22/mile)
Photo credits: David Hyopponen