04 Mar 2015
Race Day: Saturday, February 28, 2015 – 10am
Driving to Eau Claire, WI, I felt a different mood than most higher priority races. I didn’t feel nervous, I didn’t have a specific goal, and I wasn’t scared of complete failure. This was to be a fun race. And a fun race it was!
After qualifying at Boulder Lake, Nick, Kyle and I all tossed around the idea of what to do for Snowshoe Nationals. We all qualified but didn’t read the bold, underlined and all caps print that says you need to be a USSSA (the governing body of snowshoe running in the U.S.) member before the qualifying race, and neither one of us were current members. So, we were questioning whether we’d be able to race at all. Regardless, the initial plan was to race the 10k on Saturday, which is the true national championship, then race the half marathon national championships on Sunday after staying the night in Eau Claire.
When race day approached, we sorted out the membership stuff and knew we could all race. Kyle decided not to join, and Nick and I decided not to sink the whole weekend and a lot more cash and to just go down for the 10k only.
We woke up early on Saturday, around 6am, to make the 2.5 hour drive into the heart of Wisconsin. The temperatures were very cold, but slated to warm up as we drove.
With coffee and Mountain Dew, we both were getting pretty jacked up for the race, but no nerves. Usually for a big race, I am nervous and tense, but it didn’t feel like a “big” race, even though it’s a national championship! What other sports can I qualify for an event of this caliber? Probably not many…
We arrived with perfect timing to get registered and set up and go for a nice warmup jog. The temps were really prime and the sun was shining in abundance. There wasn’t much snow, however, for better or worse.
Eventually, we lined up for the race start. There were a few guys I recognized from the Boulder Lake race and I could tell some guys were going to go hard. It’s a national championship after all… The start line was very wide but there was a 90-degree left turn about 50 or 100 yards right off the bat. I lined up far right with the intention to swing wide and get in front of some guys. “Go!” came from the speakers and we were off in a flapping flurry. The lack of snow made visibility a bit easier, and the race was underway.
The start stayed wide for a while, so jockeying so hard for a good position wasn’t completely necessary. I stayed on Nick’s tail for a bit while we entered the park trails. A short, steep valley separated the group a bit, and then the places became a little more solidified once we got onto some singletrack trail. There were definitely a few guys in front of me, but I was in a good position and feeling good. My breath was out of control, but I felt good. I could tell the lead guys were really pushing hard to break away and Nick was still much closer to me. He’s going to have to really crank it up if he wants to content, I thought to myself.
At 1 or 2k into the race, the race positions really seemed to start sorting out. The lead group of 3 guys was completely out of view, and Nick was on the back of a second group of guys who were definitely pulling away from me. I could hear people right behind me, so I tried to keep pushing but wanted to get my breathing under control. Perhaps 3k in, I was decidedly passed by a dude in all black… very formidable. Looking behind me brought some mental relief because there was nobody right on me. So when my overtaker started putting some time on me, I was racing all alone by myself. Story of my life…
The meat of the race was relatively uneventful. The course was sweet–a mixture of groomed ski trails and technical singletrack mountain bike trail. Some sections of the singletrack were completely snowless, however, which was a little weird to run on with snowshoes. It was definitely easy running, and I think a powdery course would have slowed everybody significantly. My breathing came to and I felt totally in control by 5k. I was pretty much in between my overtaker and another kid a few hundred feet back. I can hold this spot, I thought to myself.
To my delight, the guy in black overtook another racer and I noticed that this guy was fading hard. I started reeling a guy in a green vest, which felt good. On a section of singletrack, I made a strong surge to get right on this guy’s back. Once we popped out onto the ski trail, it was my turn to make a decisive pass! Unfortunately, green vest guy was decisively passed over and over during the race. One more spot up and I was still rolling along. I wondered what place I was in and I wondered if the kid behind me was gaining on me. The switchbacks were deceptive, and it looked like he was on my neck until we’d turn onto the straightaways and he’s way back there. If I ever felt like he was gaining on me, I’d summon some quick-access fuel and surge ahead.
I saw the 9k marker and put on the afterburners to ensure that I would not get passed in an embarrassing last-minute fashion. I could see buildings out through the last singletrack section and felt like a power-beast blasting past a photographer.
Once out in the open, I could see the guy in all black turning towards the finish line. Flat and packed down, yet windy, I let ‘er rip. A quick glance over my shoulder and I knew I locked in my place. I could see Nick and those who finished before me at the finish line and sprinted in towards them.
I felt super happy to have executed a great race. What a confidence booster… Nick reckoned I came in 12th or so and I was so amped up to look at the results and read that I was 10th overall and 3rd in the 25-29 age group. Nick had a fantastic race by reeling in a lot of guys right up to the last kilometer, which netted him 5th place and a spot on the U.S.A. National Snowshoe Team, which represents the United States in all international snowshoe events. THAT is cool.
We bummed around Eau Claire for a few hours and stayed for awards. Overall, a wonderful event–well produced, good competition, and awesome course. I am extremely satisfied with my race and left it all out there. I don’t think I could have raced a second faster and to beat out some other really talented runners and snowshoers is good for the ol’ ego.
Shoes: Nike Zoom Kiger, size 11
Snowshoes: Dion Model 121 Racing Snowshoes
Pace: 4:07/km (6:38/mile)
27 Jan 2015
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