I've never been able to write race reports for my own races, but the Bradbury Squall is Ryan's race and I was glad just to be a "volunteer" today. Of course, as a Trail Monster event I had a little more at stake than a typical race volunteer, but I had complete confidence in Ryan's ability to put this race together and he didn't disappoint. The 11:00 race start time meant that most of the course marking and all of the set-up could be done the day of the race. Ryan was out marking the single-track Krista's Trail on Saturday while I was out running an incredibly slow 15 mile run on super-soft snowmobile trails. Definitely not the best preparation for a race, but my long term goal is to get back into ultra-running shape for the spring/summer/rest-of-my-life... so doing a long/hard run the day before a race is actually great preparation for my long-term goals.
On race day I arrived at Bradbury at 8:00 along with James to help Ryan mark the course, we set off in opposite directions and met in the middle of the loop course and then finished together. I got in about 3 miles of easy snowshoe running as we marked trail, just what my legs needed to get them loosened up after the previous day's slog. By the time we finished marking the rest of the volunteers had arrived and soon after the racers started showing up. I know very little about the history of snowshoe running in the area, I suspect that's because there isn't much of a history, so it felt like we were breaking new ground with this event and there was a lot of nervous excitement going around. There was a very solid contingent of Trail Monsters, most had never raced in snowshoes before, some had never even run in them. As far as I could tell everything was running smoothly and before I knew it it was time to line up for the start. It was nice to have someone else leading the pre-race meeting for a change, a few quick words from Ryan and we were off!
photo by Don Penta
The start and first half mile of the course are on packed snowmobile trail so the running was easy, and fast. Apparently Ryan was trying to prove that his trail name - Snowman - is justified, and not just because of his pasty white skin, he was running alongside Judson Cake and a kid who looked like he could give Judson a run for his money. It wasn't long before they were out of my sight and I found myself in 7th place right behind David Roberts. I began to worry that I had done my usual go-out-too-fast thing because as we entered the single track at 0.6 miles there were a lot of strong Trail Monsters behind me who were probably running much smarter races. David set a good pace through the tight, twisty Krista's Trail, I thought a few times about trying to pass him but this was definitely not the place to do it. One step off the packed trail and I would surely sink into an abyss of powder. Someone was right on my heels but I didn't dare take my eyes off the trail to see who it was, and there was no way I was going to sacrifice any of my lung capacity by trying to make conversation. Krista's took us to the high point of the course, 200 feet above the start over the course of 1 mile. That may not sound like a lot but it sure felt like it in snowshoes, my lungs were completely tapped out. I eventually recognized the heavy breathing of the person behind me (does that sound wrong?) as Stephen Wells and I knew that my place wasn't safe.
Once the trail turned back onto the Tote Road we were on a gradual downhill and I kicked it up a notch to pass David, then set my sights on James. Although he may remember it differently, I recall James taunting me to come get him and I worked hard to close the gap between us. I wasn't putting much distance between me and David, and Stephen was still right there behind me. I was actually grateful to have a few of my teammates right there to help push the pace and keep this a serious race. I eventually caught up to James and put on a big surge to get passed him, giving him a slap as I went by, a second later he pulled off my hat and threw it down behind me. I guess this meant we weren't taking the race too seriously. I put in another surge to get ahead on a short, steep uphill and then really opened it up on the long downhill ahead. There was more than a half mile of downhill along the Boundary Trail, very steep in some places and I knew the course well enough to be able to pick a good line a go full speed. Stephen was still right on my heels, I wasn't able to pull away from him and we exchanged a few words about what fun it was cruising downhill.
The fun ended about 1 mile from the finish with a climb steep enough to require walking. This is where Stephen passed me. Had it not been for yesterday's long run I may have had the strength to run up this hill, and I'm sure Stephen would have run the whole thing had it not been for the 4 hours of nordic skiing he did the day before. He certainly walked less than me and was able to get away from me pretty quickly. When we crested the hill Stephen transitioned into a run much more quickly than me and the gap between us grew. There were a series of small ups and downs over the next half mile and each up seemed to take more and more out of me, and picking the pace back up again got harder. With about 0.4 miles to go we came back out onto the groomed snowmobile trail of the Northern Loop and this is when David finally caught back up and passed me.
photo by Don Penta
I really didn't like this at all, losing two places in the last mile of the race, so I somehow managed to fight the fatigue in my legs and kick it back up a notch to pass David. I then set my sights on closing the gap on Stephen and managed to close in a little bit, but this was just in time for his final sprint to the finish and the gap remained as it was. I was happy to finish in 6th place with a time of 34:04.
distance: 3.5 miles
weather: sunny, calm, 16 degrees. absolutely beautiful
conditions: mostly snowshoe packed trails, groomed at beginning and end
gear: Atlas Run snowshoes, Inov-8 F-lite 301 PK, Inov-8 Debris Gaiters, wool socks, tights, 2x long sleeve shirts, t-shirt, hat, gloves, mittens
I didn't have much to do after I finished, other than hang out with the other runners by the fire and enjoy some amazing soup from Frontier. Ryan and the other volunteers did a great job with the timing and getting the results together quickly. Eventually it was time to pack up and then go pick up the race course. Ryan and I headed back out on the course, again each going opposite directions until we met in the middle. This time around I got in about 3 miles of snowshoeing, but there was a lot of walking and by the time we finished picking everything up I was totally spent.
It was great to see a total of 18 Trail Monsters come out for our first ever snowshoe race, as well as all the other participants. Ryan did a great job running the show - and the race. Can't wait for the next one.