Trail Monster Running

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Bradbury White Out Snowshoe Race Report

It's amazing how much variability there is in snowshoe racing. On Monday it looked like the Bradbury White Out would be run on a combination of dirt and icy trails, by Wednesday we were pretty sure there was going to be some snow, but no clear idea if it would be enough to snowshoe on. By Friday the concern shifted to "how the hell are we going to pack out a race course in all this snow?"


With plans for a 25 mile trail run on Saturday it soon became clear that wasn't going to be an option in 24+ inches of new powdery snow, so I changed my plans to doing laps of the snowshoe race course to both pack the trail and get in my long run for the week. I hoped to be able to cover at least 3 laps of the 4 mile course in 4 hours which would be about the same amount of time I had expected to run for if I'd been on the type of trails I was dealing with early in the week. That plan changed as soon as I set foot on the trail Saturday at noon. With snow ranging in depth from mid-calf to above my knees my Garmin told me I was moving at about a 32 minute per mile pace. With all this snow it wasn't too surprising that I lost the real trail in a few places and ended up having to do a little backtracking. I had originally hoped that I'd be able to run on my second lap, but these short sections of backtracking made me realize that the second pass of the course would be like breaking trail through 18" of snow instead of 24". Not much easier and certainly not runnable.

After 2 hours and 13 minutes I finally finished one lap of the course. I was working hard, at least as much effort as I would be putting in a long trail run, but I felt pretty good after the first lap so set off on the second in hopes of getting it done in under 1.5 hours. About 1/4 mile into the second lap I paused to take a photo and discovered my camera wasn't in my pocket. Shit! It must have fallen out when I tripped on a stump and did a face plant more than half a mile back. I contemplated continuing on and looking for the camera when I came back around on the second lap, but since it was still snowing and the wind was blowing strong I realized I didn't have much time before it would be completely reburied. When I returned to the scene of the crash, much to my surprise, I discovered a little loop of camera strap sticking up out of the snow. Yes!


At this point I decided to keep going around the course in the opposite direction rather than going back and starting over again, it was clear that the second time around the course wasn't going to be much faster. There were places that my tracks from the first pass were completely obliterated by the drifting snow and I was breaking fresh trail all over again. After a total of 4 hours and 9 minutes I had covered only 8.3 miles, but did make it around the race course twice so at least there would be some kind of trail for people to follow in Sunday's race. Its hard to say exactly how this would compare to my planned 25 mile run, I certainly felt like I had worked very hard for 4 hours.

There are snowshoes down there somewhere
The next morning I was up early to shovel snow at home, then got to Bradbury about 8:30 in the morning for more shoveling. We had to be able to get runners to an area for registration, to the picnic shelter for post-race activities, to the trail head across the road and we needed to clear an area for volunteers to stand at the finish line where they wouldn’t be knee deep in snow. I also made an attempt at reducing the snow depth of an area at the start line so there wouldn’t be quite such a bad bottle-neck as 50+ runners tried to squeeze into a 2’ wide snow trench at the start of the race. Luckily a few volunteers showed up early to help clear snow and to get everything else set up for the race. Ryan had been there since 6:30 making another pass of the race course and putting out the markings, not that it needed much marking since it was the only trail on the east side of the park, but it definitely needed a little more foot traffic before the race.

By 10:30 we were done with set-up, most runners were checked in and it was time for me to start thinking about my race. I’d had my running gear on since leaving the house early that morning, so all I had to do was strip off a few layers, change shoes and get my snowshoes on. I really wasn’t sure what to expect for today's race. I knew better than anyone what the conditions and course were going to be like, but the race itself is so dependent on who else is there and where you position yourself in the pack. Knowing that the first few runners would be dealing with the worst of conditions, and that I wasn’t exactly going into this race fresh and rested I figured I should be just outside of the top 10 to start. One thought was to go out “easy” and enjoy the benefits of a somewhat better packed course with hopes of being able to have something left for a surge in the last mile where I’d pick off the weary runners who had been doing all the work for most of the race. I wasn’t convinced that relying on a late surge in any snowshoe race was a good idea though. Another idea I had was to work as a team with a few other Trail Monsters where we’d take turns leading a pack, and regularly switch up the leader so no one runner was doing all the hard work. In the end I did neither.

Photo by Maine Running Photos
I lined up in more or less an appropriate place, a little behind Ryan W., Scott, Jamie, Alan, James, David, Chuck and a few others. When the race started Ryan and Scott took off fast, but everyone else seemed to be a bit cautious, I don’t think anyone wanted to be out front and do all the work. Before I knew it I found myself in fourth place behind David, and it wasn’t long before Ryan and Scott were out of sight, not that I could see much with all the powder that was being kicked up in front of me. I could tell that I had a pack of strong runners on my heels and I figured it was only a matter of time before someone asked to get past. I think everyone was breathing too hard to say anything. After a gradual downhill along Knight Woods there was a steep drop and then short climb as we crossed the snowmobile trail. After the climb I was tight on David’s heels and felt that I could probably go a little bit faster, but this certainly wasn’t the right part of the course to make a move on as the trail twisted and turned in narrow gaps between trees.

When I knew we were close to merging with the Snowmobile Trail, a little before the 1 mile mark, I let David know that I would be willing to take over the work of leading the pack for a while if he wanted to let me pass. This wasn’t a confident declaration that I thought I could stay in front, but I thought it was fair to give him a break. Once we made the turn on onto the Snowmobile trail he took one step to the left and I moved around to the right. I had every expectation that it wouldn’t be long before David or someone else would come up on me and ask to pass. As we approached the turn from the Snowmobile Trail onto Fox East I could hear Emma up ahead cheering me on. After a 25 mile run from home to Bradbury she arrived 5 minutes before the start and then hiked up the trail to help direct runners and provide some encouragement. It worked. Seeing her there gave me a boost and I pushed hard on the technical terrain. I opened a small gap but it wasn’t long before there were footsteps right on my heels again.


It wasn’t going to be easy to shake this chase pack, but I did start to wonder if maybe I could hold this position for the rest of the race. I was definitely running scared. If someone wanted to pass I wasn’t going to stop them, but I feared that as we got closer to the finish I wouldn’t have the opportunity to make a move and get that place back again. I put in a surge on the downhill of Fox and opened a slight gap, but I was on the verge of getting out of control. Rather than being compressed under each footfall the snow just slipped around and moved out of the way. The downhill surge actually took a lot of energy just to keep upright and I needed a slight recovery on the gradual climb that followed, but recovering on an uphill in fresh powder snow is not really an option and I could tell that the gap was closed up pretty tight behind me. I focused on trying to match the stride of the footsteps ahead of me to find the most solid footing. As much as I wanted to ease off the pace to lower my heart rate and breathing I knew that doing so would make it that much easier on everyone chasing me and it would only be a matter of time before someone felt bold enough to make a move and pass. So I charged on at near maximum effort. As the gradual climb topped out I knew we’d be crossing the snowmobile trail soon which would be a great opportunity for someone to make a move so I put in another surge to try and pull away. After we crossed the Snowmobile Trail we were back on narrow and twisting single-track and I relaxed a little bit.

Knowing that the next opportunity for someone to make a move would come when we turned from Ginn onto the wide, downhill of Old Tuttle Road I put in another surge. I had told a few others that this would be a good place to really kick it in so I knew I’d have to make my move early.  As I made the turn onto Old Tuttle I almost wiped out but just barely managed to keep upright. The next 2/10ths of a mile were an all out sprint. I caught a glimpse of someone up ahead on the trail but didn’t dare take my eyes off the snow immediately in front of me for too long. As I made the sharp turn onto Lanzo and back onto tight single-track I knew I had opened up a gap and just hoped that it was big enough to hang onto. I was feeling pretty spent and feared that if someone did catch up to me I wouldn’t have enough in me to put up much of a fight.

Photo by Amber Waterman
The tight turns that came in the last 3/4th of a mile actually played to my strengths and I could tell I was moving away from my chase pack. I had thoughts of reigning in second place but didn’t know how much of a lead he still had on me, probably less than a tenth of a mile but I was running out of real estate. Just before making the turn from Lanzo onto the Link Trail for the final push to the finish I could hear the crowd at the finish line cheering. Someone had just crossed the line. Despite knowing that I couldn’t catch anyone in front of me and that the chase pack was far enough back that I didn’t have to worry I still gave it everything I had for a sprint to the finish. I was surprised and very pleased to finish third. It wasn’t how I planned to run, not that I really had much of a plan, but I was lucky to feel good throughout the race and stay strong to the end. Ryan W. got the win with Scott only 1 second behind. Just under a minute after me David came in with five others right on each other heels behind: Jennifer, Kristina, Jamie, Chuck and James.

It was a fun race in very challenging conditions, but no doubt frustrating for those who were caught in the trench and unable to pass.

time: 39:45
distance: 3.5 miles
pace: 11:21
place: 3/53


RESULTS

After catching my breath I went for a short cool-down run on the road with a few others, then enjoyed some hot soup with the rest of the runners as the prizes were given out. Once we got everything from the race packed up, and Andy picked up the course markings, I headed back out on the race course to get in a few more miles. It was amazing how different the course was after all 53 racers had gone through, so much easier to run. I actually ran a faster time in my easy jog around the course than I did during the race. Snowshoeing is certainly a crazy and unpredictable sport.

6 comments:

Gnarls said...

You took the race by the balls, so great seeing you race so well and get 3rd. Gutsy performance, so very proud of you gIANt!

Sparkplug said...

Nice job out there, Ian, and thanks for all your hard work packing the trail on Saturday too!

Jamie said...

Nice work man. Really, really, really wish I would have went with you when you passed Dave and had you pull me ahead a little. Well done. Massanutten, look out!

sn0m8n said...

Told you your easy jog would be faster. And, again, huge thanks for your effort on Saturday. Race wouldn't have happened without it.

Yak Hunter said...

Fantastic effort. That sounded tough!

Michael said...

gIANt's back! Good luck at Massanutten.