After a solid season of snowshoe racing in the Granite State Snowshoe Series with noticeable gains in strength and speed I decided to sign up for the snowshoe marathon as a fitness test for two upcoming spring races.
Without much trouble I convinced Kristina to come along and race as well. My only goal was to work on my race nutrition and hopefully run faster than 2010 when I ran 5:15.
I wasn't sure who else would be showing up to race but I had learned through entrant emails that there were over 300 people signed up to run one of four races that were being held all at once on the 6.2 mile loop course. I really wasn't sure how well that was going to work!
We left NH early Saturday morning and arrived at the Aimee farm at 7 A.M. I was surprised as we pulled in to park alongside our friend Kelsey and then Ben Nephew pulled in right along side us. It was fun chatting it up and locating the porto potties as a group. We decided to stage our gear and nutrition a little ways down the trail from the turnaround. After a quick jog around in the snowshoes Ben, Kristina and myself positioned ourselves at the front of the pack.
Let me start by saying I've blown myself up a couple of times foolishly trying to hang with Ben at races because our times on FKT attempts in the White Mountains are so close. Today I was just running my own race and I fully expected him to blow my doors off from the start never to be seen again.
After my customary pre race smooch with Kristina, we were off. I let Ben take the lead and I settled in behind him. After we crossed the river the course starts switchbacking its way and wrapping around the backside of Joe's hill. Ben was running a comfortable pace for me so I just stuck with him and we were talking a bit about the snow conditions and other races. There were two sections that were quite steep that Ben decided to walk, which was fine by me. By the time we zig zagged our way to the top we'd logged 3 miles and 1400 ft of climbing. The descent was quite enjoyable and the pace was comfortable as we neared where I thought we would be crossing the river to complete loop 1. I realized that the 10k race with its 150+ runners was just starting and was going to be coming right at us on the two way traffic section of the loop.
We ran across the bridge and got on a wide section of trail and for some reason I just ran next to Ben then in front of him and was soon met with a mass of shoers' that were mostly staring at the ground. Some moved off the packed out rail and some made us step into the powder. I grabbed a new bottle and hit the turnaround with Ben in tow, Wasn't long before we caught up to the tail end of the 10k race and started picking our way through them. I looked back a few times and saw Ben was having trouble staying with me due to all the passing. I felt I had no business being ahead since he always beats me by 1 minute per mile at least! So I held myself back waiting for him on the climb. I could see him occasionally but he never closed the gap. It was at the top of the mountain that I decided to open things up a little on the descent and try to build a gap. I was convinced it was a fluke and telling myself repeatedly "he's having a bad day" or " he's going to mow you down ,Ryan. Run!" Run with purpose! Like it's your job!, I told myself. Then I heard a clanking at my feet, then nothing,,, That's what losing a heel cleat sounds like, I guess!. I immediately noticed a loss of traction on the steep downs but it was manageable. I settled in watching the switchbacks above me for the rest of the loop. After heading out on loop 3, I passed Ben coming towards me he was 2 tenths back. Loop 3 was more of the same, looking for Ben, passing the hundreds of people on the course, dealing with the deteriorating snow conditions AND losing my remaining heel cleat. Now I know the heel cleats are on there for a reason! Descending the steeper pitches was very difficult and my strength on the descents now became my weakness and I was sure he would reel me in shortly.I completed my 3rd loop in 3:16 and realized I could run faster than 2010 even without heel cleats.
I grabbed a fresh bottle, ate a gel and set out on loop four. I got even further out this time, before I saw Ben and figured I might have enough cushion to hold him off, if I charged the climb hard. The fourth loop wasn't pretty and I even sat down to butt slide a couple of the steeper spots on the way down .But soon I rolled across the finish in 4:28 and Ben followed in 4:36.
Kristina had an awesome race and cruised in smiling in a wicked strong 5:24.
I'm not sure if this snowshoe running strength will transfer to dry ground but I'm excited to find out. Either way it's awesome to be enjoying the miles injury free and having a blast racing, That's not something I've ever done in my short running career.
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