As you may know, I’ve been struggling with an annoying hamstring injury for the past two months. The source and symptoms seem to move around, and depending on the day, let me run 10 miles with ease, or keep me wincing while walking. A full injury report is in the works.
So you would think it was a pretty questionable idea to race back-to-back snowshoe races. Nevertheless, that’s what I had planned, so this past weekend, February 28th and March 1st, I packed up and headed across the state to race a night snowshoe race, followed by an uphill snowshoe race the next morning.
First up, the incredible Kingman Farm Moonlight Snowshoe Race. This race was originally scheduled for February 14th at 6pm. However due to a storm, it was rescheduled for that day. acidotic RACING owner Chris Dunn decided to change the start time to 6:15 to account for the later sunset and make sure all racers were racing in the dark. I’m glad he did; this was a great part of the fun!
I drove down to arrive at 4:15, as I was bringing some power strips for the chili cook-off, and I wanted to make sure I gave my hamstring plenty of time to stretch out. I had been nursing it on and off all week, and though it was getting better, it was still anybody’s guess how it would fare on any given day. On the drive down, I was in a pretty good amount of pain. Driving and sitting in general are always the most painful parts of my day–far worse than running–but this was particularly bad. By the time I got there, I had made up my mind not to race, and instead save it for the Snowshoe to the Clouds the next morning.
Once I got there, stood around and stretched awhile, I felt much better, and thought about changing my mind. After a lot of second and third-guessing myself, I finally decided to race, but force myself to keep it very easy. I picked up my bib about 10 minutes before the start, and got my Dion Snowshoes and Gemini Duo headlamp strapped on.
It was an incredibly cool atmosphere, seeing 80-90 headlamps bobbing all crowded together. It looked like we were lit by those heavy-duty construction lamps on the interstate.
I seeded myself back pretty far, around people who would finish in 70-74th place. I hadn’t warmed up, and knew I wanted to take it very easy to give a good showing the next day. However I underestimated what my easy pace would be. Snowshoes are a peculiar thing. They slow you down, of course, from what you could run in shoes or micro-spikes, but for me, they seem to compress my paces. So normally there might be a 2-minute difference between race pace and easy pace for a 4.3 mile race, but with snowshoes, it was more like a 1-minute difference. Subtle, but it certainly affects where you seed yourself. Had I been planning to race all-out, I would have seeded myself at the front.
The start command was given, and you could hear the start of the field begin to move. It took about 15-20 seconds before everyone got moving and I crossed the start line. I felt great immediately. My hamstring didn’t twinge even a little for the first few miles. Within the first 1/4 mi, I knew I’d better start working my way up while it was easy to do so, and I didn’t need to ask anyone to pass. I wasn’t going to ask someone to step off trail to cover my mistake, so I only passed when there was room, or if they stepped off out of kindness and sportsmanship. Many times, they’d ask if I wanted to pass, and I told them “whenever there’s room.”
The race atmosphere was really the reason to do this race. While I do a lot of night runs with a headlamp, there’s something extremely awesome about racing in the dark. There were neat ice lanterns all throughout the course which were an absolutely incredible effect. I would have loved to do another loop or two!
After the first 3/4 mile, I stayed around half-marathon effort until around the 3-mile mark. This would net me 6:20 pace on a flat road, but was equivalent to approximately 8:00 pace on the cleanest sections of the slightly-downhill trail around mile 1.5.
The field was probably the most memorable part of the race. It was barely broken out by a few people before the race, and then the lead racers in front of me (I guessed 20 people at the time, but I think it was closer to 8-10). So it was pretty powdery, and you sunk down a way. Unlike much of the rest of the course, you’d NEED snowshoes to make it through this part. Each step slanted a slightly different direction, which gave me really sore lower legs the next few days! But seeing the headlamps strung out ahead and behind you, along with the ice lanterns and hearing the whistle of the nearby passing train who saw us running… well suffice it to say I’ll remember it until next year!
I was feeling really great and under control all until now; I definitely could have gone double the distance, maybe longer at this effort level. I was loving every moment. I passed quite a few people in the field. I stepped off trail, and they were gracious enough to slow a little while I struggled to pass and get back to the trail.
Immediately upon exiting the field, you are back on hardpack for a moment before being thrust cruelly into the most laughably exhausting conditions I’ve seen. It was a moderate climb of deep snow, filled with postholes and what seemed like very few snowshoe prints. I was worried at this point that I’d taken a wrong turn, but I wasn’t inclined to worry about it. My pace immediately slowed to 20-minute miles. I could have gone somewhat faster, but it wasn’t worth the injury risk or frustration, as I was still feeling good. Nevertheless, it was closer to hiking in the backcountry than snowshoe running in a race. This section climbed, then cut across an open area and back down to the trail.
There were a few guys that were fairly close, one of whom I passed coming off this deep section, and I picked up speed on the flat hardpack. This was around the 2.5 mile mark, and was starting to pick up the effort a little. Not quite 10k effort, but certainly faster. We blasted through a somewhat confusing intersection, and I shouted back “GO LEFT.” I hope they heard me. Sadly I couldn’t be of help to the guys in front of me who’d doubled back the way we started after going right.
Disclaimer: my memory is foggy for this part, and I don’t fault anyone for the confusion here. I suggest you don’t either. It’s just one of those things that happens in races, especially those at night when your snowshoes are making tons of noise.
After some solid climbing, we came to a ridge, then the switchback section. This was the toughest part, and there was unfortunately some confusion about passing or staying behind people. I was caught behind a line of four guys, and slowed way down. There was no room to pass even one of them, so I just stayed in the back. I think they were all being slowed a little by the leader, but I’m not quite sure what exactly was happening. There really was no way to pass without someone being kind and stepping completely off the trail to allow you to pass. I wasn’t about to ask that of someone, so I just hung on the heels of guy number four. He asked me a few times if I wanted to pass, but I just said “when there’s room. If there’s room…” Eventually we came to a tight switchback, and I think the guy in front of me cut the switchback by a couple feet in order to pass the guy in front of him. I had my head down and was just slogging along, so my body unconsciously followed, until I realized what was happening as I was halfway through. I immediately stopped and let the guy who got passed get in front of me. I was now at the back of the line of 5 again, but I wasn’t really concerned. I was more interested in getting to the finish and grabbing my camera to try taking some night running shots. The guy who was passed that I just allowed to pass me again eventually slowed and allowed me to pass, as did the guy in front of him (who I believe may have gotten passed by the guy who cut the switchback to pass). Finally it was me and one other guy at the front, and I was just sitting on his heels running easy, as there was no place to pass whatsoever. Every time we’d switchback, I’d shine my light ahead looking for a spot, but there was nothing. Finally, we made the final turn to the finish, and were in a sprint for the finish. Even here, there were trees in the middle of the packed trail, so I took a curve around as he took the straight. I swear we traded the lead several times in the last 40 meters, but ended up getting the lean on me, though we finished in the same time of 38:10. I kept running until I reached the parking log, yanked off my snowshoes, ran and grabbed my camera, and jogged back to try to get a few shots of the other finishers.
Here is a video by aR teammate Josh Johnson of my finish.
These are a few photos I took of people finishing after me. It was tough conditions, trying to get enough light to see, but not enough light to blind them with! Head over to Peak Focus Photography to see a few more.