Ski and Shoe to the Clouds – 6th overall – 1:05:26

After the Kingman Farm Moonlight Snowshoe Race (5th overall), Chris Dunn owner of aR was kind enough to let me crash at his place to cut quite a bit of driving. That cut about 3.5 hours of total driving time from my weekend, and gave me a bit more sleep on Saturday night. I fell asleep around midnight, and was up again at 5am to drive north to Mt. Washington for the Ski and Shoe to the Clouds race.

I was really looking forward to this race for a couple reasons. First, my hamstring has always hurt the least on uphills. Being an almost all flat and uphill race, I thought I could race a little closer to my fitness level rather than holding back like at Kingman Farm. Second, with my primary summer goal being the Mt. Washington Road Race, I wanted to see how my legs took the climbing. That was a big weak point last year, so I was hoping it improved a bit.

There are two big, but understandable downsides to this race. Because 3.5-mile of the 6-mile race is held on the auto road, there are a few logistical barriers to snowshoers specifically. First, you have to snowshoe back down under your own power. This is because they can’t take a snowcat down while people are still coming up, and it was 2.5 hours before everyone finished. Still, a 3.5 mile, 2200ft descent after a tough 1+ hour race is a quad destroyer! Second, you have to be there at 7:45 to drop a bag of warm clothes to be carried to the finish, for said descent. This is because the groomer has to go by AFTER the snowcat goes up with the bags, and be back down in time for the start of the race. Still, 7:45 for a 10:00 race is not ideal.

Driving to the race.
Driving to the race. What on earth did I sign up for?

We rolled in at 7:44, dropped bags and picked up bibs. I had already decided I wasn’t going to warm up much. I was still a bit sore from Kingman Farm, and I didn’t want to wear myself out. I hung out and chatted for awhile, then got changed and ready to go.

The Start:

The start was held in the field at the base of the auto road, but the first 2.5 miles or so were on the nordic trails around the base. This was all rolling terrain, so it was going to start VERY fast. The good news is there was no need to stress over where you should seed yourself, as there was zero single track. Every part of the course was at least 5 racers wide, and 100% groomed (as this started out as an exclusively nordic ski event).

Kevin Tilton and I jogged over to the start just in time to watch the skiers start. With a very large bang from a very tiny cannon, they were off! Those guys can practically fly on level ground, and Olympian Justin Freeman shot WAY out to the front within the first 50 meters.

The snowshoers were scheduled to start 5 minutes later, so we strapped our snowshoes on and headed over.

Photo courtesy of the Mt. Washington Auto Road
Tiny cannon! Photo courtesy of the Mt. Washington Auto Road

The Race:

I started fairly quickly, running a 7:04 first mile. (Pretty fast for me on snowshoes). The course was really ideal, and I welcomed not having to think about where to place my feet so I didn’t trip. I settled into 5th early on, but passed one person on a slight downhill in the second mile (7:30).

Half a mile later, I started the climb up the auto road, and almost immediately, my quads began to sob quietly. For those who don’t know, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is 7.6 miles long, climbs approximately 4700ft from bottom to top. The average grade is around 12%, but that includes some flatter sections at the top. I would guess the average grade for the bottom section that was included in this race was closer to 14% or 15%, and included some sections at 18%.

I knew going into this race Leslie would be my closest competition. We always finished fairly close together in mountain races last year, with her besting me in the last few in especially cruel ways. (On the climbs, smiling the whole way.)

Starting after mile 3, Leslie began pulling closer, and eventually passed me as I resorted to a walk/run interval strategy to cope with my weak quads. My heart rate began dropping, and my toes went numb, but at least my quads were holding together. We passed each other back and forth several times over the next mile or so, but eventually I was able to pull away. Somewhere in this time-frame, one guy flew by me and went on to finish 4th.

The eventual 5th place finisher, Jonathan Miller traded spots with me a few times as well, but by mile 5, I couldn’t keep up. I kept telling myself I’d keep him within 30 feet, and I’d run the last half mile and pass him. That turned into “I’ll run the last quarter mile,” which turned into “I’ll run the last 100 meters,” which turned into “I hope I cross the finish line before I collapse.”

It was touch and go over the last half mile, as my quads had gone completely weak, but I did cross the finish line, and collapsed immediately afterward.

Oddly enough, my quads recovered pretty quickly, and I was able to chat for a few minutes, then run down at a fairly fast clip. The jacket and thicker gloves in my drop bag were a good decision, but my toes were still numb, so I really had to pick it up faster than I wanted to go. I ran the 3.5 miles down in about 25 minutes.

After the Race:

We hung around awhile, as everything had to come back down the mountain AFTER all the finishers before they could do the awards ceremony. After that, I went and got a pizza, then drove home. I took a few photos along the way. It wasn’t a stereotypical “perfect” day, but it was really nice.

Panorama of the Presidential Range
Panorama of the Presidential Range
Drama over Mt. Madison
Drama over Mt. Madison

Thoughts:

I was pretty pleased with how this race turned out. I haven’t gotten in much training in the past two months, and almost all of it has been completely flat (often on an indoor track). So I wasn’t surprised to find my quads weren’t up to the task. However, my pace on the climbs was still encouraging, as I know I’ll be faster in the summer anyway.

The course map.
The course map.
The course elevation profile.
The course elevation profile.
Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey of SNAPacidotic.
Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey of SNAPacidotic.