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Downtown Temple,NH

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whittaker Woods Snowshoe

Thursday afternoon - sick in bed
Friday all day - sick in bed
Saturday - Snowshoe Race
Sunday all day - sick in bed

It's like a classic Sesame Street episode. Which one of these things is not like the other? You're probably humming a lame tune by now so you can thank me later. The bottom line is I probably shouldn't have raced on Saturday, but as my lovely wife always says to me "you can't help yourself!"
As noted above, I've been sick for over a week now. I wasn't planning on doing the Whittaker Woods snowshoe race (results) initially. I had signed up for the Boston Prep moderately challenging 16-miler on Sunday and figured I didn't need any additional pain and suffering. However, a DNF in last weeks snowshoe race had me rethinking my plans. Then I got sick. The chances of me recovering enough to run 16 miles by Sunday did not look good. I figured it might be easier struggling through 4 miles on the snow instead. Worst case, I'd suffer badly but it would make my decision for Sunday easier. Best case I'd miraculously recover on the 2hr drive to North Conway, have a great race and run the 16-miler on Sunday to boot! I picked A.

photo credit - Gianina Lindsey
I tried to go out easy but even easy felt hard (that doesn't make any sense?). Thankfully the conditions were great, with 3/4 of the race on nicely groomed trails. The climbing was challenging but not killer. In fact, it was probably a fast course. I think I would have liked the course if I felt a little better. I'd definitely come back if they put it on again next year.
Here's another head scratcher for you: If I ran a little slower, I probably would have finished faster.  This had to do with a little course snafu. It turns out there were a couple of sections where you could actually go off course and gain an advantage (more like course cutting). None of it was intentional, but it seems like quite a few did, and others were not sure. So a bunch of folks who were behind me actually finished in front of me. Like a lot of snowshoe or trail races, you have to pay attention to course markings. It's almost part of the charm. Whittaker Woods wasn't poorly marked, it was just sparsely marked. During a warm up run with a bunch of folks I made a note of this. So I followed the trail markings, and not the runner in front of me. Thankfully, the runners in front of me stayed on course.

So running a snowshoe race on Saturday actually made it much easier to decide whether to run on Sunday. Granted, I was packed up and ready to go Sunday morning but in the end common sense prevailed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Feel Good Farm Snowshoe Race? (Gloves Included)

After a brief delay, the New Hampshire Granite State Snowshoe Series got underway at Feel Good Farm in Lyndeborough, NH. Last year warm temps left some sections looking more like a trail race than a snowshoe race. This year (finally) we got some significant snowfall just days before. On most courses, it would be more than enough snow for a race (10-12"). This is not the case on this course. More on that later.

First NH snowshoe race of the season, beautiful day, great competition and a challenging course. What could possibly go wrong???
Let me count the ways....
  1. Take an already challenging course and make it longer and harder.
  2. Be sure to talk to your fellow snowshoers about the benefits of the Dion Quick-Fit bindings (as you laugh at the 2ft of extra strap wrapped around their foot so they don't trip). Silly snowshoers!
  3. Make last minute adjustments to your bindings to ensure total breakdown within 5 minutes of starting.
  4. Go out fast to maximize the number of snowshoers who will later pass you as you lay in the trail with your snowshoes stuck together (see Wamber below).
  5. Make sure you try to reattach the velcro straps of your Quick-Fit bindings while sitting in a foot of fresh powder.Are all these straps really important anyways?
  6. Be sure to do ALL this before climbing a single foot of the 1500ft per loop. It makes the total experience much more memorable.
  7. Oh, and don't forget to rip off your rear cleats (on the only pair of snowshoes that you own) as you negotiate every hidden obstacle known to snowshoers on a crazy descent down Moose Mountain, all this just to get back to your car so you can do something useful...like take pictures.
I love these Quick-Fit Bindings!
 Let's just say today was just one of those days when it wasn't meant to be. In reality there's nothing wrong with the Quick-Fit bindings on my Dion Snowshoes. I've had the same bindings (and straps) for 3 years. Once they're set, they stay. The problem (as I found out on Saturday) is if you have to undo and redo the straps in snow, they're pretty much useless. Lesson learned I guess. I have since ordered a second pair of snowshoes and the Secure Fit bindings (I'm a bit paranoid now). Just in case...

Why would you take off your shoes in the middle of a snowshoe race, you ask? Good question. All I can say is look at the picture below. I can't explain it. I can't tell you how I did it. I can tell you it is nearly impossible to undo once you've done it though.
The Wamber - kids, don't try this at home or on the road.
In the end Feel Good Farm became my first snowshoe DNF. Heck, it may be my first DNF for any race but I don't keep Dunham-like records and I can't remember what I had for breakfast. Sure, it was a little disappointing but honestly, it wasn't that big of a deal. I was never really that fond of this course anyways.
Shortly after the race the race director announced he was dropping this race going forward. This was a good call in my opinion. Although extremely challenging (one of the hardest races I've run), it is also what I'd call "not snowshoeable". The climbs and descents are too steep to hold any snow and portions of the trails are just too rugged (ie rocks), with no snowshoe traffic on any other day except for race day. RIP FGF. I will not miss you.

Results (sans me)

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Turner Trail Snowshoe Race

Starting area at Turner Trail
The Turner Trail race was probably my favorite snowshoe race from last year. In a season where snow was hard to find, the conditions at Turner last year (located in the Pittsfield State Forest) were near perfect. When you add the fact it was a very long and challenging course supported by great volunteers, there was no question I'd be back in 2011. Or would I?
The lack of any significant storms has kept the snow cover thin at best, even out in western Mass. Earlier last week Beth Herder (RD at Turner) indicated the course would be modified due to snow conditions. In fact, it wouldn't even be on the Turner Trail (which climbs Berry Mt via a nearly 3 mile switchback single track). I immediately started making other plans. I wasn't going to drive 333 miles for questionable snow conditions. So, on Friday I decided to head over to the Old Salem Greens Snowshoe Race (Salem, Ma) instead.
Two things happened late on Friday that changed my plans yet again.
  1. Beth updated the conditions and provided a course map of the 'new' Turner Trail Race
  2. The weather forecast indicated western Mass should get 6" of new snow prior to the race
New Turner Trail Course
The course would be a 5.4 mile loop on NEMBA-designed mountain bike trails and had 99% snow cover before the storm even arrived. If I could find someone to ride shotgun with me, Turner Trail would be back in business! A quick check with DoubleJ and I had my victim.
I really thought we'd be driving through a snowstorm early Saturday morning on the drive out. With the exception of a brief snow squall, there was virtually no snow at all, with clear roads for most of the trip. Although it made traveling easy, it did not give me any confidence that Pittsfield actually received the snow that was expected.
This time, the forecasters were right. By the time we reached Pittsfield, 4-6" of  nice, fluffy powder was on the ground. Phew. Snow for a snowshoe race, who would have thunk it?
Jim, John Pajer and myself did a brief warm-up on the finish of the course, to check conditions and to get an idea what the finish of the course looked like. I like to recognize something near the finish to give me an idea how much is left in the race. From what we could tell, the conditions would be ideal: hard packed base with fresh new snow on top, and LOTS of turns. It would be some of the tightest single track I've raced on, with the trail being the width of a single snowshoer.
photo credit -Berkshire Sports
At 10am we lined up for the start. It appeared very few wanted to be up front. Not me, I wanted to get in position on the single track as soon as possible and not worry about passing folks. If they wanted to pass me, fine, but they'd have to work for it. Within the first 50ft my position was set and wouldn't change for the next 5.4 miles. Jim, Tim Van Orden and Ross Krause took off up front, followed by high school xc star Connor Devine, myself and then John Pajer. The 3 of us ran fairly close for the first couple of miles (which generally went gently downhill). The entire course would be on super tight single track, with a gazillion turns. No need to ever look back in this race, just wait for a turn and chances are you'd be nearly running next to the guy behind you. Early on the snowshoeing was pretty fast, with good traction. At the last minute I switched to my ice cleats and early on it seemed like a good choice. However, the middle couple of miles were tough. No real elevation gain/loss, but the trail loosened up a lot, and we were breaking through the hard pack under the powder. The traction all but disappeared and we'd slide around every corner. It was noticeably slower and harder. Now I wished I stuck with my deep cleats!
photo credit - Berkshire Sports
During this section I could sense John was dropping back a bit. He was still in sight but the gap was increasing. I focused on keeping Connor within reach for the next few miles. I'd get really close at times and then he'd pick it up (or I slowed down) and gap me pretty well. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to pass him and was content with him pulling me along. The last 3 miles or so generally worked its way back up. Nothing steep, but enough that you noticed you were climbing. At one point we saw Ross on one of the switch backs but I couldn't tell if he was 10 seconds up or 2 minutes up because of the way the trail snaked around. It was the only time I saw another snowshoer in front besides Connor.
I finally started recognizing the trail as we neared the finish (thanks to our warm up). My position was set. I wasn't catching Connor and I didn't see anyone behind me. 48 minutes and 35 seconds after I started I crossed the finish line in 5th place (results), and second old guy (behind Tim). Some guy named Jim won I think.
Once again, Turner Trail did not disappoint. The course and conditions were some of the best I've snowshoed on in any race. Beth and crew did an outstanding job (at the last minute) putting together a top notch course. It was well worth the trip!

Additional photos by Berkshire Sports can be found here.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

33rd Peanut Butter Chip Chase 5k

Temple Town Hall
This race is the definition of a small town race (results) . It is in Temple, NH after all. Everything about it is low-key (which I like). It also happens to be the race I've run the most (8 times). I'd say running this race is the closet thing I have to a tradition, and by now it's an automatic. If I'm not injured, I'll run this race.

I was thankful to have my family in tow this year. They don't see too many of my races but I appreciate it when they do. At least the weather was nice this year (mid 50's, mostly sunny). Seems like it's icy cold or snowing most years. The nice weather also brought out a good size crowd (~200) which was nice to see. If you've come for a 5k PR you've come to the wrong race. The first 1 1/2 miles generally climbs, the next mile is mostly downhill and the final stretch punishes you with a deceiving difficult uphill finish. I don't know if it qualifies as a tough 5k or not but it definitely is a slow 5k. Very few folks run under 18 minutes at this one. Heck, in 8 tries I've never run under 19 minutes.

I lined up in the front row and checked out this years competition. Fellow GCS teammate Joe Rogers was running for the first time. I gave him an overview of the course and thought he had a chance for the win. My plan was to go out fairly easy (since it's mostly uphill the first 1 1/2 miles) and just fall into position and then hammer the downhill. As expected, Joe was with 2 other guys up front and I was a ways back in 5th for most of the 1st mile. I eventually gave up a spot in the first mile, and another spot in the 2nd mile before gaining one back in the final mile. The mile markers ALWAYS seem to be off each year so I don't put a lot of value into my splits. I ran the uphill a little slow but really picked up the pace on the downhill and the short section of dirt road. The last 1/2 mile is always hard as it gradually climbs back up before finishing just below the town hall. It has to be the longest last 1/10th of a mile anywhere. This year it took me 1:15 to run that last '1/10th' of a mile. That comes out to something like a 12 min/mile pace (not bloody likely). Like I said, the mile markers ALWAYS seem to be off. Oh well, at least it's the same every year so I don't mind so much.
Finishing up
I really wanted to break 19 minutes and once again I just missed it, finishing 6th overall in 19:05 (my 2nd fastest time ever at this race). At least it was faster than last year (by 2 whole seconds!). Joe was in the mix right to the end, even leading around the 3 mile mark, before getting passed right before the finish. The top 3 all finished within 8 seconds of each other, good racing indeed. Thankfully Joe finished in the top 3, allowing me to take home the cookie medal for 1st master (40-49). Thanks Joe!

Deb was kind enough to take a bunch of pictures throughout the race. All pics can be found here.
Happy New Year!