about the photo

Downtown Temple,NH

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2011 Granite State Snowshoe Championship

I almost wasn't going to do a blog post on the GSSS Championship race (results), held on March 13th at the base of Mt Washington. No particular reason other than I wanted to move on from snowshoeing. However, since it was the best race (course and venue) in the Northeast, I figured I should at least mention it. The recent return to winter made me have a change of heart.

Great Glen Center
After a 2 1/2hr drive up through Franconia Notch and down through Jefferson (where it was snowing heavily), I thought for a moment we'd have a repeat of conditions from last year. No such luck, as the temps actually increased by 10 degrees as I approached Great Glen Center, directly across from the Mt Washington Auto Road entrance. It was a balmy 40 degrees and rising, warm for snowshoe racing. However, they were not lacking snow, with feets of it on the ground. The conditions looked pretty good. I checked in, chatted a bit and then headed out for a couple miles on the road to warm up.

Seeing this was the last snowshoe race of the season, all I really wanted to do was get it over with. However, I absolutely wanted to end the season on a positive note no matter what. So with no expectations other than ensuring I had a good time, I headed over to the start line and planted myself a couple of rows back, right in the middle of the line. I was going to race but I wasn't going to kill myself trying.

This was an awesome race last year, definitely one of the best courses all year. The 10k course had something for everyone, groomed trails, single track, climbing, fast descents, you name it. It really is a shame more people won't give it a go. Trust me, you are missing out on a great time. The first 5k is all on groomed rolling nordic trails before heading through the tunnel under Rt16 and over to the Great Glen side which generally had all the climbing and was 100% single track. This years course was very similar to last years, just a couple of slight changes. The snow conditions were also a bit slower this year.

me & Jeff heading up Blueberry Hill
As the gun (go command?) went off I found the first flaw in my plan. The middle was not a good place to be. The entire field slowly migrated towards the middle and a couple dozen snowshoers were kicking up some nice wet snow making it a tad difficult to see where the heck I was going. I survived and eventually settled in to a comfortable pace, doing my best to ignore who and what was going on around me. My plan was to run the first half a little easier than last year and not blow up on the 2nd half climb (like last year). The rolling hills were not taxing at all and I felt pretty relaxed even though I was getting passed by a few folks, including Capt Snowshoe. aR teammate Rich Lavers was right on my shoulder for most of the first 5k and I thought he was still with me as I hit the tunnel in 25:29, nearly 2 1/2 minutes slower than last year. Chris was probably about 1 minute ahead already. As we came by the Great Glen Center and began the climb up Blueberry Hill, I peeked back to see who was behind me and to also make sure I wasn't holding anyone up. Rich had dropped back a bit and Jeff Walker had replaced him. I told him to let me know if he wanted to get by and continued on. We kept this order to about 1/2 way up the Aquaduct trail and Jeff eventually tired of my company and took off without me. Mainers. By the time we hit the top of the climb he was almost out of sight, probably a minute or so up.

Last year I made up a ton of time on the nearly mile long downhill section. This year would be somewhat similar but much slower. I tried my best to open it up but the soft snow and constant threat of post holing (while running with snowshoes at near 5k pace) eventually slowed me down in order to maintain some control (and not break my leg). By the time we turned back on the single track I had closed the gap on Jeff to just about 10 seconds. It didn't last long. He knew I had gained on him and he turned on the jets once again and left me talking to myself once again.

Gnarly downhill near  the finish
The last mile is a great section of single track and has a killer climb along the power lines not too far from the finish. When I got to the power lines I was surprised to see Chris about 50m in front of me. He looked close enough to catch and for a second I thought about it. I soon realized this was 50m on the toughest hill on the course. Time wise I was still 20-30 seconds back. Oh well, time to settle in and at least make sure no one passes. I looked back a few times, just to make sure no one was going to sneak up on me in the last 1/4 mile and just tried to keep my balance over the last little tricky part of the course (thanks DRR!). I finished up in 58:18, 11th overall, 15 seconds back of Chris and 30 seconds back of Jeff.

Even though I was a full 5 1/2 minutes slower than last year, I think I actually had a better time this year. I had fun. Mission accomplished.
Unfortunately I couldn't take part in the festivities afterwords and needed to leave shortly after the race. I'm glad I ran but I'm also glad the season is finally over!

Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 New Bedford Half Marathon

Phew! I'm glad that's over (results).
I had been dreading this race for some time now (pretty much since the day I signed up). The jump up is I haven't exactly been in a happy place (with regards to my running) for some time now. Training has been work and not fun. I can't quite put my finger on it, I'm not injured but I don't feel quite right. I've been in a funk. Period.
The long run, which I used to love, has been non-existent. New Bedford would be my longest run of the year. No kidding. Not exactly the type of statement that instills confidence!

So standing at the start line I could honestly say I had no idea what pace I was going to run  My plan was to run comfortably at the start and not worry about any other runner. I really really really wanted to avoid a death march at the end if at all possible. The first couple of miles can be kind of fast since it's both the start of the race and slightly downhill. I was quite happy to see my first two splits (6:15 & 6:22), probably about 20-30 seconds slower than previous years, but more importantly it felt like a pace I could hold for a while.

Miles 3 and 4 are typically a bit slower since they both include a few hills. Denis T went by me in the 3rd mile and Rich Lavers joined for a bit during this stretch. My pace dropped a bit (6:28 & 6:31) but considering the hills, I can't really complain about the pace. The long, gentle downhill section from 4 to 7 did not seem as fast as previous years (6:09, 6:14 & 6:15). I think it was a combination of running a lot of it solo (no packs of runners to pull me along) and some sort of wind (either cross wind or head wind, hard to tell). I had stopped checking my watch after the 2nd mile or so and was running on feel alone, trying to keep the effort consistent. Looking back I think I may have held up a bit too much (trying to make sure I didn't blow up at the finish). No big deal. After all, I wasn't exactly going for a PR today, just trying to get some confidence back.

I was still feeling pretty good by mile 8 (6:19) but knew the wind would be an issue over the next few miles along the water. The 9th mile has generally been my slowest mile in each of my previous 3 attempts here. Mile 9 is totally exposed and there always seems to be a headwind. No different this year (6:37), followed by a 6:25 in the 10th mile. Ugh. Do we ever get a tail wind on this course????

Finally, as we made the turn away from the water and headed into the 11th mile (6:16), a tail wind! Joy joy joy!!! It was a little too late since parts of mile 12 and mile 13 make up the last significant hill on the course. A tailwind going uphill just doesn't cut it. Doesn't hurt though! For the first time all day I really felt like I was pushing the pace (6:08 & 6:16). This was no longer a comfortable pace, it was getting hard but the finish was near. The 6:08 12th mile, uphill, would be my fastest mile all day. There would be no death march today!

A bit of a sprint to the finish (to make sure I got under 1:23) and I was done, with a very respectable 1:22:53 finish. No complaints today. I was very happy I was able to finish quite strong and not fade at the end.This was not a 'leave everything out on the course' type of race, it was more of a 'don't do something stupid and make a fool of yourself out there' type of race. Just what I needed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hawley Kiln Snowshoe Race

I headed out to Hawley Kiln (results) for only my second time (the last back in 2009). This is relevant because it would only be the 2nd race all season which was run on the same course from the previous year(s). 11 races done so far this season and only the first (Woodford, back in December) and the last (Hawley Kiln) were on the same course from previous years.
Woodford started out well, a 2 1/2 minute PR on fast conditions. Yes, I know it's hard to compare snowshoe times season to season but it doesn't mean I can't try. Anyways, the season started well, and I felt good on the next race (Turner Trail) on a new course. Since then I've been a model of inconsistency. Some would say I've actually been quite consistent, consistently slower. Nearly a month of struggling with Bronchitis (without taking any race weekends off) probably didn't help either. I kept plugging away in spite of myself. So for most of the season I never really had a sense of how good or bad I was racing. Let me rephrase, I had a sense, I just didn't have any data since all races after Woodford were on new courses (nothing to compare to).

So what does any of this have to do with Hawley Kiln? Well, it would be the first race since Woodford run on the same course from previous years. As far as conditions go, I'd say the conditions were similar to 2009, maybe just a tad slower, maybe. Finally....I'd have something to compare to once and for all!
Roughly the 4 mile mark - (photo credit-Bob Birkby)
The first (and last) 7/10ths of a mile are run on a nicely groomed snowmobile trail. Going out it's a gentle climb for most of it before turning right onto a rustic single track. I went out fairly easy and probably hit the single track around 10th overall. The single track was not a well established trail (no rail) and the trail probably saw its first snowshoe tracks when the WMAC boys marked the trail. The snow was a mix of sugary snow and crusty snow. If you were light enough, you could probably stay on top of the snow and not break through. Generally I'd say I would have fallen into that category. However, running along in 10th place means there were a lot of people in front of me punching through the snow. This made the trail extremely uneven and broken up and kept me off balance for nearly the entire single track section (roughly 3 miles). It was also very tiring, at least for me. I could sense I was probably pushing a little too hard early on and had slowed considerably by mile 2 (which I hit in 20 minutes). Not long after that Abby Mahoney went by and a few minutes later, Ken Clark. My 3rd mile was 12:32....really. Looking back I think I may have slowed a bit too much. Granted, the 3rd mile was slow and hard (700ft of climbing along this course, a lot of it in the 3rd mile), but I was saving way too much for later. The 4th mile was a little easier to run and I was feeling pretty good (apparently since I was going so bloody slow earlier) so I started to pick up the pace. I passed Dave Merkt around mile 4 and was gaining on Abby and Ken (who were about a minute in front by the time we hit the snowmobile trail for the last 7/10ths of a mile to the finish). I managed to close the gap but it was too little, too late. Oh well.
So, what did I learn from running on a course I've run previously? Well, 2 years ago I ran the same course about 2 1/2 minutes faster. I think I've finally confirmed what I've been feeling for most of this season - slower.

Enough about the race. The real reason for doing this race is the pancake breakfast right after the race at the South Face Farm Sugar House. $15 for a snowshoe race and breakfast, what a deal. The place was packed as usual but I got seated pretty quick with Dave Boles (fellow snowshoe racer). I had a great time. Dave has been doing these races since the mid 90's. Not only that, I think I actually found someone who drives longer than I do to go to a snowshoe race. This weekend I only had to drive 2 1/2hrs. Dave routinely drives 3+ hrs (from the Hudson valley in NY).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Northeast Snowshoe Championships

At least I had fun before the race!
The first ever Northeast Snowshoe Championships, or Federation Cup or NSF Championship Race was held on Saturday at Northfield Mt in the aptly named town of Northfield, Ma (results). I was mentally checked out of this race long before showing up on Saturday morning. As someone else mentioned earlier this week on their blog regarding a different race, I too know what I like and this wasn't it. I find no pleasure in doing a mountain race on snowshoes. Period. Granted, I'm generally a weak climber to begin with and for whatever reason I was even weaker on Saturday. Like I said, I just wasn't into it. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what I didn't like with Northfield. I'm not against going uphill. In fact, my favorite race over the last couple years is still Turner Trail from last year (and that course had a TON of climbing).
Maybe the real problem was I wasn't prepared for Northfield. I wasn't rested. I had tired legs even before the start. The race started off bad and just got worse, which made for a long day. It's easier to blame the course than to blame me :-)

I think the other big reason I didn't like Northfield was due to a handful of snowshoers who were....well, jerks. I can't even think of a race where a single snowshoer did something during a race that I could actually remember more than a day later. At Northfield I can remember at least 3...still. To be honest, I'm sure the fact that I was having an incredibly bad day added to my mood but seriously, some people need to relax out there. It's a $10 snowshoe race, not the freakin Olympics. On the initial climb I got behind a guy who clearly went out too fast and was walking slowly (yes, slower than me!) I asked if I could go by and he said "go ahead" (with attitude) and just kept on walking right in the middle of the single track. His idea of go ahead meant "you can pass but I'm not getting out of the way, YOU step off the trail if you want to pass". Whatever. At the time it really irritated me. 4 days later I'm not sure what I think. Anyways, time to move on.

This entire season has been a Jekyll and Hyde type season. Good race, bad race, good race, bad race, sick, repeat. Honestly, I never know what to expect when I show up anymore. But I keep showing up :-)
Finally, some much needed downhill!!!

The season will be over soon and I'm sure I'll miss it ( I think).
Thanks to Scott Mason for great photos once again. Thanks!