Dare Mighty Things

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." -Teddy Roosevelt

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kingman Farm Recap

Madbury, NEW HAMPSHIRE--This post was one of the most difficult to write. How does one recap a snowshoe race without snow? Many have lamented the crazy weather the northeast has experienced this winter. Skiers, 'boarders, snowmobilers, and yes even snowshoers have collectively wondered...where the hell did the snow go? Last week was one of those times I questioned whether snowshoe race directing was really worth it. Don't get me wrong, when there's snow there's nothing any better. Deep powder, steep glasading descents, twisty singletrack, and wide groomed nordic tracks are what make snowshoe racing so darn fun. Replace those things with ice and bare ground and folks start hanging up the snowshoes and begin wishing for 50 degree spring days. The 6 or so inches that fell at Kingman Farm last Tuesday at first seemed to be just the thing the event needed to escape postponement or worse...outright cancellation. Many know this event had sold out (125 snowshoers) within 72 hours of registration opening on January 1st. We understand it's one of the more unique events in NH, and perhaps in all of New England, so the pressure to put on a great event is incredibly high. The day after it snowed (Wednesday) I met my father at Kingman Farm to survey the conditions. Everything looked great. The majority of the doubletrack network on the property is sheltered and gets a great deal of daily foot traffic which makes the rail defined and stable. At least one side of Hick's Hill, a prominent feature of the race course, faces the southwest and doesn't hang onto snow all that well. It was this side that we focused on first. Tuesday's snow was just what we needed and we busily set a rail. The plan was to work Hick's Hill and then return on Thursday to check out the rest of the network and race course. I met teammates Geoff Cunningham and Charlie Therriault at Kingman Farm after work on Thursday. I had asked them to bring shovels just in case we needed to improve areas of the course. When we arrived at the Madbury Town Hall around 4:00 pm it was already obvious that the warm temperatures the past 24 hours (40+ degrees) were beginning to have an impact on the snow. As we trekked up Hick's Hill, the southwest facing side snow cover was decimated. In a desperate effort to save the original course the three of us shovelled snow onto the trail for two hours before finally calling it quits. By the time we left, Hick's Hill was out of the equation. The course would be modified and it was up to me to notify all 125 pre-registered entrants of the change. Under just about any other circumstances I would have postponed the event. But with the season drawing to a close and the race being a fundraiser for the Cocheco Valley Humane Society I had a number of reasons to try to get it in. As soon as I sent the e-mail Thursday night, an overwhelming sense of dread began to set in...would there be any snow left Saturday night to race on? On Friday after work (again) I met another teammate, Rich Lavers, back at Kingman Farm to scout out the rest of the trail network in an attempt to find enough snow cover to fashion a modified race course. We ran the original course (minus Hick's Hill) and found adequate snow cover with a couple of areas of bare ground but nothing that couldn't either be repaired or simply run over. I had informed everyone that the conditions were "adequate, but not good" so I was hopeful that anyone who showed up to race would understand. On Saturday morning Brayden and I arrived at Kingman Farm by 7:00 am and met teammate Steve McCusker. Steve would help me run the Kids Race we had planned for that afternoon. As we headed out on the course to set flags and mark turns I was at the point of no return...there would be a race in less than 12 hours regardless of what Mother Nature had in store. By 11:30 am most of the course was marked and I made my way back to the parking area to organize our other fundraiser for the morning, the Paws4ACause guided snowshoe trek for dogs and their owners. In it's second year the event raised over $250 in 2009. Teammate Steve Sprague, his wife Stephanie, and their young lab helped me lead a group of 6-7 dogs and a equal number of adults and kids over the roughly 1 mile Kids Race loop. When we finished I headed inside the Town Hall for a quick bite to eat at the Friends of Mabury Library Chili Cookoff. Although I didn't notice it at the time, people later told me the temperatures on Saturday afternoon were approaching 50 degrees. Around 2:oo pm I decided to take one more spin around the course to double check the flags and turn signs we had set that morning. Within the first 5 minutes it was obvious that the hours of shovelling were futile as nearly every spot under an evergreen was once again 'snowless'. At approximately 3:15 pm (less than 90 minutes before registration opened) I stood at the opening of the large field I had set nearly 150 flags on just hours before only to find 1.) nearly every flag I had set had fallen over, and 2.) the snow that was there in the morning was gone. And I really mean gone. As in no snow...open field. In a desperate move I knelt to my knees and started scooping the few slushy remains near the woods to form little slush piles so the flags would have something to stick into. After 10 minutes I had only recovered less than 30 flags and a wave of sheer panic washed over me as I stood in that snowless muddy field searching for an answer. It was too late to reroute and because the race would be run in headlamps an out and back (ie. two way traffic) seemed incredibly dangerous. I had only one option...run the race through the open field. But how to get the flags to stick in the ground? In an instant an idea came to me (perhaps "sent" to me is more like it), push the flags into the ground. It seems obvious, but when panic and desperation take over it's very hard to think clearly. It worked. The field was soft enough to stick the flags into. By the time I made it back to the trailhead it was nearly 4:00 pm and my volunteers had begun to arrive including teammate Steve Wolfe. Steve was going to skip the race but had offered to help. He asked if I wanted him to shovel snow to improve the course and although I told him it probably wasn't worth it he set out nonetheless with shovel in hand and sled in tow to do what he could. When someone asked earlier in the week how many racers I was expecting considering the modified course and the sketchy conditions I had said probably no more than 25. In all honesty, I was hoping for no more than 25 because the conditions were so poor. Fifty-one snowshoers finished the race. Some in snowshoes, some in ice cleats, and some in trail shoes. Prior to the race I had given the entire field the option to race in any type of footgear. Not surprisingly, many took the option to leave the snowshoes in the car but there were still a fair number of snowshoe "diehards" that decided to make the best of a not-so-great situation. After the race competitors helped themselves to soup, coffee, tea, and home-made goodies courtesy of teammate Nancy Clark, my mother Leslie, and mother-in-law Judy. Because of the mixed footwear we didn't recognize the overall or category podium finishers (although teammates Charlie Therriault, Geoff Cunningham, and Danny Ferreira finished 1, 2, 3). We did however, have enough prizes for everyone to win something and some folks actually won TWO prizes as all the numbers went back in the HEED container and we kept drawing winners! When the night finally ended I saw more smiles than frowns and heard a number of positive comments...despite the lousy conditions. I guess when it comes to snowshoe racing it's the atmosphere, camaraderie, and friendship that make the event...not necessarily the snow.

A very sincere and grateful THANK YOU to my family and aR teammates. Some offered to volunteer and many showed up to race. I couldn't have pulled this off without everyone's help. You all are the best.

PS. We raised over $2500 for the Cocheco Valley Humane Society...that's what it's all about!


Monday, February 15, 2010

Kingman Farm Moonlight Update

This is best (snow-related) news I've heard in a while. Kingman Farm needs at least 6 inches of snow to cover the bare spots and ice flows. Let's hope this storm tracks north, stalls over the Atlantic, and dumps closer to 9 than 5.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

'Shoe Musings

Strafford, NEW HAMPSHIRE--Has anyone seen this snowshoer? This is probably one of my favorite pics of ole "Crash Graham" himself. He was a great 'shoer back in the day. Snot'sicles and spit'acles frozen to his grey muzzle he personifies what it means to RACE acidotic. The weekly Northeast Snowshoe Rankings are finally updated. I was waiting for the Smugg's results to be posted, but really didn't want to wait too much longer. With the Wolfe and Dunham snowshoe rankings now a weekly thing I didn't want to be the last guy at the party. I decided to stick with the average of the best three performances because of the postponement of our Exeter Snowshoe Hullabaloo. With Geoff's win in VT on Sunday (and 3rd race this winter) he immediately shot toward the top of the rankings. On the women's side the Top 5 look pretty much the same. Carolyn Stocker (WMAC) secured her spot in the Top 3 with a late kick at Northfield Mountain to best previously unbeaten Amber Cullen (acidotic RACING). New to the women's Top 10 this week is Ashley Krause (WMAC). As of tonight, Sunday's Frosty's Dash For a Cure is a trail race. Because the event is a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, if the race is held as a trail race the GSSS RD's have decided to award 50% of the available individual points. Team points will also be available at the same 50% adjustment. The series will also lower it's "best of" from five races to four. Frosty's may count toward one of those four races. We realize that there's a difference between trail and snowshoe racing but in the end...raising money for a good cause is pretty important. That said, the latest forecast for Atkinson is snow all day Wednesday into Thursday morning. Stay tuned to this blog for the latest on the status of the race. My brother lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I think I'll see if he's interested in hosting a snowshoe race...or five!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Northeast Snowshoe Federation

With the snowshoe racing season in full swing and the blogasphere a buzz with snowshoe-related chatter now seems to be as good a time as any to announce that shortly after the 2010 snowshoe racing season comes to a close an "Advisory Committee" will be assembled to begin discussing the creation of a Northeast Snowshoe Federation. [That was either the longest run on sentence you've ever read or a brilliant piece of prose. I got a "C" in freshman English in college. There's your answer.] The purpose of the NSF will be to bring together the WMAC, GSSS, and the rest of the northeast snowshoe racing community to work collaboratively to promote the sport of snowshoe racing and hold an annual Northeast Snowshoe Championship. As members of the federation all existing series and individual races would continue to function independently. The advisory committee would discuss and plan the Northeast Snowshoe Championship which would be held at a different location each year for the first 5 years. The race would be directed by the hosting series or individual race director and would attract the best field of snowshoe racers anywhere in the US...or in other words, right here in the northeast. By hosting a championship caliber event, open to the entire northeast snowshoe racing community, the NSF would be assisting in the growth and development of the sport right here at home. As this concept continues to evolve I welcome input from the entire northeast snowshoe racing community. Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas. The continued growth of this incredibly fun and challenging sport is my #1 priority.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

USSSA Championships

Contestant: Alex, I'll take "Things That Sound Impressive But Really Aren't" for $1000 please.

Alex Trebek: US Snowshoe Championships

Contestant: What is qualifying?!

Despite the sarcasm, I really am pleased that my lackluster ho-hum performance this weekend was good enough for me to qualify for the US Snowshoe National Championships coming to NY this March. Oh, that and a $30 membership fee to the USSSA. I must admit, it was sort of fun and a lot self-serving to announce today to anyone who'd listen that I'd qualified for the US Championships. Although the prevailing reaction I got was, "The what? The snowmobile championships? Isn't that nice". When it comes down to it, a number of my very capable teammates could have easily qualified for these championships but chose not to join the USSSA. That, or they'd rather stay home and watch the college hoop conference championships. Honestly can't say I blame them. For me, these championships are a "bucket list" sort of item. I heard a few folks say that the qualifying standards were a little more rigid this year to make the championship event "special". Really? To qualify (after you paid your $30 USSSA membership fee), all you needed to do was to finish as one of the Top 5 USSSA members in your 5-year age category OR, finish within 130% of the winner of your age categories time. For me, that would have been Eric Morse's 34:44 for a cutoff time of 45:10. I have no idea what I'm complaining about. There were a number of teammates who raced their rear ends off who didn't qualify. Looks like I'll be making the trip to Syracuse after all. Look out US...here comes aR.

Monday, February 1, 2010

GSSS#4: Sidehiller

Center Sandwich, NEW HAMPSHIRE--The Sidehiller Snowshoe Race was the fourth race in the Granite State Snowshoe Series and my fourth snowshoe race of the winter. The rain that followed our race at King Pine put a damper (literally & figuratively) on the snowshoe racing conditions throughout southern and central New Hampshire. RD Paul Kirsch did his best to eek out the full four mile course, but the conditions on the opposite side of Bean Road just didn't cooperate. He settled for a modified course which included three roughly 1.7 mile loops on the Sandwich Fairgrounds. Maddie & Avery once again made the trip with me. We arrived by 9:30 am and found my teammate Rich Lavers and former US Champion Double D already there. It was great to see Dave back on the mend after recent back troubles threatened his 2010 snowshoe racing season. Before long the rest of the aR gang had arrived including Geoff Cunningham. But today Geoff would be taking pictures instead of battling for a podium finish. Some of the same problems that caused him to miss the entire 2009 competitive season have started to creep back up and he wisely took the day off. When Paul told me about the course at registration I did my best to put a positive spin on it. The reality was...I let the loath of loop courses get in my head. As Rich & I finished our warm-up we discussed strategy. I quickly made the decision to go out "easy" on the first lap (it was 5 frickin' miles after all!), pick it up on lap #2, and then see what happened on the bell lap. With an incredibly loaded field at the front I was content to position myself in the 2nd row. I hadn't thought about it until right at this moment, but I think this also reinforced my negative energy about the race. When the GO command was given the field SHOT off the line like it was a 100 meter dash! All at once at least 25 snowshoers were ahead of me and pushing hard. This was not what I had in mind. As I attempted to regain my bearings and assess who was ahead of me I recognized a couple of folks including Trail Monster Ryan Triffitt and teammates Ri Fahnestock, Jerry Fitzgibbon, and Rich! What the heck was Rich doing AHEAD of me?! Damn. He must have taken advantage of our conversation when I told him I was "going out easy". He was killin' it on the first lap! I have no problem losing to Rich, but he was going to have to earn the win over me. By the time we finished the first lap (:11 and change) I had passed Ryan & Jerry and was in the pull with Ri & Rich. As we started the 2nd lap I eased around Rich and settled in behind Ri. Easily one of the strongest competitors (mentally & physically) in any endurance event he's in...Ri Fahnestock is a warrior and it's always a pleasure to compete against him. The three of us held our position through the 2nd lap and began the last lap without any real threat from behind and the lead group too far ahead to catch. As we were racing my prevailing thought was that my legs felt empty and that I was content to stay with Ri and ahead of Rich. I think the two of them knew I was vulnerable and both attempted to exploit it in their own way. The only real "hill" (a 6-7 meter climb to a leach field) comes roughly a 1/3 of the way through the lap. It was here that Ri decided that his 2 meter lead on me was too close for comfort. I felt him accelerate as we climbed. I didn't have an answer. As he pulled away all I could do was watch. Now the focus turned squarely on holding off a highly motivated and incredibly fit Rich (I've been training with him for a month now). I must have spied over my shoulder 20 times in that last km. I crossed the finish line in 19th place (36:35). Rich missed out on a Top 20 finish by 8 seconds! It's hard to be disappointed when you get beat by the guys who are suppose to beat you, but I just didn't feel like myself. My first subpar performance in...well, in a very long time. It certainly made me realize that my subconscious sets the pace. That's something I need to continue to work on. Another great team turnout by my teammates from aR! Charlie Therriault, Tim Cox, and Danny Ferreira all finished in the Top 10. Amber Cullen won her 4th GSSS race in a row and Ann Rasmussen again joined her on the podium! Another HUGE aR showing (17 snowshoers) helped us take home another team title. This time over the emerging CMS Polar Bears.

Next Up: Horsehill 7k Snowshoe Race (Saturday) & Frosty's Dash (Sunday)

[Photo cred: Geoff Cunningham]

Sidehiller Results