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

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Granite State Snowshoe Championship

Dropping down the "Bone Yard"
at The Glen...snowshoe style.
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn."  -H. Thoreau

Gorham,  NEW HAMPSHIRE -- This weekend's Granite State Snowshoe Championship at the Great Glen Trails was the culmination of an incredible winter of snowshoe racing for the northeast region in general and me in partcular.  In my 12th and final race of the winter I'd pull double duty...directing and racing.  With a very capable and talented group of volunteers including my wife Karen and teammates Kate Ouellette and Amanda House this is actually a pretty simple (not easy) feat.  Timmy and I arrived at The Glen around 8:00 AM to mark the groomed 5k.  By the time we finished around 9:00 AM many teammates had already arrived and my volunteers had registration set up and ready to roll.  The next two hours were a blurr as time flew by in warp speed.  Before I knew it we were at the starting line and I was giving some last minute instructions.  Thanks to more favorable weather we had 56 starters this time around despite the US Nationals having been run the day before in WI.  Although JJ and Kevin Tilton were missing a very strong group of top 'shoers had made the trip among them aR's Judson Cake, Nick Wheeler, Ryan Kelly, Geoff Cunningham, and Tuesday Night Turtles (TNT) Bob Jackman to name a few.  On the masters side of the draw I'd have my hands full once again with the likes of teammates Steve Wolfe and Jeremiah Fitzgibbon, TNT's David Principe, and Trail Monster Running's Jeff Walker and Chuck Hazzard.  As the race got underway I had a certain calm about what lay ahead as I had previewed the entire course over the previous 24 hours.  Predictably it was a mad dash for the first few hundred meters as folks scrambled to establish their place.  Fortunately the first 5k would be run on wide groomed nordic leaving ample time and space to pass if necessary.  By the 3k mark I had moved up into the Top 10 and was running very relaxed behind teammate Ryan Welts and TMR's Ryan Triffitt.  Running through the tunnel (one of the coolest experiences in snowshoe racing) under Route 16 to the 'snowshoe side' of the course I was feeling great and eager to attack the Aquaduct Loop climb.  Although I could still see the Ryan's I wasn't close enough to get a pull and felt pretty alone without anyone directly behind.  The soft wet snow in some places disappeared under foot with the occasional 'wrong step' punching down 6-10 inches.  The trick was to stride in the middle of the rail and hope for the best.  Climbing resulted in fairly good footing but as soon as we descended and the landing forces increased the post-holing became a litte more frequent.  And what you weren't creating you were attempting to avoid as numerous 'shoers ahead had suffered the same punch throughs particularly on the long 3/4 mile + descent.  I peeked back a few times and still noticed no significant threat.  Until I heard it.  The sound literally appeared out of nowhere and I searched my mind's database for the source but to no avail.  This was not a sound I had heard before and for good reason.  Looking back over my shoulder I saw Jeff Walker closing on me.  And then it dawned on me...I had raced Jeff in the past but I had neither passed nor been passed by him.  Stepping aside to let him go by he made the most laborious gutteral moans I had ever heard.  Sort of what you'd imagine a wounded wildabeast would sound like as it ran for it's life from a ravinous lioness.  I did my best to try to latch on and get pulled up the powerlines but he was 'shoeing too strong for me to hang on.  As I crested the powerline climb with less than a 1/2 mile to go I peeked one final time and caught a glimpse of Wolfe 1/2 way up the ascent.  Racing through the final few hundred meters expertly designed by our friends at Dungeon Rock Racing I couldn't help but think what an incredible winter we'd had and that this was the last few minutes of snowshoe racing this winter.  I crossed the line in 10th place overall (3rd master) for my 6th Top 10 overall finish of the winter.  Funny thing is that I was racing in the 9th spot for 9k before being passed by a friend and newcomer to the sport in Jeff Walker.  Last winter I finished 9th at this race...with no Jeff Walker.  Time for a two week transition so I can get caught up on all the things around the house I've neglected since December.  And then the purposeful preparation for a very ambitous and busy trail and mountain running season gets into full swing.


NEXT UP:  Merrimack River Trail Race (MA)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Snowshoe Double: NE Championship & Bradbury Blizzard

Wondering "Where the heck is the
finish?" at the NE Championships
(Photo courtesy of Scott Mason)
"You cannot plough through a field by turning it over in your mind."  - Unknown

PART I:  Northeast Snowshoe Championship

NORTHFIELD,  Massachusetts -- In what has become a quite familiar story this winter I raced twice this past weekend.  And my 10th & 11th races of the season would be two of my biggest challenges this winter.  The weekend "kicked off" with a trip to Northfield, MA for the inaugural Northeast Snowshoe Championship.  Past US Snowshoe Champion Dave Dunham would design and direct the race.  A fierce competitor and legendary "climber" Dave favors races with BIG climbs...and the course he designed at Northfield Mountain was no exception.  With two ascents of 700 & 500 feet, the race certainly played to my strength.  The usual cast of 40+ year old challengers were present including favorites Tim VanOrden and of course Dave.  The rest of us (including Wolfe, Principe, Pajer, Agosto, Bazanchuk, etc.) would be fighting for the last spot on the masters podium.  A fairly large field of 85 snowshoers ripped through the first few hundred meters of flat groomed nordic before turning into singletrack for all but the last hundred meters of the race.  And almost as soon as we got single file we started to climb.  I was once again in the familiar position of being right behind my champion teammate Amber Ferreira.  Typically a fast but patient starter, I could sense that she was uncharacteristically pushing a little harder than usual at such an early point of the race.  The two of us must have been 'around' the Top 20 (with Amber being the #1 female) as we tackled the first climb.  Settling into as much of a rhythm as is human possible climbing 700+ feet in a little over a mile, Amber and I started to pick off snowshoers.  One by one folks started to fall back to us.  Cresting the first climb we had picked up 3-4 places and were racing with Ross Krause and Steve Dowsett.  If I've improved one facet of my snowshoeing it has been on the descents.  Working to push harder on the downs Amber and I maintained our cushion on the next closest competitors.  On the second and final climb I experience something I've never experience in snowshoe racing...and probably never will again.  I caught and passed teammate Tim Cox.  Obviously not 100%, but still refusing to quit he graciously stepped aside and let Amber and I motor past as we started the final series of steep descents.  Racing with a purpose she gave no quarter and we finished 15th & 16th just :03 apart.  Holding off one of the deepest masters field's of the winter my 54:02 was good enough for the last spot on the podium (3rd) behind VanOrden and Dunham.  And the best part of the day...beers and burgers with my teammates Ryan Kelly, Charlie Therriault, Steve Wolfe, Jerry Fitzgibbon, Tim Cox, Amber Ferreira, and Rich Lavers at Elm City Brewery in Keene, NH. 


Nope...not an optical illusion.  Bradbury State Park
 in Pownal is FREAKIN' hilly!
(Photo courtesy of Maine Running Company)
PART II:  Bradbury Blizzard

POWNAL, Maine -- It was my intention from the beginning of the season to make at least one race in the new Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series hosted by our friends at Trail Monster Running and directed by fellow 'shoer Ryan Triffitt.  But as the winter moved along that prospect started looking bleaker and bleaker.  And when my last chance came as a back-2-backer with the Northeast Snowshoe Championships (see above) I thought the chance was all but none.  Then an e-mail from Ryan asking me to bring some of our Granite State Snowshoe Series loaners and his DION prizes was all the prompting I needed (not much really) to pull off this incredibly challenging double.  Having raced Bradbury State Park this summer I knew two things; 1.) the Trail Monsters host great races and 2.) the trail network at the park includes some pretty wicked climbs (that's 'Mainese' for pretty difficult climbs).  The field at the Bradbury Blizzard would be considerably smaller the the NE Championships but no less competitive for me as Crow Athletics masters snowshoer Peter Keeney and Trail Monster's Jeff Walker and Chuck Hazzard were all in attendance.  I've never beaten Peter on the snow (or any other surface for that matter) and although both Jeff and Chuck are new to snowshoeing they aren't new to kicking my tail on the trails and mountains of the northeast.  With the "GO" command RD Triffitt took the early lead from my capable teammates Judson Cake and Geoff Cunningham. Within 50 meters of the start we were already climbing the first set of swtichbacks.  And because it was a two loop course it would be important to keep track of the details of this climb because we'd soon see it again.  On this initial climb I found myself in the Top 10 behind Ian Parlin & Chuck and directly in front of Peter.  I could sense Peter was getting antsy to pass but not only were we climbing, but we were climbing some pretty tight singletrack.  Both Ian & Chuck were keeping a great pace but Peter was clearly the strongest of the caravan yet in the worst position...last.  With less than 25 meters of climb left Chuck & I stepped aside and let Peter squeak on past.  Flying down the Tote Road I caught and passed Ian and tried to keep Peter in sight.  Approaching the second loop Peter had gaped me and I only caught a glimpse of him on the switchbacks up ahead.  Using that same vantage point I spied Chuck who was probably :30-:60 behind.  Knowing I probably wouldn't catch Peter the objective turned to maintaining my position and holding off the rest of the field.  I ran alone for the entire second 2.5 mile loop and finished 5th overall in 52:06.  Ironically it was my fourth 5th place finish of the winter and second masters podium in two days.  Not a bad weekend.  The plan is to spend the next two weeks sharpening my fitness for the most important race of the entire winter...the Granite State Snowshoe Championships in two weeks!


NEXT UP: Granite State Snowshoe Championship, Gorham, NH