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

Sunday, March 18, 2012

WinterWild Championship at Bretton Woods

The finish to a long descent at the WinterWild
Championship at Bretton Woods
[Photo courtesy Gianina Lindsey]
"Champions know that success is inevitable; that there is no such thing as failure, , only feedback.  They know the best way to forecast the future is to create it."  -Michael J. Gelb

Bretton Woods, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Nothing like finishing a lousy winter of snow-related sports with a FANTASTIC championship event!  aR played host to the WinterWild Championship at Bretton Woods this weekend.  Not being a skier many of the WinterWild stops have been first times for me at these mountains and Bretton Woods was another fine example.  The facilities are simply amazing and the mountain absolutely majestic.  Although with a dark and foggy 6:30 AM start there really wasn't anything to see when we got started.  My teammates Rich Lavers and Danny Ferreira expertly pulled off a terrific event in their RDing debut's.  As I've mentioned in other WinterWild recaps, these events have been a tremendous amount of fun and I'm already looking forward to more of them next winter.  Of course the great thing about these races is that even if Mother Nature doesn't blanket us with enough snow to snowshoe on...she keeps it cold enough for the ski areas to make snow.  Having missed a race two weeks ago (Mt. Sunapee) there was no chance of catching masters leader Mark Hecox for the series title so my focus turned to giving one more quality effort this winter and ride the good vibe right into spring trail racing.  But a week before the race I learned that my mountain running arch nemesis, Paul Kirsch, would be making his WinterWild debut.  As a fellow masters runner, Paul is best known for his mountain prowess.  Living in the NoCo gives him easy access to big tough trails and his mountain racing times reflect his training and his experience.  It's fair to say that I measure my fitness and training with head to head performances against Paul.  To stay close to him in a mountain race is a huge victory...to beat him is the ultimate confirmation that my mountain/hill-specific training is dead on.  I helped with registration so didn't have a moment to warm-up so when Rich announced the start had been pushed back to 6:30 AM I was thrilled.  Paul and I chatted briefly before the race and he did his best to lower expectations.  The way I saw it, despite the fact that he hadn't raced since last June didn't diminish his toughness and experience with mountain races.  With a final course modification announcement (we'd miss the two peaks due to poor snow coverage and the course would be shorter) the race got off under misty darkness.  I had turned my Petzl Tikka Plus2 on just before the race but within 10 minutes of the start the sunrise began to lighten the shadows and the course became easier to follow.  Assuming the field would be strong I took off hard right from the start.  Climbing is the stronger aspect of my mountain racing so I pushed hard on the initial series of ups.  The over OPEN leaders, Kevin Tilton and Andy Greene, along with several elite Nordic guys gapped the field within minutes.  Mark, appearing stronger than ever, never let me get anywhere close and hammered out a secure 3rd overall (1st masters) spot over the first half of the race.  I settled into the 5th overall place (2nd masters) during the first 800+ feet of climbing.  Peeking back a couple of times I didn't see Paul but knew that as tough as he is on the ups, he's just as fierce on the downs which is the weaker part of my game.  Just before we took the final turn back down the mountain the younger guy I was racing stopped to re-adjust his MircoSpikes and I moved into 4th overall OPEN (still 2nd masters).  As I took the turn for the long descent of Sawyer's Swoop I noticed that I had several pursuers but couldn't make out exactly who they were.  Almost immediately as I began to descend the younger guy bombed past me with his MicroSpike back in place...5th place.  Half way down the run I felt like I was going hard relaxing and letting gravity pull me to the bottom.  The footstrikes were soft and at times I felt like I left a 4-6 inch divot.  Then I began to hear the pounding of footsteps and the paced breathing of more than one runner.  Whoooosh.  Two more guys passed me...7th place now (? masters).  I watched in amazement as they hurdled effortlessly down the mountain.  By this time I needed the race to be over before I fell out of the Top 10 all together.  When I could see the finish I peeked back one more time just to make sure I wouldn't be edged at the line again (see Pat's Peak).  Without anyone in sight I strided to finish in 32:29 good enough for 12 place overall, 7th place OPEN, and 4th master.  Of course it bothers me to give up a Top 5 finish and a masters podium but it strengthens my resolve to train as hard if not harder on my descending technique this spring and summer.  My good friend Paul finished just behind me.  He was right...training fitness isn't the same thing as racing fitness.  I expect to see him again soon and there's a pretty good bet I won't be looking down at him in the results. 

PS.  My winter racing and training is now wrapped and other than the disappointing snowshoe racing season I feel really good about my performances.  When we did race on snowshoes I think I put in solid performances.  The competition wasn't as tight this winter because of the snow.  I missed racing against the likes of Steve Wolfe, Sean Snow, and David Principe.  But I more than made up for those absences by trying to stay close to Mark Hecox in the WinterWild series.  I'm probably not as fit and definitely not as light & lean as this time last year but I'm healthy and I'm ready to start racing on trails and mountains really, really soon.

NEXT UP:  A well earned transition then the Merrimack Rivah Trail Race (MA)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

NH Snowshoe Championship

Finishing the final km at the Glen
[Photo courtesy Scott Mason]
"Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out."  -Ronald Reagan

Gorham,  NEW HAMPSHIRE -- As incredible as the winter of 2011 was...the 2012 version was equally as disappointing.  That is if you plow snow for a living or love snowshoe racing.  When it snowed last Halloween I was absolutely convinced that this was the winter we'd break attendance records.  That this was the winter that we might see the first 250 participant field at a NH snowshoe race.  And that this would be the winter of ALL winters for those of us that love racing on the racquet's!  And then a funny thing happened...it really didn't snow again.  Although we managed to squeeze in a race in North Conway in January and a soggy slushshoe in Merrimack, everything thing else was scratched because of the paucity of snow over much of NH.  Everything else that is except the Granite State Snowshoe Championship at the Great Glen Outdoor Center in Gorham, NH.  Reports from the Mt. Washington valley in the week leading up to the event were that the snow cover was decent.  My very good friend and teammate Timmy Lindsey and I rode up to the Glen the day before the race to mark the "2nd 5k" singletrack on the Aquaduct Loop and were met by teammate Leslie Beckwith.  On the drive north from Strafford many of the towns on Route 16 were snow-free.  I assured Timmy that "everything will be fine" when we got to the notch.  In fact the snow cover did pick up as we continued further north and began to gain some elevation.  But pulling into the parking lot of the Great Glen Outdoor Center my first impressions of Blueberry Hill (the link between the Nordic 5k and the Aquaduct 5k) were not very promising.  Large patches of bear ground dotted the landscape.  We met Leslie inside, packed our backs with flags, and headed out to see if we could salvage a course on the "singletrack" side of the course.  Rounding the storage shed adjacent to the main building my heart sank...the 8 foot bridge to the Blueberry Hill singletrack was bear.  No snow.  And just pass the bear bridge were fist sized drainage rocks followed by a ice with a very thin coating of fresh snow.  If the bear bridge, rocks, and ice weren't that big of a deal there was some crusty snow.  At this point my mind raced and multiple contingency plans were beginning to take shape include the creation of the dreaded "snow bridge".  I have, in an effort to solve thin snow cover, shoveled snow to make a "bridge" over bear patches of ground.  We continued to tramp up and around Blueberry Hill for another few hundred meters but just as we headed back behind the building the final blow to the singletrack plans was thrown.  Yet another critical 3-5 meter stretch of course was bear.  The Aquaduct Loop would be eliminated from the course.  Most of the significant elevation and all of the sweet singletrack would be gone from the 2011 version of the event.  Needless to say I was devastated but because there wasn't a lot of time to wallow in pity, the three of us got busy on a Plan B.  Without any real great options we decided to make the Championship 10k a 'double looper'.  We headed out to lightly mark the course and scout out the conditions on the Nordic side of the operation.  The snow was very hard packed and noticeably icy in spots although offered 100% coverage.  We finished up, said goodbye to Leslie and then headed to our favorite north country watering hole (and BBQ joint) for an adult beverage.  On race morning we arrived early to put the last finishing touches on the course and set up registration.  I'm so very, very lucky to have my wife Karen and great friend Kate take care of registration at all our events.  Particularly this one because it's one I enjoy directing and racing.  As always time flew by quickly as I visited with the dozen or so aR teammates who showed up to race.  A very small, but enthusiastic field of 30 snowshoers stepped to the line as I gave the final instructions and with a "Runners ready...GO!" command we were off.  One of the top snowshoers in all of the northeast, Jim Johnson, was predictably off the line fast with myself, Dave Dunham, Peter Keeney, and teammates Rich Lavers and Phil Erwin in pursuit.  But by the time we cleared the stadium and turned onto the NordicMeisters course he had put a 10 meter gap on Dave and a 20+ meter gap on myself and Rich who were running 3rd & 4th.  In the past few years I've been just ahead of Rich on the snow but with the volume of training he's logged this winter and a couple of recent srong road performances under his belt I wasn't at all surprised that he was pushing me so hard so early in the race.  He stayed just off my right shoulder as we raced harder that I thought we should through the meadows.  10k on snowshoes is a haul and this loop was deceptively hilly once...not to mention twice!  With Dave out of sight the focus was on holding off Rich and the multiple pursuers that I knew were directly on our heels.  As the course began to climb I felt him drop back a little.  The first chance I had to glance back on a switchback I noticed that Phil had caught Rich and the two of them were racing together less than 50 meters behind.  Generally two snowshoers working together are faster than one racing alone so I knew that despite my early success that the race was far from over.  With every opportunity I stole a peek back at those two and mentally measured the gap.  Popping back out into the meadows we raced around the tubing hill and completed the first 5k with the encouragement of course marshall and teammate Scotty Graham.  Although I struggled to find a rhythm in the first 5k I did manage to get in a groove on the second loop.  Rich and Phil stayed close but weren't able to close the gap and I held them off for 3rd place overall (2nd 40+) in a time of 42:56.  A short season for sure but a very successful one.  I'm thrilled with my effort and performance.  It was great to see so many teammates and friends come out and support the race.  I'm very grateful to each and every one of them.

NEXT UP: WinterWild Championship at Bretton Woods