|Finishing the final km at the Glen|
[Photo courtesy Scott Mason]
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