Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 I Love Woodford Snowshoe Race

Updated (12/30/09): Sunday was the first WMAC/Dion series race of the 2009-2010 season.  The I Love Woodford 5k Snowshoe Race (results)  held in Woodford, VT was the scene and it turned out to be an insanely deep field, in deep, slow, wet snow, and had a very exciting finish.

The morning started dark and wet, as Dave Dunham pulled into my driveway just
before 6:30am.  After loading up the car, dd, Kristin, and I headed northwest out to Woodford, VT on a very wet, rainy, and foggy ride, that made me continuously ask myself whether there really would be any snow up there, or at least enough to run on.... It wasn't really until we were off of the highway and onto Rt 9 in VT, that I realized that there may be enough in the woods to run on.  It rained for most of the way and didn't really stop until after we pulled into the slushy parking lot.  We arrived relatively early (before registration was setup) and hung out in the car for a bit before meeting up with Tim Mahoney for a warmup over the course. We were also flagging the course ahead of time, which gives us a good look at the general trail conditions, ascents, descents, bridge crossings, and other dangerous areas.  There was A LOT of snow on the course and it was VERY slow (see Wolfey's blog post here).  My stomach began to bother me near the end of the warmup, but it wasn't as bad as it has been in the past few days.  My training has really suffered and my mileage has been super low because of my ongoing battle with some sort of stomach virus.  I felt 'ok' cardio wise, but I know I was far from being in the type of 'racing shape' that I have come to expect from my usual routine.

We got up to the finish area and saw that most of the shoers had made their way down to the start already.  We had to head across the road and up to the cars to change and get back down to the start within 15 minutes, which basically means we had really no down time between warming up and racing.  That may be 'ok' when it comes to road racing, where your warmup pace may be 3 minutes or so slower than your race pace, but when it comes to snowshoeing, there isn't a heck of a lot of difference between a warmup pace and a race pace...I was a little tired in the legs and I'd feel it towards the end of the race for sure.

As I got down to the starting line, I started to notice some fast folk milling around.  Most notably was last year's winner and top New England mountain/trail/snowshoe runner Josh Ferenc (BAA/Inov-8).  I also saw fellow CMS and Inov-8 teammate Ben Nephew, who is always a force in any type of footrace, and definitely has the best range out of anyone who toes the line in these races.  I also saw Brian Rusiecki, who is a top New England area trail/ultra guy and has been known to tear it up on snowshoes too.  Combined with Tim Mahoney, Tim VanOrden, Dave Dunham, Steve Wolfe, and a few others, and I knew it would be a pretty damn good race.

The race went off relatively fast, up the park entrance road which was absolutely snowed in and very sloppy. The snow was deep, wet, and there was one track that was 'ok' to run on, but for the most part there was A LOT of work that had to be done over the first 5+ minutes it took to wind up the first major hill on the auto road that eventually hooked a left into the single track at the top.  I settled right in behind Josh Ferenc who ran strong out front, as he did last year, and took the early lead.  I stayed right behind him up the hill and by the time we took the left into the single track, I peered over my shoulder to see Tim VanOrden directly behind me and then quite a gap before the next guy.  I wasn't even sure who the next guy was, but the top 3 of us were right together as we hit the slow, sloppy single track, which would be the majority of the rest of the race.  I felt pretty good at this point, and just wanted to stay behind Josh and not lose much ground on him.  Tivo stayed the same amount behind me and we ran for a few minutes over the up and down, windy single track.  It was very rough going, as the snow was deep and very wet, to the point where you were basically sinking down 6+ inches with every step, and the snow was jetting out the sides like slush.  Josh was close to wiping out a half dozen times and was flailing around trying to keep on his feet as he pushed the pace.  Then, on the way down a small incline before a decent climb, he went down hard and looked like he fell on his face.  I asked him if he was ok, as did Tim.  He answered back 'yes' but was not getting up.  I took the lead (reluctantly, as it was the last thing I wanted to do so early in the race) and worked up the hill.  I kept looking back to see that Josh was still on the ground.  It was clear he had something wrong with either an injury or an equipment issue.  Tim and I pushed on and pretty soon I saw Josh up and running behind us again, but was not gaining and I thought he might be done for the day after that nasty fall.

I pushed onward and maintained basically a 1 stride lead over Tivo who just kept on my shoulder.  I started to rig up pretty bad and was sucking wind probably by 2 miles in.  I started to struggle and new my fitness was not the greatest, as even the smallest of inclines was starting to kill me.  The snow was so sloppy and soft that it was requiring way more energy to stay upright as you made the climbs and zig zagged back and forth through the single track.  There were a few bridge crossings and rocky streams to go over, which proved interesting to say the least.  I started to tell Tim to go ahead and take the lead and he declined each time, offering me some encouragement as I struggled to keep a respectable pace.  Eventually I turned to see someone else making some ground on Tim and I.  I couldn't make him out at first, but then realized who it was.  Brian Rusiecki, who is a VERY good trail/ultra guy who has won many trail /ultra / snowshoe races in New England in the past couple years.  He and Ben are the two best trail/ultra guys to toe the line at these races for sure.  He was coming up strong on Tim and I and pretty soon was right behind us.  He probably would have zipped by us if the trail was wider, but instead he got right in behind Tim and all 3 of us were no doubt, thinking the same thing at that point.... holding off until the single track dumps out onto the road, and then hammer the last 200-300 or so meters down to the finish.

As I came up to the final gate and all the flags we set at the end of the single track, I knew it was now or never.  I got through the gate first, a second ahead of Tim and Brian, and started to move.  I opened up the stride and tried to stay on the most packed section of the road, which was NOT in the best of tangents to the finish, Tim and Brian were right there.   I turned it up to about 95% all out with that last little bit still in the tank in case Tivo found that leg speed that we know is there, this early in the season...  Tivo was right on my heels and was trying to get up and around me.  I was reaching for the line and we put both put a tiny bit on Brian, who was no doubt hoping for a longer race, which he would have won without a problem.  Each time I felt Tim come up on me, I turned it up just enough to stay ahead and reached for the line....  In the end, I held off Tivo by a second and Brian by just a couple, to shockingly win the race.  Based on how the middle 75% of the race went, I would have never guessed I could have hung on.  Tim and Brian ran fantastic races and that end kick to the finish was the most fun I've had shoeing to date!  Look out for Tivo to have a BIG year in 2010.

Above, you can see how close it was, with just 200 or so meters to the finish.  Tim VanOrden behind me, and Brian Rusiecki behind him.

Full Results

1Jim Johnson 3224:00
2Tim VanOrden 4124:01
3Brian Rusiecki3124:07
4Dave Dunham 4524:36
5Ben Nephew 3424:55
6Matt Westerlund3725:41
7Josh Ferenc2825:42
8Tim Mahoney 3025:43
9Steve Wolfe4526:50
10Jeremy Drowne3227:28
11Abby Mahoney3127:44

76 Total Finishers

Last year, I ran 24:32 for 2nd place behind Josh, who ran 23:44 in faster conditions (from what I remember).  To run 33 seconds faster this year, in slower, more hazardous conditions, and only be 15 seconds slower than what he ran from last year, is a pretty good day.  Especially after the week of low mileage and stomach issues I've had.  I was shocked to have even been able to get up and get ready for this race.

Photos from the race are here.  Thanks to the lovely and talented Kristin!

Lastly, there has been some schedule changes in the WMAC series.  There will be NO North Pond race this coming weekend.  There are also some other dates changing, a race being taken off, and another added.  The updated schedule is listed here.

1 comment:

  1. You win when you're healthy. You win when you're sick. Maybe if you got lost the other guys would have a chance. Nice win Jim!