Monday, March 15, 2010

Granite State Snowshoe Championships

Photo of the start of the Granite State Snowshoe Championship start by Scott Mason.

Updated (3/15): On Sunday I headed up to Green's Grant, NH to race in the Granite State Snowshoe Championship (results)  put on by Chris Dunn and acidotic Racing.  This was the last race in the 2010 Granite State Snowshoe Series and was held on the beautiful Great Glen trail system at the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road.

Because of the way this past winter has gone, with cancellations, postponements, sub-par conditions, and some races turning into trail or road races due to no snow at all, I was not really up for this race prior to arriving at the Glen.  It has been completely void of snow and somewhat mild in temperature where I live for some time now, and there has been little desire (after the early taste of Spring) for me to get back out on snowshoes...especially after having my rear handed to me at Nationals last week.  So needless to say I have looked forward to the trails and roads for some time now and Saturday's 3 Miler in Concord was just another taste of the season to come.... but Sunday's season ending championship race was just simply hard to visualize.

I started my trip up early on Sunday morning from Salem in strong winds and driving rain.  It rained for most of the way up 93 and the wind was blowing my car all over the highway.  As I got into Franconia and drove through the notch, it started to flurry a bit and there were actually plows on the road.  There was also a fair amount of white stuff on the ground, but not enough to really race on.  I had heard over the last couple days about how much snow was on the ground up at the Mt. Washington area and knew that I still had a ways to go to get there. As I cut across from West to East through Twin Mountain, Jefferson, Randolph, and into Gorham, the snow on the ground was getting better and the snow coming down was getting thricker and wetter....  As I took the last turn onto Rt 16 in Gorham, and made my way south towards the Auto Road, the snow on the street was sticking and accumulating and it was making driving a bit hairy as I wound down the road.  Only a couple minutes after being on 16, I was stopped by the local fire department who had blocked the road.  An SUV had flipped over and wound up in a ditch after going around an icey curve.  It took a couple minutes to get by this and I hoped it wasn't someone on their way to the race...  As I made my way down route 16 and got close to the Auto Road and Great Glen Outdoor Center, the snow was coming down hard and the snow on the ground and in the woods was as good as anywhere I've race all season if not better.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the Outdoor Center, I noticed DD already there, as well as the Turtles (including John Peabody who gave me a nice copy of Competitor Magazine, that ran a photo of me back in October) and some acidotic folks including Chris Dunn who orchestrated this fantastic event and saved the snowshoe season for 2010 in NH.  I made my way into registration and picked up bib #1 (courtesy of Chris Dunn and my prize for winning last year's series).  Bib #1 comes with lots of initial pressure...that is of course until Kevin Tilton walks in and then I realize the best I'll do is most likely 2nd.  Then I see Geoff Cunningham come in and now my thoughts are on just a podium finish...  We got to leave our stuff inside the beautiful function room of the Great Glen Outdoor Center and head out for our warmup.  Dave, Kevin, and I did the first mile or so of the course on snowshoes.  The snow was falling steady and was quickly accumulating on top of the course.

The course was amazing.  Chris did a fantastic job at picking the spot and laying out a challenging and unique type of course.  The race was split up into 2 different 5ks.  The first 5k started across Rt 16, on the Auto Road side, in the Nordic stadium.  It was then run out and through the Great Glen Trail System on all wide, groomed XC ski trail.  It was packed, smooth, and FAST although NOT flat.  There were numerous ups and downs, twist and turns, making for a semi-tough run but not a grind like last weeks 10k course out at Nationals.  This was more of a 'find your groove and rock' type of course, where we could really rock sub 7 minute miles with relative ease, even with some of the up hills.  The second half of the course began after you make your way back out of the groomed trails and go through a snow filled tunnel underneath Route 16 and make your way back up and past the Outdoor Center.  Then, the course completely changes to all single track bushwhack up into the woods behind the Outdoor Center.  The snow was virgin trail that had been blazed only to mark and set the course.  There was a lot of climb here and some really cool single track that wound up and then back down a screaming descent only to climb yet again and then back down to the road.  After nearing the road, there was one last climb of loose, deep snow and then around and down to the finish area.  So the first half of the race would be FAST and play into the speedier guys' advantage, while the second half of the race would benefit the guys with more strength and hill climbing expertise.

Dave, Kevin, and I barely made it back to the start after the warmup, to throw our race gear on before the start of the race.  We rushed over in time to get a couple of strides in before they fired the canon (I think the same canon used at the start of the Mt. Washington Road Race in June) and we were off.  The snow was really flying here and I was soaking wet in no time. I took the early lead down to the trails and was feeling OK as I relaxed a bit but still pushed a moderate pace.  The footing was fantastic (but then again, anything will feel better than last week).  A little less than a mile in (I'm guesstimating), Kevin Tilton went motoring by me and looked strong.  I really figured his 2nd half of the race would be much much faster than mine, so if I wanted to have any shot at him (especially after seeing him race last weekend), I would have to put some distance on him during the first section. Unfortunately for me, he was running very strong and pulling me along up each incline and down each screaming fast descent.  The course was up and down up and down....very little flat sections in there, but nothing too long as to break your stride.  I wasn't getting any closer to him and at some points was losing contact a bit. There were a few moments where I thought he had broken me and that he may not even hear my footfalls any longer....but then I'd move up a bit and get back into range at the top of an uphill.  It wasn't too long into the race (maybe even before 2 miles) before I realized that we were alone.  I looked back and didn't see Geoff (whom I expected to be right with us in a 3 man race).  I was surprised, but began thinking that maybe Kevin and I were going a bit too hard here and that maybe, since he knew what the second half of the course was all about, Geoff was saving his energy for the 2nd 5k.  I'm not sure if it was better or worse, knowing about the second half of the course.  Looking back now, I think it was maybe better not knowing about those climbs and the footing.  It may have benefited Kevin and I to just do this course blind.

As we headed up and across the road and back to the start/finish area, I was only a couple ticks behind Kevin and thinking that the race was going to start now, over the 2nd 5k, and it would be all Tilton from here. We went through the halfway point in approximately 21 minutes and the second part of the course would most certainly be a few minutes slower at best.  Right after the finish area, the course hits single track (as advertised) and headed straight up the side of the hill behind the Outdoor Center.  It was immediately steeper than any section of the first half of the course and the footing was deeper, unpacked snow, but still easier to navigate than last week.  Kevin missed an initial left hand turn and ran up through and past some red flags as I yelled up for him to go left. Right there was also Scott Mason, taking photos.  He also yelled for Kevin to go left.  Kevin noticed and cut across to still maintain his lead.  We both ducked into the woods right after that and it was a lot of long ups and short downs. We made our way up the hill and through some very cool single track trails and I remained only a couple strides behind Kevin at this point. I couldn't have actually been any closer to him through here or I would have been in danger of clipping his heels.  There were a couple of steep ascents in here that he was able to put a couple of strides on me, but I would make them up each time as the trail flattened out or on the following downhill section.  I was working hard in here but after each minute ticked by, and I was still within striking distance, I kept very much aware of saving something for an end kick (if I could make it that far).

Eventually, the course began a very long, wide, and straight downhill plunge through some relatively deep snow.  Although about as wide as a fire road, the actual trail section that we were supposed to follow, weaved left and right and snaked down the road in between larger mounds of snow and god knows what underneath.  It was sometimes tough to tell where to stay at times (even though it was flagged) because the heavy snow that was falling all day was now beginning to cover up the previous tracks that were blazed ahead of time.  It got to a point where I figured that because we were descending so much and so fast, that this must be the end of the course and I should probably get without really trying to work too hard, I began to pull up behind Kevin and attempted to try to go around him.  I took my eyes off the ground for a few seconds because I was now right behind him and didn't notice him leap over a big mound of deep/unpacked snow and I clipped my Dion's right into it and went slamming straight down on my grill.  I yelled out as I went down and tried to pop up as quickly as I could, but Kevin was just hammering down at this point and all I could do was try to get back up with him.  It didn't take me too long and I had basically caught back up by the bottom of the hill without burning too much extra energy, but now, to my horror, the course hooked back onto single track and headed back UP a steep, long ascent.  I was heartbroken here and realized there was much more to this course than I thought.  This was my first real thought of just letting Kevin go and taking 2nd, as I still couldn't seen anyone behind.  I worked the hill and tried to stay as close as I could, but Kevin was pulling away.  Then, at the top, I was able to catch up as soon as the course leveled back out (briefly).  At this point, the were a few more ups and downs, but nothing I really couldn't handle.  Then, there was one last nice dowhill that made me realize just how high up we actually did climb at the beginning of the 2nd 5k.  I think Kevin and I both saw the buildings through the woods at the same time because as I picked up my pace to be ready for a finishing kick, I could feel his pace quicken as well.  Neither one of us really knew what the finish section actually encompassed or looked like, so it was going to be difficult to judge just where to make a last move.

As we ducked out of the woods and along the side of the road, there was a brutal last uphill along the powerlines that sent me into another round of 'let Kevin go' mindgames.  I was broken at this point, as I started to powerhike for the first time all day.  Kevin just kept pedaling up the  virgin tracks and I did everything I could to get up there.  I started to think what a disaster it was going to be to come all this way right behind the lead, only to lose it on the last hill and come in 30 seconds or so behind in 2nd.  Again however, as I made it to the top and cut across towards the Outdoor Center, which was now in clear view, I had caught back up to Kevin who was using all his energy to power up the hills and try to lose me.  I pulled right in behind him and we sloshed through and around the last section of single track around the back and side of the Outdoor Center.  Now, it was only a matter of a minute or so to the finish.  We could both see the finish line and the volunteers who were there ringing bells and yelling for us.  As the course widened enough to allow for a move, I made one.  I pulled up along side Kevin and tried to go past.  He reacted and completely shut me down.  This was right before a small footbridge at the corner of a storage shed we had to go around. I let him in right before the bridge and got right on his heels as we turned for the finish.  All that was ahead now was a slight incline that was plenty wide enough for a pass.  I hooked around him one last time and pushed.  He reacted and we both went stride for stride, shoulder for shoulder to the line.  In an unplanned, synchronized act of desperation, we both dove for the line with only one stride to go. I dove forward in a Superman type of pose and Kevin went low and fell over the line sideways with his arms also flailing as he went down to the ground.  We both completely emptied the tank and dove simultaneously across the line.  It was an amazing finish to an amazing race.  The 4 or 5 volunteer/timers who were at the finish line were initially speechless.  Then one of them just started shaking her head as I looked up for some sort of call.  She just proclaimed 'ummmm I have NO idea what to call at this point'.... right after that, Kevin was laughing as he was still on the ground catching his breath, and called for the tie.  I immediately agreed.  It took me a few minutes to try to realize what had just happened.  I think Kevin and I were on the ground for 2 solid minutes after we finished, just trying to let it all sink in.  We were both completely soaked, beat, and had just rocked a long 10k, only to have it end up in a dead even tie.  It was incredible.

As the snow continued to fly, the top 5 came chugging in, in exactly the order I thought it would be.  Geoff came in comfortably in 3rd place (and probably 40 lbs heavier due to all the water he was carrying in his clothes), DD not too far behind in 4th (a great effort considering he has been injured and pretty sick all week), and David Principe who was just a few ticks ahead of a charging 6th place finisher, Kurt Gustafson.  Steve Wolfe made his 'Wolfetracks' up into 7th place, just ahead of Danny Ferriera (who raced the 3 Miler with me on Saturday) in 7th.  Chris Dunn rocked to a solid 8th place on his gem of a course, and local Brendan Sullivan rounded out the top 10.

We all made our way into the Outdoor Center to change and get warm, as the snow wasn't letting up, and I was completely soaked to the bone and starting to shiver.  Kevin and I headed out to do our warmdown as DD took off like he had just gotten a call that his house was on fire (which was too bad because he was the only one not there for the awards...Chris Dunn stood in for him on the podium for pictures).  Kevin and I did a cooldown on Rt. 16 and I was bonking pretty hard by the end.  We headed back inside for some food and for the awards.  Chris Dunn and crew came through yet again with great awards, raffles, plenty of beer courtesy of Redhook (they had a KEG there!), and some good grub.  It was cool winding down the season in this way, chatting with all the folks about the races, conditions, upcoming goals for the spring/summer, etc.  Once again, Chris and his wife and all the acidotic folks put on an incredible series this year, with quality events that were second-to-none.  Despite the weather (or lack there of) in NH this winter, Chris and crew made the best of it and managed to still hold awesome races that I will now look forward to all year (again).  In the raffle, I managed to grab two goodies... a winter hydration pack by Nathan, and a cool pair of winter socks.  I also swipped a 6er of Copper Hook, which I gave to Scott Mason in exchange for all the photos you see in this posting...

See Scott Mason's photos from the day here.

Photo of the after affects of the finishing dive...courtesy of Becky Peabody.

Top 10 (CMS in blue)

1Kevin Tilton     28North Conway NH 46:14
2Jim Johnson      32Salem NH        46:14
3Geoff Cunningham 32Greenland NH    50:49
4Dave Dunham      45Bradford MA     51:38
5David Principe   43Cranston RI     52:12
6Kurt Gustafson   25Shrewsbury MA   52:17
7Steve Wolfe      45Merrimack NH    52:53
8Danny Ferriera   27Concord NH      53:06
9Chris Dunn       41Strafford NH    53:56
10Brendan Sullivan 46North Conway NH 55:23

34 Total Finishers.

Related not...The Mount Washington Lottery closes TODAY. If you are on the fence at all about whether to enter, you MUST do it now. After today, it will be too late.  You can always back out if you're unsure later.  I've gone over the details plenty of times, so not to harp on it any longer, I'll just say this...If you've ever thought in the past about doing giving this race a try, this year is the year to do it (for many reasons).

The photo below is how the start looked as of yesterday (3/14).  Hard to believe that in 3 months, we'll be lining up here and ready to go!


  1. 3 months?!! Wow. I better get to work.

    Wow - crazy race. Great shots and great report.

  2. GZ, did you enter the lotto? I still got your kicks and they are makin' the trip!

  3. entered and hoping we get enough old timers for a masters team.

  4. zack, ames, fanselow, carpenter... sick.

  5. Carpenter?! That would be news to me.

    Drop me, and pick up Simon G, Ken P.

  6. Simon G, Ken P, the other Jim Johnson, and Andy have all run for FF ... so we are USATF affiliated. ;)

  7. hmmm...still sounds fishy to me ;)

  8. Hmmm...No picture of you and Kevin holding hands at the finish...very suspicious.

    Great meeting you on Sunday.
    - Ryan

  9. you mean no photo of Kevin holding my shirt and pulling me back so I wouldn't lunge ahead of him at the finish? photos. Nice job driving your car into that ditch...was that a shortcut to the Outdoor Center I didn't know about? ;)...

  10. If Kevin can drag you backwards, you need to do some strength training. That dude only weighs 78 lbs.

    The ditch was never there before, I swear.