Monday, March 8, 2010

US National Snowshoe Championship - Part 1 (Men's 10k)

(CMS Crew - L-R: Pete Mallett, Richard Bolt, Tim VanOrden, Kevin Tilton, Jim Johnson, Matt Russell)

Well, 750 miles driven this weekend and lots of lessons learned.  I found out that there is A LOT of work I need to do to strengthen up for competitive snowshoeing and mountain running.  I saw first hand, what elite snowshoe running looks like, and it looks NOTHING like what I do.

I headed out to the PowerSox US National Snowshoe Championship (results) in Syracuse, NY (technically DeRuyter, NY) on Friday to meet up with Dave Dunham (injured - CMS/Atlas), Rich Bolt (CMS Oregon /Atlas), Kevin Tilton (CMS/Inov-8), and Pete Mallett (CMS) at the Holiday Inn in E. Syracuse.  The drive was long (350 miles), booring, and  fairly uneventful...also, it wasn't until i was through the Berkshires and just about into NY, that I noticed any sort of substantial snow on the ground.  After I arrived at the hotel, Kevin, Pete, and I did a late 5+ mile run around the area as a shakeout after the long drive and then headed to dinner w/ Dave, Rich, and Rich's Dad.

In the morning, we all headed over to the race, which was about a 30 minute drive through town and past miles of open farmland and snow covered hills.  There was A LOT of snow up there and they got socked with a storm last week that just added to the snow totals that were still hanging on, despite above freezing temps.  As we took the turn onto the road that leads up into the park, we looked up the massive hillside to see the finish area all the way at the top, and what looked to be flags and course markings going up to the finish!  It was my worst nightmare come true... we would have to run UP that 'walking-boss-esque' hill to the finish.  What a cruel way to end a long, tough snowshoe race...

As we pulled into the lot, we met up with Matt Russell who was also running the national championship.  Matt ran for CMS last year at Mount Washington and was our top scorer, finishing 9th overall on the hill.  He's also a top triathlete and former teammate of Kevin and Pete's at UNH.  We headed in to register and noticed a lot of the other New England folks like acidotic's Chris Dunn and Geoff Cunningham, plus some other usual suspects including Tim VanOrden (CMS/Running Raw) who looked ready to kick some butt.  My hamstring was a little tight and my back was still a tad stiff from the previous week's 10 miler out in Amherst, but other than that, I felt like I was ready to go.  I noticed a lot of Atlas and Redfeather team members walking around in their very intimidating outfits and knew it was going to be a fast race, despite the conditions.

As we walked around the race site, it was very evident that there was a TON of snow on the course, and it was not packed down or groomed in any way.  There was loads of semi-wet, loose, deep snow that was post-holed to no end.  The views from the top and finish area were fantastic.  It was the most picturesque course I've seen so far for sure.  The snowbanks in the parking lot and along the access roads were 10 feet high in some spots... As we all headed out for our warmup, Rich Bolt commented that there was more snow there than currently out at Mt. Hood... The sun was shining bright and the temps were above freezing with zero wind, making it very comfortable.  We ran up around to where the course crosses the road (in two spots) and luckily there was enough snow still on the road, to have a couple of successful crosses.

After the warmup, we changed and headed over to the starting area where 131 qualifiers for the Men's 10k were getting ready to go.  The start was the most difficult snowshoe start I've ever seen.  It was uphill and in FEET of loose, sugary snow. The top 12 inches were all postholed and dug up from everyone walking/running back and forth on it + the women's race, which went off before the men. It made it basically impossible to even try to do any strides on it without almost falling over. I was constantly trying to find a place I could put one foot in front of the other without falling to the side and flailing my arms around trying to keep my balance. It was brutal and the race hadn't even started yet.

I lined up in the 2nd row (no choice, as everyone in the first half of the field were legit guys who all wanted the pole position) and we were off.  I immediately had a couple things happen to me that I've never had happen before (in a snowshoe race).  I was pushed and shoved continuously by guys to the left, right, and behind me. I had a ridiculous amount of snow kicked up in my grill from the guys in front of me.  This was also a first.  I got an awful start and was thinking 'wow, look at all these guys in front of me' after only 30 seconds of racing.  I knew it was going to be a LONG day.

As I slogged my way up and across the first 200 meters of the race, I was already exhausted.  My heart rate was maxed out for certain.  I was completely engulfed in racers on each side and in front.  I couldn't move out and up to any sort of good position, and had to keep hand-checking the guy in front of me.  Kevin actually got a worse start that I did and moved around me after the course flattened out and I looked up to see that there was already a gap between the pack I was in, and the lead pack, that had a boatload of big strong shoers just kicking up plumes of snow as they wound their way down and through the woods.

After a few minutes, my heart was in my throat.  I have never had my heart rate up this bad, even on 'the hill'. My legs were toast and it wasn't even a half mile into the race.  I was having trouble picking up my feet and couldn't find any runnable snow at all (but I certainly wasn't alone).  I came up past Geoff Cunningham, who had gotten a great start, and ran with him for a bit before trying to push up and get us both going. I passed a few guys over the next part of the course, which is almost a blur because it hurt so bad.  I think I blocked a lot of that part of the day out of my memory. I remember seeing Matt Russell for a bit in front of me and was able to hang on to him (about 30 yards back) for quite a while. I could also still see Kevin, but he was so far ahead, that I knew pretty soon he'd be out of view.  I couldn't fathom then, and I can't fathom now, how anyone could have been running that fast.  It was only about 1 minute before I couldn't even seen the leaders 4 minutes in, I was already looking at my watch.  As I continued on, we hooked down across the road, down into a nice loop on the other side of the park, and then back up across the road and past a lot of spectators including DD, who was shooting some pictures and video.  Again, through here there was absolutely NO packed, groomed snow at all. It was all loose sugary snow and a couple of deceiving snowmobile tracks that were actually worse to step on than the rest of the course.  A combination of the snow conditions/temps + the women's race and all the guys in front of me was leading to treacherous conditions for anyone behind...

After this part, the course went down to single track, and when I say 'single track', I mean it was as 'single' as you can get.  15 inches across if we were lucky.  It was so narrow, that I kept hitting the side wall of the single track with the outsides of my snowshoes, making me continuously flirt with wiping out. I was all over the place here and was losing ground on Matt with each step.  The single track dumps out onto a road for a bit and the footing was actually OK here, but it only lasted about 30 seconds.  It was enough time for a guy to go motoring past me before dumping back into a single track again.  By this time, I could no longer see anyone except the one guy in front of me and even he was disappearing on me.  Jeremy Drowne from D.I.R.T club was behind me and gaining as I was trying to stay on my feet through this next section of single-track.  I kept peeking behind me every so often and he was gaining.  Not too long after, I tripped around a corner and went straight down on my face.  I got up real quick and tried to get going again as fast as I could, to prevent him from going past.  Just after that, the single track started to flatten out and now was actually descending a bit.  I was able to put a little bit of distance on him as I made my way up to the next part of the course.  About this time, I could see Geoff Cunningham now as the single track switched back on itself.  I yelled over to him to get him fired up, as I could see he was having a decent race.

As the single track crossed out over an access road, it opened up and was now a nice wide trail, but the footing was still a mess.  I was struggling to keep the guy in front of me in sight, as we made our way up to the hilliest part of the course.  The hills over this part would have been hard enough with a packed, groomed road to run on, but it was essentially the slowest slog you could imagine over this part.  I was reduced to a baby step on the way up the steepest part of the course (around 27-28 minutes or so in).  As I was borderline walking up the biggest climb on the course, I peeked over my shoulder to now see that I had lost Jeremy. but had now been run down by Rich Bolt and Geoff Cunningham, who were both running together and gaining on me every step up the hills.  I was really broken at this point and was contemplating stopping to recuperate.  I was just not having a good day and it was becoming very tough mentally for me to deal with. A lot of stuff ran through my mind during this time, but I soon tried to shake that stuff aside and use Rich and Geoff's presence as a means to fire me up and try to salvage the second half of the race.

After clearing the major climb, I started to work the downhills, which are a strong part of my snowshoe racing.  I was able to put some decent distance on Rich and Geoff during the descents but couldn't seem to reel in the two guys I could see in front of me during this part of the course.  At the top of the hills, the course heads back to single track again, but this time it was actually packed down and SOLID!  It was exactly what I needed in order to save my day from being a total disaster.  I can keep up with just about anyone on the packed/fast stuff, and 90% of the course was NOT in my wheelhouse.  I really hammered this part of the course, which was as narrow as the initial single track, but not all loose and sloppy.  It was a lot of up and down, side to side over this section of the course before it comes up and out to the start/finish area.  At this point, Rich was within striking distance as I headed right and down the last descent before heading up to the finish.  This was the worst slog of the day.  The snow was so deep, it was a borderline wreck with each stride down the hill.  As I went bounding down the slope, the guy directly in front of me wiped out hard and went head over heels.  I made up serious ground on him and also the other guy directly in front of him.  I was borderline delusional at this point and can't remember which one I caught, but I pulled up along side one of them as I hit the final climb up to the finish.  It was like the last hill at Loon.  Straight up and cruel as it gets.  I heard DD standing on the side yelling at me to keep going.  I heard a ton of people cheering, cowbells jingling, the announcer calling out the finishers as they reached the line... I passed the runner directly in front of me and then ran completely out of gas.  I started walking for the first time all day, and tried to power hike as he was also doing the same.  All the while, Rich Bolt was gaining on me with his superior climbing.  The walking killed me.  The other runner started up again and I just couldn't match it.  He ended up getting me at the end and I just held off the charging Rich Bolt for 14th overall. See below for the last charge up the finish hill (courtesy of DD, who took tons of great pics w/ my camera this weekend).

I've had over a day to think it over and I'm not unhappy with the place, but I am pretty sure I am a better snowshoer than my race dictated.  I think I should have maybe run a couple of places better, but I didn't. Plain and simple, I ran what I ran and feel that it just wasn't fully my day, but it could have been a lot worse.  The course was extraordinarily difficult, but it was difficult for everyone.  The experience was incredible.  I have a newfound respect for elite snowshoe racers and still cannot fully comprehend how a few of those guys ran the times they did on this course. Josiah Middaugh is an absolute MONSTER on snowshoes. Kevin Tilton had an incredible race, finishing an amazing 7th overall.  Matt Russell also ran a fantastic race, with a 10th place finish.  I was 14th, Rich was 15th.  Tivo finished 31st overall and Pete Mallett came in 35th overall. Not a bad day at all for CMS, with 4 in the top 15.

Top 15 plus CMS in blue

1Middaugh, JosiahVail, COM326:5442:51.06
2Gall, ScottCedar Falls, IAM366:5843:15.08
3Rivers , ZacharyVictor, NYM207:1845:17.33
4Hexum, GregEsko, MNM07:2045:29.02
5Joslyn, C. FredE Syracuse, NYM267:2245:44.80
6Scott , JaredFlagstaff, AZM277:2946:24.78
7Tilton , KevinNorth Conway, NHM287:3146:44.56
8Craighead, DanielIthaca, NYM207:3547:03.04
9Mortenson, KellySt. Paul, MNM397:4247:45.77
10Russell , MatthewOgdensburg, NYM267:4548:03.17
11Wealing, LoganColorado Springs, COM287:5348:58.68
12Pauling , RyanRochester, NYM338:0550:10.65
13Steinbrecher, EarlWillsey, NYM468:0850:28.35
14Johnson , JimSalem, NHM328:0950:36.15
15Bolt , RichardPortland, ORM398:1150:45.76
31VanOrden, TimBennington, VTM419:0856:41.76
35Mallett, PeterManchester, NHM269:2258:08.91

131 Total Finishers.

Writeup from Syracuse Blog
My Photos of the 10k Men's Race (courtesy of DD).
Race Photos from Timing Company

Video below from DD at Mile 1.

The field was probably twice as deep as it has ever been at Nationals...even when it was in VT a few years back.  I took a bit of time to research some of these guys and here's who was up the front:

Josiah Middaugh (32, Vail, CO - Redfeather) - 4 time US National Champion (2002, 2003, 2008, 2010) - Enough said.  This guy is a beast. Sub 7 minute pace on this course is borderline impossible for me to fathom.

Scott Gall (36, Cedar Falls, IA - Atlas) - 2009 North American Snowshoe Champion, 1998 World Snowshoe Champion, 5 time US Team Member at World Mountain Running Championships including a 5th place overall finish at the 1999 World Championships, 60th place at the 2000 US Olympic Marathon Trials (2:20:42 PR).

Zach Rivers (20, Victor, NY) - Currently attends Syracuse University.  Member of multiple US Junior World Mountain Running teams.

Greg Hexum (38, Esko, MN - Atlas) - 2 time US National Champion (2006, 2007), NCAA Cross Country All-American at the University of North Dakota.

C. Fred Joslyn (26, E. Syracuse, NY) -  Hansons-Brooks member from 2007-2009. 2007 NCAA Division III 5000 Meter National Champion. 2:23 marathon / 1:05 half / 29:55 10k.

Jared Scott (27, Flagstaff, AZ) - member of the University of Colorado cross country (won the 2004 NCAA National Team Championship). 5th at the 2008 USATF Mountain Trail Championships.  2:27 marathon.

Kevin Tilton (28, North Conway, NH) - 2 time member of US Mountain Running team (2005, 2006)

Daniel Craighead (20, Ithaca, NY) - currently runs for Ithaca College.

Kelly Mortenson (39, St. Paul, MN - Atlas) - 3 time XC All American at Moorehead State, All American 10K,  12th at the 2000 US Olympic Marathon Trials - 2:20:55.  2:19:08 Marathon PR.

Matt Russell (26, Ogsdenburg, NY) - Pro triathlete, duathlete. 9th at 2009 Mt. Washington (first CMS).

Logan Wheeling (28, Colorado Springs, CO) - Pro triathlete, former member of the US National Snowshoe team.

Ryan Pauling (33, Rochester, NY) - 2 time member of the US Mountain Running team (2001, 2005).  24th at the 2001 World Mountain Running Championships (1st American).

Earl Steinbrecher (46, Willsey, NY) - really good masters runner from NY who outwalked me at the end :)

Out of the 13 guys above (that all beat me), I'd say I was in good company finishing 14th.

Nice Finish shots by Scott Mason of my 'suckin' wind' up the last hill to the finish (Rich Bolt in the background)...

What I take away from this race is the fact that I can NOT just show up to something like this and expect to be able to compete with these guys when the conditions are like this. Strength plays the only role in a race like today.  Speed means absolutely nothing.  Just seeing those top guys go out and leave me helpless and floundering back in the chase pack was a wakeup call.  Kevin has been doing a lot of long snowshoe runs this winter.  I haven't done any snowshoeing other than racing.  This was the longest I've been on snowshoes this year and it showed.  I think it was a great way to finally realize that if I really want to focus on becoming a better snowshoer, I have to spend more time 'in the saddle' so-to-speak.  I need to do a run or two a week in the shoes, and in various conditions (weather permitting of course).  I had ample time to do this earlier in the winter, but not so much recently because of the lack of snow in my area.  But next year, my focus will change a bit as the winter sets in for sure.  More snowshoe training, more hill workouts.  That will be the order of business come December, 2010...

Next up, will be my post about the National Championship Relay that was held on Sunday, March 7....

1 comment:

  1. WOW.

    Amazing report, amazing race.

    Great insight ... just the whole thing given how you tore up the circuit this year and then got served up this. Good on ya' for stickin' it out out there.