Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Turner Trail Snowshoe Race

Saturday, I headed out to Pittsfield, MA with Steve Wolfe (who talked me into racing on Friday afternoon).  The Turner Trail snowshoe race (results) is a great race on the WMAC/Dion series calendar and one in which I won last year in one of my more memorable snowshoe races.  The race is held in Pittsfield State Forest and typically goes up a killer climb, has a relatively flat middle mile (still challenging if there is deep snow), and then has a screaming downhill at the end.  This year, because of the lack of snow, the RD had to come up with a new alternate course, which would be predominantly all at the base of the mountain, around some mountain bike trails, which still had some decent snowcover in the woods.  The restructured course was a good 5.6 miles or so and through the course of the week (after they planned on creating this alternate route), they got dumped on again by a good 8-9 inches more of snow.  This led to the course having plenty of good, new powder on top of a packed base of snow and ice from before.  The conditions were near perfect for a fast race.  The new alternate course also had very little in the way of steep climbs.  There were plenty of ups and downs, but nothing so steep and long that could make or break a race. Because of these changes, Steve Wolfe convinced me on Friday to give this race a go.  I was planning on hitting up the Salem snowshoe race instead of driving out to Pittsfield, but the length of the new course (being a long 5.6) made me think that the Pittsfield race would be a better decision and worth the drive.  It is also part of the WMAC Dion series whereas the Salem race is not part of either series.  The decision was made and I met up with Wolfe in the a.m. and we were off.

On the way to the race, I talked with Wolfie about my confidence and how it was completely shot after last weekend's disaster out at North Pond.  Just one race out of a couple hundred that I've done over the past few years and my head was out of it.  I know that the medication had a lot to do with it, but I also knew that my breathing and cramping/spasming has been awful this past couple weeks and I had no clue about where I was physically when it came to racing anymore.  I knew I could train without much issue, but running fast, going out and taking control of a race, and trying to outrun a top trail/mountain/snowshoe runner in the US is another story. Tivo has been on fire and even without my issues, I think I'm hardpressed to be able to stay with him in these races this year...He's just super fit and a great competitor. He killed North Pond and really put the hurt on....who knows if I would have even been any closer to him, even without my problems...that's how well he ran... After seeing what he did to me last week, I just had no confidence to even race with him...it doesn't matter what happened in the past...I only kept thinking about one week back and that was the only history I needed to think about.  I was dwelling on trying to compete out in these WMAC races again all week and just couldn't paint a positive picture in my head at all.... Once I arrived out there I not only saw Tivo but also Ross Krause who is always a top finisher and really strong snow/trail guy...and some other young looking fast guys...I had no idea what to think or how I was going to attack the race.  I had two options...essentially let Tim go and dictate pace (which would have been his every right, considering he was top dog after last week's beating he put on me) or go out and do what I usually do and lead right away.  The couple times I've let someone else lead out of the gun, I've lost (namely Sidehiller)...so as the race neared, I figured that I'd do my normal start and if Tim was out harder than I and beat me up to the single track, then I'd go with option 1...if I got up there first by just letting nature take it's course, then I'd go with option 2.... either way, my thought was that I'd last maybe a little while and then run into some issues and my decision to go out to Western Mass again would once again be a mental and physical disaster... talk about being optimistic!

As the race went off, I went right out to the front and figured I might as well run my typical race and see what happens with my breathing and chest muscles...if I rig up again, I rig up again...but if I don't give it a try, I'll never know.  I hit the first hill, climbed, and took the immediate sharp left turn onto the single track. From there, I coasted along as the trail winds down a bit to the road, where you cross and dip back into the woods.  On this section, I noticed Tivo had tucked in behind Ross Krause and I was able to put a little distance on them as Ross gives you a little space (as opposed to Tivo, who essentially jumps on your back when he's behind you)... when we hit the road and dipped back down, there was some good downhill sections and immediately I heard footfalls and breathing as Tim had apparently gone around Ross and came bombing down to get right on my heels.  He was so aggressively catching up to me and now right behind me, that I considered waving him around me for a few seconds...but I then thought about the race, the distance, and the fact that there were no real substantial climbs that would force me to really go into oxygen debt and start breathing super hard....so I held my own and figured if Tim really wanted to go past, he would eventually say something or just make a move, so I stayed in front and pulled the JimTim train along for a while.

The course is essentially 100% single track and it winds back and forth constantly.  Enough so, that the entire race was flagged with literally a flag every 10 feet it seemed.  It was probably the best marked snowshoe or trail race I've seen...and for good reason.  The trail weaves in and out of itself so many times it almost overlaps in many spots... The RD's posted a message on the site before the race and stressed before the race began, that the leaders needed to really watch where they were going and stay on course...that way, all others would be able to follow the trail in the snow and know where to go.  It was really easy to go off course if you weren't careful...and it was also really easy to inadvertently cut off a ton of the course if you missed a turn and got back on the trail at a later stage of the race.  The course also had a ton of areas where you would run for a long while in one direction, then turn and run in the other after a switchback.  This happened repeatedly to where you could actually see others behind you through the woods and they looked closer than they actually were, but you may be way ahead.

As I led over the first mile or so of the course, Tivo stayed right tucked in on my heels and I kept thinking to myself, 'ok, this is what you thought about all week...this is it....'.  I knew I was OK as far as having no medication or relaxers running through my system, but I was apprehensive about the potential of my side stitches and cramping in my chest coming back from breathing too hard, so I was taking it relatively steady without killing it.  I was nervous that Tim would catch on that I wasn't really pushing it too too hard at the beginning and just get tired of my pace and shoot on by me...but not too far into the race, we hit this section of snow on a small climb where the snow was actually piled on top of some unstable crustier snow below and I started to punch through a little.  It made this section very slow.  But I knew that if it was slow and difficult for me, that Tim would be having an even tougher time in this section because he outweighs me by just a little bit... He also has a much more powerful stride than I do and figured he'd be punching through worse.  I heard him do just that and no sooner did I finish that section, did I realize that I could no longer hear his breathing right behind me...and his footfalls got quieter and quieter.  I started to put some distance on him and just kept chugging along, but knew that I had to make sure I had enough in the tank for the 5+ mile course that I was estimating would maybe take me around 40 minutes.

The trail for the most part (except for that one section) was pretty darn fast.  It had been packed down by some snowshoers earlier in the day/week so it was pretty easy to follow and not much trailblazing was needed.  The powder that was on top was having no impact on the pace and I was able to continue to cruise along.  I felt nice and comfortable but was definitely getting winded with all the changing gears that you needed to do for the up and down, left and right turns... I got to the 2.5 ish mark, which was over a long wooden bridge and I felt good, but looked at my watch and saw 20 or so minutes and knew I may not be under 40.

By 30 minutes, it was more of the same as I would be able to see Tim through the woods on some of the sections where the course switches back and forth right along itself, but I knew he was a minute + back just by the amount of trail between the sections... I started to ask folks who were in either skiing, snowshoeing with their dogs, or taking pictures, how much race was left when I passed by them... when I got to 32-33 minutes or so I did the same thing, and everyone said the same thing... 'about a mile'.  Sure, that was fine when someone said that to me at 32 minutes..but at 39 minutes when someone said that, I knew that I was pretty much on my own as far as figuring out how much race was really left.  I started to hurt pretty good as the distance and gear changing was beginning to wear on me...  When I got near the last road crossing, I asked a guy standing there about how much was left and I got the same answer 'maybe a mile or so'  :)....  But then going up and across the road, I recognized the course from my warmup and knew I had only a couple minutes left.  I started to hammer this section, which did have a decent little hill on it.  This section's footing seemed to be the best on the course and was super fast and packed.

I came down to the finish in 42:31 and was psyched to have been able to not only finish without any serious pain in my chest, but to also have out-dueled Tivo, who smoked me last week and is in phenomenal shape right now. Tim came in a couple minutes later and then Ross Krause behind him (which I was definitely picking for the top 3 before the race began...just maybe with Tim either winning or coming in 2nd).  High Schooler Connor Devine from NY was 4th in a very strong race and Wolfe-tracks was right behind him in 5th.  CMS Masters runner and race-addict John Pajer was a solid 7th place.

After the race, we changed into some drier clothes and Tim, John, and I headed up the auto road (which is the start of Curly's) on snowshoes for a cooldown.  We ran all the way to the top, where it cuts over to the trail that is the end stretch at the normal Turner Trail course, and then turned and came back down the auto road.  I bonked right at the end...great timing.  We grabbed some hot chocolate, soup, and snacks for the road, changed once again, and headed home.

A huge thanks to Beth and Brad for putting on a fantastic race.  It was perfect conditions and a great long, fast race....well worth the 3 hour drive....and thanks to Steve for convincing me to go, driving out, and having heated seats!

Also, I stole photos from Brad and Steve for this blog entry...

PlaceFirst NameAgeDurationPace
1JIM JOHNSON3300:42:317:52
2TIM VANORDEN4200:44:518:18
3ROSS KRAUSE3100:46:338:37
4CONNOR DEVINE1700:48:088:54
5STEVE WOLFE4600:48:358:59
6CHRIS TAFT4600:50:399:22
7JOHN PAJER4800:50:459:23
8RICHARD TEAL3200:51:279:31
9KEN CLARK4800:51:509:35
10ALAN BATES6200:53:579:59

62 Total Finishers.

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