Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Race

On Saturday I headed up to North Conway, NH to run the Kevin Tilton production of the Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble (results).  This was a 4 mile trackmeet of a snowshoe race and was Kevin's first snowshoe race as a Race Director.  It is also the second race in the 2011 Granite State Snowshoe Series.  It was held right in downtown North Conway (if there is such a thing) in Whitaker Woods, which has a great combination of groomed ski trails and winding single track (about 3 miles of groomed trails and 1 mile of single track).

I motored on up there in just a couple of hours and was pleased to see some indoor facilities, as it was about 6 degrees out.  More and more usual suspects including a large TNT contingent and the obvious Acidotic crew were in attendance.  This included new Acidotic stud Judson Cake, who has ripped numerous quick marathons under 2:25 including a 2:22 effort at Hyannis last year.  He is getting ready for a big comeback in the snowshoe/trail/mountain scene and will be a force for sure.  Acidotic also picked up another elite guy recently, in Ryan Kelly, and with CMS/Acidotic crossover Tim Cox and Geoff "I actually didn't have to work today" Cunningham both there, it was making me think this could and should be a solid field with anyone contending for podium spots...Couple all this with Kevin Tilton racing as well, and it was anyone's race.  We warmed up with a good crew of guys over the course and realized it was going to be pretty darn fast, with all the groomed trail. Kevin definitely picked out a race that suited my strengths (thanks Kev!).

As the race begun, it was apparent that there were a lot of pretty fast guys here and everyone jumped out pretty good off the line.  I struggled for a few seconds to get my position and clipped a couple of heels, but I finally broke free of being boxed in off the start and moved up to the front.  I turned around and asked the field if anyone was interested in calling it a 6-way tie right away, but I'm lucky there were no takers, but I did get a couple of chuckles.  I continued to press on, with what sounded like Kevin right on my heels.  It didn't take long (maybe even before the start of the first climb) before I started to break free from the field.  As I took the first climb, I opened up a little bit of a lead and started to look back to see who was next.  Expecting to see Kevin, I was surprised to see Judson Cake next in line on the start of the climb and Kevin behind him.  I continued to push forward and felt pretty strong on the climbs, but wasn't killing it early because I wasn't familiar with the later parts of the course.

Eventually, the climbing is over and on the way down the groomed ski trail, you get to see a phenomenal view of snowcovered Mt. Washington right before you quickly dart left into the single track section.  This section was relatively fast and the single track really was kind of more double-track than anything.  The snow was a little loose and sloppy but not bad and there was enough tracks in the snow most times, to be able to settle in and still maintain.  There were mile markers out there, but I missed the first couple.  I was too busy worrying about Kevin and Judson and a slew of other guys in the field to try to get splits.  The course went in and out of groomed trails and single track but was a great mix and made for a very interesting race.  There was a second batch of climbs and then mostly rolling downs and single track.  I continued to glance back and got to a point where I could no longer see anyone behind me.  There were a couple of spots where I started to go the wrong way, getting a little confused with a couple of flaggings that I missed, but I quickly realized after only a few seconds of each mistake, that I was off course.  Surprisingly, I did this in two spots pretty early in the race, where luckily right after you go wrong, you realize it because there are no longer any course markings.  A bunch of people went wrong, later in the race, on more confusing parts of the course.

At one point along the power lines, I came out, down a good, fast descent on groomed trail and then switched back and started running up against the same trail, with only a thin barrier of trees between the two.  Thin enough to see right through and find out how far back people were.  Towards the end of the trail, right before it hooks back into another section of single track, I saw Kevin appear from the other side along with Judson right on his heels.  It seemed like enough distance back, as the switchback section is a long way down and back up.  Over the last stretch of the course, it switches between single track and groomed trail and each time I was back on the single track I'd get a great feeling of strong and confident running...but that quickly went away each time I turned onto the sloppy single track.  Fortunately the last bit of single track is the fastest of the day and nicely packed down.  I eventually came up past a sign that said '1/2 mile to go' and then some people taking pictures and skiing.  I knew I was close.  I came out onto the field and got confused for a few seconds on where to go, but quickly kept saying to myself, as I had the whole race, that the 'flags were always on the left' I started the last big loop around the field and finished up strong in 26:53, which is a great effort for this rolling 4 mile course in close to single digit temps.  Judson Cake and Kevin both emerged from the woods fairly close to each other and once again, for the second week in a row, Kevin was outdueled by his nearest competitor by 9 seconds, as Judson was able to hold him off for 2nd.

Top 10 (CMS in blue):

Place First Last Age Club Time
1 Jim Johnson 33 CMS/Inov8/Dion 26:53
2 Judson Cake 33 Acidotic 28:00
3 Kevin Tilton 29 CMS/Inov8/Dion 28:09
4 Tim Cox 37 Acidotic 28:51
5 Ryan Kelly 29 Acidotic 29:29
6 Dave Dunham 46 CMS 29:39
7 Sean Snow 44 29:59
8 Danny Ferreira 28 Acidotic 30:10
9 Robert Jackman 28 TNT 30:21
10 Scott Hornney 45 30:48

49 Total brave souls...

After the race was done, we all changed and a big group of us including DD, Judson, Tim Cox, Paul Bazanchuk, and Geoff Cunningham all did the course one last time, picking up the flags and ribbons for Kevin.

For my win, I got a $25 gift card to Kevin's personal hangout (Moat Mountain) and a nifty snow-conditions measuring device that his wife Jess made.  Pretty sweet (check it out below)...

Race photos by Gianina Lindsey can be seen here. I used some of these great photos from her photo set in the above entry.


  1. Jim,

    Congrats on a great snowshoe race! The story was the lead in our local paper. A few more photos are posted here:


  2. Thanks Darin! Sorry to hear about your track mishap...I hope you are recovering...I read that blog entry about dartmouth and felt for ya...

    I saw the article today..great stuff! NH Chronicle will be at Sidehiller this weekend...