Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Horsehill 7K and the Bear Paw Classic

This past weekend was my 4th weekend of the year in which I doubled, but the 3rd overall snowshoe-double of the year.  This weekend I again turned my focus on the Granite State Snowshoe Series in NH and ran 2 races that were each about 40 miles or so from my house.  A lot easier on the gas tank for sure, as the WMAC races are usually at least 2-3 hours away from me.

Saturday - I headed back over to Merrimack, NH and the Horsehill Nature Preserve for the Horsehill Snowshoe Race (results) put on by Mike Amarello and his 3CRaceProductions crew.  It's the third year in a row I've done this race and this would be another opportunity I'd have at 'three-peating' (winning this race all three years I've run it).  Two years ago, the snow conditions were good and the race was a good mix of singletrack and packed snowmobile trails.  Last year, it was a similar course w/ some modifications due to the lack of snow in the area and in the reserve.   This year, there was certainly plenty of snow but the course was further modified to make it 4.56 miles of great single track and wide packed trails.

I got to the race nice and early (but it was a rather late 11:30am start) to make sure I got a parking spot in the rather small lot at the reserve. Not too soon after I arrived, did I spot the usual GSSS competitors rolling in that included a car full of TNT runners as well as the usual acidotic guys who are always up front.  Judson Cake had driven something like a gazillion hours from Bar Harbor, ME to run this race, as well as Ryan Kelly who was 'relatively' fresh after ONLY swimming the morning of and not actually doing any ski races (like he did right before Exeter).  Tim Cox was also in the house, as well as DD who rolled in just after I got there. It was looking like a great crew of competitors and the conditions were looking to be super fast.  I warmed up over the entire course w/ DD and we both just wore our regular trail shoes with some assistance (I threw on my Yaktrax and DD had his crampons).  We didn't punch through once, as the entire course (with the exception of one small bushwhack section that was added for flavor) was super packed, icey, and fast!  We completed the course in about 45 minutes and got back just in time to change, strap on the Dions, and get over to the start for some last minute strides and snowshoe running before the race began.

As the gun went off, Judson Cake moved out and dove into an all out sprint or close to it (see the progression of this trackmeet in the photoset here).  I matched him stride for stride along the wide access road that goes into the reserve.  It was pretty packed and fast, and allowed for us to pretty much go as hard as we wanted to for the 300 meters or so before you hit the first single track section to the left.  As Judson and I were both sprinting side by side, I began to wonder if he was really going for it today and wanted to hit the single track first to dictate the pace of the race.  It was going to be interesting if that was the case, as I haven't had that happen to me yet at a race this year. Sure, I've been passed, but that's later in the race...This time, he was going for the lead early, and it was something I wasn't anticipating ahead of time.  I matched the strides up the first little incline and just as I could see the turn onto the single track, I felt him let up just a little bit.  He was going to let me duck into the single track first and I was very appreciative of that.  I knew he could absolutely pass me anywhere else on the course, but he was going to let me lead early on the single track and see what would happen, so I gladly ducked in just ahead and wound down to the first real climb up the steep, wide section of trail that you'd later be bombing down when running back to the finish.  By the time I got to the top of that climb and to the first intersection that goes down to the switchbacks, I had put a little bit of a lead on him and was surprised at how early it actually was...but looking back on it now, I know that if that climb wasn't there so early in the race, it would have been a different story.

I flew down the twisty single track and switchback section and continued to put a little distance on the field.  The course constantly cuts back and forth, crosses other trails, and has small ups and downs that really keep you from settling into any sort of good pace.  It was really fast as far as conditions go, but constant terrain change was making it very interesting and fun for sure.

By the time I got out onto the open powerline section, I had a sizable lead and could no longer see anyone behind me when I would occasionally glance back.  I was having zero problems with footing and was running a near flawless race as far as snowshoeing goes.  I felt pretty strong and hit the bushwhack section that was put in for no reason other than to make it interesting.  You are on a nice, packed snowmobile trail and then they cut you to the right suddenly, onto essentially uncharted trail that was only shoed by one person (presumably Wolfey) when flagging the course.   You could have easily just continued straight on the snowmobile course, but the detour was put there and it definitely slowed everything to a crawl.  I hit this section and started to punch through everywhere.  It was very slow but not very long. It probably took a minute and a half or so to run the whole thing.  It dumps back onto snowmobile trail again, only about 30-40 yards down from where you turned off.  As I moved back onto the snowmobile trail, I turned to my left and saw Judson just about to turn onto the addon section.  I knew I had maybe a minute or so on him if I was lucky.  But right after that section the course turns and heads up the steepest climb of the race.  Two pretty good challenges, one right after the other.

As I started the climb up the steep (but wide) trail I began to really feel it for the first time all day.  The footing was pretty good, but I was laboring.  Near the top, I had to powerhike a little, as the grade suddenly turned to 45% or more.  It was just shy of being too steep to actually go up without worrying about slipping back down.  Once at the top of that climb, there are some more double-wide sections for a bit before you hit the last section of single-track switchback to the top.  I hit the single-track section and started the winding switchbacks up the side of the last hill and could now look back and occasionally see the runners behind me.  It took a bit, but I saw Judson on one of the turns and knew roughly how far ahead I was.  I then noticed on one of the last turns, that Ryan Kelly was actually ahead of him and I had missed him as I was looking back through the woods on the switchback sections.

Eventually I crested the top of the hill and hit the last intersection that turned back onto the last part of the course which is all essentially downhill.  There is one great, fast descent down the first hill you actually come up at the beginning.  Then, it is double track and wider all the way to the finish.  I came down through in 30:47 and felt nice and strong for most of the way.  Ryan ran very well, edging out Judson for 2nd place and Judson was not too far behind in 3rd.  Tim Cox ran a great race despite having major technical problems with his snowshoes, which certainly cost him a lot of time.  He was the latest victim of the velcro getting snow packed and the straps essentially became unusable when he had to stop for an adjustment.  Also, the cleats sliced right through one of his bindings, basically making his foot almost detached from the snowshoe.  After seeing his shoes after the race, I can't believe he was able to finish.  DD rounded out the top 5 in a very competitive field.

Top 10 (CMS in Blue)

1Jim Johnson        33Salem NH       CMS       30:477:05
2Ryan Kelly         29Concord NH     ACIDOTIC       32:167:25
3Judson Cake        33Bar Harbor ME  ACIDOTIC       32:457:32
4Tim Cox            37Northwood NH   ACIDOTIC/CMS       33:367:44
5Dave Dunham        46Bradford MA    CMS       34:137:52
6Ryan Welts         30Glastonbury CT ACIDOTIC       34:478:00
7David Principe Sr  44Cranston RI    TNT 35:458:13
8Steve Wolfe        46Merrimack NH   ACIDOTIC       36:018:17
9Chris Dunn         42Strafford NH   ACIDOTIC       36:158:20
10Amber Ferreira    28 Concord NH ACIDOTIC      36:358:25

88 Total Finishers.

After the race I (along with a few others) was interviewed by New Hampshire Public Radio.  I'm not sure when it will air, but the guy said he would let the RD or someone know beforehand.

For the win, I got my pick from of a bunch of swag that Mike had on the table.  There was a book, 2 different 3C hats, a subscription to Trail Runner Magazine, a couple of water bottles, and a pair of Microspikes.  Now, obviously the best thing there was the Microspikes, but they were a small. Also, I already have 2 pairs of these (I used to have 3 actually).  So, I let Amber take those and I was to pick from the rest of the table.  I already had the book (won it at another 3C race), I already had both of the hats (actually have 2 of each of them already), and I already have a subscription to Trail Runner, so it was the 3C water bottle I took.  I've been holding out on taking that in the past because I have 16 million water bottles at home, but now I have a 3C one :).  Also, I won a sweet Horsehill pint glass (I already have a couple, but you can never have too many of those).  I then got another one in the raffle.  That, plus the t-shirt (longsleeve) and the free entry for winning the GSSS series last year, made it a worthwhile day for sure.  Fun event, well organized, great course, well marked, and looking forward to next year already.

Photoset by Gianina Lindsey (and photos used here by Gianina and Bob Jackman).

Sunday - On Sunday I headed north a bit to Northwood, NH for the Bear Paw Classic (results) held up at Coe Brown Northwood Academy.  The race was put on by Madison Dunn as a class project and held in the woods just behind the track.  The course was a great mix of athletic field, double track, single track, and snowmobile trail.  You also had a couple of different snow conditions to deal with, as some of the single track and snowmobile trail were hardpacked and fast, and most of the fields and double wide trails were all loose sugary snow, which made for a very tough slog.

After warming up w/ DD over the first part of the course, which started on the field and wound around a large loop of semi-loose sugary snow covering a narrow forest road, I got my snowshoes on and headed over to the starting area again for some strides.  I was feeling OK and not really nervous or concerned about being tired as much as I was nervous for having some company for the whole race (as Tivo is experiencing some career-best fitness right now).  

After some words of wisdom from Chris and Madison, we were off.  I went out to the front in far less chaotic fashion than I did at Horsehill, and settled into a nice and steady rhythm with Tivo right behind. He let me lead the first part and I wasn't going to go crazy here.  The snow was very loose but not deep. It was loose enough to make it slow and a tough grind, but not loose enough to completely drain your energy for the remainder of the course.  After completing the first loop, you come back out onto the field and past the start for the first time.  The climb up to the field is a short but steep climb up and this is about where I put just a little bit of distance on Tim.  He stayed right on my heels for most of the first loop and as I came up through the field area, I started to hear his footfalls get quieter as he was now 20-30 or so feet back.

On the second loop through, the course makes its way to the right at the split (instead of the loop back to the field) and it turns into single track.  To my absolute delight, the single track was lightning fast.  It was packed solid and not one loose bit of snow to be found.  It was tight and narrow, but solid enough to completely rock on.  I was essentially going at road 5k pace on this section and was putting distance on Tim, as I would look back and barely see his bright orange vest on some of the turns.  This section had very little uphill spots and a lot of down.  It eventually makes its way down and out to a snowmobile trail that was nicely groomed and ran along some powerlines that featured the only substantial climbing of the day.

As I hit the climbs along the powerlines, I would occasionally glance back and make out Tim's orange vest and knew I had put some good distance on him in the single track. My plan was just that, as I know he can outclimb me on the hills for sure.  He's a much stronger climber and I wanted to have a sizable lead by this point in the course, but really didn't think I'd actually have one.  On each crest of the climb (there were 3 or 4 separate climbs that made up this stretch of course), I'd look back and see that Tim was gaining just a little each time.  Fortunately for me, the snow was packed solid from the snowmobiles (one of which passed me halfway up) and the climb wasn't super steep, so there would be no reason for me to do any powerhiking on this course.  I got to the top and the course ducked back into a very short single track section before coming back out to the intersection that begins the last loop back through the sugary loose snow and back up to the finish area.

On this last loop, I just tried to not lose enough time to get passed. I felt like I was really dogging it on this last section.  It was very slow moving and there was no stretches at all where you could actually get up a good rhythm.  It was all loose and heavy snow that just slowed the pace down by an enormous margin compared to the rest of the course.  Fortunately it is not too long of a loop and I was able to pop back up into the field and try to power towards the line for my second win of the weekend.

As I approached the finish line I noticed that there wasn't a soul around.  There were a couple of women behind the concession stand, watching their kids play in the snow, but there was no timing people or race officials or announcers or fans or television crews or photographers or fanfare of any kind.... there was just me and the finish line and the clock.  I came through and stopped my watch and stood there for a little bit.  Then Mike Amarello appeared from a door on the side of the concession stand and my only thought was that he was taking care of his business in there (nature calls) and wasn't expecting me to finish in that short amount of time he was in the john.  He looked shocked when he saw me and came running up and wrote down my time and was now ready for Tivo to come running across the line.  Tim came through in a solid time and was approaching 2 minutes up on DD who came through in 3rd for a clean CMS sweep of the podium spots.

Top 10 (CMS in Blue)

1Jim Johnson     33Salem NH          CMS 25:49
2Tim Van Orden   42Bennington VT     CMS27:16
3Dave Dunham     46Bradford MA       CMS  29:02
4Ryan Welts      30Glastonbury CT    ACIDOTIC     30:37
5Chris Dunn      42Strafford NH      ACIDOTIC     31:28
6Steve Wolfe     46Merrimack NH      ACIDOTIC     31:31
7Eddie Habeck    33Williamstown VT                      33:20
8Chris Benson    41Rochester NH      ACIDOTIC     34:29
9Daniel Dion     25Dover NH                             34:37
10Kristina Folcik 33Glastonbury CT SHENIPSIT STRIDERS 34:43

45 Total Finishers.

For my victory, I got a cool hand painted wooden plaque and a loaf of bread that Madison made.  I actually took two, as DD left before getting his 3rd place loaf.  That's what you get for screwing out of there early, before the awards!

Photoset and photos used in this entry by Karen Dunn.

Cool video of the start:

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