Monday, February 28, 2011

Moody Spring Snowshoe Race

This past weekend saw my last snowshoe double of the year.  It was a mix of good times and bad.

Because it is fresh in my mind, I wrote the Sunday writeup first. I'm doing this out of order, but here's the Moody Spring race report...

Sunday: Moody Springs Snowshoe Race (results) - West Hawley, MA

3 miles worth of ridiculous conditions is all it took to sink my weekend.  I have to say before all the comments come raining down in disagreement, etc., that this is a reaction to what I consider fun and interesting (and then what I don't), therefor there is no way this is a topic for 'debate' as far as I'm concerned. I know what I like and don't like when it comes to racing.  Pretty simple.  Whether others feel differently is fine, but considering this is my reaction and description of my own personal experience with the race, I feel I should be honest and forthcoming with the information as I see it.  Again, I am not setting this up as a topic of debate.  Discussion, maybe, but there is no debating personal taste or what one finds enjoyable, fun, and safe as far as I can tell.

First and foremost, I have to say that my experience w/ the WMAC since my first race back in 2008 has been nothing short of fantastic. The organization, race directors, members, races, locations, and everything else about it is just awesome. Great folks, great times, memorable experiences.  They put on or support/include fantastic trail and snowshoe races in 5 states and I've done a WMAC race in all 5 of those states.  Most recently, there was Sunday's race out at Moody Spring in West Hawley, MA.  Race director Ed Alibozek is one of my favorite RD's and one of the nicest men you'll ever meet.  He's always got a smile on his face, always got positive energy, and is one of the most selfless people you'll ever come across.  The same holds true for the Herders (Brad and Beth), who are just fantastic folks to interact with and run with.  It is the people involved with the WMAC that make the usually 2-3+ hour drives worthwhile for me.

That said, I am the kind of guy I guess that doesn't particularly like what some experienced snowshoers call 'old time snowshoeing' or 'old school' or 'classic' or whatever (I'm finding out that this race was one of those 'old time' races).  I guess I love snowshoe 'running', when it is mostly made up of just that...running.  My preference (again, so no room for real hot debate here) is the faster courses with packed trail, groomed trail, ice, etc.  I've never been one for deep, untracked powder. In fact I really hate it and consider it to be the furthest thing from fun I can think of when trying to 'run' a race.  I've always been a little weak at climbing steep hills, mountains, etc.  It is my weakest part of races, but I do them because I find the challenge and experience very difficult.  It is something I want to get better at, so I continue to do it, even when there are others like a Kevin Tilton or Dave Dunham who are just naturally way better than I at climbing, and really take it to me on those hills.  But when conditions make it so that the running stops being fun and safe (at least for me), that's when I start to get turned off a little bit.  There have been a lot of WMAC races this year that have featured some very deep powder, virtually untracked trails, and sections of ups/downs/and flats that were borderline un-runnable ( because of the trail conditions) for the lead runners (which I still usually am).  Fortunately I missed a lot of those races and was thankful because I just don't enjoy them.  Simple as that.  It's not that I don't enjoy when I don't win races...on the contrary...I absolutely loved Northfield on Saturday and didn't win it.  I had a blast at Granite State Champs last year and tied.  I had a great time at Madbury this year and got 2nd.  It's that I don't enjoy the whole notion of having a section of course (or entire race) where everyone is in a line of essentially walking or powerhiking/falling down right behind each other.  To me, that's just not what I enjoy.  I'm not calling it anything other than what it is though.  It's still snowshoe racing.  I get it.  But it's not the 'kind' of snowshoe racing I remotely even enjoy to be completely honest.   It's the same sport as a race like Horsehill, where the entire race was runnable at under 7 minute pace. I get that.  But I also have my preferences, as do the folks who like the slower, longer, tougher climb types of races vs the faster, flatter, shorter races (which I simply enjoy more).  I like being able to run a race without an external factor like over the top snow conditions, making it essentially a contest of 'who is going to wreck themselves the least'.  If I had run my tail off  yesterday and got 10th, but I didn't fall 20 times, pull my hamstring, and continuously have to pick myself up off the ground every 2 minutes, I would have been fine with it.  But Moody Spring was just one of those days I didn't enjoy because of the middle 3 miles.  Not only did it not suite my strengths or likes, but it ended up getting me injured which is not what I expect from these events.  Again it has nothing at all to do with the people involved or anything else other than my ability to run in conditions like that and my preference of race course.

The race went off and I did my usual thing of going out and running my own race, but I wasn't killing it, knowing that it was 5.6 miles, there was a lot of fresh snow, and RD Ed had told us right before the start to 'pay attention to the way out because you drop a lot and have to come back up to finish'.  I kept that in the back of my mind and didn't waste too too much energy on the first section.

By about 1.5 miles in I had good lead over a VERY good field of runners and it would have just kept building if my type of course lay ahead, but alas it did not.  I hit the single track section of essentially a deep snow walk (for the first person in the lead).  There was one set of prints in the snow and they were from Ed flagging the course.  His walking stride did not match my running stride and therefor it was not possible for me to run without constantly falling down or having to walk.  So what happened next? Of course the entire field catches up and is able to match my new steps enough to run me down.  Not my favorite situation but again, I get it. I understand that this too is snowshoe racing.  I led for a bit before pulling over and letting Brian Rusiecki (a far superior trail/ultra runner than I) go by me.  Right behind Brian was Chris Hayhurst and then Chris Taft and Tim Mahoney.

I popped right back behind Brian though and he graciously started breaking trail.  He had fallen a couple times behind me before I let him around, so I knew he was having an equally tough time.  He didn't mind taking the lead so I let him go on by and then got in his tracks for a while.  But then we hit some climbing (aka powerhiking / face planting) and I pulled over again and let Tim Mahoney, Chris Taft, and Chris Hayhurst by.  I was about at the point where I was tempted to take my snowshoes off and call it a day.  I was falling on my face non stop.  It must be my stride or something, but I was just going down at a much higher rate than the other guys around me, even in their footsteps.   I would see all of them wipe out multiple times as well, but I was just having the worst time of my snowshoe career out there and it was getting progressively worse with my calf now starting to get tight.  As I continued to fall down, my hands and arms (with only one thin layer) were getting constantly soaked and cold as I drove them deep into the snow each time.  Soon my fingers (smallest two on my left hand specifically) were numb and killing me.  My elbows and forearms were tingling and starting to bother me.  I was blowing into my hand as I was trying to stay on my feet and just push forward, but it was not getting any better.

Dave Dunham and Tim VanOrden started to catch me and were pretty soon right behind me as I kept falling down.  Then, somewhere around maybe 3.5 miles or so, I stepped in a huge hole, tried to pop out, and pulled my hamstring.  That was it.  I was screaming in pain with every other step.  I managed to get to the road section in 5th place and started to run as hard as I could (after wiping out right before the groomed snowmobile section started) with my hamstring and calf just completely wrecked.  I was yelling all sorts of expletives by this point and feel bad about that, but it was just so frustrating for me.  If I wasn't falling down constantly, I wouldn't have been 'frustrated', just disappointed that I couldn't keep up with the guys up front.  But the constant falling down I cannot tolerate.  I was able to catch Tim Mahoney and Chris Taft (barely) on the last section, but there just wasn't enough race left to catch Brian and Chris Hayhurst, who were running VERY strong and fast on the last section and powered their way to a virtual tie.  I was able to squeak out a third place and was very lucky to even have finished the race on two feet to be honest.

I immediately went over to the registration area and inside where I sat in front of the fireplace, shivering and soaked and really concerned about my hamstring.  I think I made the mistake of standing in front of the fireplace too long and not changing out of my wet clothes fast enough.  I stood/sat in front for over an hour, drying off and warming up.  Ross Krauss and Ed had given me some jackets and both were very helpful, getting me my stuff, helping me get warm, etc.  I think London Niles' dad was also helping me get my shoes off.  Again, a example of great, helpful folks who really care.  I was very grateful to have all of them there helping me.

Once I got warm enough, I changed, gathered my things, and headed back to the car where I continued to work on my hamstring as I gave Dave and Tim a ride back to the hotel, about 40 minutes away.  From there, it was a 2 hour ride home on Route 2, which is like a sedative.  I was falling asleep the whole way and was very thankful to have gotten home in one piece.

As I type this now (Monday afternoon), my fingers and arms are still numb. They were so bad last night (12 hours after the race) that Kristin had helped me get ready to go to the hospital, as I thought I might have something seriously wrong.  It was getting progressively worse.  This morning it is slightly better, but I still have two arms and some fingers that feel like they are constantly asleep.

Now I look towards potentially missing a race this weekend but I'm not sure.  I am going to try out some easy running this week (short days) and see where I'm at before making a decision.  My WMAC season is over as far as snowshoeing goes.  I was going to try to go for one more race on Saturday (because I'm still seeking a 6th win) but I am going to pass.  Congrats to Tivo for winning the 2011 WMAC series...he ran awesome this year and is in great shape for Nationals.  I hope I can be 100% by then.

Below are from the set of photos from Bob Birkby (who was there to hear my in-race rant firsthand).  I feel bad about the attitude I displayed after wiping out here and my barrage of comments and explatives I let out as I spit snow out of my mouth, but my frustrations had boiled over.  He was there just in time to see this beautiful display of 'racing'.  Note, this isn't even a deep snow section. This is right before the groomed trail near the last 1.5 miles.  I was actually wiping out in GOOD sections of this course.  The first photo is the face of a guy who has a busted hammy and 1.5 miles of snowshoe racing left.  The second photo is a classic shot of the view I had for most of the race.


  1. Jim - This is how I feel at MOST snowshoe races. No worries. NB is right around the corner and you'll crank it as usual!

  2. It's your rant so I'll let you run with it. I will add one thing: we are fortunate to run on some of the nicest courses you'll find anywhere. Awesome locations, terrain, etc.. The one thing that can't be controlled are the conditions. That's one of the unique things about this sport. The same course, year to year can change drastically based on conditions.
    With all that being said, I laughed out loud when I saw the sequence of pictures of you falling down. The second picture is priceless :-)

  3. Mike, thanks...hopefully I'll be ok by then.

    Steve, you're right. I neglected to say that I thought the woods and and location for the Moody race was awesome. If the conditions in the middle were like any of the NH races have been, I would have loved this course, regardless of results...but the middle was unlike any race I've done this year other than a small section of Greylock (in the field). That said, you're right about the conditions, just not my cup of tea when they get like this.

    Side note, anyone else have lingering numbness and sensitivity from being cold, 1 full day after a race? I'm beginning to think I have another issue going on with my arms and hands.

  4. Like I'm fond of saying to Terry,
    "I know what I like but more importantly I know what I don't like."

    Take care of your leg.

    I spent my early 30's working outside all winter and never experience the post exposure numbness you're describe. However the long term effect is that at 56 my fingers go numb long before it gets to freezing.


  5. Thanks Paul. I wonder if I stood too long in front of the fire. I stood there with my arms exposed to that heat for a long time....I am thinking I may have done something in that respect...a combination of freezing arms/hands/fingers and then standing there with them literally in the fire for an hour...

  6. JJ, I agree with Paul in that i know what i don't like.

    I fell so many times at Exeter, that it took 2 days for that tinglely feeling to go away. Rest up for Nationals.


  7. Yup. That's why you call it DoubleJRunning not DoubleJFacePlanting.

    JJ ... here's a link to some info on about finger numbness due to cold. If this article isn't helpful, then check out the links on the right hand side of the page about midway down.

    Hope your hammy's better and your numbness clears!

  8. JJ,

    I looked around a bit more and it looks to me like you have symptoms of frostnip - not frostbite, but frostnip. Most info I saw online said to see a doc if it hasn't cleared up in a few days - just to be safe.

  9. Thanks Michael. I actually am going to see the Dr. tomorrow for an unrelated issue unfortunately...if it's still lingering, I'll ask about it. Thanks for the info!

  10. JJ,

    I agree that the race was brutal, especially after Saturday's effort at Northfield.

    I had some numbness in a couple of my toes that subsided after a few hours.

    Let us know how the doctor visit goes.

    Good Luck,
    Rich Teal

  11. Hey JJ,
    Sounds like a tough one. I can understand your frustrations and they sound valid to me. I hate fast race courses. That's my deal. So we both have the right to dislike what we dislike. I've been enjoying your blog. I have worked and exercised outside all my life and have bad winter numbness issues with my fingers. Although my numbness and loss of color last for hours, I have never had it linger into the next day. Hope the hamstring and numbness clears up soon.


  12. Thanks Rich. It seems to be getting better...slowly though.

    Jason, thanks for checkin' in man...thanks for the feedback. Will we see you at the hill this summer?