Friday, March 18, 2011

US Snowshoe Nationals

This past weekend I closed out the snowshoe season by heading out to the US Snowshoe National Championship in Cable, WI.  This year, the race was held at Lakewoods Resort in Cable and I would be joined by CMS teammates Kevin Tilton and Tim VanOrden.  After racing the 50K just 6 days earlier, I was a little skeptical that I would be able to race an effective 10K on snowshoes, but I had already booked the trip and was determined to close out the season at the biggest dance that snowshoe racing has to offer.

K-Tilt and I headed down to Norwood, MA on Thursday night and stayed down at his wife's aunt and uncle's house and then caught the train into the airport in Boston on Friday morning.  We caught the same flight as the legendary Rich Busa and rolled into Minneapolis in time to meet up with Tivo who had flown in from White Plains.  From there, Tim, Kevin, and I got our rental car and headed up for the 3+ hour drive north, into northern Wisconsin.  Along the way, the snow cover on the side of the road, in the woods, and on the fields we drove through was less than ideal.  It almost looked like the conditions were going to be suspect, but we knew we had some ways to go and some elevation to gain, so we had hopes that the snow would be up where we were racing.  We drove straight up to the race site and got there just as the sun was going down.  One the way, we noticed how remote of an area this was and just how much of a problem deer were on the roads.  There had to have been 10 or so dead deer along the way plus many groups of live deer we spotted as we rolled north through farmlands and thick forest.  We even saw a random dog trying to drag a deer carcass along the side of the road.  Once we pulled into Lakewoods, we got on the snowshoes and headed out on the course to try to do at least some of it for our run.  We didn't use headlamps and pretty soon we were running in the pitch dark, but we did notice that most of the course we were running on was on a VERY hilly golf course and there wasn't any single track in sight.  It was all groomed trail.  We struggled to see the flags and make heads or tails of where the course went.  We did see that there were a few hills on the course that were crazy-steep.  A couple of them were so steep, I knew I'd need to put the hands out and grab the snow on the way up.  We did only a few miles, as it was now pitch dark, but we got a good idea of how the course was laid out and what the conditions were going to be like.  The course was completely snow covered but we knew that a couple of more warm days and it would start to show bare ground in spots.

After running/walking part of the course, we headed inside the lodge to scout the place out a bit and talk to some of the shoers that were already there registering and having dinner.  Then we headed back to the hotel, which was about 20 miles or so away from the race site.  In the morning, we were greeted with about 4 inches of fresh snow which had fallen in the area, making it a bit of a treacherous drive over to the race, but it filled in the course nicely and made the conditions close to perfect for a great, fast snowshoe race.  After registering (and getting #110 again, as I was #110 for the 50K just last weekend, and I got #112 at Boston) Tim, Kevin, and I headed out to do the rest of the course we hadn't seen the day before.  The course is essentially 2 sections, one of which you kind of do twice, but different paths over the same area. The first part of the course goes under the main road, in a tunnel, and puts you out in sprawling greens of the golf course, with some steep cart-path climbs and at least 3 substantial climbs that almost require you to reach out and climb with your hands.  The second part of the course features more of the same, just on the other side of the street, closest to the start/finish.  You also come through the start/finish one time in the middle of the race, splitting the first 6k with the last 4k (approx.).

We then made our way over to the race start for some last minute strides. There looked to be many quick guys at the race this year, including a stacked Atlas team with Michael Reneau, who has run 2:16 twice in the past 2 years for the marathon and is competing in the 2012 US Olympic Trials for the marathon.  The usuals, Scott Gall (also a US Olympic Trials competitor and many-time US National Team member snowshoer) and Greg Hexum (2x US National Champ) were also here.  Kelly Mortenson (12th at the 2000 US Marathon Trials) was here and is now 40, looping him in with Greg Hexum for the top master contender.  All 3 guys destroyed me last year, as did Jared Scott (Inov-8) who was also back this year.  Jeff Beck out of NY was back at the Nationals this year and he has had a great year so far.  He's been on the national team and I knew he'd be a contender up front.  Then there was Eric Hartmark, who is a 2:21 guy (he won the 2010 Exeter Marathon in RI) and a quick half-marathoner.  He was looking for a top finish and at this point, I was just hoping to maybe get one of these guys or at the very least, keep my arch-nemesis, Kevin Tilton close.  Kevin and I lined up right at the front and the race was underway.

(photo above by Adam Speer... couldn't find him online, hope he doesn't mind me using)...

Over 100 guys shot out immediately on the downhill start and I found myself immediately in the back of about 20 guys all fighting for position. It was a situation I had never been in in a snowshoe race except for Nationals last year.  I was basically all out and getting outrun by many guys in front, and getting pushed and stepped on by guys behind and around me.  It was a crazy start.  I tried desperately to get into a postion where I didn't get tripped up and didn't bother others around me, but it was tough with a little bit of loose snow and occasionally a breakthrough.

As the race stretched out a bit, it opened up slightly, but it was still a steady stream of packed runners, all going at sub 6 pace on snowshoes, up little steep inclines and down crazy descents, only to continue the cycle.  It was tough getting into a rhythm with all the ups and downs, but the good news (for me) is that it was fast running conditions.  Had it been a loose, wet, slow slog in the snow, it would have been a hell of a course.  Kevin and I ran side by side for the first mile or so, with him surging ahead on some spots, and then me passing by on others, but we both seemed to react to one another's move, as others stayed right with us.  We had talked a bit beforehand about what we should do and we both agreed that letting the race play out a bit in front, and then making a move later on and running a stronger second half was the best approach for this type of course...but we didn't want to let the race get away from us either.  That second point was in the back of my mind the whole time.  I got nervous after a mile or so and found myself stretching out a lead over Kevin and trying to separate myself from the few guys around us.  I could see the pack of Atlas guys and a couple other leaders up front, and started to pass a few guys here and there.

(photo left by Adam Speer... couldn't find him online, hope he doesn't mind me using)...

I got into a rhythm as the race stretched out even further and now I was passing a few more guys that had blown past me in the earlier part of the race.  I eventually caught and started running with Jared Scott and eventually both of us went back and forth a bit before he pulled slightly ahead. I would basically be running behind him most of the way now.  We both went by Kelly Mortenson on one of the steep climbs and Kelly seemed to be backing off a bit.  I knew he'd hang tough but I wanted to run my race and didn't think too much about it as I went past.

By the end of the first loop, I was running in 8th place (after passing Kelly) and now with the exception of the long, drawn out sections, I could only see Jared and one other Atlas guy who seemed to be coming back.  I was pretty sure I'd eventually pass him (Atlas guy) but knew we had half the race to go.  As I came down and under the road (tunnel), I noticed that Jared Scott has gone the wrong way.  There was a volunteer who wasn't in the road at that time, directing racers, and he blew right past the turn that went straight up a steep hill.  The Atlas runner went left and took over the lead that Jared had put on him.  When I saw Jared as I came out of the tunnel, he was running towards me in the wrong direction and was yelling (rightfully so) at the race volunteer to make sure to send people in the right way and pay attention.  He hit the hill right before I did and I didn't have a chance to go past him.  By the top, he pulled back ahead and was probably more determined now to catch back up to the guy he past and continue to race towards the leaders. I hit that climb and wiped out once on the way up, but managed to run fairly strong, as I was now only a few precious ticks up on Kevin and Kelly.

As the race wound up and down and around to the first loop past the start/finish area, I had a couple more steep ups to work and I worked them a bit harder than normal to try to stay in front of Kevin and Kelly who were working together.  I think for a brief time, Tivo was also up there, as was another Atlas runner.  I came down and through the start/finish maybe 10-15 seconds up on Kevin and started the second loop.  During this second section, I could see back a couple times and knew I had about 3 runners within striking distance of me but continued to open up a bit on Kevin, who had dropped the other 2 runners just a bit.  I worked the last set of hills and a couple of the long straight sections.  By one of the longer, steadier uphills, I glanced back and could no longer see Kevin's orange shirt on some sections, and knew I was putting distance on him late in the race, which is usually never the case.  I was also losing Jared Scott, but picking up the Atlas runner.  For a few minutes it looked like he was in trouble and coming back to me, but over the course of the last mile or so, he seemed to rebound and worked a couple of the uphills directly in front of me, as I kept seeing him looking back.  The looking back was giving me a false sense that he was hurting, but I think at that point he was just gauging his position and like me, he was pretty much in control of his place in the race.  It was about the time I realized that I wasn't going to catch him (as I started looking at my watch and figuring out that there was probably only a few minutes of racing left), that I started to realize that I was going to hold off the rest of the field.  Kevin was now the only guy I could see when I looked back, and that was only on the very long, straight sections.  I hit the last uphill and around a small area of add-on and down to the finish, finishing in 8th place overall.

I held 8th for probably close to 5 miles of the 10K, as most of the initial positioning was done in the first mile.  Kevin came down in 9th place, 42 seconds back, and Kelly was a ways behind him in 10th.  Tivo outkicked a surging Bob Bolton to take lucky 13th. The Atlas runner ahead of me was Randy Bill, who toyed with me for 4 or so miles but never let go of his position (other than letting Jared go by).  Jared ran a gutsy race, staying strong even though he was misdirected at halfway.  Jeff Beck killed it and edged out Greg Hexum by 10 seconds, but it was Reneau running in his 2nd ever snowshoe race, getting third, while Scott Gall and Eric Harmark had an epic battle up front, with Eric (even though he went the wrong way a couple times during the race) coming out on top with a National title.

Top 10 (plus CMS in blue)

1 Eric HartmarkMN41:41
2 Scott GallIA41:49
3 Michael ReneauOR42:18
4 Jeffrey BeckNY42:54
5 Greg HexumMN43:04
6 Jared ScottAZ43:10
7 Randy BillIA43:33
8 Jim JohnsonNH43:54
9 Kevin TiltonNH44:36
10 Kelly MortensonMN45:00
13 Tim Van OrdenVT46:06

114 total finishers (men).

About the top 10:

Eric Hartmark (MN) is a 2:21 marathoner / 1:06 half guy.
Scott Gall (IA)  41:49         (2:20 marathoner – 2000 Olympic Trials Marathon - 5 World Mountain teams)
Michael Reneau (OR)  42:18     (2:16 marathoner – running the 2012 Olympic Marathon trials)
Jeffrey Beck (NY)  42:54           (2x runner up at Nationals)
Greg Hexum (MN)  43:04      (2x US National Snowshoe Champ – NCAA XC All American D1)
Jared Scott (AZ)  43:10            (a couple 1:08 halfs in 2010 / 14:39 5k / Univ. of CO / 2:27 marathon)
Randy Bill (IA)  43:33 (2:26 at Boston Marathon last year)
Jim Johnson      (NH)  43:54     (me!)
Kevin Tilton     (NH)  44:36 (beats me all the time by just a few seconds in EVERYTHING)
Kelly Mortenson (MN)  45:00 (12th at 2000 Olympic Trials Marathon / 2:19 marathon / 1:05 half / 29:45 10k / 23:43 8k / 14:31 5k)

After the race, we changed up and headed out with some other folks to run over part of the course and video some of the women's race.  Amber Ferreira (NH - last year's winner) was there running against Brandy Erholtz (2009 National Champ).  We knew it was going to be a great race, and it turned out to be just that.

Some video I took of the Women's race:

Halfway point (approx):

2nd Half Footage:

More 2nd Half Footage:

The Last Hill:

Amber at the Finish:

After the race, we hung out for a while before heading down to the awards.   I won my age group, as the top 5 (who made the 'National Team' were excluded from age group winnings).  I got Gold in the 30-39 and had the podium all to myself, as the other two gentlemen were absent from the ceremony.

After the awards, we stayed at the lodge for some good ole' fashioned Wisconsin food & drink.  Kevin and I sampled some of the finer things like cheese curds and oatmeal stout.  Tim got a big salad.  We hung out for a while before heading down to the pasta dinner, which was a fun time with many of the WMAC / Dion folks in attendance.  Tim again had a salad and some weird piece of fruit that just made a big mess....essentially being difficult ;).  During dinner, they blew up a big balloon out on the lake, so I walked over and checked it out.  Videos Below:

Then it was upstairs at the lodge for some more beverages (Kevin was drinking me under the table) and some music.  We watched a bunch of people get down, as they had a DJ spinning the tunes.  It was a fun time for sure.  I think Tim just sat there playing with his Ipod.  I tried to get him to live on the wild side a bit and have a juice or a soda but he declined. He did drive Kevin and I home though, which was good.  I had the bright idea of hitting up Walmart on the way, for some snacks.  Below is visual evidence of what transpired after that....and yes, Kevin ate 5 out of 6 of those shortcake rolls in one sitting....he saved the last one until morning, showing some restraint and a glimmer of self control.

In the morning, we got up, kind of took our time getting ready, and headed out for a 4-5 mile run over the snowy streets around the Hayward, WI area near our hotel.  Tivo, Kevin, and I did a big loop through some farms and forest and just basically shook out the stiffness from the race.  We got back, showered, and hit the road for the 3 or so hour ride to the airport.  We took our time getting down there and stopped a couple times to eat and to take pictures (Kevin has good ones) of a massive bald eagle eating a dead deer on the side of the road.  Very interesting sight to see.   We got to the airport and realized as we were on the tram going to the gate, that we were late.  Kevin and I rushed over to the counter and tried to check in but we missed it by 7 or so minutes.  It was an awful feeling.  We tried to wheel and deal but they weren't doing anything for us.  They sent us up to general ticketing and they were no help either.  They had 1 seat and that was for a later evening flight that was going to be about 800 dollars one way.  I don't even think that was guaranteed.  I tried to look up flights for other carriers and the only thing I was finding was $400+ one way tickets (at the last minute they screw you) and those were flights that were very late leaving MN and had stops, arriving in Boston in the afternoon on Monday.  I had the idea of just renting a car and driving it.  We could leave immediately, and be back in Boston at roughly the same time as these later flights on Monday.  Kevin agreed to it and we headed down to secure a one-way rental from Minnesota to Massachusetts.  The people at the counter thought we were nuts, but we got a nice Ford Focus and hit the road for what would be a day-long odyssey home.

I hit the first shift of 4-5 hours or so and then switched back and forth with Kevin as we drove from Minnesota, across Wisconsin, through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and then into Massachusetts.  Non-stop, with only gassing up and food/bathroom breaks.  Neither one of us slept, as we figured it would be best to have 2 eyes on the road at all times.  We got slightly off course in Chicago (thanks Kevin!)... It snowed and was icy through Ohio, which slowed us down, and it snowed in NY/MA, but just flurries.  Somewhere around Buffalo, NY I noticed that the GPS indicated that we'd be home at 3:47pm (estimated arrival time in Boston).  I rented the car with a one-day rental at 3:40pm in MN.  Even with the time change, they consider it one day for 3:40-3:40.  If I returned it later, I'd be charged an extra day.  I called from the road and the customer service rep said they offered a 29 minute grace period, but I wanted to get the car back without having to dip into the grace period.  I got behind the wheel and hammered all the way across NY state.  Kevin was my eyes upfront and behind, constantly keeping an eye out for police and speedtraps.  We got into MA on the Pike and had flurries and steady traffic to deal with, but I kept it about 10 mph over the speed limit average and we slowly clicked off the minutes on the GPS. By the time we got into Boston and weaved through the airport, we had 4 minutes to spare.  I pulled the car into the lot at Logan at 3:36pm.  The guy scanned it in, and we had done it.  1 day to go 1400 miles.  No sleep, no stayover, one in-car bathroom break (thank God for Gatorade bottles), and lots of dozing off...but we got it done.

We capped the day off with a ride back on the Silver Line and then Commuter Rail back down into Norwood, for a couple of block walk back to Kevin's aunt's house.   We loaded up Kevin's car and headed back up north in NH, which would be our 9th state of the last 24 hours.  We stopped once for some grub and then I was finally dropped off at about 7pm EST.  A long trip for sure, and our version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles....

Here's to next year, as we will travel to Frisco, Colorado for the 2012 Nationals.  I hope we don't have to drive back from that one!

...and yes, that is an Arby's cup in Kevin's hand.  We both ate like fat kids this weekend and it took me a couple of days to not only catch up with my sleep, but also to shave off the extra lbs. from a weekend of eating in Wisconsin.  They put cheese in everything.  Even the cheese has extra cheese in it!

Now onto the New Bedford Half Marathon this weekend, where I will begin my season of running like crap on the roads because I am over-raced... who's with me?


  1. Sounds miserable, but you guys are alive to tell about it!! Nice Work!

  2. Wowza..that's CRAZY! I've done a few snowshoe races but nothing like that. Well done and congratulations.