Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saturday - 1-26-2013 - Sidehiller Snowshoe Race

Saturday was race #3 in the 2013 Granite State Snowshoe Series. The Sidehiller Snowshoe Race (results) is held beautiful in Center Sandwich, NH.  This was the 7th Annual race (although there were no races held in 2006 or 2012 due to the lack of snow), making it the longest running snowshoe race in the state of New Hampshire.  The Sandwich Sidehillers are a snowmobile and trail club that hosts the race put on by Race Director Paul Kirsch and the White Mountain Milers. The Sidehillers shovel snow onto the street so that racers can cross to the other side from the fairgrounds and dip into the woods for the second portion of the race. The race is also notable for being one of the USSSA National Qualifying races for the Northeast.  Lastly, this race is notorious for belonging to Kevin Tilton, who wins this race just about every year. Kevin has won 5 out of the 6 races leading up to this weekend's race (and those 5 wins were consecutive).  I have had the pleasure of having him beat me 3 of those 5 years (2x second place finishes and 1x third place finish). The race course has also been different 3 of the 4 years I've run it, as Paul has had to compensate for certain weather conditions over the years.  The local landowners have been very generous in letting the race go across many open fields and through some single track that are all on private property. It's become a tradition in Center Sandwich and brings 100 or so folks into an otherwise quiet little town in late January.  It all culminates at Mocha Rizing, a small coffee shop immediately next to the start and finish of the race.  Everyone piles in there afterwards for some hot coffee and food.

Having absolutely zero confidence in winning this race as I've never been able to do so before (even 2 years ago when NH Chronicle was there filming the race...), I headed out to cover the exactly 20 miles to the race from my house, with very little hopes of getting to 300 series points after just 3 races.  I figured it would be similar to years past, where I'd lead the first one or two miles, and then KT would overtake me on the slower, harder stuff, and I'd settle for 2nd. I got to the race way early, as I misjudged the travel time and the fact that the race didn't start at 10, but rather 11!  Needless to say I had plenty of time to stretch and get my legs and feet loose.

After registering for the race and opting not to signup for USSSA Nationals (next year it's in the East, so I'll most likely do it then), I started to see the usual suspects show up.  Lots of acidotic folks, KT, the TNT crew (including Bob Jackman) and others.  I was getting a little concerned about how I felt, due to the fact that I got almost zero sleep on Friday night. My daughter was being extra fussy and was up most of the night (from about 2:30am onward). I didn't get much if any sleep after that time.  So I was working on borrowed time and had a slight wave of nausea on the trip over.  That made me a little nervous about how I'd fare in the later parts of the race, which go across the street, up a decent climb, and across some very slow fields which I tend to have problems on each year for some reason.

I warmed up with KT and Bob and Jackie Jackman, along w/ Scott Mason for the first bit. Scott was having all sorts of wardrobe malfunctions and issues on the warmup so he bailed after a few minutes. I felt really sluggish on the warmup but Kevin was also sandbagging a bit and claiming he was probably not as fit and race-ready as he could be.  A quick change (remembering my bib this time) and I was off to the fields for some more warming up and strides.

This was the 2nd time in 3 weeks I showed up to a race that Nate Jenkins was at and didn't lose to him...that was because he wasn't running, but watching Melissa race in her newly discovered favorite sport of snowshoe racing :)...

Photo by Joe Viger

Photo by Justin Macomber
Photo by SNAPacidotic

91 or so folks lined up and we were off in a clockwise direction around the field (where flags were on our LEFT the entire time. That made it a little strange for wondering how far to 'cut in' on the course, as you are going clockwise and flags are on the outside of your forward progress. I quickly learned that if you cut too far in (and off the groomed track), it didn't help your cause. I headed out in a modest pace and quickly felt like I was laboring. I felt heavy and slow, yet KT and Bob and a few others were letting me take it out. They stayed pretty close to me for the first part of the fairground perimeter loop and I opened up a little on KT, who had opened up a lot on the rest of the field. I really slowed on a couple of the small uphill bumps on the far side of the grounds and could feel Kevin catching me. I really struggled to keep up the pace and knew I was losing it... I just didn't feel fast here, unlike other years.

Photo by Joe Viger

I eventually crossed the road (thanks to the cover that had been shoveled on by the Sidehillers) and hit the single track.  The climb starts pretty much right away and I looked back to see and hear KT running me down like I had stopped and was waiting for him.  He got right behind me as I finished the single track climb and lost all of my lead. It was obvious who was in better shape at that point.  As I hit the first field (which is usually where I completely lose the race) I stepped aside almost immediately and let Kevin go past.  I tucked in behind him and increased my pace to match his and tried to keep within 10 feet of him across the fields and into the single track up and down.

By the time we hit the turnaround at the far end (before the usual last field we used to hit in the old course), I was still on him, but he seemed to be itching to get going.  I was just waiting for him to pull away, but was stubborn and stayed within that 10 feet back.  We started crossing back across the open fields and I stayed right with him.  On the beginning of the descent down in the single track, he moved a little better and was trying to open up on me.  I thought a couple of times about going around him here to maybe rock the downs and try to establish a gap if he wasn't making a decisive move, but I decided not to, as I figured we both had about the same amount of push on the single track downhill section in the end. I kept behind him until one small uphill, where I felt him really try to make a move (which is the best place to make a move on me....he's won many a race doing this in the past, near the end)...I worked that uphill and didn't let the gap open.

Photo by Justin Macomber

By the time we bottomed out and headed back across the street, I felt my race was over. I had little fight left (or so I thought).We hit the groomed trail and over a small bridge back to the fairgrounds and had about a half mile to go. I was completely gassed here and began to think about settling for 2nd.  I really thought I had no kick left at all and Kevin just looked like he was out for win #6.  That was in my head the entire time and I really had zero confidence in my ability to beat him here.  I said 'go ahead Kevin, you got this one' and basically told myself I was giving up.  It was a pretty low point in an OK race I'd run up to that point. I went for it early, like I normally do, then got broken on the difficult section, but fought back and hung tough. Then seemingly gave up with 800 meters to go.  Story of my racing a lot of times, when pressure is on... Kevin opened up a little after I said that and I looked down at the ground and started to accept 2nd place.  This was an exact rehash of 2011 when NH Chronicle was there.

Photo by SNAPacidotic
I found myself looking down, starting to 'mail it in' so to speak, and then I looked up again as we neared the fence that you go through with about a quarter mile to go, and I was making that gap back up.  As I neared Kevin again, I still didn't think one bit that I could overtake him, but I started to pull up on him again, so I yelled out 'come on Kevin' to spark some fight into him. Part of me wanted him to pull away and secure #6...I almost was shying away from a confrontation and 'kick' at the end.  I was hurting and didn't want that added 'hastle' as I was looking at it as.  Pretty lame, but that was the way I was thinking. When I said that, he reacted and pushed one last time up through the fence. I dropped back yet again and this time, thought it was for good.  Then, as we hit the top of a small little gain up to the last 200 meters or so, I looked down for a couple seconds, then looked up and he was right there and no longer kicking away from me. He looked to be gassed as well. I made the decision there for the first time, to go for the win.  I dropped the gear down and went up along side him, staring at the buildings in the distance and knew the finish line was within sight. I literally went up along side as I could see Paul's truck and the people at the finish line.  When I came up next to Kevin, he didn't react. Normally he lets me get within a step or two and then matches my kick and I can't get around...but this time, I just kept going past. It was only with about 150 yards left that I actually KNEW I was going to get the win.  I couldn't believe it.  I played so many mind games over the course of the day and race, that it was a scenario I just couldn't have imagined....I would have bet anything I would have been beaten by KT again by about 9 or 10 seconds and that would have been just fine w/ me.  But instead I pulled out a 3 second win (almost walking across the line as I was completely spent).

See below, the finishing 'kicks' in slow Roger Marcoux (holding a goPro)...

I think the fact that KT hasn't raced since Cape Cod really made the differenc here. I've raced 3 snowshoe races in a row over the past 3 weeks, so I'm 'fresh' when it comes to racing. Even though I struggled for most of the race, KT did as well and at the end, it was pretty much anyone's game.  Most of my good training is done w/ him, so we are doing the same thing no wonder on courses like this, that has a good mix of fast and slow, we're pretty much the same.

NHPR (New Hampshire Public Radio) was there doing interviews and talked to me for a bit after the race...I'll post later on when I know when it will air.

Top 10 Overall

1JimJohnson35East MadisonNHBAA26'07.67
2KevinTilton31ConwayNHCMS / Dion26'11.58
4RyanWzelts32NorthwoodNHAcidotic Racing29'33.36
5DavidCretsinger41WiltonNHAcidotic Racing29'52.45
8ChrisDunn44StraffordNHAcidotic Racing30'44.89
9JeffLitchfield53HopkintonNHAcidotic Racing30'47.67
10PeterKeeney46Bar HarborMECrow Athletics30'49.39

91 Total Finishers.

After the race, we all went over to Mocha Rizing for some coffee and chili. I talked to a lot of cool folks about snowshoeing and the like....then I headed out (and was basically the last to leave). I hit the parking lot again to get out of there, and noticed Paul's truck and mine were the last two.  I headed out on the course, caught up w/ him, and helped him deflag.

Next weekend is the Exeter Snowshoe Hullabaloo, but I'm not sure of the status. I heard Exeter needs snow, and there's not a lot in the forcast other than some rain and warm temps. Maybe one snowfall mixed in the middle, but I'm not sure how good it looks for a GSSS race this coming weekend.

Photos by Joe Viger

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