Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Granite State Snowshoe Championship

Photo - Scott Mason
Well that's a wrap... Another Granite State Snowshoe Series done and snowshoe racing season over with for 2013.  This year I ran in all six races and ended up winning all six (somehow)... The plan was initially to just run enough to score, but funny how things turn out.  Just before the season started, Kevin and I 'ran' up Potash Mtn. and I had such a hard time on the snowshoes, I actually vowed that I wouldn't race at all this season.  I have had no good solid training or workouts or races since August when I went down with my foot issues.  By the time the season started, I was hanging on to just trying to get out the door most days to get something in.  I never thought by the end of the season, I'd be lining up with some very fast guys at the Granite State Championships (results), with cash money on the line, and holding my own.  I really did think my time was up, but fortunately I was able to capture my 5th straight Granite State Snowshoe Series Championship (2009-2013).

I convinced Kevin Tilton to go down to the race this past weekend in Allenstown, NH (a town I still needed to bag).  I had never even been in Allenstown to my knowledge, let alone to Bear Brook State Park, which I've heard a lot about.  I was excited to run a course I hadn't seen before.  That's few and far between these days with snowshoeing.  Kevin picked me up in Madison on our way down and we headed down 28 all the way to the race and arrived in plenty of time to preview some of the course.  I had a feeling there would be some stiff competition there, as race director Ryan Welts posted a $100 prize to first male and female.  Kevin continued to sandbag and tell me that he'd be 6 minutes behind me, etc. and made it sound like the money was mine...I wasn't so sure.  With no good long runs (distance-wise) and very little runs where I wasn't completely sore from head to toe lately, I wasn't very confident in my fitness or body holding up over 10K to be honest.  The last 3 races I've run, I've had my hamstring seize up on me VERY early on.  And those races were shorter than this.  I was just hoping to run with KT and whoever else may show up and try to hang on without having to DNF to be honest.

The weather was amazing and had warmed up substantially by race time.  Just before the warmup I spotted Mark Miller (BAA) from a distance and immediately knew I'd be running for 2nd or 3rd.  I've never beaten Mark except in a snowshoe race, but that race had a crazy climb that I'm convinced is the only reason I was able to hold him off (at Mt. Greylock a few years ago).  I happened to have been used to those climbs on snowshoes that season and Mark was killing all the rest of that course so I was thankful the hill was there, but today would be different as there really wasn't that much climbing and certainly no substantial 'climbing' to be had.  Kevin and I did a short loop over the first and last part of the course. I made note of the last part, which is about a mile of mostly down and switchback to the finish.  I envisioned trying to stay with either KT or Mark on this part (if I was lucky).  When we got back and quickly changed for the race, I noticed Greg Hammett as well and I immediately now thought just a podium spot (if I could hold off KT) would be the goal.  I had absolutely zero faith or notion that I'd even be seeing Greg or Mark by a quarter of the way through the race.  Before heading over to the start, Bob Dion luckily noticed that I had a couple of BROKEN ice cleats.  Yes, broken.  I didn't even know (and I was warming up on them).  Being the awesome guy that he is, he quickly switched them out for me and I was off to battle with some new cleats.

When I got down to the line, I saw Jim Pawlicki as well. I was surprised, but he was actually supposed to be at Sidehiller I think, so he was due to show at a NH race at some point.  DD was also there and is always in the hunt, as he's in probably the best snowshoe shape (and general shape) I've seen him in in the last few years.  That was a solid 6 + anyone else who may be able to muscle out a 10K.  10K is very different than the 5k - 4 Milers I'm used to in snowshoeing.  It evens out the playing field a little bit and doesn't favor the faster guys as much sometimes... but this course had one thing going for it (that was in my favor I think) and that was that it seemed like the single track was FAST.  It was well packed, but admittedly very narrow most of the way.  As long as you could stay in the single track, you were fine.  I'd say the course may have been 90% or so single track (give or take).  The only concern I had was that it ended and finished essentially on single track (the beginning more of a concern than the end).  I didn't want to get caught behind guys immediately, even if they were faster than me.

Photo - Joe Viger
I stood around and sandbagged a bit with Greg and Mark.  Mark said he wasn't in good shape at all.  Greg leaned in and contradicted that statement.  I was pretty sure that it was going to be the Greg and Mark show and almost conceded the first two spots before the race even started.  We lined up and were off.  For some reason I moved out to the front and really tried for about 5 strides to make sure I got into the single track first.  I'm not sure why, even thinking back on it.  I guess I just decided right before the gun that I needed to try to run my race.  In snowshoeing I rarely sit behind someone, especially on single track.  Even in races where I know later in the race KT will go past me, I still go out and run my race early.  I have tried to sit before and it ends up backfiring on me.  So I blazed out early and took the lead in front of Mark, where I am never supposed to be.  Greg also.  I moved out front and immediately felt like I was holding back everyone.  I glanced back a few times to make sure I wasn't in the way.  I was very surprised at the lead I had early, but then thought about it being a 10K and figured I was being foolish by going so fast so early...but it really did feel relatively easy.  I kept thinking I was going too slow and needed to keep an eye on the guys behind to make sure that when they wanted to pass, I get the hell out of the way.

The first mile was a mix of twisting and turning, up and down single track (now that I think of it, the entire thing was!)... I kept looking back as I would hit a switchback or turn where I could glance over to see the yellow BAA singlet of Mark and Greg tight on his heels. Somewhere early in the first mile, I passed Scott Mason who told me 'nice lead'.  I was shocked, but that quickly turned to 'they'll catch me soon enough'.  On and on I pushed, thinking maybe I was going too hard?... I wasn't sure.  I hit the first mile somewhere in 7:18.  I kept it going until I got to the snowmobile trail section before this big open meadow. I felt super slow on the snowmobile trails because they were softer and slower than the single track believe it or not.  I wanted off and back onto the single track in a bad way.  That first snowmobile section felt LONG.

My second mile was 6:46, which is solid for those conditions.  When I hit 2 miles I glanced back on the long straight meadow section and could see Mark and Greg back quite a ways.  I was very surprised and thought I must just be going too damn hard for a 10K.  I tried to ease back a bit, but now kept trying to do some quick math, wondering if I could hold off that much of a lead if I blew up a little.  I also had no idea what type of climbing or course conditions lay ahead.  When I got back onto the single track, my pace seemed to get easier as the snow stiffened up and made for easier racing.

The third mile seemed like a lot of single track and I could no longer see anyone behind me.  I kept pushing ahead but tried to calm down a bit and just keep running.  The thought of just trying to not run too much slower than what I thought everyone else was doing, kept running through my head.  Thinking that if I lost just a little bit per mile the rest of the way, I could still hold off maybe. I hit a couple of ups where the snow was a bit loose or soft and wet, and seized up a bit.  The whole time, thinking that I was going to get caught at some point...it was just a matter of time.  Third mile clicked through in 7:33.

Photo - Scott Mason

The fourth mile I think consisted of a longer snowmobile section that had a nice climb to it.  It wasn't crazy long or steep, but enough to really slow you down.  I kept looking back but didn't see anyone. At the top of the snowmobile section, you dip onto some single track that has probably the steepest slope to any on the course. Talk about seizing up.  I got to the top and remember hopping over a log and almost stopping in my tracks.  I was gassed here, but luckily the conditions of the snow and the climbing got better quickly, and soon I was back on some manageable single track where I could start picking up the pace again.  I distinctly remember at 4.7 miles (on my Garmin) looking at my watch and looking back on a VERY long straight section of snowmobile trail (as I weaved back and forth across the trail looking for the most solid snow I could find)...I looked down and saw 4.7, looked back and saw no one. Looked ahead and saw a photographer standing in the trail, right before a left hand turn.  I asked him as I passed, if anyone was back.  He said no.  That was the first time all day I actually thought I could hold off for the win.  I remember smiling and thinking that I was actually going to hold off.  I figured with 1.5 miles left (IF the course was a full 10K) was no big deal because I knew most of the last mile was downhill on switchbacks, which I knew I wouldn't lose that much time on, even if I was blowing up.  Fourth mile was 7:50 with the climb and looser conditions...still solid.

Photo - Joe Viger

I hit the last junction with the switchbacks and knew I had the race won. I didn't kill that last section, but did keep looking over and up the trail on the turns, to see if anyone was making a last section charge.  I passed by Scott Mason and Joe Viger who were both there taking pictures in their own private photog-war... I zig-zagged all the way down to the finish and popped out on the last short trail section (which was so beat up and loose that I was glad I wasn't racing anyone there).  Fifth mile was 7:05 and my last almost full mile was 7:25. My Garmin was a bit short on the course, clocking in at 5.92 miles.

Photo - Joe Viger
I couldn't believe I had held off the charge of that field.  Now I stood back and waited to see how big or small the gap was.  To my surprise, it was a few minutes before Kevin popped out of the woods. I was shocked to be honest.  I think Kevin is the best snowshoer in the field, but early on in the race, when I was seeing Greg and Mark behind me, I had noticed Kevin back a ways, very early on, and thought he was done.  He had been talking about how he hadn't been feeling that great in the days leading up to the race, and he had been sick. I had counted him out of top 3.  He finished up in 2nd place with Jim Pawlicki coming out of the woods only about 5 seconds back, with Greg on his heels. I was amazed to see how well JP had run against that field and he popped out just a stride ahead of Greg, but held his own to the finish with Greg moving out along side him as they both dove for the finish.  It was closer than the 1 second the results showed, with it almost looking like a tie from behind, where I was standing.  A very exciting finish for sure.   DD came next and then Mark popped out of the woods a little bit later on and finished out the top 6.  I knew that Mark's race was not indicative of how fit he is right now because it just was an off day for him.  He's the best runner by far in the field, but I think the difference (without knowing exactly the extent of his training, which consists of a lot of different activities as he is a triathlete), is that I have spent A LOT of time on snow this winter. I have been spending a lot of time on snowshoes and/or running up and down mountains in snow with spikes or the mudclaws.  So I was very used to the conditions and additional effort of having to slog through a course like that.  I think if I spent all this winter on the roads or just trails (or even just snowmobile trails) I wouldn't have done as well.  Time in snowshoes just cannot be matched sometimes.  I remember Kelley Mortenson telling me at Nationals a few years ago (after I asked him how the hell all the guys who killed me there run so damn fast in those conditions) that he runs many many hours a week on snowshoes during the season. That hit home.  It's basically what it takes I think, to be able to run courses like this.  I guarantee you that my fitness is NOT better than Gregs or Daves or Marks.  That will be apparent this weekend when you see what I do at New Bedford.  But on snowshoes, I can hold my own just because of the slogs I've been doing up here this winter, all winter.

Photo - Scott Mason

Top 10 Overall (BAA in Yellow):

1Jim Johnson35Madison NHBAA                           43:226:59
2Kevin Tilton31North Conway NHCentral Mass Striders/INOV8   46:247:28
3James Pawlicki38Lynn MACentral Mass Striders         46:297:29
4Greg Hammett35Chesterfield NHCentral Mass Striders         46:307:29
5Dave Dunham48Bradford MACentral Mass Striders         47:277:39
6Mark Miller32Parts Unknown NHBAA                           48:227:47
7Danny Ferreira30Concord NHacidotic RACING               49:357:59
8Anthony Parillo28Sherborn MA                              51:118:15
9Phil Erwin45Ridge NYacidotic RACING               51:178:16
10Chris Dunn44Strafford NHacidotic RACING               51:258:17

90 Total Finishers.

I cooled down on a park road that actually crossed over into Deerfield (although I already had Deerfield bagged) and back, with JP, KT, and DD.  I bonked on the way back and settled for some soup to bring me back to life before the awards and raffle.

For the effort, I got $100 of dirty cash out of Ryan's shirt pocket. I also got a bag of cookie and brownie crumbs in the raffle, and a sweet trophy for the overall win in the series.

Joe Viger photo set HERE
Scott Mason photo set HERE


  1. You look pretty good for just having a baby.

  2. Nice going , Jim. I'll take the cash back if you want.