March 1 (Saturday) - Up at 5am. On the road by 5:30 and heading southwest down to VT for the 2014 US Snowshoe National Championships put on by my friend and teammate Tim VanOrden. Tim was putting the race on in his backyard basically...Prospect Mountain in Woodford/Bennington, VT. Despite dealing with a bad hamstring/calf combination for the past week and a half, I didn't want to miss out on a chance to drive down to a 'local' Nationals. The journey down there was about 3 and a half hours with a few pit stops along the way. I did have to frantically swerve around a tempo'ing Nate Jenkins just down the road from the Prospect Mountain parking lot. I arrived into Woodford about an hour before the women's race and had plenty of time to register. The snow looked amazing and the temps were cold but not uncomfortable (it was actually nice in the sun). I saw a bunch of the usual suspects around the registration area and it was shaping up to be a great turnout. I headed inside the lodge to get warm, stretch, and stick out the calf and hamstring.
CMS looked to be well represented and we all headed out for a couple miles on snowshoes over the course. The course was apparently much faster than it was a couple weeks prior, where everyone was breaking trail. The groomed sections (groomed for XC skiing) and single track were nice and solid now. The conditions seemed 'fast' despite the course having a good amount of climbing. After the warmup and switching over to some racing clothes (I rocked a throwback CMS Polar singlet) we were off.
The start was far more controlled than it had been in the past and I wasn't too far back at first. If my leg wasn't so bad, I would have pushed it up the front with Nacho Hernando (Spain) and Nick Wheeler (BAA) who got out to a great start. Mentally I wanted to go (which I guess is a plus)...Physically I couldn't. But I sat back and just hoped I could get through the race without a severe cramp/spasm. About 1 minute in (during the small loop near the start/finish area) it cramped up on me. Almost right away... I thought immediately about having to drop and drive home another 3.5 hours with a DNF and barely any of the race run. The last time I had tried to race in VT was Ascutney and I knew all too well how that felt on the drive home.... It was disheartening. I dropped the pace down a bit and as we climbed up past the finish area and headed across and up the mountain (after an initially tame first quarter mile or so), I had a pretty good idea I wouldn't be able to make it.
As we climbed up the beginning of what seemed like 3-4k of climbing, my confidence in my calf holding up got a little better the more I climbed. It wasn't tweaking anymore like it does at the start (seemingly the first couple minutes have been the worst). I continued to fall back a bit but so did a few others. Only a couple of guys passed me and I would pass one or two back. But after maybe 3k, it was pretty much the order of where we would finish (give or take a couple guys). The climb on the wider ski trail was not too steep and was still actually in my wheelhouse, but my fitness was starting to come into question. Since November I have done nothing but essentially flat treadmill runs just to get back into running again and build up a base. Most of the 'races' I've done since have been relatively flat with only moderate climbs. The climbing here was sustained over nearly a couple miles and it wore me down. I got slower and slower on the climb. Amazingly I wasn't losing any ground on anyone immediately up front (other than probably the first few guys), but back behind me, Kevin Tilton (CMS) was slowly making his way through the field and was catching me (not to my surprise). I felt completely flat and almost like I was jogging, about half way up. It was really bumming me out that I wasn't fit enough to handle the climb. The course was absolutely perfect...the conditions were amazing....the weather was perfect....the scenery was beautiful....the field wasn't super deep up front...and I was just not in shape for the race. Kevin passed me right near the top. I told him as he went by, that the few guys who we could still see up ahead, 'meant the team'...meaning that if he continued to go after it and get those guys, he could crack top 5-6 US. I knew there were a couple Canadians up front and Nacho, so that was 3 international right here that we could take out of the US field for the National team. I was excited he was running so well and that trumped my feelings just a bit for my own race. He immediately said back to me 'this is the top...lets go'. I looked up and noticed the summit building so I knew maybe I was still in it...but as we rounded the top and started descending a bit on single track (very twisty single track), I started to drop back. I wasn't running my usual race and was gassed. I was also very aware that my hamstring and calf do not like bombing downhills when I am in this state, and twisty turns like that tend to tweak it even worse. I was actually more weary of the downhill than the uphill at this point, and with half the race now over I didn't want to have to drop out now, on seemingly the easiest part!
As we descended Kevin was battling with a guy who was right on his heels (that had passed me right after the summit). I kept them both in sight. The beginning of the descent was deceiving because there were a couple of small ups to still come before the real downhill started. Most of this was single track where the snow was deep but the rail we were racing on was just wide enough to be runnable. I was SLOW here. Not my typical self. Kevin and that other runner pulled away slightly but I was still in striking distance. The 2011 Jim Johnson would have not let this get away... The 2014 Jim Johnson is a little better off I think than the 2012/2013....but I was running on fumes from no fitness for the climbing. I was starting to glance over my shoulder to make sure I didn't lose another spot. I couldn't see anyone but everyone was catching me and I knew it. At one point, just up ahead of me, in a small passing lane section, the guy who was sitting behind Kevin, blew passed him in a very decisive move. It looked like he went from a stand to a sprint as he took off. Kevin for the moment looked to be coming back. I pushed a little more through a very cool section of thick wooded single track and for a few moments actually thought I was going to catch Kevin. But as soon as it dumped out onto the ski trail, he took off. That was the race right there. I ran relatively hard on the way down but was holding back because of my calf. I wanted to finish at this point. It was 7 or 8 K in and I wasn't going to drop now. Kevin started to pull away slowly and looked like he was running hard. I had counted about 10-11 seconds behind him in the single track (which isn't that much in that section of course)...but then on the downhill ski trail, he put another 10-12 seconds on me, which is A LOT on that section.
Somewhere around 8.5K or so, two guys appeared in my rearview. It was all starting to fall apart seemingly for me. I thought I could finish right behind Kevin in the standings but now realized that there would be splitting happening and I would start to lose spots late in the race. A quick glance and I saw two. About 2 min. later (not even) one of them whizzed by me and looked to absolutely be gunning for Kevin. I figured that he would catch him and that maybe I'd still finish right behind Kevin. But as the last sections of the course started to play out, it looked like Kevin was going to hold him off. The second of the two guys who was lingering behind me still, hadn't put on that big of a move and was still behind me. I just beat him to the last single track switchback section that meandered down the face of the mountain, within view of the finish line. He was a few ticks back. I had no delusions about being able to hold him off at that point. I just figured he wouldn't be able to pass me in this section, but the small loop down by the finish would be where I'd lose my last spot.
|Photo by Joe Viger|
|Photo by Joe Viger|
As I came down to the last loop around the start/finish area (on groomed ski trail) I looked one more time and saw I still had about 3-4 seconds on the guy who was charging. I put in one last push and decided to fight for that spot rather than mail it in. I was able to hold him off for the seemingly one small bit of 'racing' I did the whole day. In the end, I finished 14th overall and 11th for the US field (with 3 international guys finishing in front of me). I was 23 seconds behind Kevin and came in for the 10K distance in 46:47. At Nationals in Syracuse, NY in 2010 I was also 14th overall (but 14th for US, as there was no international race) and in 2011 I was 8th overall (8th US) in Wisconsin. So technically I finished better this time around than I did in my first Nationals. So it wasn't a complete disaster for sure, but I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't ready for this race and that I wasn't 100% as far as my leg went. I had taken essentially all week off (with only 14 miles run over 3 days) to try to rest the leg for this race. In the end though, I am really glad I was able to get through it. It was a fantastic course and a very memorable experience. It felt like a 'mountain race' in every sense. Up and then back down. Wisconsin was on a golf course and Syracuse was basically just some trails in the woods. Both were good events, but this year's course really was my favorite for sure.
|Photo by Joe Viger|
|Photo by Joe Viger|
Top 30 Overall + CMS in BLUE (Full Results Here)
|1||0:41:51||6:44||David Le Porho||37||Canada||Team Snowshoe|
|2||0:42:06||6:47||Joel Bourgeois||43||Canada||le coureur nordique|
|3||0:42:20||6:49||Eric Hartmark||36||Duluth||MN||Team Snowshoe|
|4||0:42:37||6:52||Scott Gall||39||Cedar Falls||IA||Runablaze|
|5||0:44:10||7:07||Nicholas Wheeler||28||Portland||ME||Boston Athletic Assoc|
|6||0:44:30||7:10||Mike Galoob||40||Peace Dale||RI||Dion Men|
|7||0:44:31||7:10||Jeffrey Quednow||23||Westboro||WI||Midwest Vortex Victors|
|9||0:45:29||7:20||Daniel Craighead||24||State College||PA||Dion/South Hill Distance Pro|
|10||0:45:41||7:22||Kelly Mortenson||43||St Paul||MN||Team Snowshoe|
|12||0:46:24||7:29||Kevin Tilton||32||North Conway||NH||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|13||0:46:26||7:29||Nick Scalfone||29||Mountain View||CA||Dion/South Hill Distance Pro|
|14||0:46:47||7:32||Jim Johnson||37||Madison||NH||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|15||0:46:51||7:33||Jimmy Gobeil||37||Canada||le coureur nordique|
|16||0:47:13||7:36||Ross Krause||35||Easthampton||MA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|17||0:47:16||7:37||Eric Sambolec||37||Ithaca||NY||Dion/South Hill Distance Pro|
|18||0:47:38||7:40||Cole Crosby||26||Cortland||NY||acidotic RACING O1|
|19||0:47:48||7:42||Jeremy Drowne||37||West Chazy||NY||Cock-a-Doodle-Shoers|
|20||0:47:57||7:43||James Pawlicki||40||Lynn||MA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|21||0:48:19||7:47||Dave Dunham||50||Bradford||MA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|22||0:48:21||7:47||Chad Carr||39||Cambridge||MA||Cambridge Running Club|
|24||0:48:32||7:49||Tim Mahoney||35||Holyoke||MA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|25||0:48:32||7:49||Ethan Nedeau||41||Leverett||MA||acidotic RACING MM1|
|26||0:48:48||7:52||Jaime Julia||30||Puerto Rico||Albany Running Exchange|
|27||0:48:58||7:53||Robert Jackman||32||Warwick||RI||Tuesday Night Turtles|
|28||0:49:06||7:54||Ben Nephew||39||Mansfield||MA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|29||0:49:08||7:55||Tyler Murray||24||Le Roy||NY||Dion/South Hill Distance Pro|
|30||0:49:09||7:55||Todd Callaghan||45||Beverly||MA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|31||0:49:11||7:55||Richard Bolt||44||Mountain View||CA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|35||0:50:52||8:12||Kenneth Tripp||44||Amesbury||MA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|54||0:54:20||8:45||Paul Bazanchuk||60||Center Conway||NH||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|63||0:55:16||8:54||Sam Wood||28||Laconia||NH||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
|126||1:03:40||10:15||David Lapierre||50||Chelmsford||MA||Central Mass Striders-Dion|
213 Total Finishers (Senior Men's Race)
|L-R: Rich Bolt, Jim Pawlicki, Kevin Tilton, Ben Nephew, Dave Dunham, Ken Tripp, JJ, Ross Krause, Tim Mahoney|
After the race, I opted out of a cooldown as my hamstring and calf got very stiff and my back was tightening up. I went in and changed clothes, got warm, and tried to stretch a bit. I then made a decision to stick around for another 2 hours for the award ceremony. I ended up winning my age group (after the top 5 runners and international athletes get displaced). The 35-39 age group was stout. It was actually more competitive than the 30-34 as a whole. We also got the bronze medal (CMS-Dion) for the team competition which was just top 3 scorers for each team. The scorers were Kevin, myself, and Ross Krause, who was right behind me.
|35-39 Age Group medalists (with Ross and myself)|
|First and third place teams (with Ross and I on the right ...missing is Kevin Tilton)|
Then it was off for the 3.5 hour ride home...a stop for gas (again) and a stop for some coffee put me back in East Madison at around 8:15pm. It was a long day but definitely worth it.
Here's some men's race footage from Jim Hansen: