February 21 (Saturday) - I made my way down to Exeter for the Exeter Snowshoe Hullabaloo (results). This was the latest race in the Granite State Snowshoe Series for 2015. I did the Exeter race back in 2011 and won it against a pretty good field on a very challenging day. The race was cancelled in 2012 and 2013 because of no snow. Last year I didn't go to this race. So this was only my second time doing the race and I remember all too well, how challenging the conditions were back in 2011. The race is entirely single track. It's run in Henderson-Swazey (aka Ft. Rock) Woods in Exeter, NH and consists basically of two big loops. The course back in 2011 had a lot of snow but it was treacherous. It was single track (including the start) with a nice 'looking' packed out rail, but it was deceiving. If you stepped anywhere near the edge of the rail, you punched through a foot or more of rotten snow and went down on your face. I remember being so nervous with every step last time. This year, the race course layout was identical and the rail looked about the same but the difference was that it was definitely harder packed for the most part. There were more 'passing lanes' put in periodically, and there was a nice double-wide start that was about 100 yards or more long...so you could actually line up a few across. But the rest of the course was tight single track, up and down, twisting and turning. Don't get me wrong, if you stepped anywhere outside of the packed route at all, you were on your face, but at least the area of the single track that was packed down, was for the most part, solid. There were very little surprises this time around.
I warmed up a little over 2 miles on a small loop on the course (most of it with Jonathan Miller) and then did some more running around to stay loose, use the bathroom, etc. So I got a little over 2 miles in (all on snowshoes) before the race. It was a very cold morning, but after the warmup, I was pretty much overheating, so I opted to go light on the clothes and cover.
I took my spot right on the front of the line and the race was off. I shot out to the front but kept it relatively under control. Sam Wood and Andy Drummond were right behind, as was Damon Gannon (who is going to Nationals next weekend). Those were for the most part, the three guys I was worried about. Andy sandbags worse then I do, so I never know how in shape he really is. The guy makes me look lazy as hell as he skis, bikes, runs, hikes, surfs, etc. every day. I'm pretty sure he also works somewhere in the middle there as well, but he is always a threat. He said he wasn't really in shape but I figured that was a tall tale as that's what I usually say too ;). Damon has been a podium guy all season and Sam is always there lurking. I always think of the 2008 Children's Museum race in Portsmouth when I see Sam and remember him spanking me there pretty good. I never take anything for granted in a snowshoe race and knew it could be anyone's race.
About 0.3 in, I took my first digger. Straight down on my face. Punched both fists and arms directly down into the snow and planted my face right into the cold powder. I got up, dusted myself off quick, and looked behind me as I started running again, all within 2 seconds (which feels like 20 when it's happening). I could see everyone lined up and coming around the corner, but no one had caught me and no one saw the fall. I pushed on and opened it up even more over the rest of the first mile. I continuously kept catching the side of the rail with my snowshoes and almost wiping out, especially on the turns. The pace of the race was crazy due to the constant changing of ups and downs and lefts and rights. There was hardly ever a moment of flat, straightaway running. I clipped through the first mile in 7:35 or so. I was clear at that point and decided to lay off just a little bit as I suddenly realized that the race was 4 miles, not a 5k, and also I remember how tough of a grind it was over the later miles.
The second mile was about 10 second slower (7:45) ...so much for laying off the pace...but had a pretty good bunch of climbing (small hills but slow and loose snow). I wiped out again on the way up the steepest climb of the course. I just lazily stepped on my own snowshoes and fell on my face again. I was almost walking anyways.
I ended up coming through the finish in 29:03 and was basically on my last legs. I went out a bit too hard probably (and pulled everyone else out too hard). Everyone had about the same story....first mile you felt pretty good....second mile was ok....third mile started to get interesting....fourth mile was a nightmare. The funny thing was that each mile looked about the same...there was nothing really special about the last mile or mile and a half that stood out from the rest...it was just a tough day out there the way the race played out. I was thankful I was able to stay ahead of everyone, even with the brutal last stretch. I also fell one more time during that last mile on a downhill section but I almost welcomed the second or two rest I had, picking myself up out of the snow. Andy and Damon rounded out the podium. The race was a pretty good success as everyone seemed to love the course and thought it was very challenging. 111 strong finished the race, which is the largest field of any GSSS race this year so far, just nipping the field at Whitaker.
I did a 3 mile cooldown with Sam and Abbey on the streets right near the industrial park and then promptly bonked on my walk from their car to the food tent. As blurry vision ensued, I stuffed my face with cookies, munchkins (the donut holes, not the little people from the Wizard of Oz), chili, and the tastiest hot chocolate I've ever had dispensed from a water cooler. I slammed 3 cups back and tried to regain my strength before hitting the ride home.
9 miles on the day and another snowshoe race down....One step closer to Spring.
Next weekend is the Madbury night race down at Kingman Farm. I'm thinking the conditions are going to be insane and the open fields are going to be fun. I just started charging my headlamp so it will be nice and bright by the time the race goes off.