Thursday, February 18, 2016

Kingman Farm and Horsehill Snowshoe Races

This past weekend I did an 'old school' double with a pair of Granite State Snowshoe Series races.   The Kingman Farm Moonlight Snowshoe Race (results) in Madbury, NH was scheduled for Saturday night.  The Horsehill Snowshoe Race (results) in Merrimack, NH was rescheduled for Sunday due to lack of snow from a week ago.   I knew it was going to be a tiring double but I have to get as many GSSS races in as possible as I won't be able to do the last couple.  I have to get my 4 races in so I can compete in the series standings and this winter has definitely not been ideal for snowshoe racing.  The possibility of very dangerous windchills was not enough to cancel either of these races this weekend so I had no other choice was braving the very cold weather for a couple of 3.5-ish mile races on some fast snow.

Kingman Farm Moonlight Snowshoe Race (results)

Saturday night the Madbury race was in full swing.  Over 100 brave souls lined up for the headlamp-lit race in sub zero windchill temps.  Chris Dunn had changed the course a bit to avoid the open fields which would cut down on the windchill exposure.  The wind was obviously not as bad in the woods so the course was shortened a bit but worked pretty well. We still did the same climb and switchback sections so most of the course was still the same.

After a couple very cold miles on the roads as a warmup, I threw on the snowshoes for another mile on the Dions, checking out the first and last sections of the course.   The snow was packed and conditions were excellent.  The last part of the course was a little narrow but still fast.  The first part of the course looked phenomenal. I knew it was going to be fast and seeing my CMS teammate Colin Carroll there only made me realize how quick it was going to need to be.   He was coming off a couple of fast track performances and is fit.  I'm not exactly lighting the world on fire with speed so I was hoping my snowshoe racing experience would help...especially in the dark.  It does add a little complexity to running fast on snowshoes so I was hoping that would lean in my favor.

The race went off quick and I got out as I normally do to try to thin out the pack a little right away.  I tried to run someone else's race only once here and I lost a close one so I know that doesn't work on this course.  Even when Nacho smoked me here a couple years ago, I ran my own race for the first mile before he passed me so I had the same plan this year.  Fortunately by a half mile or so in, I had a decent pad on second place and just kept pushing.  My nagging hamstring wasn't really a factor other than one small twinge early on.

I did most of my pushing for the 2+ miles that weaves all over the single and double-wide trail system before the big switchback climb.  By halfway, I was starting to have big patches of no visible headlamps in my rearview.  Only on very long sections would I see some headlamps through the woods.  That's a great, quick indicator as to how far back someone is.  It's much easier to quickly identify if someone's close.  I did get a little confused on a two-way-traffic section for about 100 meters or so.  I was hoping I wasn't going the wrong way but soon realized I was all set when I saw the big intersection where everyone went wrong last year.  There were people there making sure the runners were going the right way this year.    Once I passed that section I was all set.  It was really cool having a lot more lit ice sculptures all over the course this year.  There seemed to be at least one in view at all times which was really cool looking in the otherwise pitch black.

I rolled up the climb and summited without much issue. I had such a good lead at that point, I wasn't too concerned about being caught.  You can only run so fast on that section as it's constant switchbacks both up and down the climb.  There was a fire at the top which was a cool indicator you were at the summit.  The way back 'down' the other side is actually a good mix of both climbing and dropping down for a bit before a nice switchback drop down to the bottom.  I always forget about the small additional climbs during this section.  I kept pushing forward and by the time I was on the real descent, I knew I had held off any charge from whoever was back in 2nd.

I ended up coming through in just over 23 minutes.  I waited until Colin came through in a very tight finish with 3rd place (they were in full sprint at the end and both leaned for the line).  It was basically a tie but Colin had the slight lean at the end for 2nd.  I then made a mad dash for the inside as I couldn't feel my chin and lower half of my face anymore.

I reluctantly headed out for a 2 mile cooldown on the roads but I was already pretty much as cooled down as I was going to get.  After the awards and raffle (I got shutout of), I hit the road for just over an hour ride back up to the valley.  I had some bigtime laundry to do and didn't get to bed until close to midnight.   I would have to get up at 6am and do it all over again in the morning in even colder weather.

My history at the Kingman Farm Snowshoe Race:

2009 - 1st
2011 - 2nd (2 seconds behind Tilton...won Beaver Brook earlier in the day)
2013 - 1st
2014 - 2nd (13 seconds behind Nacho)
2015 - 1st
2016 - 1st

In 2010 the race was a trail race due to lack of snow so it wasn't part of the series and I opted to race elsewhere.  In 2012 the race was cancelled all together.  I've run it each year it was actually a snowshoe race since 2009.

Horsehill Snowshoe Race (results)

Early on Sunday it was back up and out the door.  I headed down to Merrimack, NH in -16 degree windchill on parts of the ride...that was the lowest I noticed.  The temps were fluctuating all over from -8 to -16.  I got down to the race and got myself an early parking spot (parking can be an issue here and I wanted to be as close to the start/finish as possible).  I wasn't sure who would show up, as most of the diehards raced the night before and the idea of racing again early the next morning in even colder weather was probably not a good one for most.  Horsehill was also a reschedule, so it was a possibility that some people couldn't make it due to conflicts.

I 'warmed up' just over 3 miles or so on the roads and a bit of the course.  Due to the weather, RD Mike Amarello setup a two loop course that was shorter than usual (at the advice of a park official) and he gave the runners a choice of doing 1 loop or 2.  2 would count in the GSSS.  I was surprised to see only 15 people toe the line (2 would choose the 1 loop and 13 would brave the full 3.5-ish mile course).  Of course Colin Carroll was back for more and I was a little concerned at how I'd feel having to push again, only a handful of hours after the previous race.   I was thinking that because now it's daylight and I'm 500x older than him, he'd have a better chance of taking me down today.  The race went off and I again tried to get out and 'thin' out the already 'thinned' out pack.

The course was essentially the same it always is at the beginning.  You take a hard left off of the first long double-wide section and dip into the woods.  Then it's straight up that steep hill and over to the long sweeping switchbacks down eventually to the bottom.  Then it's more of the same back up and out until you get back to the main double-wide section again which meets back up with the turn into the woods again for lap 2.

I had a small lead again early but by the time the top of the hill came and went, I was alone. I could see Colin back through some of the switchbacks early but never saw him again.  I felt pretty good for most of the race, only falling once on the second loop on the switchbacks.  The snow was great.  Fast and pretty deep off the trail.  Fat bikes had really laid out a strong base to the trail.  I ran strong until the last 200 yards or so and then I felt like I wanted to die.  Not sure why.  I just pretty much bonked out physically.  I ended up coming through in 24:29.  The course was definitely a big slower than Kingman but about the same distance.  I was a full 2:12 ahead of Colin this time, which surprised me.  I was 1:31 ahead at Kingman but he was racing someone in a tight race at the end so that's probably the big difference maker there.  Either way I was pleased to have held him off again.  He's in much better shape than I am for the faster stuff for sure.

A couple more miles on the roads for a 'cooldown' as crazy as it seemed, and then I was out of there... back up to the valley to spend the rest of Valentines day with the ladies.  Thankfully I had Monday off to 'recover' from all this excitement.

My history at the Horsehill Snowshoe Race:

2009 - 1st
2010 - 1st
2011 - 1st
2013 - 1st
2014 - 3rd (Nacho and Newbould 1-2)
2015 - 1st
2016 - 1st

In 2012 (the year basically snowshoe racing didn't happen) I skipped the race as the weather was awful.  Raining and ice.  Tilton caught wind of me not going and went down for the easy win that year.

I believe Horsehill may be my most frequently won 'annual' race.  I have 6 wins in 7 runs.  Beaver Brook would be about the same but I've missed a couple years due to the race being cancelled because of weather.  I think I'm at 5 wins at Beaver Brook.