To say that Saturday night’s snowshoe run was “fun” would be a gross understatement. It was more accurately “thrilling.”
If there was anytime to wear one of those head cameras it would have been at that race. Picture this: pitch black, quiet woods blanketed in a foot of snow and more snow is falling. A path, wide enough for just you lit only by the light from tour headlamp. Now run.
To start the race we walked about 100ft into the woods. I looked ahead of me at the race director giving last minute instructions and a few other snowshoe racers and then behind me at a sea of 100 or so headlamps.
I seeded myself towards the front, not really knowing how I stack up in the pacing but knowing if I ran like I’d run on my own I’d be somewhat competitive. It runs out that passing in snowshoeing is tough and has to be timed right.
At the sound of the starting horn I began to shuffle then run, not knowing where I was going, just following the person in front of me. The course wound through the woods, out into an open field and then back into the woods. I had no idea where The trail would lead next or when we would turn. My only indication of progress was my forward motion and my Garmin bleeping by the miles. For the first part of the race I simply followed the person in front of me. Once we got out into the field you could see the headlamps of the front runners zig, zagging across the field. At one point I broke out of the single lane path and out into the powder to pass people. It took everything I had to pick up the speed and get back onto the cleared path. My heart was pounding and it took a while to settle my breath and get back to a steady pace. I noted at that point it wasn’t worth the energy expenditure to pass people in the powder and I would wait till the woods to do it again If I felt the need. As we approached the woods I passed a couple more girls who I’d seen up in the front at the start of the race. I suspected I was near the front and for the final two miles worked to hold my pace steady. With about a mile left the course took us through a series of switchbacks up a hill. By then I was running alone. The path ahead only lit as far as the light from my headlamp. The snow was still coming down and it was completely quiet except for the slap-slap-slap of my snowshoes. I fell for the first time halfway up the hill, I was looking ahead up the switchbacks trying to see the headlamps further up the hill. Taking my eyes off the path for just a moment led to a face plant. I fell three more times in that last mile. The switchbacks each ended in a hairpin turn and as it brought me down the hill to the finish I felt as if I was careening out of control, dodging trees watching the snowflakes fly by. That part was thrilling.
I made the last turn and hearing someone right behind me sprinted to the finish. I only saw two other women and suspected that I may have been the third woman. It turns out I was! I finished third woman and 30th overall with a time of 47:46 for 4.43 miles (10:37 pace).
One race doesn’t make me an expert but here’s what I learned about snowshoe racing:
Be Flexible: originally the race was advertised as a 5k. But the distance ended up being closer to 4.5 miles. It seems like snowshoe courses aren’t mapped out until days before the race due to changing snow conditions. If you’re going to race be ready for any distance.
Focus on Footing: I rented a pair of Dion racing snowshoes the day of the race. I walked in them all of 100ft before running in them for the first time. They were much, much lighter than my own snowshoes and felt quite different. For the first quarter of a mile I found I was running on my toes. I had to stop thinking about the snowshoes and think about my foot as if it were running without them. This helped me settle into more natural stride and I got into a nice rhythm.
Focus on Core: the terrain was varied, rough and uneven. Portions were powder with a crust and others were slightly packed down trail. My feet were knocked around a bit and each time the snowshoes came slamming into the sides of my calves. I’ve got bruises to show for it. I noticed though, that if I focused on bracing my core, my legs and feet felt steadier.
Leave Your Road Pacing on the Road: I knew, from running in snowshoes on my own, that you have to throw out any kind of road-racing pacing out the window. It doesn’t apply in snowshoe racing. Maybe once you’ve raced a few you have an idea of what your pace will be. Even then I imagine it changes with terrain and conditions: groomed trail vs. fresh snow. So instead of focusing on pace I focused on effort. I figure I ran at about 10k effort. I kept it pretty relaxed the first mile cause I was afraid of going out to fast. I also knew there was a hill at some point. I tried to keep my effort steady, pass when it felt right and when there was room and take advantage of the down hill portions.
You’re Gonna Get Wet: I had no idea how wet I’d be after the race. There was so much fresh powder that I kicked up snow with every stride, not to mention the falls I took. By the time I crossed the finish I was soaked from the waist down along with my shoes. I should have brought dry clothes and dry shoes to change into because I sat very uncomfortably for an hour in my wet clothes waiting for awards.
Have you ever run a snowshoe race? Or a night trail race? What is the most thrilling race experience you’ve ever had?