I counted the bells: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. It was midnight and I wasn’t asleep. An hour later I heard a single chime: 1 am. Still not asleep. Looks like I’d be going into the World Snowshoe Championship race on no sleep. Fantastic.
“Well, this is an adventure!”
Last Friday night I hopped in a car with Amber Ferriera, pro Triathlete and accomplished snowshoe runner, and we made the 4 hour drive turned 5 hour drive (thanks to thick fog) to Saranac Lake, NY from New Hampshire for the World Snowshoe Championships.
Early in the snowshoe season I’d planned to go, but then canceled my plans when I couldn’t find anyone to drive with. A week before the race, Amber and I connected and cobbled together a plan for the drive and our lodging in Saranac Lake. Everything looked good, except for the weather.
We’ve had some serious melting here in the Northeast, unseasonably warm weather knocked down our nearly three feet of snow cover to mere inches and bare spots in some places. It seemed Saranac Lake wasn’t immune to the thaw either and word was there was NO snow. How exactly, do you hold a snowshoe race when there is no snow? Typically, the answer is ‘you don’t,’ but with athletes flying in from all over the world you really don’t have much of a choice than to make it happen. And that’s exactly what the whole town of Saranac Lake did.
After a sleepless night on a couch in a living room across the street from the town hall with a bell that chimes on the hour and half hour (OMG!), Amber and I woke up to a town with no snow and a broken coffee maker. Quickly, the line for the weekend became: “Well, this is an adventure!” What I love about Amber is her eternally positive attitude, everything that could have gone wrong did and she rolled with it-we both did. The whole point of going to this World Snowshoe Championships was to have FUN, and if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
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We dashed across the street to a little cafe for coffee and came back to meet our roommate, Daniel who is originally from Peru, but now lives and works in Salt Lake City. He had been to the World Championships in Italy the year before and described a similar snowless situation and gave us the latest news on the course: they had moved the course, trucked in snow and an army of volunteers had shoveled snow onto the bare spots to create a runable course. We ate some breakfast and then the three of us got ready for the race.
When we arrived at the venue (the Dewey Mountain Nordic Center), we got a view of the course for ourselves: the shaded spots in the woods still had relatively good snow cover and the spots that didn’t were kind of a slushy muddy mess-but it would do.
The Race Start
At 11am, after a quick warm up, some strides in the snowshoes and a pit stop in the woods we lined up with 300 other snowshoe runners from around the world. A mass start with a bottlneck, made things interesting. I seeded myself pretty well, since I didn’t fall and I wasn’t being trampled. Once out of the start area I realized my legs felt dead and I just didn’t have that push. Maybe it will come back? I thought.
Snowshoe races are tough like that, so often you have to get out fast for a good position that you’re in oxygen debt within the first hundred yards. Usually, like at the Exeter race you can actively recover and get back to racing form. But this particular morning I didn’t feel like I was recovering. This particular course was slightly longer than some of the others I’ve run, and with two laps I wanted to try to be a bit conservative on the first lap and have something left to push in the second lap.
The course wound through the woods and then started climbing up the hill, the climb wasn’t particularly steep, but the footing and snow coverage was worse on this section of the course. Streams of water had melted out underneath the frozen ground, creating potholes of sloppy, leafy snow-mud. There was not real rail, and I did my best to maintain a decent pace and pick my way over some of the rocks and potholes.
A decent downhill brought us down past the starting area for a second loop. I was within striking distance of two other girls in front of me and thought if I kept a steady climb on the way up the hill that I could catch them with a gutsy, who-cares-if-I-fall downhill charge. I gained on them at the beginning of the climb, midway through it was apparent that the course was even more chewed up and the footing on the uphill section was pretty much crap. It became obvious that my choice in shoes was all wrong: I should NOT have worn waterproof trail shoes, with each step into a melted puddle my shoes filled water and the sloshing extra weight made my feet feel heavy as bricks. As we crested the hill, my snowshoe slipped and I toppled into the mud. I bounced up as quickly as possible and continued running, but not before losing the two girls in front of me and being passed by another.
I bombed down the hill as best I could and kept pushing towards the finish. I had no idea what place I was, but thought I might be around 15th or so. I came down the final stretch and then up into the finish chute, finishing 18th overall female.
Racing Back to New Hampshire
While I raced hard, I never really felt great. When I raced Exeter a few weekends ago, I gave it everything I had and I was really proud of my effort. But when you go deep into the well one weekend, chances are you’re not going to have much left for the next weekend-which I think was the case for me on Saturday. I think I could have run better on fresh legs and a good nights sleep.
Regardless of the outcome, I had fun! After the race I had the chance to run the cool down with Amber and Brandy Erholtz, an amazingly talented mountain runner from Colorado (they finished 6th and 8th overall).
After the cool down we headed back to town to change and get something to eat with Daniel and Mark, another racer from Spain. While we were eating, the heavens opened and it started raining. Amber and my cue to get out of town. Originally we planned to stay Saturday night too and get a run or hike in Lake Placid. But the combo of uncomfortable couches, chiming bells and an hourly forecast that called for rain turning to snow, we opted to get back to New Hampshire as quickly as possible.
Doubling Up-Racing Cobble Mountain
Once I knew I’d be coming home on Saturday night I decided I’d double up and race the Cobble Mountain Snowshoe race on Sunday. My hope was to snag the points of a win and better my overall score in the Granite State Snowshoe Series.
I slept soundly in my own bed on Saturday night, but was up at 5:30am to head up to Gunstock Mountain for the race. It was the first race in the series I’ve driven to alone, I enjoyed slipping out the door with just my coffee and my race bag before anyone else was up. I arrived and started my warm up, my legs felt stiff and tired. I hoped that I’d have any easy go of it, but when I rounded the corner on the last bit of my warm up I saw another racer, Abbey, who’s been competitive in the series and beat me at Whitaker Woods. I knew at that moment I was going to have to really race to earn the points I needed-I think a few choice words came out of my mouth when I realized the mental and physical effort this race was going to require.
The race started in a field which was a nice departure from some of the narrower starts, I was able to ease into the pace behind Abbey. At the first incline I felt my legs protest-they wanted nothing to do with this. I fought to keep Abbey in sight, she was about 30 second ahead of me and I kept up the chase with as much effort as I could muster. As we neared the finish the course made a quick horseshoe turn and then turned down towards the finish-Abbey felt close enough to catch, yet helplessly far away at the same time.
At that moment I came up on my coach, Chris who encouraged me to push and close the gap as much as possible. I came down into the field and watched her cross the finish line and did my best to push as hard as I could to narrow the gap as much as possible. I finished in 19:00 flat (for 2.33 miles) averaging 8:06 min/mi, crossing the line as the second woman.
Despite being absolutely exhausted, the weekend was incredibly FUN! I’ve never been happier to NOT be training for a spring marathon. I’ve never really doubled up on races like this before and I think my body is kind of wondering what is going on, but I’d much rather be racing frequently on snowshoes than slogging through long runs on the road.
This week is all about recovery. I’m trying to make sleep priority and honing in on the nutrition that will help my body repair and be ready to race again next weekend at the Granite State Snowshoe Series Championships!
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