There’s a point in a lot of my races where I’m faced with a choice: dig deep, find a new gear and keep the chase alive or resign myself to the fact that I won’t catch the girl in front of me and give up the chase.
I’d like to think that I’m always the competitor that digs deep, that finds that new gear and that fights to close the gap no matter what. But the truth is that I’m not always that gritty and sometimes I lose the mental battle.
On Sunday, the whole family packed up and piled into the car with all the snow gear (because the real feel was below zero) and headed up to Waterville Valley for the Granite State Snowshoe Championships. We had enough gas to get there, so I didn’t bother filling up the car. As we approached our exit and I checked the GPS and double checked our gas gauge it looked like we’d have just enough to get there and back to the interstate where the gas stations were.
We made our way up the Waterville Valley Ski Mountain only to realize that the Nordic Center was in a completely different place. So we back tracked and headed up the road a little further-an extra 4 miles. When we pulled into the parking lot our gas gauge range said “8 miles,” it was 11 miles back to the closest gas station. Perfect.
We got the whole family unloaded and settled. I felt a little crunched for time and had to run back to the car to grab forgotten boots and gloves. I decided I’d have to worry about the gas later and focused in on the race ahead. It was cold and the wind made it colder. I headed out for my warm up and I felt really comfortable. I had a super easy recovery week last week and my legs felt fresh, which was a nice change from my racing at World’s last weekend. I was ready to race and was looking forward to tackling what I knew would be a challenging course.
I briefly studied the course and spent a bit of time looking at the elevation profile. I knew that the challenge would be the climb in the first two miles. But after that there would be some generous downhills on which to recover and a few slight rises before the finish. I knew the course was a figure eight, but I should have taken a closer look at the final portions of the course map, because I feel like if I had I could have maintained a better focus through the final mile.
Fast Course, Fast Race
The course was run primarily on groomed nordic trail, which in snowshoe running makes for a faster paced race. When the snow is deep and the course includes single track it slows the pace a bit, which can be helpful. The faster pacing meant a quick start and a faster first mile. As we settled into the first mile I found myself running comfortably hard just off the shoulder of another girl.
As we headed into the second mile we reached a hairpin turn and I saw her glance back. She saw me and I could see her pick up the pace. I did too to keep the distance between us about the same. The climb was steady, but there were some brief downhills. On the climbs I’d close in a little and on the downhills she would open the gap back up.
At the 3.5 mile mark I saw my coach, Chris Dunn (also the race director). He let me know that I was about 30 seconds back and encouraged me to close the gap. At that point I believed that I could, if I could just push harder, catch a bit of a break then maybe I could close the gap and in so doing get a little boost in confidence and dig a little deeper. We headed into a downhill section and I lost sight of her. I briefly saw her again as we turned the corner onto a straightaway. I knew we were closing in on the finish, we were back by the condos that are close to the Nordic Village and we crossed over a bridge that had been part of the first mile of the course.
Close the Gap
I tried to imagine the figure eight and for a few strides I wondered if I’d missed a directional arrow and had somehow headed back out on the course we’d already run. I was pushing as hard as I could, but I know that those fleeting doubtful thoughts slowed me down. I was just about the four mile mark and according to the map there was still 1.8 miles to go (my Garmin measured 5.25 at the end of the race). I could no longer see the girl in front of me and in that moment I realized that I could either keep pushing to close the gap or ease back just a little bit and settle for the fact that I wasn’t going to catch second place.
I started to resign myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to catch second and then I saw my coach again. At least I knew I was going the right way and that I’d reached the middle of the figure eight. He encouraged me to keep pushing and close the gap and I picked up the pace as best I could as I made the final turn out of the woods and down towards the finish. I crossed the finished third female overall and a minute behind second place.
There are some races that I can point to and know for a fact that I dug deep, went beyond what I thought I could and gave more than I thought I had. I think I want every race to be like that, but when you’re racing every weekend it’s hard to reach that place time after time: it’s both mentally and physically draining. But that’s really what I love about racing. I love the way it pushes you to your limit and tests you both physically and mentally.
We hung around for the post-race party and awards and then made our way back to the car. I thought we’d make it 8 miles back towards the interstate and then I’d have to get out and run to the gas station to grab a gas can and then run back. I started to mentally prepare myself for another run. But thankfully the drive back towards the interstate was downhill and I coasted most of the 11 miles to the gas station and pulled in just as the gas gauge flipped to zero. Phew.
While I finished third at the Granite State Snowshoe Championship race, I finished second overall female in the Granite State Snowshoe Series. I’ve raced hard and have had a ton of fun over the past few months and gained fitness in the process. There’s one more race this coming weekend and then this snowshoe season is a wrap!
Do you ever finish a race thinking you could have given more? Have there ever been races where you’ve finished and knew, without a doubt you gave everything you had and them some?