Sourdough Snowshoe Race
My good friend Kevin Lund is the race director of the Sourdough Snowshoe Race and I pretty much have no choice but to participate. Sometime in the Fall, both my wife and I are automatically signed up by default and I largely forget about it, aside from the occasional reminder from my wife, Kevin, or friends who are considering racing and up until about a week prior, did not even know what date it was being held, just knowing it was some Saturday in January.
So, for the 3rd time since first participating in 2010 (I think Allison has done all 5, or at least 4), we headed up to the Nederland Community Center Saturday morning for check in. The only hitch, was that we were both a bit under the weather, catching colds from our 3 year old twin daughters who each took turns being sick over the week. Allison was in bad enough shape that she pretty much knew she was not going to race as soon as she got out of bed, but wanted to head up and volunteer, spectate and get a little fresh air. I was feeling a bit run down on Friday and awoke Saturday morning with a runny nose and was hacking up orange phlegm, but fortunately my energy and enthusiasm for the race was high.
I hung out a bit with Kendrick before the race, who was there to have a crack at his first snowshoe race and I chatted briefly with Joe, Geoff, Charlie and a handful of familiar acquaintances. I spent a few short minutes warming up on the course (was really just looking for a place to pee and had to make sure the new snowshoes that I have never used before worked) and was a bit fearful of the pain that was to come, having not really run hard or “trained” since Pikes last August. The starting altitude is around 9,200 feet and I was severely under acclimatized, having only been above 8,500 feet only two or three times since last August. Just easily jogging in the snowshoes had my heart pounding out of my chest. How will I run 11.5 miles?
The race started a bit after 9am and I was happy to let 2 time winner Charlie Nowacki take the lead. I figured he would slowly pull away and I would get swamped by a few of the faster guys just behind, but we all seemed to settle into a "comfortable" and sustainable rhythm. After about a half mile, I creeped up on Charlie as the grade steepened a bit and slowly eased past. I (correctly) suspected that I would not get too far ahead or that I would lead the race for too long, but kept at it regardless, just sticking to my game plan of running my own pace and not worry about what others around me were doing. But still, I was itching to look back and see what was happening, yet just settled for out of the corner of my eye glances on the switchbacks, where I could see Charlie looking strong, then Joe (his report) close behind and another guy, who might have been Ryan Herzog (knowing Joe was in the 18 mile race, but was not sure of the other).
The miles ticked by and trail conditions were very good. I felt strong, feeling like I was moving quickly and efficiently. A bit after 4 miles, I figured I should probably take a gel so that I could wash it down at the turn around/aid station, as I opted not to carry water. I debated this, as I knew it would slow me, but I figured I should do it just to be on the safe side, as it could pay dividends later in the race. Of course, choking down a gel at near max effort is no easy task for me and it took way too long and slowed me a bit. Around the time I finished this gel and very close to the turn around, Charlie came powering by in a convincing fashion and I figured he would be long gone. I was however able to rally a bit and keep him close, as I yo-yoed 10-20 seconds behind, all the way to the turnaround/aid station at mile 5.8, where he was just leaving as I arrived. I took a quick swig of water and took off in pursuit with my game face on.
Shortly down the trail, I passed Joe where we exchanged encouragement and a failed (on my part) low five. Then it was Ryan (I think) and not long after saw Geoff (Geoff's report), who was all smiles and seemed to be really enjoying his first race back in ~2 years. I maintained my 10-20 second lag, but was struggling a bit on the now churned up trail and even walked briefly a few times on the steeper uphills. The trail was not that bad, but any loose snow seemed amplified as I became more tired and my footwork was becoming sloppy.
I stayed pretty much within sight to mile 9.2, I never gave up, but at that point I pretty much knew that unless he really blew it, I was racing to maintain 2nd place. At 9.6 miles I caught one last glimpse, which gave me a touch of hope that I could rally on the final descent, where last year I maintained 6:?? and even saw high 5:?? Pace on my Garmin, but once I got to this long gradual descent, I got an abdominal cramp and could not muster a pace any better than ~7:20. I pretty much had no choice but to jog it in and knew it was over at that point. As always, the final mile seemed to take forever, expecting the next bend to be the end of the trail. When I finally arrived at the finish, Charlie was already holding his award, so I knew I had lost a good chunk of time and suspected that even if I had not had a cramp, I most likely would not have caught him.
Charlie finished in 2 hours even to my 2:02, each of us finishing 9 minutes slower than our times last year. Heart rate data suggests that I put in a near even effort, so I think snow conditions were just a bit slower this year. We lingered for over an hour post race, trading war stories, eating and helping Kevin hand out raffle prizes for finishers (I got a nice pair of collapsible Atlas poles).
This race is a blast, as it is small, low key, well organized, has great prizes, is close to home, the course is fun and the people and competition are great. Although I was 2nd yet again, I had a great time and it felt good to be competing. Charlie was 7th at snowshoe Nationals last year and plans to go better this year, so finishing as close as I did felt like an accomplishment. Having now run/raced on snowshoes 3 times, I really wish I could do this more often.