Another weekend and another two races completed.
I Started out on Saturday with a 6:30 AM departure from Ward Hill. Jim Pawlicki joined me as we headed over to Salem to carpool with Double-J and the lovely Kristin (who took the photos below).
Driving through Center Harbor the temperature display showed 1 degree. There was a huge contingent of ice fishermen out on Lake W. despite the temperatures. We arrived a bit early in Sandwich as I’d promised Paul Kirsch that I’d mark the first ¾ mile loop around the fairground. Jim Johnson, Jim Pawlicki and I made quick work of the loop although there were a few spots where I wasn’t 100% sure of where we’d gone in the past. We put out about 200 flags in the firmly packed and groomed snow. We actually were able to do the loop without snowshoes and did very little post-holing.
View of Red Hill firetower from course
At 9:10 we were off again, this time it was for real. We were joined by Kevin Tilton for a nice 3 mile out & back run on one of the side roads in town. Sandwich is quite scenic, including a yard with a gigantic table and chair set on it. One of the guys wondered aloud how big the beer would be that would be served on that table. Scott Mason and fellow TNT runner (Tuesday Night Turtles) Robert Jackman joined us for part of the warm-up. Then it was back to the car to get into race gear. The temperature was probably in the upper 20’s by now but was nowhere near the predicted 40 degree high for the day. I got on my snowshoes and headed out for another mile and some strides before the start. I felt pretty lousy and my stomach didn’t feel right.
Paul gave us some final instructions and off we went. I had hoped that the start would be a little more relaxed than usual as we had groomed road wide trail to run on for nearly a mile. It did not play out that way! Double-J took it out hard, really hard. That was probably a wise move as he is the first to admit that he has not fared well on hills this year. Kevin Tilton, who’d one the race (at least) the last two years, moved into second but Double-J had a huge lead right away. I was running faster than I wanted too early on, but wanted to be competitive. I got around Al Bernier just before the steep little downhill on the field and could see that Double-J was already about 20 seconds ahead and Kevin was about 10 seconds up.
We hit the road crossing in that order. The local police and DPW were at the road crossing and it had been covered with snow for us, which was pretty cool. The course would now be single-track until we hit the fairgrounds again with ¼ mile to go. I snuck a look back on the 200’ climb up the only real hill in the course. I was surprised that I’d dropped Al and I wasn’t sure who was behind me but they had already fallen back a good 20 seconds. I tried to concentrate on reeling in Kevin as he worked his way toward Jim. As we hit the first field I timed Kevin as 38 seconds ahead and couldn’t see Jim at all.
The footing was a bit tough in the field. It seemed like it was packed well right up until you post-holed up to mid-calf. That would bring me to a stop then I’d pull my shoe out and start up again. Each time I did this I could picture the chasers catching me. I kept pushing hard even though I could no longer see Kevin and knew that barring a missed turn I’d end up third. I didn’t want anyone catching me so I kept the pace as fast as I could muster. It is definitely easier when you know the course and have a good idea of exactly how much running you have left.
I didn’t look back until I crossed the road, which was also the first time since the first mile that I’d seen Jim. He was pretty far ahead and I couldn’t see Kevin who had taken the final turn. I rolled in past some kind folk on skis who cheered me on and hit the finish over 2 minutes behind Kevin and 1:59 after Double-J. I was a bit disappointed to be so far back but after look where I was relative to the chase pack I was pleased with the performance. Heck, you’ve gotta be pleased if you give your all. You can’t control what the competition does (or if they even show), you just have to give your best.
We did the same out & back as a warm-down, with a big group that included pretty much the entire top 10 finishers plus others. It is always nice to chat and enjoy a nice run with the pressure of the race over with. We hit the post-race soup store for a bit (not long enough for Double-J who would spend the entire day), but had to split as I was headed for my in-laws 50th anniversary and Jim P was headed to watch the Reebok games.
The next morning I was out the door at 6 AM headed for Hawley. I had no intention of any mountain bagging as I figured I’d be tired from racing and wanted something in the tank for the longest snowshoe race (5.6 miles) of the season so far. I got to the Americorp site early enough to re-organize my gear. I brought a few changes of clothes and racing gear for a myriad of conditions. Temps were expected to top around 50 degrees in some parts of Massachusetts. It turned out to be raining, sleeting, snowing, lightly at Hawley.
I headed out for my normal 3 mile road run to warm-up. Matt Cartier rolled up just as I was finishing my run and he suggested that I should save some energy before the race. I was a bit surprised at how late he was arriving (25 minutes before the start). Heck, it takes me that long to get my race gear on! I changed into my snowshoes and headed up the hill for another mile on snowshoes. I also did a couple of strides but was feeling a little tired so I kept them short.
Ed gave us some instructions and directions and I wish I’d visualized the course a bit better. I was glad to hear that we would have ½ mile markers along the course. I love getting some feedback and a feeling that I’m getting somewhere. I also really enjoy out & back courses, something about heading back in over familiar territory seems easier.
We took off in a blur of snow and I found myself behind Ben on the first tough little climb. I surprised myself taking the lead about 200m into the race. Tim Mahoney then went by me about 400m in. He was motoring along and I tried to keep contact. I could hear Ben a few strides behind me as we boogied through the ½ in 3:34. Ed had predicted a fast course and I figured about 7 minute pace on the flatter stuff, so we were pretty close to that prediction.
Tim continued to lead by a few seconds as we passed the mile in 7:13 (3:39) and the 1.5 in 11:16 (4:03). We took the turn and seemed to fly down the hill. Tim was looking very strong as we hit 2 miles in 14:19 (3:03). I enjoyed the downhill into 2 miles, thinking that would be where I would want to push on the return trip. The next half mile was a grind and Tim seemed to come back a little (I never quite caught him, but he never got more than about 5 seconds up). We hit 2.5 miles in 18:57, which was our slowest ½ mile so far at 4:38. I knew we’d be on the way back soon and kept my eyes open for the turn.
We hit some well signed single track and at the bottom there was a “Y”. It looked like the right hit a stream and the left avoided the stream. As Tim went right I yelled “Left” and Tim yelled back “Left?”. I went the same way he did, plunging one foot into the muck and nearly losing a shoe. That was where I made the big mistake of the day. I stopped quickly to fix my shoe and never looked for trail markings on the snowmobile trail. Tim had shot left, Ben was passing me as I adjusted my shoe and I was in the heat of the race. I took off after Tim. Maybe 200m later Ben said “I think this is wrong”. I looked around, didn’t see any markers and stopped. We both yelled at Tim who was a good 5 seconds ahead and beat feet back to the single-track. We caught Matt soon after and he turned with us. By the time we were back at the single-track Chris Taft and Ken Clark were just about to turn (correctly) right onto the snowmobile trail. Ken told me afterward he was surprised to see us at that point. Our half-mile split including going the wrong way was 5:47. I estimate we lost 1:30-2:00, which seems reasonable as we put a bit over 2 minutes on Chris and Ken on the way back. I felt bad for Tim as he was leading and lost more than Ben and I had.
The race was on and I still thought I might have a shot at winning. Ben gapped me by a few steps as we ran the next half mile in 3:08. We hit the climb and I just couldn’t seem to reel him in, despite the encouragement from the people heading out. We hit 4 miles in 31:57 (4:04) and turned for home. The rolling final 1.5 were tough, especially with Ben just a few seconds in front. We did the next ½ mile in 4:09 and then hit 5 miles in 39:36 (3:30). Ben seemed to have pulled even further ahead and I was hurting. I still had visions of catching Ben but he was definitely looking strong over the second half of the course. For most of the last 1.5 he would check to see where I was every couple of minutes. He finished strong to take his second win of the season in 43:06 and I pulled in 7 seconds later. Tim barreled down the final hill 43 seconds later and Matt came in 38 seconds later to close the book on the (slightly) lost gang.
I was sore and tired so I hit the road for an easy 1.5 miles then headed home. This will be my last double of the snowshoe season as I’m now hitting the roads for a few weekends and working VITA (volunteer income tax preparation) until April. It looks like Laurel Shortell and I were the only ones who did the WMAC double, although there were a few who did the Sidehiller/Frosty’s dash double as both were in the New Hampshire snowshoe series.