Heading out - Pics by Kristen W
Last Sunday was my final opportunity to race in December and the first snowshoe race of the Western Mass AC series. I’d raced five times before in Woodford, the last four on the current 3.5 mile course. There have been a couple of years where the course wasn’t marked particularly well, so last year I volunteered to mark it. The course is short enough that warming up by marking the course isn’t that big of a deal, I wouldn’t want to run Curly’s or climb Northfield Mountain for a warm-up. This year I had company on the loop which made breaking trail easier. Double-j, Tim M, and I headed out about an hour before the start with assurances from the RD that he would not start without us. It had been raining most of the night, but Woodford got some snow prior to that and we found ourselves working through some slop and a lot of heavy wet snow. I was lucky to have company; we each took turns at the front which made it much easier going. We had the course marked in just under 40 minutes, which gave us time to change gear for the race.
The race clock was ticking down and showed less than 2 minutes until the start when I arrived at the line. A quick adjustment of shoes (while they announced that Konrad was about to run his 100th WMAC snowshoe race!) and off we went. Within 50m I found myself in 8th place, in a conga line with Josh Ferenc leading the way. Josh was closely followed by Double-J, TiVo, Ben Nephew, Brian Rusiecki, then Tim Mahoney, a guy I didn’t recognize from D.I.R.T. (????), and then me. The field was one of the strongest I’ve seen in quite a while, maybe as strong as the field at Sidehiller and Greylock last year. The pace seemed very fast to me and I was doing my best to just hold on. Dang, we were only 200m into a 3.5 mile race and I’m hanging on for dear life! Nothing much changed as we climbed the first hill heading for the single-track that would make up about 3 of the 3.5 miles. I thought about trying to move around Tim and the other guy but Ben was right there in front of us and it still felt very fast. So we hit the single-track in that order and passing would not be easy.
The footing was a bit better thanks to the seven guys in front of me packing it down, it really is amazing how much faster the footing can get. After about ½ mile it seemed like we were starting to lose some ground on Ben and Brian so I called out to Tim to close it up. He responded with a solid surge that closed the gap. Tim also took a major spill and we nearly ran over him, he regrouped but soon after I asked to go around and moved up to sixth place. I closed the gap on Ben and Brian just as Brian tried to make a move to pass Ben. Ben held him off but it may have sapped him a bit too much. Brian made another move and went by. I tucked in behind Ben and encouraged him to keep him close. A little after that I asked Ben to make way (which he did) and I headed off after Brian. Along the way I saw Josh picking himself up off the ground. Apparently he took a big spill and crashed into a rock which knocked the wind out of him. He stepped aside for Brian and did the same for me. I wasn’t sure if he had broken a shoe or what but he didn’t look hurt or anything so I kept my focus on the race. We were about ½ way through the loop and I could still see JJ with TiVo right on him, now in first and second. They were about 30 seconds ahead and Brian was about half-way between them and me. I wanted to close the gap, but was starting to feel that maybe I’d been a bit too aggressive in passing Ben. I was wheezing badly, partly from the lousy head-cold I had and partly from pushing the pace.
I tried to keep it together, hoping that Ben wouldn’t close on the last hill. The hills at Woodford aren’t very big or very long; I think that makes Woodford a good first race of the season. It sort of eases you into some of the brutal races later on down the line. I caught a glimpse of Ben on one of the turns and guessed that he was at least as far behind me as I was behind the leaders. I didn’t relax, but it helped keep me focused. I watched as Brian closed on Jim and Tim V. I was pretty sure that the guys in the front were more worried about each other and may have (subconsciously) eased up a bit thus letting Brian nearly catch them. The final 200m was a wild sprint with Jim and TiVo less than a second apart and Brian right behind. I came in another 36 seconds later.
The CMS/Polar team had one heck of a day; taking 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th(Ben), 8th (Tim), and 11th (Abby Mahoney). I headed out with Ben and JJ and we were able to clear the course of flags in about 30 minutes. The course was so well packed by the 76 runners that we only ran a little slower than we’d raced it! By the time we finished the sun was breaking out. It turned out to be a great day to kick off the snowshoe racing season, and a great way to close the books on the 2009 racing season.
I’ve been pretty consistent at Woodford, here are my results:
2002 – 1st 25:19, won by a second outsprinting Richard Bolt in the last 100m.
2003 – 1st 27:37, the top 6 guys went off course and I ended up winning by knowing where to turn.
2007 – 2nd 24:36, probably my best run, the snow was very crusty with a lot of “punch-through”.
2008 – 4th 25:15, kicked like mad to hold off Tim M and Jim P.
2009 – 4th 24:36, ties my best time (but I think the conditions were worse the other time)
This was my 12th snowshoe race of the year which is the most I’ve ever done in a year; my previous best was 9, which I did three times previously.