As runners of all abilities are struggling to get through this grind of a winter, we’re seeing road races getting postponed or cancelled (too much snow) and even snowshoe races getting postponed (blizzard). This is a recap from a trail race that went on even with less than ideal conditions. What makes this even more interesting is the effort that the author, Jonathan Hammett, put into the course on his own during the week in trying to pack down the trails in his snowshoes to make it more manageable in his XC spikes on race day.
Race #3 in the South County 4th Season Series was held last Saturday, February 7th, in Ryan Park. I spent Tuesday through Friday tracking the course in snowshoes hoping to have better racing conditions than last year’s snowy sufferfest. On Thursday, I was able to run the entire course on snowshoes without walking or stopping, and in fact, I was beginning to get excited that the course would be in decent shape. Approximately 2/3 of the course trails were hard packed by snowshoes, cross country skis, snowmobiles, and hikers. The rest was slow, but at least it had 6 sets of snowshoe tracks on them (5 mine, 1 Mike Galoob’s).
By race day I had already decided on my traction device of choice – cross county spikes. I had purchased them in the fall with the hopes of doing a cross country race or two, but I only ended up wearing them once in a workout. They felt light and fantastic and I thought they should perform well on the tracked down 10K course. Besides, Chris Garvin won last year’s snowy race here in spikes.
I arrived an hour early for the race and quickly began running into familiar faces. After registering and chatting with fellow WTAC teammates, frenemies from other teams (TNT and Rhode Runner), I headed out for a warm up on the beginning and end of the course with Garvin. The spikes did feel great on the packed down sections. Somewhere along the way we caught up with Jeff and the three of us ran the end of the course, until the relatively untracked ballfield ending section in which I avoided, but the other two “ran”. During the week, no one besides me tracked it, and every time I did, blowing snow completely covered any work I had previously done. The snow was also still very deep here, and I knew this was going to be the most miserable section of a race course maybe ever. After the warm up, I returned to my car to warm up my feet and put on my race clothes – long sleeve green team shirt, shorts, hat, and gloves. With five minutes to go, I headed back out for strides on the icy park roads, feeling fast and loose. I was ready to race.
Since my race two years ago where I finished 3rd overall and only 19 seconds behind the winner, I’ve come into this race with lofty expectations, only to have snowy trail conditions. I don’t race very well comparatively to others on snow, so I tempered my expectations for this race. Based on the pre-registrators on ultrasignup.com, it was apparent that WTAC was going to have a tough battle with Rhode Runner. My main goal for this race was for a team win. The Rhode Runners may be faster on roads, but not on trails. At least I hoped. I wanted to go out conservatively (not in front!) and try to score for my team and stay ahead of Rhode Runner’s #3 guy. There were way too many fast guys to worry about my overall place.
The start was very tough. I tried to take it out slow, but it was just utter chaos. I ended up taking the icy parking lot over the untracked deep snow option. I felt slow, but out of breath. I stayed on my feet and once we reached the main path around the pond, I found myself in about 10th place. I was okay with this, as we were all together in one long line (lead by Jackman and Muddy). After another minute or so, a lead pack was definitely forming and the two guys ahead of me (fast looking Rhode Runner guy and teammate Seth) had lost contact with them. I didn’t panic (I was happy with the pace), but I thought I should try to move up and latch on if I could. I went by both guys, and was now in 7th place, trying to catch the lead pack that included Jackman, Muddy, Garvin, Brightman, Eric Lonergan, and Anthony Gonsalves. I hit the short uphill deep snow spot and before I knew it, I was probably 20 seconds behind. Ugh! I was second guessing not going out faster and letting the adrenaline of being in the lead group pull me along. I was now out of touch with them and I had company behind me. I was paranoid it was the new Rhode Runner guy I had heard about (Matt Gingras). I looked back a couple of times, and then I was pacified by the voice of Jeff telling me it was a friendly teammate behind me. GPS mile 1 – 7:20.
I was now on the long straight rail trail. This trail had the most activity on it, and was very firm and fast. I pushed ahead trying to create some distance between me and Jeff (a notably awesome snow runner) and other runners behind him. I did seem to create some space. The leaders seemed so far ahead of me now. My effort and speed felt good, but I wondered if I was fatigued from all the snowshoeing during the week? I pressed on and reached the steep hill on the powerline. This knocked my pace down to a crawl (GPS mile 2 – 7:05). I made the sharp turn and could see Jeff and Chris Fox (Rhode Runner) not far behind. I hopped through the deep snow, crossed the powerline, and then began the tough Rte 4 trail. I was sure Jeff would pass me here. I was planning to tell him to hold off the guy behind him (assuming he passed me too), or maybe I could keep Chris behind me. Despite my attempts of making a nice track during the week, the trail here still was very slow. It wasn’t as terrible as if it was untracked, but shoes just sank in. I tried my best to step in my snowshoe tracks for the best traction. After a minute or so, I stopped hearing anyone behind me. Was it possible I was out snow running Jeff?
Nearing the end of the Rte 4 trail there was an optimistic sign. Someone had cracked in the lead pack and seemed to be trudging slowly through the snow. I was re-invigorated! I pushed harder and caught up to Anthony Gonsalves right at the powerline (where the traction got better thanks to a snowmobile). GPS mile 3 – 9:42. I followed him until the next little uphill, where I motored by. I made sure to keep on the gas once back on the packed field trail knowing that he is a faster road guy than me. I was halfway done, and feeling great. I might not have had the speed to keep up with the lead guys in the beginning, but I knew I was going to finish this race strong. I hammered the downhills and pushed any short ups. Knowing the course so well really helps. I hurdled the giant tree hopefully saving me a couple of seconds running around it. After a few minutes on this trail, I began looking back to see if anybody was still with me. Nope. Or at least that’s what I thought. It was hard to say since some of the guys had white jerseys and were nicely camouflaged. There were some slower spots on this trail (that I already knew about), but overall I knew I nailed it. GPS mile 4 – 8:12. I reached the rail bed trail again. I really let my legs go, fairly confident I wouldn’t get caught. Still no sight of anyone up ahead until the last section of straightaway (still at least a minute behind). GPS mile 5 – 6:48.
Not too much more to go. I was feeling confident in my finishing place (6th). I kept pushing hard on the well packed trails around the pond. It was then time to die on the Field of Broken Dreams. I could hear Mike Galoob (RD) yelling at me, but the snow was so deep. It was even more miserable than I anticipated. I nervously plodded along, hoping the snow gazelle didn’t run me down. I mercifully crossed the finish line in 46:20. GPS mile 6 – 7:19. Results here
What a fun race! I chatted with the top finishers for a few minutes and then watched teammates Jeff and Seth finish up. WTAC pulled out the win! Congrats to Garvin on another win in the series and to Muddy for having such a strong performance on snow (his nemesis). After a fun team cooldown I returned to my car to change into dry clothes and warm ups. I picked up a couple of beers for the team win and then a coffee stout bomber as thanks for tracking the course during the week. It was then off to the Oak Hill Tavern for food and fun with teammates and Turtles. I still will dream about tearing up this course on a snow-free day, but for now I am very happy with the way this race turned out.