There are spikes in track, but there are much bigger spikes (cleats!) in snowshoe races. There are elbows in track, so then wouldn’t you expect the elbows to be that much bigger in snowshoe races? Perhaps size doesn’t matter (depends on who you ask), and perhaps we wouldn’t even be discussing this had someone not been there to capture the moment. Because someone happened to click the shutter on the camera at the exact moment when Chris Dunn’s elbow slammed into Jim Johnson’s rib cage (possibly knocking his hat sideways), we have to talk about it. It’s out there, and the picture is spectacular.
The fact that the race was even held was borderline miraculous. In the days leading up to the race, the course was changed several times in an attempt to find enough snow for the runners to run on. According to Chris Dunn: “I was on the phone with him (race director Michael Amarello) Friday afternoon after he had spent more than seven hours trying to link together enough snow covered trails to make a decent course.”
But then conditions deteriorated even further, causing the course to change yet again after a final walk through that Friday. It was to be a ‘throwback’ race, and use the original (and short and fast) out and back course. This was to be a quick one; 2.5 miles of double track logging road, with the first .4 mile downhill (and subsequent last .4 uphill), all on icy terrain for the most part.
Word of the questionable conditions spread fairly quickly via social media and there’s little doubt that that may have deterred a few people from making the trek. Despite those disadvantages, there were still over seventy people there lining up to take on this course.
When the gun went off, Johnson found himself behind a few runners. The whole field seemed to be converging on a five foot wide swatch of the best runnable snow, and Jim knew he had to make a move to get clear. With Dunn out to a fast start, Jim threw in a surge to get around him, but Jim paid for the move. Well, maybe not, but it certainly looked like he did. The elbow didn’t really slow Jim down and he was off.
Jim cleared the first mile in 5:42. Make no mistake about it, that is really fast for a snowshoe race. There was just the right combo of a downhill start plus really fast conditions all around. Nacho Hernando, in his first snowshoe race, was right there with Jim. Nacho himself is a formidable opponent on the roads, and Jim was hoping that his experience would ultimately give him the edge for the race.
“If I had some deep snow or a good climb, I may have been able to pull away a bit just from the sheer fact that this was his first snowshoe race and maybe my experience would benefit me in that case, but it was so fast that I couldn’t make any sort of decisive moves until possibly on the way back,” said Jim. “My plan was to try to stay ahead of him until the climb up on the way back and then maybe try to grind it out there.”
Jim kept pushing the pace after the turnaround. If there was a point where Nacho could have taken him it would have been on the stretch between the turn around the final climb. It wasn’t the case that day. The climb started, Jim’s lead grew a little more, and he could relax a bit on the way in. Jim closed out the race with a 7:36 last mile up the final climb and ran 14:22 for the 2.5 mile race. Nacho came in shortly after in 14:45.
Behind Jim & Nacho the battle was fierce for third place. Ryan Welts, Dave Dunham and Phil Erwin were all duking it out in a final push that’s probably seen more on the roads than in the snow. At the turn around, Erwin was ahead of Welts and Dunham by ten or so seconds. Dunham hung in back of the two awaiting his moment to strike. “We slowly closed on Phil and on the last 1/2 mile I figured I’d make my “move” on the uphill,” said Dave. “I’ll be damned if Ryan wasn’t thinking the same. He buried me on the climb. With 200 to go he went by Phil and I went by him with 100 to go.” Impressive finish, especially so considering the last climb.
What makes it that much more impressive was the fact that Dave had a severe
wardrobe equipment malfunction. “Around 1/2 mile my shoe came untied and I had to flex my toes/arch to stay inside the shoe.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, the poor guy also broke a snowshoe during the race. Yet he still charged up that last climb as fast as Chevy Chase rocketing down a mountain side on a greased up saucer.
Chris finished 6th (16:51) and was all by his lonesome by the end.”The final .4 mile climb was special as the early O2 debt came due,” said Dunn (acidotic Racing). Fifth place was nearly a minute in from of him and seventh place was almost thirty seconds behind. That’s a tough spot to be in when you’re in oxygen debt.
The women’s race perhaps suffered the most in terms of competition. Whereas the last few races had a solid pack of women up front pushing each other, this one saw Kristina Folcik-Welts pretty much running away with it. Kristina ran an impressive 18:06 and finished 13th overall. That was nearly three and a half minutes up on her nearest competitor; Dangergirl dominated.
“There was no female competition to push me, so I tried to get Chris (Dunn) but he is to fast on the short stuff!” Kristina failed to get Chris again, but she’ll have her next chance this weekend.
As this story is being finished, Mother Nature is answering the call of all the snow dances that have been performed around here lately. So whether you call it “New England clam powder,” “Connecticut confetti” or “New Hampshire Cocaine”, we should have plenty of it in Merrimack, NH for this weekend’s Horeshill Snowshoe Race.