Thanksgiving is a busy time for racing so that meant quite a few runners in the area had to psych themselves up for dealing with bad weather on race morning this past year. Many places escaped the worst of it and just had to deal with low temps and biting wind, but that wasn’t the case in East Madison, NH.
Runners had signed up for the Purity Spring Thanksgiving Day 5k thinking they’d be taking part in a trail race but what they got instead was conditions more appropriate for a snowshoe race. “We got about 12-14 inches of snow but this race always goes on snow or shine,” said race director Paul Kirsch. “The only thing that would stop us would be if there was ice and the route we take has lots of leaves so the chance of ice is minimal.”
As the saying goes, the show must go on, and on it went…with interesting results. The 23:23 run by winner Jim Johnson is closer to what he can run for 5 miles than a typical 5k. “Basically it was the ‘deepest’ race on thanksgiving by far…snow-wise,” said JJ of the conditions. But putting aside the snow depth puns (for now), the field itself did have depth. Joining Johnson in the winner’s circle was Leslie O’Dell, who is a contender for many of the off road races in the area. Leslie ran a 26:42 and came in 9th place overall.
The biggest name in the field just might’ve been Olympian Sean Doherty, who competed for Team USA in the Biathlon at Sochi. Sean seemed right at home in the snow, even sans skis, as the 19 year old placed 5th overall in 25:20. One step ahead of Sean was his younger brother Andrew. Andrew ran a 25:19 and at just 15 he was the youngest competitor in the top 30.
As impressive as that was, Andrew wasn’t the youngest out there. There were a couple of other teenagers slightly younger than him, but the distinction of youngest competitor goes to Kayla Grossmann, who at the unbelievable age of 0 ran a 38:46 and placed 47th overall. We’re a little suspicious of that, but until proven wrong it must be some type of record. She may make an Olympic team herself in 20 years or so.
Cutting It Close
Even in normal conditions, unexpected things can pop up that can test the skills of even the sharpest, most seasoned of RD’s. Kirsch probably knew he would have a fire drill or two to deal with given the amount of snow that had fallen. Here’s a look at what went into getting the course ready in the final hours leading up to ‘go time’, straight from Paul:
“I went out and marked the course and broke trail with my dogs about 10:30 PM the night before the race. The course was amazingly beautiful with so much heavy snow on the trees.
Then I went out again at 6AM and walked it again with the dogs and fellow runner Frank Holmes. The head of King Pine/Purity Spring came out then and ran the course on a snow machine to help break the trail a little more and help pack it down.
There was one downed tree on the course at about the furthest point from car access. That pic was of me running back from where we cut it, about 5 minutes before the start of the race.”
From his perspective out in front of the race, Jim Johnson had this to say about the conditions: “Snow wasn’t really packed down. About a foot or more of snow. Rolling course, up and down with a couple of loops. I would say that given dry conditions, you could run 5:XX on this course normally…high 5s. With the conditions on Thursday, I was just barely under 8 minutes per mile… Very slow.” Even with a few attempts to pack down the snow a little, it still seemed as if it wasn’t packed down. Imagine how slow the pace would’ve been for runners without the efforts of Paul, Frank et al.
Said Leslie: “I haven’t run a x-c race like this before. The last XC race I ran was the Georgia High School State Meet in 1993. We didn’t get much snow down there.” Leslie echoed Jim’s thoughts on the conditions, although as the race went on things improved: “Going into it, I knew it was going to be a slow run, and it was for most of the first two miles. The snow was soft and not packed down until the second loop after everyone else had gone through. Just took it as a fun run on a beautiful day.”
According to Paul, about 80 of the original 170 entrants showed up. Not a bad turnout given the conditions. Judging by the look on Leslie’s face there, it’s easy to see that it was indeed a fun run on a beautiful day.
Note from the RD: The race is a fundraiser for the Kennett High School XC and T&F teams to help them pay for uniforms and other needs. Bernie, Eileen and Tim Livingston do so much for our local community (they are the coaches) that we wanted to give something back. This is the 7th running of the race. We have had major snow twice in the race history, this year and 2011. King Pine lets us use the resort for free because they like supporting the community too- that allows us to give 100% of proceeds to the Kennett teams.
Featured image photo credit: Jim Johnson led the way in the snow. Courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.