One degree. One stinkin’ degree was what runners were faced with when the start command was give at the Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble on Saturday. But this is snowshoe…what else would you expect?
The runners were there, all ready to go. The cold wouldn’t deter them. If there’s snow on the ground they’d be ready to race. Even Joe Viger was there, on his birthday of all days, waiting in the snow to capture the action as the runners flew by him.
There was little doubt as to who the front runners would be here as Jim Johnson and Nacho Hernando bolted out to the front. A thin chase pack did their best to keep them in site.
Nacho proved to be quite the competitor in last year’s Granite State Snowshoe Series and gave the elder Johnson a run for his money. JJ ended up winning the whole series last year, but Nacho was right there with him. Could 2015 be the Year of the Nacho?!
Coming in, many (including Johnson) expected Nacho to have the speed advantage while the old Mountain Goat JJ would make up ground (or build a lead) on the hills. Not this time.
“In the first hill I was leading the race already, he seem to struggle in the up hills because according to what he was telling me yesterday he has been running a lot but not doing any hills or speed work outs, which makes total sense.” Both runners were in less than ideal shape as Nacho was also coming off of a knee issue that relegated him to only a few easy weeks around the holidays.
But the break seemed to do Nacho some good as he felt stronger on the hills. “Clearly my body was asking for a little break,” said Nacho with a laugh.
On the first climb the pair gained separation on the field and with each subsequent climb Nacho pulled away a little more. In the end, Hernando ran a 24:49, with JJ a few ticks back in 25:17.
Upon first glance, it looks like Johnson ran significantly slower than he did in 2014 when he finished second to Nick Wheeler. However, the course was significantly longer in 2015. According to race director (and occasional ass-kicker on the mountains himself) Kevin Tilton: “Last year I had to cut out the singletrack after the top of the vista hill about 1.2 miles in.” For those of you who don’t know, the vista hill is a hill with a vista. It’s quite breathtaking.
According to the official Level Garmin, worn by EJN (5th place, 28:54), this year’s course 3.82 miles. Compared to the 2014 edition which the official Level Garmin measured at 3.46 and you can see that this year featured over a third of a mile more snowshoe action.
Time doesn’t matter as much (if at all) out on the snow-covered trails, especially when compared to track or even road races. So many factors can come into play, such as how packed the trails are. In North Conway on Saturday, they were quite packed, which made for a pretty speedy race.
“She pulled past me just after we got into the woods and stayed about 10 yards ahead of me up and over the first climb and then along that next flat. I passed her as soon as we hit the next bigger climb.” Leslie’s 7:59 first mile was fast enough to put 10 seconds between her and Abbey.
“I didn’t see her again until we were on opposite sides of the power lines at the bottom where the course basically does that u-turn. We gave each other a thumbs-up and a smile. How could you not? No one is nicer than Abbey Wood.”
With all the smiling and the niceties, you’d think maybe they weren’t competing…but oh they were. Leslie kept her foot on the gas and gradually built up a lead that grew to nearly a minute by the time she crossed the line. O’Dell finished 16th last year in placing third behind Kristina Folcik-Welts and Melissa Donais, but this year it was all here’s. Leslie ended up 13th overall in 30:36 while Abbey was 17th in 31:29.
Leslie and Nacho are in the driver’s seat after the first event in the 2015 Granite State Snowshoe Series. But that’s just one of nine events; still a long way to go. Wait…it was just announced that this coming weekend’s race, Sidehiller, was cancelled due to a lack of snow (yeah that can be a problem). That leaves only seven more chances to for Johnson, Wood and the rest of the competition to catch Hernando and O’Dell.
Maybe a weekend off would do Nacho some good. “The 31st is the Worlds snowshoe championship, and I will be representing Spain with Roberto Ruiz Revuelta, the champion of snowshoeing in Spain, so that’s going to be fun and that’s what I am training for right now.” Some rest ahead of time worked out just for fine Nacho at Whitaker Woods. Let’s see how it works out the World Championships.