Tag: Chris Dunn

Learning Curve

The Horse Hill 7k Snowshoe race was to be my third official race attempt, and my fifth run overall with the snowshoes on. After the way things went at Sidehiller my confidence was on the rise. Training runs were feeling better and better and it seemed as if I was getting the hang of it. Instead of smoothly gliding through the trails and working my way up the field, I fell repeatedly,  damn near got a snowshoe where the sun don’t shine, and ended up getting Dunham’d (again) at the finish. I think some of that may need further explanation.

The day started off with so much promise. Felt great early that morning, got to the race with plenty of time for a warm-up, and then it all went down hill. My pre-race jog time disappeared once I realized that I had forgotten to switch out the cleats on the snowshoes the night before. It’s not much of anything to change them, only I had never done it before so I wasn’t exactly familiar with the process. I don’t have a separate pair of deep cleats, but my Dion back country snowshoes have deep cleats on them so it was just a matter of transplanting them. For those who don’t know, the 121′s are basically just smaller version of the back country hikers. This is an important detail because I soon realized that in my haste I just switched cleats from one 121 to the next. Damn.

Finally done, I swept the pile of snowshoe parts onto the car floor and was off and running to the start. For a warm up, the two minute jog would have to suffice.

The start was a little intimidating with over a hundred runners all lined up on the glorified single track trail. Once the gun went off the air was filled with snow being kicked about and it was a struggle to just to see where I met step down. To either side of the trail there was a bit of a slope so you didn’t want to stray too far to the sides. The snow was deep and the pace was going to be slow (for me at least).

All confidence was lost about a quarter mile into the race when we hit the first hill. It was far larger than any hill I’ve run up in a long time. Or at least it felt that way. For certain I had never tried running up a beast like that in snowshoes. For the next 3.75ish miles, I was in survival mode.

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Course map, according to my Garmin. Twisty enough for ya?

Perhaps that’s why the next seven minutes or so of running featured not one, not two, but three different full on collapses by me. It was just at the end of January where Scott Graham and I were talking about racing and falling and he uttered words that echoed in my head: “You’re time will come. There are only two types of snowshoe runners: those who have fallen and those who are going to fall.” Those who are going to fall…those who are going to fall… Damn, he was right. It seemed strangely coincidental and oddly prophetic that I would fall so soon into my very next race after hearing that warning.

Stunned a little embarrassed, I picked myself up and attempted to get going before I got trampled or tripped anybody else up. I immediately thought: Now that I’ve fallen I can go on… and before I could finish that that thought I was down in the snow again. This spill was a little more awkward and it felt like I nearly got a tree branch in the nether regions.

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Elevation, also courtesy of my Garmin.

Runners started to fly by me and I just let them go. Better wait a few seconds before the coast is clear to get going on the single track again. I turned around to see the branch that nearly pierced my keister and saw that it was in fact my own snowshoe. Good Lord. There I was, a grown man in the woods that almost got his own snowshoe stuck up his ass. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it had the deep cleats on it! No one should get cleats of any size jammed there, let alone the deep ones.

After falling twice in the first mile I started to think ‘okay, that means at this rate I should fall down eight times total for the race’. It’s not good when you set the acceptable amount of falls so high. Before I could finish that thought i fell again. Incredible. But I was still on track for only eight spills during the race.

Now I had had enough. I got up, set my focus and hardened my determination. From here on out I would be all business. The terrain never got any easier and I was going to have to rise to the challenge. The whole course was unfamiliar territory to me, and taking a look at both the elevation and a satellite map of it after, I can see just how crazy it all was. No wonder it was all so slow!

Unfortunately things were so spread out that there really weren’t many runners ahead pulling me forward, and nobody behind threatening to pass either. Out in front, so close but yet still so far out of reach, was the speedy Melissa Donais. She was one of the runners that flew by me on the second spill, and also a measuring stick of sorts for me in these races. She crushed me at Whitaker Woods but only finished just in front of me at Sidehiller. Perhaps today was the day that I took her down.

Since the terrain was all single track and non-linear, you really had to pick your spots to pass. At least you do when you’re a novice. Perhaps I was thinking about it too hard because all of a sudden I was right up on Melissa and stepped on the back of her snowshoes. There’s really no excuse for that when you’re not running in a pack. It was amateur hour in the woods. Luckily neither of us fell. I apologized, she let me slide, and then I was off trying to chase down the next guy.

There was nobody really catchable, at first, but that was okay because concentrating on my form and not falling was enough to get me through. After what seemed like forever but in reality was only five minutes, I did start to reel somebody in. Just when I was about to roll up on him, he stopped at an intersection, waited for me to get a little closer, and then asked which way to go. I said ‘to the right’, pointed, and just flew by. For some reason I felt bad about that. Is there some sort of gentlemen’s rule where you let the person go first? Not sure about the subtle nuances about off-road racing  yet.  I was fine with it mainly because had I stopped I felt like there would’ve been some type of discussion (albeit brief) about it when there was no need for it.

Finally, after all of that effort, all of that climbing, all of that falling, I had made the last climb, flew down the last decent (which was the first ascent) and was within sniffing distance of the finish. My tired mind couldn’t process anything beyond the thought of crossing the line and collapsing somewhere warm. Little did I know that I was about to be Dunham’d yet again. There it was, karma coming around to get me, all because I ate his damn cookies after the Whitaker Woods race. Dave snapped off a couple of pics and shouted encouragement as I passed by. The nerve of that guy! I wanted to say something witty but could only muster vague grunts, and possibly something along the lines of ‘ah, you got me again’. Then Dave replied “yes, you got Dunham’d”. It was pretty funny to hear him say it, but it also made it seem more real. I need to get faster!

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EJN getting Dunham’d, courtesy of Dave Dunham.

My legs and lungs burned as I willed my way over the last hundred meters or so. Seeing the line come closer and closer was a relief that I’ve only felt in full or half marathons. Result: 21st place and 45:00. I’m pretty sure I passed the line in 44:57 or so, but who’s counting? Nacho Hernando won it in 33:03. Nacho is a legit guy, and although he’d beat me in any distance over any surface right now, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a whole twelve minutes behind him in a half marathon on the roads. He beat me by twelve minutes here in a four mile race! How crazy is that? Snowshoe racing is a different world.

Shortly after I crossed, Chris Dunn came up to me and uttered perhaps the most encouraging phrase I had ever heard: “Now that was a real snowshoe race!” Thank God someone was able to verify that for me. I don’t know if I could handle anything any realer than that at the moment.

Unfamiliar with getting Dunham’d? Check out the last paragraph in this entry.

JJ Finds His Winning Ways Again

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Beaver Brook start, courtesy of SNAPacidotic.

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.

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Dunn throws his weight around, courtesy of SNAPacidotic.

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.

beaver brook dunham snowshoeWhat 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.

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Team shot of acidotic RACING, courtesy of SNAPacidotic.

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