Here’s the full interview with Jim Johnson after the Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble on Sunday. It was an interesting conversation, going beyond the race of the day and examining the possibilities of some of the area’s elite strapping on the snowshoes. Of course it led to an open call for Ben True and Sam Chelanga to put the shoes on and mix it up with the locals. Ben hails from Maine so it should be easy for him. On the other hand, Sam went on the level back in September and made it clear he wasn’t intimidated by the thought of experiencing his first ever New England winter. Well, Sam could prove it by jumping into one of these races. He could even do it discretely, maybe by registering as Sam C. Yeah, that would be clever.
The Whitaker Woods Snowshoe Scramble hosted its largest field ever on Saturday. This was especially impressive because for some, including myself, the status of the race was in doubt due to rain that hit the week of the race. I was so concerned with reports I had heard that I had to contact race director Kevin Tilton to see what the deal was. When I told him that I had heard there was no snow up there, his reply of “Erroneous!” was enough to convince me to still make the trip.
Maybe what was on the ground wasn’t quite snow, but the ice and “crunchy snow” (as heard in the video below) mix made for a very fast whip through Whitaker Woods. Some tweaks to the course were needed so it ended up being about 3.5 miles instead of the usual 4.
I bent down to double knot a shoelace, which was exactly when Kevin started the race. Even while tentatively making my way out in the pack, I could see Nick and Jim Johnson shoot out to the front. “It was pretty much Jim and I from the start and we stayed together for the first mile,” said Nick. It was after that mile where Nick started to separate himself from the three-time defending Whitaker Woods champion.
Nick ended up running a 22:04, which was comfortably ahead of Jim’s 23:16. “I’m telling you that was the worst beating I’ve had in a snowshoe race probably except for Nationals,” said Jim. It’s not to say the Jim didn’t have a great time despite suffering his first ever loss in this race, but in the end it was only “as fun as a beating could possibly be.”
Kristina Folcik-Welts ran a 28:07 in securing her win, and she was about as dominate as Nick was. Kristina had a 46 second lead over runner up Melissa Donais (28:53). The battle in the women’s race, like the one in the men’s, broke open just after a mile. I witnessed it…well, part of it.
The course crested a hill and brought the runners to a point with a spectacular view of Mt Washington off in the distance before the icy turn onto some treacherous single track. You wouldn’t have thought it was that treacherous by the way Kristina (aka Dangergirl) attacked it. Kristina took off down that path like Wile E Coyote on crack, with an Acme rocket booster on his back that may or may not have had some Iranian nuclear “energy” funding behind it. It was sick. In the blink of an eye she was out of site.
Melissa had a bit of lead going into that stretch but Kristina has a knack for those icy single tracks. One runner’s weakness is another runner’s strength, and even early in the race it turned into the big break. ”She (Kristina) knows I slow down on the single track, especially when it’s downhill because I am so clumsy and I’m so scared that I’m going to fall and break a leg,” said Melissa.
The section contained at least one turn that was so tight it brought runners a bit off the course when trying to make it. Yet somehow Kristina was able to cruise through it and take over. “It was actually on that section I could hear her and I’m like ‘Oh no she’s going to pass me!’ and sure enough she did, right on the downhill,” recalled Melissa. Surprisingly tactics like that aren’t why Kristina is known as Dangergirl. It’s mainly because she falls all the time, according to the Dangergirl herself.
I was cruising along in the second mile and feeling good about my own race when I heard “come on, you’re the third woman!”. I turned to clarify that I was in fact a man, when I noticed Leslie Beckwith breathing down my neck. Try as I might, I didn’t have it in me that day to withstand that barrage that was Leslie on snowshoes. Leslie ended up being the third women, running a 29:15. I locked in on her and came in just after her in 29:24.
The top masters runner of the day was Dave Dunham who impressively came in third overall with his 24:59. For the effort Dave won himself a container of Tilton-made baked goods. You have to be present to win, Dave! I helped myself to the spoils of his triumph and damn, they were good. Definitely worth sticking around for.
For the ladies, the top masters runner was Robin AllenBurke of Acidotic who ran a 35:34 and placed 36th overall.
My goal for next time: don’t finish so far behind Dunham where he has time to come back and get a picture of me in the race. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know Dave does it with the best of intentions and he’s incredibly supportive in doing so. However, there’s a part of me that thinks that it’s an epic form of trash talking. It’s right up there with all of the epic trash talking in movies (American Flyers comes to mind) only it can be done without saying much if anything at all. If your rival comes up to you after a race and says “Hey I got a nice shot of you finishing” then what can you say? Well, not much besides damn. If I were to make a sports movie, I’d have to include that in there. Someone would get Dunham’d. Hopefully it’s not me next time, but I probably didn’t help my cause by eating his cookies. Damn.
Photos courtesy of Joe Viger Photography, except for the last shot of me. That was by Dave Dunham.
Sixteen brave souls gathered in Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, MA on the morning of January 5th for an unofficial race. Whether you want to call it the Maudslay State Park 5km Snowshoe Run or the First Annual Dave Dunham Snowshoe Spectacular, it was a great little race with an old school feel. There weren’t even popsicle sticks! We just wrote down our names on a results poster board. It was awesome.
I was excited to finally try out my shiny new Dion 121′s. The excitement was tempered because not only had I never run in snowshoes, but running of any kind was few and far between for me as of late. For such a small race, it had quite a deep field. There was going to be some intense competition (in damn near perfect conditions).
After a brief warm up that consisted of mainly doing a couple of strides and then waiting to get signal on my Garmin, it was about time to start. We gathered at the line in the snow and were out quickly on command. Since we were off road I figured it would take a little while for the pack to thin out. Wrong! The leaders were quickly putting distance on the rest of the field and I couldn’t believe how quickly they were running away with it.
I also couldn’t believe how I seemed to be kicking snow up into the air and down the back of my neck. It was going to be a long three miles for this guy.
At just about the half way point my torrid ten minute pace was proving to be too much and a little asthma started kicking in. It was at that point that Theresa Ridgway went flying by me like I was standing still wheezing. Wait. I may have been. Theresa incredibly put two minutes of space between us over the last mile and a half.
Just when I thought I was overcoming the breathing difficulties (or the mid-race wheezes), a rogue runner flew by me at about Mach III. What?! At that point I started panicking thinking that I had somehow taken a wrong turn and come out in the lead. But that wouldn’t have even made sense; it was only a three mile race and if people were running that fast then they clearly would have finished long ago. I was beginning to fear that the breathing was worse than I thought because I was either now hallucinating or just couldn’t do simple math. Remember that time I went out for a run and forgot math? Yeah, didn’t want to be telling a story like that. The rogue runner must’ve been real.
Turned out he was very real. It was Tim Mallard, a member of the Gate City Striders who had arrived a bit late. As I was coming into the last straight I ran into basically the entire field coming back out for their cool down. Ah, perfect. They even had time to pose for a lovely group shot before taking off for that cool down.
I had been out on the course for so long that Mark LaRosa assumed I had been eaten by a bear. You know what? I feel like a part of me was. That’s what happens when you show up on race day without having done your homework: you get eaten by a bear. Even if it’s only figuratively speaking, it still sucks. At the very least I increased my chances of being consumed by an ursus americanus, and really, do you want to mess around with something like that?
Predators go for the weak and sick animals that can’t keep up with the herd. There’s not much room for pride or bragging rights when your primary motivation is to eat, so why bother going for the lead pack? By straggling so far back and wheezing I was probably looking quite appetizing. Maybe training so I don’t become dinner should be my new motivation.
As for the competition up front in this race, Scott McGrath (Whirlaway) won the 3 mi race in a blazing 20:19. Mark LaRosa was just behind him in 20:54, and Scott’s teammate Steve Dowsett grabbed the last podium spot in 21:09. Race organizer Dave Dunham came in 7th place, in 24:35. Think about that. Dave’s no slouch and he only came in 7th place in this unofficial race. Pretty incredible.
Melissa Donais was the top woman on the day (26:45, 11th overall). She still couldn’t convince her husband Nate Jenkins to get on the snowshoes though. Nate was seen running around on the street in the area. Maybe next time, Nate. Maybe next time. A couple of minutes in back of Melissa came Theresa in 30:21, followed by yours truly in 32:36. There was possibly a bear stalking me, but I never turned around to look.
It was a great event put together by Dave, even if it just ends up being a different twist on a Sunday morning meet up for a training run. This one involved snowshoes and a couple feet of some damn fine powder. What’s really amazing is that as I’m writing this, only 8 days removed from the event, all of that snow is basically gone and has been for days now. Crazy. Here’s to hoping that there’s enough snow for the bigger snowshoe races coming up this season!
Check out our cover art by Allison Lynch. Appropriate. We’ve been running in some frigid conditions the last few days, and guess what? It’s been fun. Let’s keep it up, get in great shape, and set PRs when it’s time to race. Enjoy the issue and be sure to tell all your friends about it. As always, the digital copy of the magazine is free, but if you would like to purchase a hard copy you may do so via the hp MagCloud site. In either medium, get reading!
Table of Contents