Monday, February 11, 2008

Race Report: Jeremy Wright North American Snowshoe Championships

Are you a newbie runner, translating your experience into the running world through hiking and snowshoeing? Do you fancy yourself as being competitive on snowshoes? Do you desire a venue at which to prove your remarkable speed and endurance? One bit of advice – do not register for a race with the words ‘North American Snowshoe Championships’ in the title. After a strong finish in last week’s Screamin’ Snowman, I was to discover my true position in the rank of Colorado’s elite, after a brutal 10K at the Jeremy Wright North American Snowshoe Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado. This was a last-minute sign-up with the prospects of testing a pair of Crescent Moon’s latest offering, the Magnesium 9s. However, I was to race in my old Crescents, after learning that the company was building them on an as-needed basis, and all pairs were reserved for testing and review by publications such as Snowshoe Magazine and Backpacker. Nevertheless, having run a few snowshoe races in Beaver Creek, I’ve come to enjoy the race experience and post-race festivities.

The race directors wisely start the contests (5K, 10K, kids fun run, ‘dash-for-cash’ run) at 11:00 AM, allowing us city folk to make the 2-3-hour trip without having to get up at 0 Dark 30. The drive to Beaver Creek started as a casual affair. We left the house at 8, giving us plenty of time to reach the slopes. What I didn’t expect was the amount of ski traffic on I-70, prompting a recollection of how we’re always scrambling to get to the start line of the Beaver Creek races, no matter how early we get out the door. We did have a bit of a time buffer this year, allowing me to deposit Aspen and Nick near the drop-off area, park the car in an overflow lot and take the shuttle back to meet them. Beaver Creek Resort is unique in that there is almost no parking at the base of the slopes, except for residents and guests of the surrounding villas. We commoners take a shuttle into the village, which has a center plaza surrounded by shops and bounded by condos. Every square inch of space is accounted for, and I bet it’s one of the few establishments with outdoor escalators. Meeting Aspen at the base of the main ski slopes, she informed me that this race would be starting further upslope and that I had to take a chairlift to the registration booth and race start. I jogged over a bridge to a tent to get my chairlift pass and got in line for the ride up. I shared a quad-seater with a young couple who were skiing but were very interested in snowshoeing. I told them that I had been an avid skier at one time, but went snowshoeing once, only to get hooked and decide to never ski again. I bragged about how it costs next to nothing to do so, and I can bring my dogs and spend an entire day in powder without encountering a single soul. As we talked, I kept glancing at my watch, which had passed 11AM during the ride. Fortunately, upon reaching the registration booth, I found that the race was yet to start, and they would run the kids race and the 100-yd ‘dash-for-cash’ prior to the 5K and 10K races.

I took a bit of time settling into my race mentality. The temps on the slopes were in the 40s, so I wore a tech t-shirt and a light windbreaker, with winter running pants and a pair of Salomon XA Pro 3Ds. The weather also prompted the return of my lucky red bandanna, which was worn at almost every race last summer and fall. I had planned on wearing an iPod and a belt with a couple 8-oz bottles of Vitalyte but chose to leave this extra weight behind as I surveyed some of the other runners and the course beyond. I started inching my way through the other shoers to a spot somewhere in the middle of the pack, to learn that the 5K and 10K racers would comprise a mass start. The race director shouted ‘GO’, and off we went, starting with a climb in the direction of up. There was some difficulty moving forward as people were mostly trying to maintain their balance amidst the confinement of a group start. Once I was able to look ahead of me, I noticed the frontrunners had already broken away from the pack. The course soon split into the respective 5 and 10K routes, and most of the runners went the 5K direction (237, to be exact). Over the next few miles the course alternated between single-track powder and groomed Nordic trails. I chose not to try to pass on the single-track, knowing my strengths were in the Nordic climbs. My direct competition became apparent within the first mile, and I traded places with four or five others for the duration of the race. The toughest section proved to be an extended downhill singletrack through thigh-deep powder, and I was having difficulty in such small snowshoes designed for groomed trails.

As the race wore on, I found that I was able to pass runners while power-hiking, which gained me at least 3 or 4 spots alone. I had hoped that my training mix of running and hiking would benefit me on the hills, and it most certainly did. As the race MC's voice echoed ever nearer in the distance, I began to pick up the pace, knowing the finish was close at hand. (I had stopped looking at my Garmin after Mile Marker 4, in which the unit showed only 3.5 miles.) I caught up to a younger guy who flew past a bunch of us in a previous deep powder section, and he rose to keep pace with me. By then my sights were set on the finish line, knowing I had a little bit left in the tank to cruise ahead. However, I didn’t notice the right hand turn, and the younger guy laughed at me as I realized my error. The course detoured into a short section of powder during which I had lost precious yards to my competitor, allowing another racer to catch me, as well. I spent what little I had left maintaining my balance through this short section which rejoined the groomed trail I most desperately needed, and cruised into the finish.

Once I regained my composure, I began changing into some dry clothes, discovering that my race bib belt had completely spun around, leaving my number on my backside. On a hunch, I guessed that the finish line registrars didn't get my race number as I finished, and my suspicions were proven to be correct. Fortunately, I had timed the race with my Garmin, and it matched the question mark on the registrar’s ledger (1:11:30). It might have been for naught as I later learned I had finished 40th out 80. Collecting my things, I grabbed a chairlift back to the plaza, along with two other female snowshoers. I quickly learned that they were Anita Ortiz (2nd Women’s 10K) and Katie Mazzia (9th Women’s 10K). I had recognized both of their names immediately, as runners tend to scour race result postings for familiar names. Anita was suffering from that exercise-induced hacker’s cough I enjoyed at last week’s race. We talked about the Screamin' Snowman and the upcoming Moab Red Hot 50K, at which all three of us will be competing (well, they in the 50K and I in the 33K). Both were jonesing for a Starbucks, and we said our farewells after disembarking the lift.

I caught up with Aspen shortly thereafter. She was pushing Nick around in the jog stroller, and he was konked out in a restful nap. We proceeded to the plaza center, where a catered lunch was being served to the race participants. I wasn’t the least bit hungry and encouraged Aspen to enjoy my share. Soon the race MC was handing out raffle prizes, briefly interrupting the giveaways to announce the winners of each race division. Calling out the race times elicited murmurs of astonishment from the crowd, and I was quick to determine that the men’s winner finished the race a full 20 minutes faster than I did. The awards ceremony and raffle soon ended, and everyone made their way to the shuttles. It was about 1:45 PM at this point, and I still had to retrieve the car and return to get Aspen, Nick, and the jog stroller. We finally hit the road about 2:30.

Had I remembered past races, I should have kept a mental note to leave for home ASAP, for the next 3.5 hours were to be spent in the car, sitting in ski traffic hell, including an entire half-hour spent completely still, just a few hundred yards from the west entrance of the Eisenhower Tunnel. At first we both kinda marveled over how many cars were on I-70 at the same time. After two hours of inching ever forward, those curiosities turned to frustration, as I took stock of how much of my life was being wasted in this traffic jam. Aspen entertained herself by watching an entire movie on my iPod, and Nick cycled through sleep, whining and crying, as his day was also being manipulated by the incessant traffic pattern. Several times I wondered out loud how people can subject themselves to this kind of punishment each weekend. Gratefully, I will not be among them.

To summarize the race, I didn’t feel that I made any glaring mistakes, other than assuming that I was going to finish better than I did. If anything, this race gave me a renewed appreciation for the level of running talent that Colorado has to offer.

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