Monday, February 4, 2008

Race Report: Screamin' Snowman 5K

My second snowshoe race of the season was this little bitty 5K at Eldora Mountain Resort called the Screamin’ Snowman. The race course is a radical blend of steep uphills, well-worn single-track trails, and thigh-deep off-track powder. It’s almost impossible to get a rhythm going, since none of these sections are more than a few hundred yards long (except for one lengthy off-track segment). My first stab at this course was in 2005, when I ran with Aspen to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. I returned in 2006, originally hoping to run the 10K version, but when it came close to registration time, I didn’t feel like I had a 10K in me. I surprised myself with a third place overall finish in the 5K. This year, I’m sure I could have taken on the longer distance, but my ego won out in the end and I went with the Sandbag Special. I uncharacteristically started just behind the frontrunners on this course, which opens with a groomed uphill climb that immediately spreads out the field. I found I was able to run this first section and keep a fourth-place position for the first couple miles of the course. Eldora had received about seven inches of powder the night before, so the off-terrain portions of the course were slower than usual, prompting the runner behind me to joke about how all of us looked like drunk people trying to navigate our way through the woods. I found that the 5K field was a lot stronger this year, and my perceived improvements were not enough to repeat my success, as I lost a couple places in the closing mile of the race. I finished strong, although my mistake of not taking a couple puffs on my inhaler before the race proved costly toward the end, as I struggled to get oxygen into my lungs on the home stretch. On such a short distance I wasn’t allowed to stop and take a breather or veer off course, as eight of us finished within 45 seconds of each other. In the end I came in sixth place overall, and I was gaining on the runner in front of me as I turned the last corner. Satisfied with my performance, I regained my composure and searched for Aspen, who was in the ski rental shop, cradling Nick and talking to some of the other moms with kids around his age (there must have been at least four or five!)

The exhilaration of knowing I had pushed my body to its limits paled to what would occur after the race. I asked one of the race directors, Darrin Eisman if he had any skull caps from last year’s event. I happened to be sporting one (see photo in Bachin’ it with unGuy), and have been wearing it around the house as my hair gets longer and increasingly difficult to keep out of my eyes. I had tried several different and more expensive brands only to come back to this economical version sold by To my delight, he said that they had a bunch left over from last year and were selling them for $5 (they cost $14 online)! I bought five, and he also gave me a freebie. After the awards ceremony, I ambled over to where Jake Thamm, owner of Crescent Moon snowshoes, was plying his wares. He was providing loaners of his most current product line to race-day entrants. I introduced myself, as Aspen and I wear Crescents and had recently sent them in to be retrofitted with new bindings and crampons. I had also talked with him at length on the phone about their new products, etc. He recognized me right away, and we spoke briefly about their new line and how light Crescent Moon snowshoes have become over the years. He mentioned that their current model is made of magnesium, resulting in an even lighter shoe. I looked down at mine (well, Aspen’s, actually – I race in hers) all beat-up and missing sections of paint, thinking of the 1000+ miles and breath-taking locations these shoes have seen, and I salivated over the aesthetics of his current versions. As the crowds were dissipating, I offered to help him load his inventory into his Jeep, casually volunteering to test a pair of those mag shoes. To my astonishment, he offered to send me a pair in return for a written review on their performance, durability, etc. As a ‘Crescent Veteran’, I look forward to giving the new shoes a thorough workout.

Now that the short race is out of the way, I look forward to the longer distances, where I can use smart running tactics like proper nutrition and hydration to persevere in a race rather than pure speed, which is not my strength. I have the Moab Red Hot 33K in a couple weeks and anticipate a strong finish simply due to my preference for colder climes on race day. In the meantime, I’m looking at the North American Snowshoe Championships in Beaver Creek next Sunday. This is a 10K event and will feature some of the best snowshoe runners in the country. I’m still suffering from a nasty exercise-induced asthma-borne hacker's cough which I hope will clear out before the weekend. Given the strength of the upcoming 10K field, I’ll need every advantage I can get. With a clean set of lungs and a pair of Mag 9s, maybe I’ll have a fighting chance (to finish).

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