Feb 132012

by Ian Parlin

My preparation for the second race of the Bradbury Mountain Snowshoe Series began about a week and a half before the race, when Emma and I went to run the course. We made it all the way around the course without snowshoes, and even tacked on a few hill repeats on the Terrace Trail at the end, and it was clear that we would not be snowshoeing on these trails unless we got at least 6″ of new snow before the race. I talked to Ryan about holding the race on the usual course as a trail race (without snowshoes) but given the amount of ice on the trails this wasn’t looking like a very good option. All we could do was wait until we got a bit closer to race day and hope we would get a lot of new snow.

A week later, without any snow, Danielle went out to survey the race course and confirmed that there was no way we wanted to set foot on the mountain, so Ryan and I met on Friday morning to see if we could come up with a decent course on the east side trails of Bradbury. New England snowshoe racing has really suffered this season due to lack of snow, and we desperately hoped that the White Out would not be the next race casualty. I ran about 7 miles, Ryan hobbled for a couple and we found that the east side had pretty good snow coverage, enough that we could piece together a 4+ mile loop. With the weather forecast for Saturday calling for a few inches of fresh snow to fall we figured we’d be in great shape for race day.

I returned to Bradbury on Saturday morning and with help from Jim, NJ Dave and Jordan we ran the race course and set out the arrow markers at each of the trail intersections along the way. The course was a bit convoluted, but we tried to piece together the trails that had the best snow coverage and avoid the worst of the ice and exposed rocks. While it wasn’t possible to avoid ice and rocks altogether I figured we’d be OK with a fresh layer of snow. Once we finished on the race course Jim and I decided to run a lap of the mountain to see how bad conditions really were. It was bad. Extreme ice treacherosity. The warm weather we’d had all week had melted a lot of snow, which ran downhill and turned to ice overnight. This served to confirm that Ryan and I definitely made the right call to move the race course.

Despite what appeared to be snow falling from the sky for several hours on Saturday nothing stuck, and at the end of the day there was no new accumulation at my house. I was hopeful that at the high elevations of Bradbury Mountain it might be a different story, but when I arrived at The Brad on Sunday morning to finish the course marking it looked just the same as the previous morning. When I met up with Ryan there was a moment of “What are we going to do, we can’t snowshoe this!” but as we made our way around the course trying to jab pin flags into the thin layer of crusty snow we realized that there was just enough snow to make it work. There was ice, and there were a few exposed rocks and roots, but all-in-all it wasn’t a bad course, and at least the conditions would allow for some fast running.

So with all the uncertainly about the race – what would the course be and would we even be running on snowshoes – I had a hard time mentally preparing to run my own race, although admittedly I had it easier than anyone else since I was the only person participating in the race who had actually run the course. For some reason my head just didn’t feel like it was in the right place to get me through a hard race effort today. I had been taking it easy all week trying to look after a sore ankle that I rolled two weeks ago, so at least I was relatively well rested going into the race. I usually bounce back from a rolled ankle pretty quickly, like somewhere between 2 minutes and a few hours, so the fact that this has been lingering for two weeks has me a little concerned. Two years ago I had to withdraw from a 100 miler because of relatively minor but chronic achilles pain that hampered my training. I certainly don’t want to go down that road again.

Enough sandbagging… with the course marked Ryan and I went about setting up registration, the start/finish, brewing coffee and starting a fire and before we knew it runners were showing up. I almost forgot about my own running until just after 10:30 when Emma suggested it might be a good idea to get a warm-up in before the race. By the time we got our snowshoes on and a few layers stripped off we only had about 10 minutes but that seemed like just enough, it doesn’t take much running around in snowshoes to get warmed up. This was also a good chance for us to talk a little bit about strategy and get focused before the race.

When Ryan shouted GO! I was amongst a pretty thick crowd of strong runners near the front of the pack and I immediately got one of my snowshoes stepped on and almost when down when that foot didn’t respond to my attempt to move it forward. My reaction was to get away from the pack as quickly as possible to avoid further contact and within a few more paces I was in third place behind Judson and Jeremy, but of course it didn’t take long for them to disappear out of sight. The trail remained wide for the first half mile so I expected someone to challenge my position, and although I could hear the clatter of many snowshoes on hard snow and ice behind me no one made a move. The next half mile was on tight single-track and I knew no one would want to pass on this but I could tell that there were several people right on my heels. As soon as we came out onto the wider Snowmobile Trail Eric cruised around me and powered up the gradual hill ahead. I was surprised he had stuck behind me for so long, I guess stuck is the appropriate word. I didn’t even think about trying to hang with him, I knew it would be a futile attempt and a sure way to burn out.

Less than a half mile later we were back on single-track. I was grateful that no one else had passed me but knew that there was at least one person right behind. I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t dare look to find out, this was not the kind of terrain where you could afford to take your eyes of the trail. That pressure of knowing that there was someone right there was enough to keep me focused on racing. If this person wanted to get past then they were going to have to work for it, I certainly wasn’t going to let them by without a fight. And fight I did. I had to work hard to stay in front of this person.

Luckily I was able to use my knowledge of the course to my advantage, or so I thought. When I knew there was a particularly technical section coming up or a few tight turns I’d slow down just a bit to catch my breath, and then step it back up with a little surge on the easier terrain. This wasn’t really working so I tried the opposite approach of relaxing on the easy parts and surging on the technical. This didn’t work as well as I had hoped either, it looked like I was just going to have to run my ass off for the rest of the race.

At the three mile mark I tried to plan out my strategy for the last mile of the race. There was a wide downhill straightaway coming up on the Old Tuttle Road, I figured this was my chaser’s best chance to catch me since I couldn’t rely on trees or any other natural obstacles for blocking. I had to put in a surge of speed here to fend him off, if he got ahead of me here then I would have a very hard time getting him back on the single-track that followed. When we made the sharp turn onto Lanzo I slowed down to try and catch my breath. I knew that even if he caught up to me he’d have a hard time getting past. When we reached the entrance to the Island Trail I knew there was about a half mile left. With the last 1/10th on the flat, straight double-track of the Link Trail I had to get some more distance between us on the remaining single-track. I put on another surge and finally, for the first time in the race opened a gap of more than a couple of seconds. When I turned on to the Link Trail I was redlining, the only thing that kept me moving was the fear of losing my place in these last few seconds of the race.

photo by Maine Running Photos

I collapsed after crossing the line, gasping, drooling, legs burning. 10 seconds later Scott came in, I congratulated him and thanked him for the push. He made me race much harder than I thought I could on a day when I didn’t think I had it in me.

From everything I heard most people seemed to like the course, we were definitely lucky to be able to come up with a course that had enough snow coverage to be snowshoe-able. I hope we get some more snow before the next race though.

time: 32:32
distance: 4.0 miles
pace: 8:08
splits: 8:14, 7:56, 9:03, 7:38
place: 4/45


weather: low 20’s, breezy, sunny

conditions: mostly hard packed snow and ice, some loose snow

gear: Atlas Run snowshoes, Inov-8 Roclite 315, OR gaiters, sock liners, wool socks, tights, 2x long sleeve shirt, gloves, mittens, buff

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