I signed up for the Sourdough Snowshoe race a few months ago, as soon as Ryan Kircher posted the link and told all of his trail running friends in CO to do so. I follow orders well. Besides, it was FREE! Can't beat that.
I can't say a did a lot of training for this race. I did a snowshoeing hut trip back in November (about 3 miles) with a 20-lb pack strapped to my back. Then I did 2 or 3 "runs" with the running snowshoes I got for Christmas from the Nickster. The longest distance I traveled in my snowshoes was 9 miles and a good deal of that was walking. I came to realize that this 30k race was definitely going to be a challenge.
As the race date approached, I went back and forth as to what I wanted to do. On one hand, I thought this would be a great training race to get me ready for 3 Days of Syllamo. On the other hand I thought, I'm not ready for this. Maybe I should just drop down to the shorter distance (11.4 mi). Or not go at all. I would miss a KU basketball game after all. And that would be sad. I kept thinking that a bunch of my other friends would decide not to go too. But a few days out, everybody was in. So I decided I'd do it, but I wasn't excited about it.
In Nederland, race day brought high winds. Though the temperature wasn't very low, the wind made the start of the race a little uncomfortable. But once I got moving, the wind didn't play a very big role with most of the course being sheltered by trees.
Because I had never snowshoed this far, I don't think I dressed quite appropriately for the conditions. As a person who gets hot easily, I don't like to pile on too many layers. But snowshoeing is different than normal running. For one thing, snow builds up around your shoes. After a while, my shoes were completely covered in big clumps of snow. Several times, I started to worry that my feet were getting too cold. But eventually I'd get over some hill and be able to pick up the pace to warm up my feet. In the future, I might entertain the idea of carrying an extra pair of socks to change into, but once your shoes are packed with snow, it's a significant effort to get them off, especially with cold hands. So I'm not sure the 10 minutes or so it would take to change socks, all the while being cold from not moving, would be worth it.
Also, snowshoes, especially the running variety, kick a lot of snow back onto you. So you have a constant spray of snow hitting your legs, butt, back, hands, etc. I even had some going over my head! So even if you're generating a lot of heat, you're losing a lot with all the snow hitting and clinging to you. Luckily, I was smart enough to wear my rain jacket as an outer layer, which kept my core nice and warm. But my legs did get a little chilly with just my medium weight tights to cover them. In the future, I would probably either wear a heavier pair of tights or better yet, a pair of loose running pants, to keep the snow away from my legs. I definitely realized the importance of wardrobe in a long winter race. You never know what's going to happen. If you have to slow down, you're going to get cold. What happens if you get too cold and you're far away from an aid station?
I also had trouble keeping my hands warm from time to time. The gloves I wore would've been perfect in an ideal situation, in which I never fell into the snow. But several times I would unexpectedly sink into a deep section of snow, forcing me to catch myself with my hands. Then all of a sudden you have wet gloves! Several times I had to take my fingers out of the glove's fingers and just ball my hands up inside the palm of the glove to keep my hands from getting too cold. Anyway, I'm not positive about the solution to this problem. Perhaps bring an extra pair of gloves to switch out from time to time when they get wet? Be less clumsy?
I probably should have eaten much more during the race. I ate just 1.5 packs of Honey Stinger Chews during the 6 hour effort. But when you have cold, wet hands, fiddling around with zippers and opening tiny packages slides farther down on your list of things that you want to do. More than once, I removed my glove so that I could use my practically useless frozen hand to remove some food from a pocket, all the while trying not to drop bits of trash on the trail, only to look back and see that I've dropped my glove 20 ft back. Drats! So I probably have nobody to blame but myself for feeling nauseous and tired for the last 7 miles. Perhaps next time I do a winter race I'll rely on something like Honey Stinger Waffles. At least there is just one piece of food in a package, unlike the chews, and they're not gooey like gels. Who wants to have sticky, glove hands??
If I were running this course, without snow, I would say it's difficulty would be moderate. But when you add snow and strap a few extra pounds do your feet, the slightest incline feels like a mountain. The first couple miles are uphill. I spent the first half mile or so trying to keep up with Abby. She was running and setting a good pace, but I was already feeling really tired. My lungs weren't warmed up and my legs felt like lead. I imagine Abby felt similar because soon we were both walking. Early in the race I passed a couple people, which stole an incredible amount of energy from my legs. In order to pass someone you'd have to run past through unpacked snow. So eventually I started carefully weighing whether a pass was worth it. After a while I decided to pass Abby just because I was keeping a faster walking pace. I figured she'd catch up running. I wanted to reserve as much energy as possible so I didn't push myself to run sections that were difficult just for the sake of telling myself I ran them. I wanted to FINISH.
The next mile or two were flat and I got much more running done here, though there were some sections of deep, powdery snow which made it difficult. I remember being on a ridge, with the wind howling and the snow blowing, thinking I was very thankful that at least it was at my back. A woman named Vicki caught up to me after a bit and we ended up running/walking together for the rest of the race. I found out that she had lots of snowshoe experience and had been competing in this race since its inception. Vicki was like an energizer bunny. She ran and ran and ran, up and up. So I did my best to keep up with her by working on my speed hiking. It worked out pretty well! I was worried that I'd been working so much on hill running lately that I'd lose my walking edge. Not so. Though I can't really know for sure unless I test myself against my friend Coleen, the embodiment of the uphill speed walker. The last mile or two to the aid station consisted of some rolling hills and Vicki and I passed the time getting to know each other. Time seemed to fly.
When we reached the road and didn't see the aid station we spent a few minutes walking around aimlessly before we saw the volunteers waving at us from down the road. It seems we missed a turn. Well, when you're snowshoe racing I guess once the first person makes a wrong turn, everybody else is likely to make the same mistake too. You get into the mindset of just following the tracks. I felt good when we got to the aid station. Not super tired. Still cheery and optimistic. I knew I would finish the race unless I took a serious turn for the worse on the 7-mi lollipop we were about to embark on.
Vicki and I decided to stay together and soon we were running a nice downhill section. I didn't realize how long or steep this section was until we had to go back up into the aid station. This part wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. There were a few sections of deep loose powder on the loop but they weren't ver long. I think what really broke me was the last couple miles back to the aid station. It was pretty much a continuous climb. Vicki ran a lot of it and I just kept pushing my hiking pace. I was really starting to feel it in my glutes. And then came the nausea. I felt like barfing but I was convinced I'd feel great once we got back to the aid station. It would be a cake walk from there!
When we got back to the aid station, which I managed to reach without barfing, I had a bit of hot tea then we headed out. I know I SAID that these couple miles were rolling hills before, but it didn't register with me on the way out. But on the way back in, when I was expecting a mostly downhill trip all the way into the finish line, I realized I'd been wrong. My stomach didn't feel any better, though I managed to choke down a couple more Honey Stinger Chews. I walked more than I liked, considering this was the home stretch. The last 5.5-6mi. I even walked a lot of flat sections because I thought I would throw up. I managed to run downhill, just letting gravity carry me. The last couple miles were all downhill or flat so we made good time there. At one point we approached a clearing where I was convinced I saw the parking lot on the other side. Not so. It was just a bunch of trees. I kept looking through the gaps in the trees, thinking I was seeing cars, when it was really just more trees. That's when you know when it's time to be done with a race. When trees start looking like cars. Of course I had to trip and nearly face plant one more time for good measure. But I picked myself up and raced back to catch up to Vicki.
We decided to cross the finish line together. I don't know if I could have finished the race without Vicki's company. Not only did she set a good pace physically, but having never run a snowshoe race before, I think I would have gone off an emotional deep end, trudging along out there alone in the snow. I might have finished but it wouldn't have been nearly as pleasant!
Other snowshoe things
You know when you're running and you get tired and kick yourself? The same thing happens when you're snowshoeing. Except kicking yourself with hunks of metal is more painful. And if you do it, you always end up kicking yourself right in that knobby ankle bone protrusion thing. I'm sure my friends in the medical profession can fill in the technical term there. So at the end of the day, my ankles were purple.
Despite the race being free, it still has great support (hot tea, water, gels at aid station) and tons of raffle prizes. So when I reached the finish line I had a $25 gift certificate to Boulder Running company waiting for me! Yipee! Also, being one of the last individuals to finish (probably just because a bunch of people dropped to the shorter distance and having nothing to do with me being slow), the other folks in our group had prepared some post-race food. Ryan K. had brought a little propane grill and hot dogs. So I happily scarfed down a couple of his wieners. And that's the end! I'm happy to have found great people in CO to enjoy these weekend adventures with. But next up I'm getting pumped for a long weekend with my KS running friends in lovely Arkansas. 3 Days, here I come!