Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pittsfield Snow Shoe Marathon

This past weekend, I participated in the Pittsfield Snow Shoe Marathon. Before I delve into the details of the race, I’d like to throw out a couple of BIG thank you’s.

First to Andy Weinberg, gracious host and race director. Andy greets and treats everyone as a guest in his house and then sends you out to challenge you in ways you that make you smile and cry. Whether you are running 100 miles, doing the Winter Death Race or running one of the 3 main distance races, you were treated with both respect and admiration.

Second, thank you to Derrick Spafford. When I decided to take on the challenge of running a Marathon in snowshoes, I knew that there was no way that I’d be able to train for it myself. There are no cookie cutter programs out there to train for this kind of beast. I enlisted Derrick’s coaching services and was amazed at what he was able to pull out of me. Week after week, he penciled workouts that I’d looked at and balked thinking there is no way I could pull it off. But, week after week, I completed everything he threw at me while getting stronger and staying injury free; the perfect one-two combo.

Kim and I drove down to Pittsfield on Friday arriving early so we could unpack and relax a bit before the race. The drive was under gorgeous sunshine, but we noticed that there was quite the absence of snow. Andy had assured us that there were at least a couple of feet of snow on the mountain and fortunately he was correct. We stayed at a charming Bed and Breakfast in the heart of Pittsfield (pop. 350), where we were treated to a wonderful Italian dinner on the Friday night.

Race day dawned clear and bright with perfect blue skies and wonderfully perfect temperature. We went through our well practiced pre-race routine, and being only ½ a mile from the start, we could take our time. We lugged our Rubbermaid tote with all my “aid station” gear and nutrition to the race site, got setup in a good location and then watched some of the Death Race participants. Some of the “tasks” that were in the progress were: coming from their dunk in an icy pond; building a wheel barrow to carry wood up the mountain; and wrestling the US 4 times National 190lb champion.

We listened to the pre-race briefing and then Andy started the countdown. Then, we scrambled to get ready and when the race started, we were lucky to find ourselves close to the front so we managed to avoid a lot of the congestion. The race was a 6.55 mile loop that had to be completed 4 times for the marathon. A loop was simply put - a run up to the top of one of the surrounding hills/mountains (1,900 feet up) and back down; the top was almost exactly half way.

Loop 1

Starting close to the front, it was easy to get into pace without being clogged up or having to pass. The first ½ km was nice and wide, flat or downhill so everyone moved out fairly quickly. We crossed a small bridge and then hit the single track trails what we would be on for the next 9kms. The overnight temperature had been below freezing so the snow was still pretty firm. This made for fairly easy footing and the first climb went smoothly. The climb to the top is a combination of switch backs with 3 (I think it was 3) long straight steep climbs. The run back down the mountain was almost identical to the climb, a few really steep descents with a number of undulating switch backs straight through to the bottom where you crossed back over the bridge, looping back to the start. I was running close to one other guy for most of the first loop so the pace was solid, but not too fast. I had an arbitrary goal of trying to run each loop in 1:15 based on what I thought the course was like and came in from the first loop at 1:16. I was pretty pleased, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold that for the entire race as it was quite a bit more climbing than I had anticipated. I quickly downed a small bottle of e-load, switched out my water bottle and headed back out for Loop 2

Loop 2

As soon as I hit the single track, I knew this was going to be tougher. The sun was strong and it was warming up. The snow that had been firm earlier was starting to soften and the shoeing was getting a little more challenging. I hadn’t run in this kind of snow before. The best way I can describe it is slippery; the cleats could dig into the snow but because it was loose, they didn’t have a lot of sideways grip which meant that you really had to engage the hips and core to keep a straight line. Overall this loop went well, I did slow a bit but climbed fairly smoothly, kept the pace controlled on the down hill and finished the loop in about 1:22. Kim had finished her race (single loop and came in 4th overall. awesome) and was waiting for me. Here I decided that it was getting too warm for long sleeves, so spent the time to change shirts, drank my e-load/Chia mix, switched bottles and back out again. Things were starting to “tickle”. J

Loop 3

This I knew was going to be the toughest. Loop 3 is the no-mans-land loop and it is all about keeping it together mentally. On the climb up I was slowing, the snow and race was starting to takes it toll so I focused on conserving my energy on each climb and running at a more controlled pace. On the last of the 3 steep climbs, my left calf muscle really started to ache, not cramp just get really sore. After I crested the top and started descending, I started to get sharp pains in both my hip flexors. Time for that mental to start working. I kept my descent pace under control hoping to relieve some of the tenderness, but also trying to get my mind into a positive zone. I thought of how great it would be to just stop after this loop, how I really hated putting my body through this kind of torture and how comfy the couch would be right now. Mental was losing, but the whole time I kept running and kept moving forward at a pretty solid pace. Finished this loop in 1:30; slower, but not a huge decrease in time considering the changing snow and physical conditions. I was pleased to get that one behind me, and spent very little time at my aid tote, just wanting to get out to face the final climb.

Loop 4

This was the countdown loop. I finally let myself count down the kms to the end. It was a great mental game and as each clicked by, I knew it would be my last time through here. The pains were still there, but mentally pushed to the back as I focused on clicking off that next km and having a drink of water after each which was my reward. As the snow was getting softer, it really felt like I was slogging at times, but my pace was still fairly strong and I kept with the forward momentum. When I crested the top for the last time, I stopped to refill my water bottle so I wouldn't run out of rewards ‘til the finish. My descent on this last loop felt faster and more controlled than the 3rd loop and after hitting the bottom and the final km to the finish, I still had a spring in my step. For the last 200m, I made sure to stand straight and finish tall and strong. I was not going to look as tired as I felt. Crossed the line in a loop time of 1:32 and final time of 5:42, and 5th place overall.

I am really happy with this race. It was tough, but I was on both physically and mentally, nutrition was perfect with no stomach issues, cramping, or bonking. I managed to keep a steady running pace throughout, and all my climbs were solid. Trust in the training.

Oh and there is a third thank you, and that is to my life partner and best friend Kimber. You always have my back and are always at my side. You pull me to the finish and never let me down. None of this is possible or worth while without you. Hugs.

Some of our pictures from the race

My Training Peaks GPS Upload