Sunday, January 27, 2019

Snowshoe 5K

I know I stated in my 2019 resolutions that I would only do races between 5 and 10 miles, yet I was still attracted to the idea of a 5k race in snowshoes. I fully anticipated my time would not be close to my typical 5k time, yet still be quite a workout.

Four days before the race, during a training run, I took a near-face plant on a sidewalk in Princeton scuffing both knees and my pride. I spent Wednesday at work with my left leg elevated and limping. I wasn't sure what that meant for me on Saturday morning.

By the weekend, the knees were healing nicely, but I still took some Tylenol before the race. Good thing since my knees did not hurt during the race.

The Spring Mountain Snowshoe Race is about an hour away from our house, not far from Limerick, Pennsylvania. As we stood at the start line, I overheard one man say to another in past years the race has drawn about 40-60 participants. This year 192 registered. He also said the fastest person would finish in about 20 minutes -- a decent time in a 5K, even without snowshoes and on a flat surface.

I'm assuming you are all smarter than I am, and realized much earlier than I did, but the race was on a hill. I looked out the window at the ski lodge and saw a giant hill covered in man-made snow and went oh no. Okay, that might not be exactly what I was thinking, but you get the gist. Don admitted he kept looking for the flat area for us to walk in our rented snowshoes. Even after looking at the course map (kindly drawn on a flat piece of paper) he wondered where the race was taking place. Surely not on that MOUNTAIN (which looks MUCH steeper in real life, trust me).

Prior to race day they provided a link to a YouTube video about how to put on snowshoes. They suggested taking them out for a spin.

We arrived around 7:05 and the parking lot was nearly full, even though they only opened up five minutes earlier. It was 20 degrees out, with zero wind (the lack of wind really made a difference). We gathered our bib, tee shirt, ticket for rum cider, snowshoes, obligatory race plastic bag,  and wristband for the rum cider and somehow the next 55 minutes disappeared in a blur. Some of that time was spent trying to figure out how to put on the snowshoes, and figuring out just how many layers we really should wear (the answer was one less than what we thought we needed). We headed outside to practice walking in them.

An early concern for me was just how much the strap dangled -- looked like an accident waiting to happen (and it was). I couldn't figure out what to do with the dangling part fast enough.

Looking at the map, it was divided into two 2.5k loops, meaning if the first loop was really that bad, we could bail. We were given one hour to complete the course, after which time they were open for regular business and we would be competing with skiers. 

ALMOST to the top
We took of. Don had the early lead. Within the first third of a kilometer (I don't think I am exaggerating here) I overheard someone say "the novelty will be wearing off soon." I couldn't have agreed with her more. Snowshoeing on a flat surface would be tricky enough. Slaloming up (and then down) the hill added to the challenge.

We make it to the very tippy top, and then run down and then (you guessed it) back up again. Fortunately after this point we did have a long, downhill stretch. 


The downhill was both exhilarating and scary. When I could let loose and feel like a small child, I smiled as I raced down the hill. When I remembered I was an adult, I was afraid my snowshoes would come out from under me and that I would land on my bottom (or back on my knees). The other adults around me seemed to be having the same mixture of experiences.

During the downhill the first racer passed me. Before I reached the halfway point, five others joined him. I have not seen the results, but the lead guy may have finished in 20 minutes.

Somehow our lovely downhill turned into another uphill before we got to the turnaround point and reality set in ... should I say enough is enough and quit (and have my first DNF (Did Not Finish)) or press on beyond the point of exhaustion?

 Before starting the race, I had turned my GPS on so I could study the results later. On the first downhill I heard 17 minutes 17 seconds; one mile completed. Ouch!

I decided if I was under 30 minutes, I would go for the second half, otherwise I would bail.

The clock read 26 minutes and change. 

Press on.

Around the point on the second lap where I overheard the women talking about the novelty wearing off, I stepped on the strap of my snowshoe and went down. Hard. On the knee that was more bruised four days earlier in the week. This time I twisted it, too. 

Grumble. Grumble.

Press on.

The second lap was emotionally easier because I knew what to expect -- how much farther uphill, how long on the downhill. The second lap was physically harder because I had been out in the cold for over half an hour using muscles I don't typically use.

When I had passed Don on the first giant uphill he said he wasn't sure if he would do the second lap. He did.

We both finished in under an hour. As we were leaving the course we saw the skiers arriving in their matching blue ski clothes. I guess they were a team?

Hard to tell in this picture, but I was 110, Don was 120

In the end, I felt this was a one-and-done kind of race. It was unique, but not something I want to repeat. Don said knowing what he now knows, he wants to go back next year and beat his time. We'll see what happens next year.

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