Triple Crown Ultra Snowshoe Series – Part 3

Back on that cold January evening when I punched in my sixteen credit card digits and made the commitment to attempt the Nor’East Trail Runs Triple Crown Ultra Snowshoe Series (wow.. what a mouthful!), I decided to try this new thing because it just seemed like fun – it was simply something that I had never attempted before. I had owned my Dion 21” racing snowshoes for just over two months and with great enjoyment, ran some weekends in the Whites Mountains because it was a snazzy (whose eyes don’t get attracted to neon orange snowshoes?!) and fast way of covering ground through the mountains, as long as the trails were somewhat packed!

I did the 10K race and found out that it was, without a doubt, a rad time! The other folks were a super nice crowd to be a part of, and it felt pretty darn good to run on these short but sturdy snowshoes! The half-marathon saw more of my competitive side once I had found out that I can actually move rather efficiently over packed powder. When the 50K was about half over, I completely realized that this was going to be the toughest day of pushing myself – possibly, ever! I wanted to quit, but didn’t. I was frigid down to my toe bones, but kept moving. All of the prior experience of walking that mile to work in minus fifteen temperatures over the winter months (training to be more comfortable in uncomfortable circumstances..) helped program my mind so I could convince myself through repetition of my thoughts that “this isn’t so bad”, “I’ve felt worse before”, or “just keep moving, maybe it will get better after
it gets worse!”

T-minus 12 days

So, in a way, I did not want the snowshoe series to end, I was having fun getting to know these folks, chatting it up and saying hi at each event. The thought to race again came to me basically instantaneously as I saw the results from the 50K, “I finished, but still got no points?!”, I remember thinking to myself.

The last race of the entire season was taking place in about two weeks, for sure I’d be there for that!

Once again, I punched in my credit card info and just like that, I was officially in for my last race of the winter (snowshoe) season, but my first night race with this crew! It was advertised as a run “under the lights” at the venue – and the groomed trails – I was now accustomed to: Viking Nordic Center, in Londonderry, Vermont.

All I had to do now was keep up my morning runs, rest and eat – like I had been for the previous events.

I was sore Monday following the 50K at Merck Forest, but by Tuesday I was back to my old self – running two steps at a time from the 1st
floor to the 6th floor, and from the 6th floor back to our office on the 4th, no pain at all! For the next two weeks I focused on keeping my hamstring loose, foam rolling and…essentially traversing a fine precipice of just ‘babying’ it, and hammering hard enough to destroy the muscle with hills and moderate mileage during the weeks, ramping it back up with Ciara and the doggies over the weekends.

T-Minus 13 hours

Friday rolled around, much like the way most Friday’s do.

March 15th 2019, read the face of my Coros watch.

Morning. I wanted to bury my phone out in the field, similarly to every other day when my alarm goes off at 4:01am. This was a pretty typical morning. I hit the pavement at 5:31am with a dying headlamp, quickly finding out that my legs were concrete and craved rest. Not a good way to start a day with a night run in just a few hours, so with 2.34miles logged, I retired home under a dim light and readied for the work day. I hoped for a smooth and pain-free day; all I wanted to do was get back in my car and make the hour drive to Londonderry.

To my pleasant surprise it was a sunny day when I got out at 2:45pm. Salomon’s laced up, I made the uneventful 1.06 mile jog back to my car, playing Frogger with the traffic and stop lights.

Once home with Ciara, I made a quick snack of raw cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, washed up with a handful of dates; quick and easily digestible by the time I would arrive at the Nordic Center.

Once again, I made the drive solo, flying south on the interstate – but this time I was accompanied by glorious afternoon sun rays and with minimal traffic, I was in heaven! Trying to cool my thoughts from the work day and meditating the best I could while auto-piloting the fifty-something miles southwest, I pulled into the muddy ski lot with plenty of time to spare!

With about an hour to stretch and do whatever my little heart desired out there in Vermont, I followed the sun with no hesitation! Right up onto the front porch of the Clubhouse, directly in the glowing warmth I stretched, then went for a quick 2-mile warm up down the road in the 60+ degree afternoon sun. It was beautiful! “What a way to ring in Spring!”, I thought to myself, I was psyched that we were all so lucky to have the opportunity to run on the last fading snowflakes.

T-minus 3 minutes

We all gathered out in the familiar field area where we had begun several occasions in the past, group photos taken, jackets and extra gear dropped, the course for tonights race was outlined – emphasis on the initial 50 feet, count down commenced – and we were off!!

Once again the quicker of the bunch took right off, leaving me to my comfortable steady “sustainable” pace. It took about 10 paces to enter the ‘danger zone’; it was like someone standing in front had thrown a slushie in my face and down my shoes!

“What-the-shit..that-is-cooooold!!!” The words going through my head as a bounced through 8 inches of deep slush and ice-water. Similarly to the 50K trail run, my shoes did minimal to keep ice water out of my socks. If I could run while in shock – I was certainly going to find out how tonight!

I was on the heels of a gentleman who I overheard saying “I have another race tomorrow, I’m not pushing it today”, well I was and it didn’t seem like I would pass him anytime soon! We hung out turn after turn, I stayed to his right side, mirroring every step, he was quicker on the descents but once we hit the first ascent of the evening – I left him in my snowy dust.

Once again all of my hill climbing was paying off, one runner down (never to catch up), one runner to track down! My body reflected auto racing as I leaned into the turns, hitting the apex of each turn, trying to plan my lines while glancing 30 feet out ahead. Trying to control my breathing (which was like a freight train at this point), I gained on first place.

Passing a sign which read To Finish, I thought to myself “ehh oh well, I’ll try again next lap”, as we rounded yet again another curve which gave way to hills. Hills were saving me, I knew I was quick all throughout the course, but no one seemed to be able to control their breath and just motor through these hills, I was stoked!

First of the rolling hills I passed this last runner as if he were walking on sand dunes – “looking great, dude!!” I exclaimed with a wave passing by.

And then there was one.

I was left to race in my own mind, my favorite kind. Now all I had to do was not break an ankle and get my breathing slowed back down. At the beginning of the second lap Adam was there taking photos as he was dressed up in a T-Rex costume, laughter is always a welcome medicine on any of my runs!

Back through the 50 or so foot stretch of ice water, sinking mid-shin with every step. It certainly did not feel excellent, but reassured myself – I wasn’t here for a walk in the park. I was here to run the hardest and strongest that I had yet, I mean, it was only a 5K..

Right away I had numbness jolt up the side of my calf from the ice water, I knew it was from the ice bath because I had never felt such a targeted numbing pain like that. “Run through it, one lap left, you’re almost done, ignore the feeling, land on your feet correctly, take off with power, breathe hard and deep – and repeat” I told myself over and over.

It was finally now on the second lap as we retraced our first steps through the Nordic trails that I was able to sit back, take in the setting sun through the trees and smell the forest – and what else.. oil burning?

The fading light through the rolling snowy trails now began to resemble some fairy tale forest land, minus the gnomes – but they had set up oil lamps all through the second half of the course!! I was so excited for this, the smell of the burning oil and the flickering of the real burning flame out there was pure magic. Enough to relieve the pain temporarily from the cold jolting up my shin.

Hitting the hills again, now for the last time, I believed within myself that this was it, I had done it. Passed everyone and now I was just cruising it on home. The hills provided temporary warmth from the ice water dripping off my shorts, I was out here to have fun – and this truly, truly was turning out to be a fantastic day, the type of days that we don’t want to end.

Last hill, cow bells rang, Adam, Eliza and the other spectators hootin’ and hollerin’ at the top of the hill – pushed it now up and over the starting line that was scratched into the quickly melting ski slopes.

Sticking around to see the other racers sprint it in, shaking hands, clapping for new friends like so many others had done for me – quickly took my mind off my own freezing shorts and dripping wet shoes, and suddenly I wasn’t cold anymore.

Okay, fair enough – I was super cold!

Quick change of shoes and socks, add a jacket into the mix and I was doing better – even better yet with the head of romaine and a cucumber to eat during the raffle and last hurrah around the cast iron fire place. Surprised yet again when Adam called out “Erik” as the winner of some energy gel jackets, I looked around to see how many other Erik’s there were out here with us.. none!

Retreating to my fireplace spot in the back with my new raffle prize and the remainder of my romaine head, I just munched and munched. Similar to the way a waiter is guaranteed to come over only when you have a full mouth of snacks, a friend came over to talk about the 50K.

I was super stoked as I listened to so much enthusiasm that I had never heard before: I had influenced her to try something new? To step out of a comfort zone and attempt the 50K? I was beyond touched, and all the while I was the one trying to not be noticed as I pushed myself beyond my own limits – but to help someone, to influence them to try new things – my night, my day, my week was made. This, I thought, was why I signed up for this stuff. Hearing a reaction like this brought me extreme contentment – I had done something that helped someone else make a positive decision!

The following days passed as I slowly wore out the ‘refresh’ button on my internet browser, anxiously awaiting the “official results” to be posted on the Nor’East website. Sitting in clinic at work with my little bit of down time, I checked Facebook – which I never do on my phone because it loads all skewed and funky – but to my surprise there it was! A whole write up and the official results and congratulatory remarks on both of their online pages. It was now ‘official’. I had initially no intention of claiming overall first place, nor the idea that I could end up in this spot when I signed up for this whole shin-dig, but there it was, my name in the ‘first-place’ spot!

Folks are still asking me how “the thing I did the other night” went, and honestly it is hilarious to see their reactions to the distances that we all traveled on snowshoes. It was such a fun event, really the highlight of my Winter 2019.

I won my Dion snowshoes, with several options of how I wanted to customize them – they offer several binding options and crampon (spike) offerings, I learned the hard way in the White Mountains that the only spikes that hold up to my abuse are the stainless steel “ice” cleats. Can’t wait to get those babies in the mail but I have a feeling that when I do, they will be hanging on the ‘gear wall’ with my older, beaten Dion snowshoes patiently awaiting next seasons’ snowfall.

That is okay though, I am ready for Spring; ready to smell the defrosting soil, heck – ready to feel traction once again, chunky rubber lugs of my Salomon SpeedCross4’s gripping granite as I push up to the mountain tops on bare rock. I’m ready to not have to dress in so many layers to go out and run. Totally psyched to have several other Nor’East Trail Runs events already logged in the calendar, amped to run 50K trail events with these folks again and be able to hang out, still a sweaty mess – but not have hypothermia such a factor in my days!

Follow along in the future for more epic adventures, and if you missed the series leading up to this point – be sure to catch the link to back track and see how I got started in this whole, crazy, snowshoe running series: for the love of doing new things and pushing into the discomfort-zone!

Have a super rad day and thanks for following along the journey!

Cheers!

Erik


Overall Punxsutawney Phil 5K stats

Recorded with my Coros Pace GPS watch

  • 1st place finish
  • 2.49 miles
  • 21min 37seconds
  • 8:41 pace
  • 174′ elevation gain

 

 

Triple Crown Ultra Snowshoe Series – Part 2

T-minus 48 hours.

It was Friday morning and I knew I had to begin cooling down those morning runs. Those precious minutes before the daily hustle to get ready and slam out the door to scoot off to work was my time; time to breathe, take in the sights and sounds (usually in darkness with a glimpse of sunrise prior to daylight saving ended) of the beginning of the day. So I ran up the snow covered hill and down to the part of the roads where the car traffic begins, 5.6 miles round trip.

I was feeling good despite my hamstring still giving me grief since November, we three (Ciara, Tuesday and I) had all gone for massages the weekend prior – the focus: my hamstring. I can really say I was feeling pretty darn good in the days following that massage, running felt loose, climbing stairs was, for the most part, tolerable. Everything felt smooth that Friday before the 50K on Sunday, work passed by as it usually does and I tackled the methodical 1.03mile jog back to my car where the tightness typically creeps in. The night was followed up with banana nice-cream, foam rolling and stretching. I didn’t know what else to do to get ready, “just be yourself”, I told myself.

T-minus 24 hours.

Saturday was going to be a day of rest, but when I saw that cantaloupe colored sunrise coming up and Ciara mention ‘packed snow’ and ‘running with the dogs’ in the same sentence – I was in.

The good thing about running on packed snow is that the grip is iffy, so our pace stays well below blacktop running, but the attribute I enjoy most about these trails are that, yes they are groomed and packed, but still soft as long as the runner focuses on not rolling an ankle in the groomed grooves. It was a great time – we ran, we chatted, we walked here and there – it was just a wonderful time to be out together (aside from the other dogs who were off leash!).

Saturday was basically our ‘date day’, or so I took it! We followed up the run with a trip to the local co-op and bought some Kombucha to share later on – which was on sale..bonus!! We ate our lunch and spent what little time we had together before I hit the road, headed to New York to with a 100% chance of snow – exactly what we needed for the snowshoe run the following day. A fist full of carrots and some good ol’ tunes are what accompanied me as I made the trek over the Killington Mt pass along Route 4. Traffic moved above the posted speed limit (which is an almost ‘never happens’ along those roads), which proceeded to keep my spirits high, jammin’ along to music from years past on the iPod that I dug out for the first time in 5 years (music I loved, and had long forgotten!).

My destination: Tuesday.

I had been offered a night out in one of the cabins at Merck Forest where the 50K Ultra was being held, but as I saw the prediction of inclement weather and temps dropping well below zero, I gladly accepted a stay with our fellow half-marathoner: Tuesday, or also known as Ciara’s mama, however one refers to her – they are super similar – very fun folks to be around!! I assumed this would be stellar company to be around the night before a big run, as I needed to try to keep my mind clear, exactly what I didn’t want was to worry about was stoking a fire or who I would be booked up with in a cabin while it was 15 degrees all night long.

It was such a stupendous idea, and I am terrifically grateful for the invite to stay with Tuesday the night before the 50K! The predicted 2pm snowfall began promptly at 3:30pm as I pulled into her driveway – I assumed it to be a good sign, the weather being on my side and allowing me to make the hour and a half drive to New York safely!

 

The snow was falling and looked like a scene right out of the corniest Christmas film as I walked the stairs to the cabin: the cabin de la Tuesday! I was greeted with the most ridiculous “Runners This Way” signage, directing me up the stairs and welcoming me to the front door, I was greeted once again – this time with a big hug and all the smiles, definitely a friend that I enjoy wasting time with! Walked my running duffel bag to the room that Ciara and I called ‘home’ during the holidays when we came to visit; this time the sign read “Room Reserved: Hamilton”. I could not stop cracking up and getting a good belly laugh from all the welcoming surprises that she had come up with.

I had hardly dropped my bags in my room and I was handed a glass of Cosmic Cranberry (GTs) Kombucha to drink as she finished prepping a hot plant-based specialty for me – waaaay more than I could have ever asked for or expected from anyone, especially seeing as I was already using her spare room as a base camp to layout all my gear! I had come prepped with my bag of carrots, turmeric kombucha and some other raw tasty treats that would treat my tummy good pre-race, but to my surprise I would find a warm dish of veggies and date balls with home-made cashew creme topped with Himalayan pink salt.

With a full belly we enjoyed each other’s company, chitted and chatted as I sewed the tongue to the side of my sneaker in my brand new pair of Salomon SpeedCross4’s (my older pair also had the tongue sewn for the MDI marathon, but the trail runners that I enjoyed so much were pushing beyond the 700-mile mark, so I set them aside for their clone which had logged about 10 miles up to this point), I hoped these trail shoes would treat me just as well as their older brothers had!

I brought everything to concoct my enhanced electrolyte beverage of choice; 16oz of coconut water, real maple syrup and about a teaspoon of Himalayan pink salt – shaken up and filled one of my soft hydration flasks, the other side featuring just plain water.

 

T-minus 3 hours 30 minutes.

Morning. According to my COROS watch app, I had slept for 6 hours and 22 minutes. I felt awake, turned the gas on to boil water for my black tea (I had been steering away from coffee for the past several weeks and not regretting the decision!), fired up the lap top to one-last-time check the weather, motor through the emails. There was an email that came along the prior night from NorEast Trail Runs, I briefly saw the details but didn’t get a chance to follow the map the prior evening. What caught my eye was that the “cut the total elevation gain from 11,000 feet“.. in attempts of “making the race finishable“. That devilishly made me chuckle to myself, it sounded like a Presidential Range kind of elevation day – something that Ciara and I had done over a long day several months prior, but over 30+ miles.. I wanted the pain, I wanted the struggle, I wanted other racers to struggle. Somehow inside I felt ready to push further than I had in the past. I knew deep down for the past several days, that this would be the most difficult anything that I had ever attempted, albeit on snowshoes or no snowshoes!

I messaged Ciara that morning – actually she had messaged me first as I sat with my tea and course map. I told her about the mention of 11K of elevation. I could tell by her messages, she knew I craved the hurt.

As I neared Merck Forest, I could tell the area had accumulated some snow overnight – the roads were slick with a packed-down dusting. I arrived with several other runners who were unsure of where the “sap house”/base camp was located, I graciously directed them toward the check-in since I knew my way around thanks to the several adventures Ciara and I had taken around the preserve trails prior.

At check in, I was definitely a bit surprised to see so many other brightly colored racers adorned with their race bibs, stretching and going back and forth to retrieve gear from their vehicles. I was happy to say ‘good morning’ to Adam and Eliza, the famous race directors who would encourage us through the brutal 4 lap day.

T-minus 10 minutes.

I did one last finicking with my layers as we had the ‘final briefing’ inside the sap house, which was maybe 10 degrees warmer than the outside air! As the day was calling for a bit of warming up with some spotty sun here and there, I was unsure if I needed all of the layers from the start; 1 tight moisture wicking base layer to prevent chafing, 1 Gore-tex wind jacket layer, topped with a Gore-Tex Marmot outer shell; and the same delightful Salomon (fleece-lined) running pants that I loved for the prior two snowshoe runs, and of course – the newly sewn Salomon SpeedCross4’s to fit into the 21″ Dion race snowshoes. I felt ready as I did some final stretching along a hand-hewn wooden beam!

Lining up at precisely 8am (there were only six of us crazy runners, so punctuality was not really an issue for us!) at the line drawn in the fresh snow, Eliza went over the final details of where we would go when we ran back down the hill completing our 12.5K laps, one. by. one.

With mild fanfare, we were off. Each racers’ face was down, being sure to hit the Start buttons on their GPS watches, I made sure my Coros had linked up with GPS satellites in the minutes leading up to now and was ready to go, no questions asked by my watch, it only cared about me logging miles and gaining elevation. The four men took off out of the gate, despite Adam warning us that “the race really begins at lap three!”, I was hot on the heels of these guys. Breathing was regulated, but we were on a 3.5 mile track of constant ascent out of the gate, so I tried to remind myself to slow down, calm down and save any bit of strength for pushing on later.

I let the guys drift off, then I got hopeful as I passed one who had pulled over about a mile in to pee on a tree. I cruised down the bend past and wished him well, thought I would stay ahead as I was feeling good – but the next time I looked back he was coming in hot, right on my heels, I couldn’t push so hard so fast so I let my new friend in the black and green jacket pass by. I was in last place for the men, not bothered by this, we all topped the first ascent of Mount Antone and wasted no time – 3.5 miles of ascent would in turn mean 3.5 miles of descent as we began our first trek back to the sap house.

The course was absolutely beautiful, for a while we were socked in with clouds, but I didn’t mind. The snow kicked in not long after we began our return trek, cruising through 3-5 inches of fresh powder was not an issue for fresh legs – yet, still I reminded myself of what lay ahead: 3 more climbs, 25+ more miles, a few packets of Muir Energy, some rehydrating at the stations – and probably some mixed thoughts about what I had gotten myself into!

It wasn’t until reaching the 8K point that we, again left the starting line/aid station to head down a dead-end trail Stone Lot Road. It was all coasting downhill on this fresh layer of powder – but I quickly found the powder had latched itself onto the wet outer-layer of my Salomon trail shoes – these were not Gore-Tex, and I quickly found out why people would spend the extra $30 for Gore-Tex running shoes. My feet were soaked and beginning to chill, all with 20+ miles to run; now I was really becoming concerned for just-what I had gotten myself into, these were clearly not the groomed, packed trails that I was used to at the Viking Nordic Center!

There was no stopping this time as Eliza jotted down my time and I pulled a quick 180 as one foot hit just past the starting line; lap two: here we go. I was still seeing the guys as they were pulling ahead of me, the guy who had the rockin’ long hair wrapped in the Buff (I exchanged names pre-race but for authenticity of writing this, I could not remember anything at the time of actually running, all I could muster up are words of encouragement as we passed: “Dude, you’re crushing it!”, I would exclaim as we passed!) was not too far ahead, but I was definitely not in a rush to catch him just yet!

Ascending once again, I felt my body really start to struggle with being soaked and cold at this point. I knew that I pushed too hard on the first lap, allowing myself to sweat way too hard as I tried to stay with the professionals early on. Luckily I was able to sample from my Ziploc of dates and sip on the water as I cruised along, trying to stay warm.

I slowed down so far to just over a crawl, hardly putting one foot in front of the other as I made the second 600′ ascent of Antone that I simply could not keep the warm blood pumping to my toes, the thoughts of disbelief actually started to pass through my mind: “I am in way over my head”, “I am not made for this kind of race”, “I’m actually okay with two laps, that’s all I can do today”, “15 miles with 4500 feet of elevation gain,  it was a good push, a good day”. “I’m done.” I thought to myself, I was okay with that. Too cold to press on, I could not stay warm, I was not there to loose toes, the second lap brought fear, acceptance, disappointment, but above all – I was okay with what I had accomplished, my day was done.

Heading back to the starting line and aid station, I felt a sense of calm, knowing that I only had that last push of Stone Lot Rd, then I would ditch my snowshoes and go get warm. Just then I passed the guy in first place (or did he pass me..?), still destroying the course and elevation (he never even appeared winded at any point along the course! Later I would find out the struggle was real with him too..) he gave me a wave and when I heard him say “Great job brother – someone dropped out, YOU’RE IN THIRD .. KEEP GOING!!”, this was music to my ears, but it didn’t bring my mind back into the race.

What did take my mind off of my early retirement was a wave coming from the starting line – a wave from someone who was not there on the prior lap; Tuesday was here!! I told everyone how cold my toes were as I pounded cup after cup of ginger ale (saved me during my last 50K event!!) and that I was going to do the Stone Lot out and back, and I’d be back in twenty. I gave Tuesday a hug as I now wanted to get back on the course, complete with a smile that I did not expect to find upon my face for the remainder of the day!!

I returned to the aid station after my second trip down the Stone Lot out and back; to that lonely sign next to the lean-to at the bottom of the hill, just to turn around and re-ascend through the woods and past a children’s community garden and two towering horses who watched us wacky folks sweat our bums past their barns. To my surprise, Adam handed me a cup of something, it was  a steamy grassy looking something, I took a sip – it was a hot cup of green tea! And just like that the fire within was rekindled, I was back in this game, ready to kick it into high gear and warm my toes back up!

Lap Three, another 12.5 kilometers.

I was beginning to feel like myself again, relaxing into 17+ miles of running/power-hiking on snowshoes. I was well hydrated yet still sweating and moving hard enough to stay warm, I was fueled with 1 packet of Muir Energy and nibbling my way through a pouch of dates stored in the back of my Salomon running vest – taking 3-5 dates each time that I knew I had a long ascent ahead – chewing, sipping and climbing – not traveling so fast as to cramp up from breathing too hard, it was all coming together and working out oh so well, finally!

The gray clouds which brought snow flurries earlier now began to part, giving way to beautiful blue skies, warming sun and high hopes of finishing this thing, no.. I knew that I would be finishing this thing. I hiked the hills when I needed to conserve energy and ran as if floating over the flats and down the descents, no pain in my knees nor nagging from my hamstring which had plagued me for months on and off – I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling, handing out smiles and waves every time a 25K runner and I crossed paths. Unfortunately, I remembered no names at the time, but all of the faces I recognized from previous events, all so familiar!

Lap Four, the final 12.5 kilometers.

After a quick snack of more ginger ale, hugs and high fives, I was out for my last and final lap. I was tired for sure, but by now I was beginning to envision myself crossing the finish line – all I had to do now was run, walk the hills if I needed to, ‘just focus on not twisting an ankle or doing anything stupid!’, I reminded myself every several minutes. I had kept just enough dates, ginger ale, coconut water, salt, green tea in my system to not officially hit the infamous “wall” – things were going. This lap was more a victory lap for myself, congratulating myself in my head for being strong and not giving up when I wanted to nearly 5 hours earlier.

I was out on the course with one other woman who was racing the 25K distance, I told her she was kicking butt, she glanced up just long enough for some eye contact and glanced back down at her trail – she kept on kicking butt. By now the newest resident at the Clark’s Clearing cabin was out back spending all of the quality time with her golden puppy dog, she glanced up at the sound of my snowshoes clacking and gave a big wave – almost surprised that there would be anyone running on snowshoes, well I was.. just that nuts to run on snowshoes!

It was not just another round of quad-busting ascent this time, it was bittersweet. The final ascent; now with blue skies illuminating the freshly fallen snow all around. The course was beaten and battered from snowshoes of all sizes, runners of all speeds. What was a hard-packed trail for most of the day had now been broken, shifting underfoot. Traction was certain a hard thing to find this late into the afternoon on that final climb up Antone, I knew I was alone out there – all the other’s miles and hours ahead of me; it was my race now, just me and my happy-go-lucky mind.

On the final lap I finally felt free enough to break out the GoPro which had hitherto caught a 20-something mile ride all through the forest, the battery was warm enough to hold a charge so I grabbed some photos and had a bit of fun – with a fair taste of delirium – so why not, right?

With all concerns for pushing too fast right out the window, I pushed on further and faster than I had earlier in the day, knowing that my time out on these trails was almost complete. Checked in at the aid-station/starting line as the cowbells clamored and Adam manned the bullhorn, rooting on the last 50K-er of the day – wasting no time, my direction switched for the final time, heading past the barns, past the horses, past the winterized gardens, past the fella’s in the flat brimmed hats taking photos who jumped off the trail for me to pass – almost home!

I took in all the final sights that I could, noticing a lean to at the bottom of the final hill, making a mental note to remember to camp there some day! One last, fast paced climb back up Stone Lot Road and that was it – I only hoped that someone had fingers that were pliable enough to help me get these dang snowshoes off!!

I switched out of autopilot for the final time, now kicking harder than I had yet during the entire day, it didn’t matter to me how out of breath I got now, it was show time!! Adam on the horn yelled something about “bring it on home”, and that was it – full on sprint-mode! Camera’s out, sweaty gloves in the air, and just like that, 30.04miles were run.

With no vivid ‘ah-ha’ moment of clearly becoming a better, stronger version of me, I calmly walked over, sat down and with stiff, cold fingers tried to rip the ice-balls from the black straps of my Dion snowshoe bindings so I could unwind the straps and walk freely into the sap house and remove quickly my chilly layers. Tuesday and I took turns huddling around the propane heater as several other runners loaded up their cargo bags and prepped for their journeys home.

With a cooler of apple cider on deck, I opted for some home-made Sweet-heat (apple, beet, pineapple and ginger) juice from the kitchen de-la Tuesday. I can never consume enough of this fine pinkish red beverage – and today was certainly no exception! After a quick shake of hands and good byes to my running pals, it was time to return briefly to the cold, cold world outside. I was shaking badly by now, chilled to the bone and needing some calories in my life.

I thanked Tuesday for hosting me for the weekend, but I didn’t have it in me to let her know how much of an impact her presence had on encouraging me to press on when my body and mind so clearly did not want to. No matter how strong and stubborn we think we all are, it is a true blessing in life to have those strong personalities and willful encouragement. This file in my mind titled “Merck Forest 50K” will forever remain in my consciousness as one of the hardest, most painfully draining, things that I have attempted (I’ll give it a few months and I’ll probably be pushing the envelope even further..!).

Later that day..

It was a long, late day, but the feeling of pulling in the driveway, shutting the car off for the last time, climbing the stairs with my gear, it was so nice to walk in the door to overly-excited puppy dogs with their waggling tails and Ciara! She had surprised me and my grumbling belly with a Buddha-bowl; everything that I could possibly dream of all in one bowl! Home-made cashew cream dressing with sauteed veggies, quinoa, salad greens, tomatoes.. oh so good!

..The next morning..

I checked the emails, refreshed the website – results were in: points for the first two 50K finishers, no points for third place, last place. There was one more race for the winter snowshoe series: The Punxsutawney Phil 5K taking place for one last hoorah at the Viking Nordic Center.

I was in.

Two minutes later I was signed up for one last jaunt on my Dion’s with this fun crew, I had just two weeks to recover and prep for more snow!

 


Overall 50K stats

Recorded with my Coros Pace GPS watch

  • 3rd place out of 3
  • 30.04mi
  • 8hr 10minute
  • 8,189′ elevation gain
  • Mount Antone (x4) – 2600′ summit

Coming up next:

Punxsutawney Phil 5K, the final jaunt!

 

Friday, March 15th 2019

..stay tuned!..

Triple Crown Ultra Snowshoe Series – Part 1

Finding myself at work Wednesday, January 2nd certainly did not dissuade me from opening the email as it dinged its way into my inbox – “Racing in Vermont with Nor’East Trail Runs”, the title read as it flashed its preview across my phone. That single word making up the end of the title alone had all my attention! These folks are super rad – graciously Sunrise over the course -10Khosting the Nor’Witch 50K that I took part in several months earlier before the snow hit the mountains; they now had a growing, sweet line up for the summer months (several of which I had already begged them to take the sixteen digits from my credit card for!). The email read that they were beginning a winter running series – all on snowshoes – just the email that I had been waiting for! I tossed the thought around – questioning whether I could manage the logistics of escaping the hospital work life early enough to arrive for their night-time, ‘under-the-lights’ series hosted at the Viking Nordic Center. While only a bit over an hour away on back roads, this drive-time would probably double as I would be dealing with the after-work rush hour traffic if I were to join the event.

I kept checking their website though, looking for updates – hoping that perhaps I could join for any of the mileage under their night-time skiing lights! After all, I had these sweet, super light 21″ Dion snowshoes that I had only been able to bust out on the steep hiking trails of the White Mountains so far and I secretly wanted to test them out in a heated, head-to-head battle!

The Triple Crown Ultra Series

– were the words that burned onto my retinas (again during work hours of course!) on the afternoon of their first race, ‘do go on..’, I thought to myself! I could sign up just for three of the races during this series that were held on weekend days – this Nor'East Trail Runs raffle prizecompletely had my attention now. One text to Ciara later to inquire her opinion of the whole situation – she had approved! Just another reason I was ready to throw my hard-earned paycheck in their direction!

The first race of this three-part-er would be taking place the following weekend and featured a 5K/10K – well naturally being the ultra, I was automatically signed up for the bigger/longer races throughout! First would be my sort of ‘break in’ race of a 10K distance. Next, two weeks later I would take strap on these bright orange snowshoes for a half-marathon (13.1mile) distance – and finally on March 3rd would be the culmination of all winter racing, climbing and trail-training: the 50K (~31mile) distance! I was definitely psyched, once again doing something (such as the Nor’Witch 50K) that I had never tried, not sure if I would do well at all – but I was sure as heck signed up and going to have fun the whole way around those tracks!

Fast forward to Friday, January 25th

– as I was just walking in the door from work and had one thing on my mind: hiking. Ciara was going to be gone all weekend, the weather was looking fantastic, with low winds on Saturday – I was surely heading to the White Mountains! Then again, the sound of an email came though just as I set my work bags down, unzipped the jacket and was greeted by Grace – the cat! For a split-second I could not believe what I saw: the email was from Nor’East Trail Runs and it was all about the Dion racing snowshoessnowshoe race – tomorrow.

Wait, what? I was mentally prepared for a snowshoe run on Sunday, not in only several hours! Well my plans quickly changed – all I can say is that I am so so so grateful for that email! Perhaps I would have checked later into Friday evening and realized that race day was not actually Sunday – as I had thought – but there is a very good chance that, without that email I would have gone right on hiking Saturday, only to return home to epic levels of disappointment!

The Gregory 75 liter pack quickly got tossed aside for some slick running gear – Salomon insulated running pants, my Salomon SpeedCross4’s which boasted about 650 miles at the time (still so dang comfy..), the North Face fleece that is more or less wind proof and is my go-to for most chilly morning runs, mittens (not gloves, because I have a habit of balling up my hands while I run to keep them warm!), Darn Tough socks (which are really the only thing that works for my toes in these New Hampshire winter days!), not sure if I would need more layering – so I brought the Marmot Gore-Tex jacket! And of course, about 6 carrots – my (probably strange..) go to juicy breakfast food prior to beginning a hike, or work day – because it “just works”! The Muir Energy packets got packed, but I wouldn’t find myself needing them for a short run as this. 

I was completely entrusting my GPS to help me arrive at the Viking Nordic Center as I had never been to that part of Vermont. The roads were clear this winter morning, the skies also quickly turning blue – complete with a lovely peachy/strawberry sunrise. Aside from a big rig full of dairy that could not ascend a snow-covered hill, the drive west was uneventful. All the while, I could not help but eyeball this mass of rock before me on the drive into town – which I later found to be known as Magic Mountain Ski Resort; I would have to look further into this little mountain when I had the chance! I arrived to a free-for-Wall Drug, SDall in the parking lot of the Nordic Center, cars parked facing whatever direction they chose, so I decided to try to fit right in, testing my parallel parking skills!

The first objective upon my arrival: check in; second: bathroom.

The 32oz of french press coffee before I hit the road, then those juicy carrots demanding to find their way out of my body, not caring that I was in public spaces where peeing on the fly is frowned upon! Standing in line for the restroom, I was highly amused by the sign next to an area map that featured Wall Drug – of Wall, South Dakota. Ciara and I saw signs for this “Free Ice Water Store”, and their varying cleaver signs all the way from the deserts of Utah as we tracked our way cross-country over a year earlier! It was relieving to learn that if I desired a quick trip to Wall Drug, one could make the drive in only 27 Hours!

It was no surprise to me that I did not recognize anybody at the event that day; most seemed to make small talk as we lined up with our colorful mini-snowshoes on. Most of the runners that day had Dion snowshoes, while several others rocked their MSRs or Tubbs – which seemed out of place to see any color other than silver, white and orange (of the Dions!) blurring as they ran across the snow!

Just like that – after a few kind words from Adam, we were off scootin’! It’s hard to say how many of us wacky snowshoe enthusiasts lined up that 10 degree winter morning (I’m sure its recorded somewhere..), but if I had to guess – 25 of us or so took to the trails! I felt good, hung right out by a runner who was decked out in La Sportiva leggings, which had me thinking: Start and Finish“dang these folks all look super official and quick – and here I am with my busted, old fleece!”. But, I was there to have fun after all – and that’s just what I did that cold morning! I passed Mr. La Sportiva on the downhill while feeling super powerful, and we never crossed paths again during those miles out there (until meeting back up later at the Club House). There was one gentleman who was out front of me (the whole race I had no idea what place I was in), I saw him first lap coming back on the lollipop section of the course as I began out, once.

On the second lap, he was gone!

I continued to feel supercharged during the entire race – thinking to myself that this running on snowshoes thing may actually be my calling! I felt powerful. I ran on the tops of my hips, strong and with explosive, full strides. I wanted to do this more often! The course was great: rolling snowy hills, all groomed but with some punching through as we hit several spots with water trickling underneath – I was loving it!

Back at the Club House, I did not find anyone – I was sure they must be around somewhere, but to me – that meant that I must have placed fairly high! Folks began to stroll in as I stretched and munched on my carrots, some even offered cleaver remarks on my snack as they grabbed for gooey bars and simple-sugar gel packets (remarks that I am totally accustomed Yay, My watch says I did a good job!to by now!).

I was chilled and wanted to check out the sunshine going on around me – so unfortunately, this time, I didn’t stay for the raffle; but I did check out that nearly 3000ft summit across the road! According to my GPS/Trails app – this pile of rock was also known as Glebe Mountain and, as I could see – was definitely open for business! After trying to show some consideration and checking in with the Ski Patrol, I hit the trails. They had instructed me to purchase an Up-hill Ski Pass and proceed only using the trails to the far left; I would gladly comply with one of those instructions, but I was not going to pay to ascend their mountain under my own leg power!

Glebe Mountain was an excellent little run! Even met a fellow snowshoer toward the top whose flask was toppling out of his pack – he was a hot mess at 10:30 in the morning. Also trying to locate the summit – we chatted at the top of the highest ski lift for a moment, but once I felt as if I had been exposed to enough of his alcohol soaked breath – I proceeded on as he looked around for something on the ground that clearly did not exist. I quickly found the trail leading to the high-point and began descending, only to find that he had still made no progress. I generously pointed him in the direction of “up” and began my Magic Mountain Ski Resortrun-session down the slopes – of course, avoiding any occupied trails and stuck primarily next to the woods (my goal was to run, not attract negative attention of the Ski Patrol!). Several snowboarders stopped to ask if I was “okay”; I was running on snowshoes, maybe the first of this outdoorsy kind they had ever encountered on their slopes? Either way it was a blue sky day and I was (still) loving it!

When I returned home and saw the results I was astonished to find that the mystery runner (actually, the only person ahead of me that day) out in the lead had blown us all away by nearly nine minutes! And right at that moment – I certainly recognized his name, (which I’ll leave out here – but head to their website to check the results if you are that interested!) a quick google search displayed his many accomplishments; most importantly to me though was his study of a raw-plant-based diet in athleticism, struck me as extraordinary as I had also been trying out the10K map raw game for about a month prior to the 10K (side note: not because of the 10K, just something Ciara and I decided to give a whirl again – and we felt great!)! ‘Small world’, I thought to myself, and terrifically ironic that the first two finishers were fueled completely on raw plants!


Overall 10K stats:

  • 2nd Place Finish
  • 5.3mi
  • 597′ elevation gain
  • 47min 17sec
  • 8:58 /mile pace

Let’s do what we did for 10K, but only longer this time!

I was still riding the high of actually locking in second place as I readied my gear once again. Actually.. let’s rewind that several days, mmkay? I honestly did not know if we would even be running the half-marathon event, I was afraid that the folks at Nor’East would end up canceling due to a lack of snow; it had rained with unseasonably warm temps for days leading up to the half marathon! My fingers could cross only so far, I was really hoping to meet up at the half to be given a chance to chat it up with the other ‘mystery’ raw-vegan!

Once again, another email hit my inbox from Nor’East Trail Runs – GOOD NEWS!

The race was on and apparently while the rest of the world drowned in frigid rainfall, the Viking Nordic Center was the only location on the east coast to receive snow. Once again, it was the same Salomon running pants, same SpeedCross4’s which I thought still needed more wintery mileage. It wasn’t nearly as chilly this time as the first race of the season, so no antique 13 miles on snowshoesfleece this time! I traded that in for the bright blue Marmot jacket which was reserved for rainy days – knowing it would be clear skies.. sometimes you just go with it anyway!

The morning of the 13-miler, I opted to spend my drive time on the highway and was welcomed by an even more incredible sunrise this time! The excitement was extremely high in my Subaru as I made my way east once again – even broke out some Mos Def and danced my booty off the whole way there (I know Ciara can picture this); I just had the high spirits and secretly knew in my mind that (..que sera, sera..) I would do fine. I would be totally stoked for second place if I continued to feel as good as I had two weeks prior, but somehow I had a bit of a notion that I was capable of locking down first (highly.. highly unlikely)!

After another breakfast snack of carrots to fuel me through 13 miles – I pulled in, checked in, acquired my bib – and because I was signed up for the series – at each check in we were given an option of a ‘gift’! As I already had a sweet beanie from the 10K day, I opted for the water bottle: ‘pretty rad of them for doing that’, I thought to myself.

Just minutes prior to taking to the trails, the snowshoes – along with the Julbo alpine shades – went on. I was ready for these miles today, feeling great overall and ready to crush it! Speaking of ‘crushing it’, as I looked around briefly – I didn’t see the other raw plant-based runner! ..Once again, the day was proving to be on my side!

As we took off right at 8am, I went out fast – and I did not look back. I felt strong, my breathing was slow and powerful – “destroy miles” was what I was focusing on, and today – running just never felt so fluid, so right!

At about one mile into the course I glanced over my shoulder as I rounded a corner, I was alone in the woods.

Up ahead however, I could not believe my eyes – another runner in all green coming straight at me (I had no idea where he had come from!) while there was a red rope hanging several feet in the air, right across the dang trail!

That was when something definitely did not feel right. I was pissed.

I didn’t know if I should keep going straight or turn around to see where I veered off the path. Another runner came up on me Coming in hot!and we shared our thoughts as to what led us astray; we matched paces and chatted a bit (despite myself being filled with sadness mixed with a bit of frustration on the inside – I tried to agree with him that it was just a beautiful day and that we were lucky to have the opportunity to be out on the trails that morning), we crested a hill and suddenly realized that we were back at the Club House – the start/finish of the race – except we were traveling backwards.

Adam (of Nor’East Trail Runs) was facing the opposite direction, waiting for us running folk to come around the other corner! We met up, explained what happened and that we were now 2.2miles into our event and had absolutely no idea where to go. He explained that they knew nothing about the red tape that was placed on the course. I was genuinely bummed out, thinking that the race was shot now and there would be no finish –

we agreed to just go back out there and ‘run our race’.

Which I did, not long after re-entering the woods, we encountered the other racers who now had the same problem, lost and confused as to which direction was the correct path. While the conditions were great with some hard trails which made for quick and efficient snowshoe running – no one knew what place they were in or who to follow; I just ran until my breath pumped like a freight train up the hills, certainly one way of eliminating some internal frustration! I really got to recognize several of the racers out there that day – we were supposed to make 4 laps of the course, which turned out to be only three after the backtracking – I remembered passing by and waving to several of the runners out there at least three times!

After I passed Adam for the first time (going the correct direction this time!), my mind was somewhat set at ease; we really were all just out there running our own race, putting down the 13+ miles (some covering more than others!). I was tracking the event on my watch, which made it easy to tell when I hit my own “finish line”, but when I returned to the starting line at 11.5 miles or so – I was not sure if I should head out for another 4ish mile lap or call it. Adam generously offered that I could be done and marked my time down; I decided in fairness to keep going. Basically running circles around the starting area, trying to not confuse other racers as they began their second or third laps.

Not far into the race, the back strap on my snowshoes began pressing on my right heel – so hard in fact that I thought it was a pebble or some ice (which was ironic because the day prior I had picked up a pair of trail running gaiters to prevent just this sort of thing!). In the spirit of the day, I simply ran through the discomfort. By the time I hit 12.8 miles, ascending any bit of hill was getting so uncomfortable with sharp stabbing pain to my heel – (I was convinced I would be dripping blood as I took my shoe off) I thought of reaching a finger into my shoe to see if anything was actually there, but never actually tried – I’m just stubborn sometimes!

I passed the finish line for the final time that day.

I met a super nice woman named Jen who had her phone out and ended up taking a handful of wonderful photos during the Erik and Adam at the finish linerace that I did not know about, and even several with the Race Director himself! We discussed the race for several minutes until the chill sunk deep into my bones and I retreated back to the Club House woodstove. I amused myself for a several minutes with the amount of sweat droplets just pouring out of my sleeve and sizzling on the stove!

With no where to rush off to, I ended up hanging around for the raffle – and won just what I had my eye fixed on – a box of turmeric apple cider vinegar from Vermont Village! The day really did turn out to be a fantastic one, I didn’t let the directional mishaps bring me down much longer than those initial few miles!

For the following week I was on edge, not knowing what the outcome of the race would be or how they would handle the results. As they mentioned back in the Club House, they asked us each for our .gpx files, GPS tracks that we may have had from our watches to show our stats: pace, distance covered, etc.

The email featuring the “Prelim Results” came out that Wednesday – three days after the race; I almost didn’t want to open that mail, for the fear that they would have just decided to not award any points, with everyone running varying distances and13mi map the stats being all over the board. Well according to the email, they decided to go by each runners’ pace – the chart this time had my name listed first! I was fairly excited, but with the disclaimer of “let us know any concerns” concluding the email, I was certain these standings would be altered as I only covered 12.8 miles, but had a pace which was a full 1minute 21seconds faster than the next in-line. I checked the Results tab on their website probably hourly for the remainder of the week – assuming that once they posted anything on the website, that decision would be final!

Saturday morning finally came, and I hit the refresh button for the last time on netrailruns.com: the results were posted and my name was officially still on the top of the list. I had done it.


Overall 13.1Mi stats:

  • 1st Place Finish
  • 12.85Mi
  • 1,434′ elevation gain
  • 9min 15sec /mile pace

Coming up next: Merck Forest 50K – March 3rd!

Check it out here and let the story continue!…