Wednesday, February 26, 2014

USA Snowshoe Nationals 2014--Bennington, Vermont 18th Place Overall and 14th American---How a Race Can be Two-Sided

Well the USA Snowshoe Nationals have concluded and I am left with a bitter sweet ending to an interesting snowshoe running season.  I had the chance to run two races this year the Cockadoodle Shoe and the Highland Forest 10k before Nationals in Bennington.  I felt like my form all year was ready to challenge a tough field and show that I can run with the best.  What I found out was that on a bad day  I could still manage a decent performance after mentally being pretty disappointed.

To express the immense quality of the competitors in the field. There were runners from Canada, Brazil, Spain, Portugal I think, Sweden and Eric Hartmark and Scott Gall both past members of the US Snowshoe team and true veterans of the sport.  It was truly one of the deepest US fields for snowshoe running on US soil probably of all time.  Looking at the course profile with a steady uphill climb the first half of the race followed by a blitzing downhill of 5k madness.  I love the downhills especially in snowshoes.  The uphill on this day was not my friend and really the course was much harder than the elevation profile on the computer screen.

My race strategy to make the team was pretty simple: hang with the leaders until I could not anymore and hope to catch people on the downhill section my strong suit.  If I could survive the uphill, then I would be in contention for a team position. Top 5 US make the team. 

Friday was a blur just trying to get everything in order to head out to Bennington. Once we had the car loaded up, we were on our way to Nationals.  We checked into the room at 7:30pm, ate some great pizza and slept for the big day.

Upon arriving at Prospect Ski Center, it was the most organized and best-looking snowshoe race I have seen around. I felt I was in the alps at some exquisite ski resort. I was great to run into Chris Dunn of Acidotic Racing, Mitch Ryan (SUNY Cortland USA Junior Snowshoe Winner), Jeremy Drowne, Mark Elmore, Jim Johnson, and the list goes on and on.  It was great to jog around the course a little before the race to experience the snow conditions which were perfect.  Imagine soft nicely packed snow that made running on snowshoes feel like a road race.  The weather was cold in the teens to 20's but the sun was out and made the whole atmosphere of the race feel like a day at the beach.  I had the chance to jog a little with Jim Johnson and his crew with Jack Hillenbrand and we all linked up and got to preview the first part of the course which I had no idea what the course would be like up until that point.  It was great to touch base with so many great people that running has given me the opportunity to share life with.  After the warm-up, it was time to get serious.  With an 11:30 start, I had to snack on a yummy nutrition bar and make sure that my energy stores were all ready to go.  It was going to be a great race and I was really feeling pretty good after a long and hectic week.

Thank you Brian Teague for some awesome photos of the race event!

*****Race Time: We began to run our strides and prepare for the start.  Once everyone was lined up, it was GO TIME.  From the gun, the lead group got out to a pretty solid start.  The course would begin with a stadium loop on the flat nordic trail sections then loop up a short ski hill and then loop back around onto the single track and main sections of the course.  Remember: this course climbs for almost 5k so the whole first mile or so was pretty flat.  I settled in the gap right behind the lead group led by those fast TSL athletes from Canada.  I remained relaxed and began to prepare myself for the uphill section.  Coming into the single track I was maybe 7th overall and kept my position with Quednow of WI a US Team member and a Dion Runner who also made the USA team. We kept pace together as we merged onto the first section of the climb.  At moments one would get a little ahead, and then at moments we would all be together.  I held my own with my legs beginning to tighten up as we powered up the climb.  The pace from the flats to the uphill almost felt like it did not change.  The lead group was starting to head out of eyes sight as they picked it up BIG TIME.  The two runners I was with kept on the gas as I began to tire. My legs just felt like lead.

I kept trying to ratchet the fast uphill pace but I soon lost Quednow and the Dion runner as they began to pull ahead by about 3 seconds. I looked behind me and could see the long line of runner's fighting for a National team spot.  It was by the 3k point now as I knew that I may not have it in the legs to make the team this year.  If only I could hold my position until the downhill.

 ****On the day,  the strategy of hanging with the lead pack as they relentlessly pounded the steep 4k uphill section left my legs in a world of pain.  I knew at about 3k into the race as I was passed by the first two people that I would not be making the National team this year. After the first two, came another two, and some were runners I have beaten in snowshoe races this year or individuals that I know that I often have better days than on average. That was hard. Watching yourself get passed by people you have run faster than blow by you on an uphill.  I power hiked for a section feeling sorry for myself as more runners began to pace me.  I felt defeated and dejected. By 5k, I was out of contention and who knows maybe like 30th place.

It is always a hard thing to feel as if I was powerless.  My legs felt so flat on the hill and though I have been braving the snowy conditions this winter, I do not think I trained with this type of climbing in mind.  My body was tired and even more strained from such a consistent 8% grade which on a road would not seem as bad as running on those snowshoes.  I began to allow my mind to float into thought of how I would have prepared differently for the race and harping on how as simply as 2k of a race, I was out of contention.

The last two people to pass me near the top of the climb was Jeremy Drowne and Matt Medieros both runners I have come to friend at the Cockadoodle shoe 10k in Saranac, NY.  At this moment, the views of the adjacent mountains was spectacular. I took a second to relax and at this point just enjoy the experience.  I fought hard to close and catch-up to Jeremy and Matt.  With them having a 5-10 second lead on me into the downhill single track, I began to become alive.

It was as if I was a completey different person. My suffering quads began to respond as I flew down the trail.  I was closing really well. The 5-10 second gap in a matter of seconds had me right with Matt and Jeremy.  It was the three of us running together which was really a highlight of the race for me. Here I was running with two great guys both friends through snowshoe running and we were working together like a team. I settled behind and remained relaxed.  On the single track and nordic sections, we all remained together with Jeremy at the helm.  Once the trail opened up, I blew past Matt ready to give it all I had.  I began to flow downhill the way that I have practiced in snowshoes and felt great.  With a first 5k probably near 27-29 minutes, my second 5k had to be one of the fastest of the day.  I am certain I split on sections close to sub 6 minutes a mile. As I passed Jeremy he told me to "GO get em" which was great encouragement.  I flew down the hill and could see Eric Sambolec who is a great Nationals runner always peaking when needed and I had my sights for him.  He was a ways away but I began to reel him in.  I was getting hot and took my gloves off and clenched them with the feeling of being on the hunt. I closed to under a minute from a couple minutes which is amazing given the whole last 5k was downhill.  I hit the open switchbacks knowing I had not run the way I had hoped for but was proud of my new-found energy sprinting the switchbacks and onto the last 400m around the field. I kicked it in with reckless abandon and crossed the line 18th overall and 14th American in 47:38 about 20 seconds behind Sambolec.  That in itself being about 2-3 minutes behind in the downhill to close within 20 seconds shows the way I tackled that challenge.

It was an incredible experience running such a two-sided race. The uphill, I was a struggling, young, complacent and weak runner and on the downhill, I was an aggressive, smart, tactical, professional.

What I Learned----I learned so much from this race and experience.  I still think of myself as a top snowshoe runner and regarding a bad day and being beaten by many runner's known for better uphill sprinting abilities than myself, I can leave Vermont with my head held high.  I am so thankful for everyone for the opportunity for this experience and I am excited for next year!  Here are the bullet points that I learned from this experience:

1. Rolling hill courses are my forte-I do not have the quad-crushing strength yet to charge uphill for an extended amount of time. I manage uphills really well. The more that you have an up and down and up and down format, the better I excel.
2. Needed to run up long climbs in snowshoes-I could have simulated the course at Cortland's Greek Peak Ski Resort with its miles upon miles of forest access roads that climb forever. I hope to integrate this next year.
3. Trying to do Too MUCH--Trying to finish Graduate School and line-up an internship and career job and clean the house and I said too much.
4. Go out slower--I saw so many great performances from those that went out slow so that they could charge the uphill and run on fumes on the downhill.
5. Do Not Give Up---I mentally threw in the towel early but in a top race be confident in your abilities.
6. Have Fun--It was not until the last 5k that I truly let go and had a blast and   I think I ran that second half well because of my positive attitude.

****Thank you to my sponsors: Mammut, Acidotic Racing, Dion Snowshoes, Fits Socks, Craft/Karhu, and my awesome family for all the support and love.  You make it happen so thank you!
Here are the photos sights and sounds of the USA 2014 Dion Snowshoes National Championships.

Thank you Mark Elmore for being the leader of USA Snowshoe running, Bob Dion for your brand support for the sport and Tim Van Orden for designing a really tough and rewarding course.

Next year, Nationals is in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and I hope the course will be a roller. Looking at the geography of the area, I am really pumped to get ready for a race that will be probably more of a Cole Crosby type of course.  

Now, if the snow were to melt tomorrow, I would not be sad. Come on Spring!

Thank you SnapAcidotic For the best photos around!!!!!

Smiling at the start

Coming around the corner 1 mile in putting myself in USA Team contention.

This picture embodies the race. I suffered on the uphill but gave it all I had on the downhill.
A disappointment not to make the team, but I can shoot for a spot next year and train much harder on snowshoes for it!

Myself and Nick Scalfone of California getting Age Group Medals!

Equipment Used for the Race:
*Dion 121 Snowshoes (Deep Cleat/Quick-Fit Binding)
*Mammut Kala Patar Hoody (Green)
*Mammut Passion Light Glove
*Acidotic Racing Head Buff and Long Sleeve Tech T
*Mammut 121 Trail Shoes
*Fits Socks Ultra Light Runner No-Show (2 Pairs)
*Craft Thermal Run Tight
*Craft Active Extreme Gunde Short Boxer

Video from Level Runner:

Results of the Men's Senior 10k: From

Sr Men 10k Overall
10:41:51David Le PorhoCanada
20:42:06Joel BourgeoisCanada
30:42:20Eric HartmarkM3539DuluthMN
40:42:37Scott GallM3539Cedar FallsIA
50:44:10Nicholas WheelerM2529PortlandME
60:44:30Mike GaloobM4044Peace DaleRI
70:44:31Jeffrey QuednowM2024WestboroWI
80:44:40Nacho HernandezSpain
90:45:29Daniel CraigheadM2024State CollegePA
100:45:41Kelly MortensonM4044St PaulMN
110:46:03Jacob MalcombM2529CantonNY
120:46:24Kevin TiltonM3034North ConwayNH
130:46:26Nick ScalfoneM2529Mountain ViewCA
140:46:47Jim JohnsonM3539MadisonNH
150:46:51Jimmy GobeilCanada
160:47:13Ross KrauseM3539EasthamptonMA
170:47:16Eric SambolecM3539IthacaNY
180:47:38Cole CrosbyM2529CortlandNY
190:47:48Jeremy DrowneM3539West ChazyNY
200:47:57James PawlickiM4044LynnMA
210:48:19Dave DunhamM5054BradfordMA
220:48:21Chad CarrM3539CambridgeMA
230:48:31Matthew MedeirosM2529SaranacNY
240:48:32Tim MahoneyM3539HolyokeMA
250:48:32Ethan NedeauM4044LeverettMA
260:48:48Jaime JuliaPuerto Rico
270:48:58Robert JackmanM3034WarwickRI
280:49:06Ben NephewM3539MansfieldMA
290:49:08Tyler MurrayM2024Le RoyNY
300:49:09Todd CallaghanM4549BeverlyMA
310:49:11Richard BoltM4044Mountain ViewCA

Monday, February 10, 2014

Valentines, Running in the Snow and the PA State Snowshoe Championships---Feb 14-16---Prep for Snowshoe Nationals

So I had to cancel the trip out to PA for the snowshoe race because my amazing girlfriend, Ashlee ended up getting severely sick with one of the worst sinus infections I have ever witnessed. 2 weeks later and she still is having headaches and feeling off.  It would have been nice to run a tune-up race but I can always get in a nice 10 mile snowshoe run as preparation for the big dance!  I have been able to keep my mileage consistent even with running in deep slippery snow which has slowed my running.  Just today, running in snowy roads made every effort to gain traction seem like I was running in waist-deep snow.  An absolutely exhausting run where I got some nice vertical near 1,500 feet of elevation gained in 11 miles but averaged like 7:40 a mile for the run which is about a minute a mile slower on that same loop most days.  It has been like this all winter just getting in the time and mileage and hoping I can gain some traction for once the snow melts.

USA Snowshoe Nationals is going to be my next big race and it is going to be a fun one. With lots of great athletes I am excited to see where I stack-up.  I think I have the potential to make the team and really this year in my two snowshoe races have not run well or at least to my potential I think. The Cockadoodle shoe I was mentally drained getting stuck in the ice and at Highland Forest not only did I leave people off-course but I ran more conservative looking to wear-down the racers rather than sprinting out to the front.  What I learned from the races is that I need to stay focused on position and that if I run comfortably and draft a little once it comes to that last downhill sections watch out! I want to run smart and fast at Nationals. I want to give it all I have and to leave it all out there. I want to crawl to the finish the last 10 meters.  I hope to blitz those with some quick speed.  It is going to be interesting how Nationals will play out. I do know it is going to be an amazing experience and I cannot wait to share it with everyone.  Stay warm and see everyone in Bennington, Vermont.

Sights and sounds of a Cortland, NY Winter:
My trusty Mammut MTR 141's have been my road/snow/trail shoes this winter getting in the miles and staying super durable. I have had these shoes for about a year now and they have still run like brand new.  Mammut makes some of the most durable products out there and their footwear is exception to the rule.

How my running has played out:  
Lots of snow, wind, and hills have made for a slower type of winter training but worth building the proper strength.

View of Greek Peak Ski Resort in the distance.

LimeHollow Nature Center 10 mile Snowshoe run Prep for Snowshoe Nationals:

I had the chance to run around Limehollow before the warm-up and as the temps were near 34 degrees, I thought some nice melting snow would make for a faster run. I was right!

View on the Wilderness Way Trail. A Long and windy trail through the woods.

I felt really solid averaging about 7:30's for the run with some deep snow, fast single track, and snowmobile trails that felt like a race track.  This run has provided me with some confidence heading into Nationals. I feel strong and even though I have not managed insane mileage this winter, I have done some great core runs like this one where with snowshoes, I hit some 6:30 miles and also have been working on my uphill technique. Nationals is going to have a nice long climb which I am excited for as it will pack people up for the fast downhill which I hope to blow by and secure a podium spot.

The City of Cortland from our 3rd Floor Window-View

 Training has been very interesting this winter as life has made getting in any type of run longer than 14-16 miles pretty tough as my time is pretty jam-packed. Luckily, I have been able to keep solid 10-12 mile runs almost every day which equates still to a nice base that I can begin to build my longer runs once Ultra season comes around the corner in June for me which will be (ice and snow-LESS)  which will be a very exciting thing. It is pretty funny but I have a feeling that all this tough running through deep snow, intense winds, cold temps and short days will all lend itself to a great Summer and Fall of racing.  Though my training may not look incredible on paper, I think the types of footing I have experienced and the tough conditions will allow for me to build up some extra strength that will help play into some fast times.

My amazing girlfriend Ashlee takes the best photos and braves the cold for a guy like me. She is truly the best!

For Races I have commited to:

Cayuga Trails 50---Going to be a super-competitive event with the race as the host-site for the USA 50 Mile Trail Championships. There will be some great runners coming from all over the country for the opportunity of running some Upstate New York terrain.  I look forward to besting my 9th place finish with a top 3 as I was close to that in 4th last year before I twisted my ankle which stopped me in my tracks. 

Manitou's Revenge 54 Miler---This race is crazy! Anytime you summit high peaks in a region, especially the rocky Catskills, it is going to be a fun time. For one, I hope not to fall off an escarpment or embankment, I hope not to get lost as well, and I hope maybe my leg speed and climbing legs will help me run a fast time for such a crazy course. I hope I get to run with Acidotic Team-mate Ryan Welts up front.

Virgil Crest 50k----I ran the Virgil 50 Miler last year and beat up my feet and legs pretty bad. This course takes a lot out of your legs. I have always wanted to run the 50k and with a new course design, I would love to crush a super fast time. Sub 4 hours is the goal which would be pretty legendary on such a rocky, rooty, up and down technical course like Virgil Crest. While Manitous' has sections that are not true runnable sections, Virgil has runnable sections the whole way through yet they are slow going.  Any time you run on the Finger Lakes Trail, the pace slows down from even hilly road running.  I am very excited about running my home-town ultra again this year but in a different distance.

Races in Question:  Call of the Wilds Trail Marathon----With the Eastern States 100 going on, who would not want to be apart of that excitement. And with a say 2.5-3 hour drive, the distance is not too bad. I may or may not run the race but if it fits my schedule, then I am in for some fun!

Tussey Mountainback 50---I guess I missed registration and if I cannot get into the race as an elite entry, then I will plan on running the Syracuse Marathon which is I think on the same day. I would love to run Tussey and as a historic race with great competition, I would love to see how I stack-up with some of the best road 50 milers in the country.  I would like to think of myself in their company and I hope a great performance at this event could prove it.

JFK 50---Come April 1st, I hope to get an elite spot in a race I am dying to do. If I can get in, I have a feeling I will do some great things on the towpath.  JFK suits my strengths in so many ways as a nice consistent pace will play into the go slow during the AT then Sprint the Towpath then hold on for dear life strategy. I would rather run the AT strong and come off onto the Towpath in a consistent and relaxed pace. I hope to be one of my breakout races.