Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wimp Race: The Feels Good Farm 1/2 Snowshoe Race

Wimp Race? WIMP RACE? Mike Amarello of 3C Race Productions had a sinister grin on his face as he gave the final instructions for the 3rd annual Feels Good Farm Snowshoe Race. It was there because he knew the torture he was about to inflict on the large crowd of snowshoe racers. He can grin away because everyone signed up for this bit of snowshoe Hell. You got that right, Snowshoe Hell! At one point in the race, a snowshoer behind me exclaimed, "What's next some red hot lava to run over?" I think he was having his own vision of Hell as he was racing through the woods of Lyndeborough, New Hampshire. Mike had cooked up his own version of an "icy Hell on Snow".

However for those of us who only did 1/2 the race and only suffered 1/2 half the torture, he dares call our little race a Wimp Race? Let me tell you, that has to be the toughest Wimp Race in existence! It may have only been half the race, but "Wimp Race"? I am sure he was grinning again as he typed in "Wimp Race" and sent the results off to Coolrunning to officially and publicly name all 1/2 racers as Wimps. What will people think when they now Google "wimp" and my name comes up in the results?

I haven't been able to do much running since the end of the summer. I have probably only done about 50 miles total since mid November with the longest run being 3.5 miles, but I was feeling the need to race and I really wanted to race on my snowshoes. I got up to 12 miles total of running  last week and things were looking up. This week however my SI joint was painful when trying to run on Monday, so my total mileage Monday through Friday was just that little one miler.

Fortunately, I had another PT appointment Friday which got things put back in order and also on Friday Amazon delivered a something called a Serola Sacroiliac Belt. It is a belt someone recommended to my on Letsrun so I decided to give it a try. It holds your SI Joints in place and allows your muscles to work properly. Rather than inhibiting movement, it is supposed to allow your hip and leg muscles to function properly. I decided to give it a shot and it is supposed to work for athletes.

All week I had been thinking about doing the Feels Good Farm snowshoe race again even if I hadn't able to even run that far on the roads lately. I did it two years ago and told myself never again. I forgot that promise. The Feels Good Farm race is misnamed. Nothing about this race feels good. It is a two lap race up Moose Hill and down then up and down again for about 1500 feet of ups and 1500 feet of downs. Then you get to repeat the whole thing again for the second lap. The uphills will burst your lungs and fry your muscles and the downhills will test your courage as it can be a treacherous plunge down the slopes. Did I really run down the hill out of control and do a two handed arm stop against a tree crossing the path at about 4 feet high before ducking under? I didn't see any blood on the tree so I assume everyone else was nimble enough to run and duck or try a stopping maneuver like I did! That was nuts!

I knew my fitness level was pretty much shot with so much inactivity and who knew if the belt would even work for me. Maybe I wouldn't even get to 100 yards., but I had to try. I did a few strides before the race and seeded myself about 3/4ths back from the start and hoped I could at least make the short loop around the parking lot without pain. Yeah, fortunately  it felt OK after the gun sent the racers on their way. The road was flat, the snow was packed down, and never in my life had I seen so many snowshoers running ahead of me. I felt good and decided to indeed go for the first loop. I was thinking that the day would be a huge success if I could make just one loop of the race and was happy to hear that there was an open invitation to drop out after one lap if you needed to. What was there to worry about?

Well, we hit the trails and the hill started. Everything was single track and  with a crowd of over 80 racers everyone started single filing it in a long paceline.I fit in behind Keith O'Brien and up we started to go. Pretty soon my breathing got very heavy and my heart rate started shooting up. If someone started slowing they stepped aside and  a whole bunch of racers would go by. At one point I tripped and looked back to see a 3 thick branch covered by snow was lying across the path in wait to trap a snowshoe. It caught mine.  I kept looking up and the race kept going up. At one point I passed Steve Wolfe as he was fiddling with his snowshoes. His race for a top spot was over even if he could get his snowshoes untangled and fixed. He would never be able to pass so many racers on the trails ahead.

Did I say the trails kept going up? Well they did. I passed a few people who couldn't keep with the steady pace and a few times I asked the person behind me if they wanted to go ahead. They never did! Pretty soon people started walking. I am glad they did, because I needed to also. It seemed to take forever before we hit the top and started hurtling down. I was very leery of going too fast downhill. While my SI joint wasn't hurting my left leg was hard to control. I would veer from one side of the course to the other. The snow was also deep and slushy feeling underfoot, or at least my foot was sliding a few inches or more forward each time they hit the ground.

My untrained muscles were tightening up and I was really pushing the limits of heart rate and breathing. I let a few people go by here and there and passed a few too. And then we had to go up the hill again. Now I was stumbling on the uphills. Near the top I stopped and let two racers go by. From there it was downhill again, but I was shot. I even had to stop and walk a few times going downhill! I knew I was nearing the end of the first lap and you couldn't pay me a million dollars to do another lap. I am not sure if I could have made my muscles respond if I tried to go up those hills again. Now my calves started getting cramps a bit as my toes were pointed going down the hills. I was thoroughly gutted and completely tapped out and happily stopped after that first lap.

And I felt great. Now that I was done, my muscles were trashed, my chest was heaving, blood was pumping, and I was simply elated to have been able to do even half of this race. If you are going to start a comeback, you might as well start with the toughest race you can find. I had missed racing and pushing extremes for so many months that being able to compete was such a thrill even if I was in such poor shape.  But then I saw the results and they called the "short version of the race "The Wimp Race"! I gotta tell you I have never been so happy to be called wimpy in my life before! I watched and cheered on the "real racers" as they finished the second lap and it is true that anyone who completed the Feels Good Farm Snowshoe Race deserves to be called an  aerobic beast. Congratulations to all, because this race is no walk in the park. I have done over a thousand races in my 35+ years of competing and that includes marathons, triathlons-including 5 Ironman distance ones, cross-country races, track races, and bike races and nothing compares to the" in your face intensity" of this race. It takes strength and fitness to get up the climbs and nimbleness and courage to get back down. There is nowhere to take a breather. If you want to push your limits in the shortest amount of time possible, this race will do it!

How do I know it is tough. I can run up Mt. Washington without walking one step. I had to walk some downhills here. I have cycled downhill at up to 62 mph but at least I had brakes and a clear view of the road ahead. Each step going down Moose Hill you didn't know if you might hit a rock or get your tip caught under a branch or even run into a tree crossing your path. There are points in triathlons, marathons, and bike races when you get a chance to catch your breath a bit. This race doesn't give you that chance. And finally, I think I am going to lose a toenail after doing this race. That  only happens in a marathon.

The really good news? The belt seems to work. Oh I had some sore muscles after my half a race, but it wasn't the typical one sided messed up joint pain I usually have. I felt fine all night and was even able to do a few hundred kettlebell swings at night. Today, I took out my snowshoes again and went down to Mine Falls with my son Andrew and I got another couple of miles in. It felt so much better running on the flats for a change! I look forward to seeing how this belt works when I run. If this can help me train while my back and hips learn to heal, I will be very very happy indeed!

Scott Mason has a set of fantastic picture of all the snowshoe champions here.

Here are the results of the full race.

Here are the results of the Wimp Run. I have never been so proud to be called 2nd Wimp!


Scott Mason said...

I agree Jim. One lap here does not make you a wimp.

Sir George said...

Hi Jim,
I am Wimp # 3. This was my first attempt at snowshoe racing and what an introduction it was!! Could I have picked a tougher debut race? When I realized that I couldn't do the second lap I was questioning my man-hood and figured that my snow-shoe racing career was over before it started but I am actually happy with my 2.7 miles (+/- whatever).

Being a Turtle, the fact that I have been branded a wimp by the RD will stay with me for a very long time...there is no way my team mates will let that one slip!

I will try again on the 29th.


Jim Hansen said...

Everything else you do in life will now be that much easier, including any snowshoe race (unless you come back next year and do the full thing!)

Congratulations on your Wimp status. It was well-earned.

Hope to see you at future snowshoe races. They can actully be a lot more fun than this one.