Thursday, March 6, 2014

2014 USA Dion National Snowshoe Championships

The 2014 USA Dion National Snowshoe Championships was a spectacular affair. I am so glad that I decided to attend this event to be part of the mix and to experience this first class race.  When they put snowshoe racing in the Winter Olympics it will need to be raced on a course like this one designed by Tim Van Orden and held in held in Bennington and Woodford Vermont at Prospect Mountain. They had a juniors race, a separate women's' and men's National Championship race, and a citizen's race along with other events.

My wife and I stayed in Bennington overnight before the Saturday race. It would be the first time that Sarah would see a snowshoe race. She is the one that got me my first pair of racing snowshoes (Tubbs 10K) over 15 years ago, even when there were no races in the area to participate in and then my Dion Snowshoes about 5 years ago. We made it to the Prospect Hill skiing hill for the morning race in single digit temperatures, but it was sunny and the wind was still, which would make perfect race conditions when matched up with the gorgeous blue sky. I met up with my Acidotic Racing teammates before the women's race at 10:00.

I had a great time cheering on the ladies including Acidotic teammate Amber Ferreira, who blew away the field for the win (women's results here). Exactly five years ago to the day, I outkicked Amber (then Cullen) in a local 5k race. I know I used to have a picture of the finish somewhere. Since that time she has become a much faster runner and a professional triathlete and I have become much slower and barely a runner. I took a video of the women's race. The start and finish were very spectator friendly with a few loops so you could see the racers before and after they raced up and down the mountain. It was a 10K race. The last runner I filmed is Patti Dillon (Lyons) the former American record holder in the marathon and one of America's greatest female distance runners.

I was so intent on filming Patti that I almost missed the start of the men's race. I quickly put on my snowshoes and sprinted to the starting line. I got into place just as the announcer said, "2,1,Go!" This was a large field of racers, but the first few loops took us around the start on a hard packed track. I felt good, but there were a ton of very fast athletes spreading out ahead of me. The sound of all the snowshoes crunching on the snow was amazing. I knew I would be near the back of the pack, but I was really there just to have fun and to test myself on the course. It would be my longest run since May by over a mile and I have done less than 100 miles of running since July. My training has been about 5-6 hours of indoor ElliptiGO riding each week for the past two months and then a snowshoe race to break things up most Saturdays.

After looping around a bit, the course turned into some sections of softer singletrack as racers continued to sort themselves out. I was still feeling good. I have lost a little over 10 pounds over the previous two weeks as I have drastically reduced my diet to small healthy food choices. When the course headed uphill, I found myself slowed by racers ahead of me who sometimes would walk. I didn't feel like walking, so I kept running in place behind them. When given an opportunity, I slowly was able to pass other racers. In fact, only one person passed me on the journey to the top of the mountain and the midway point of the race. It was at this time, I passed a guy in a yellow suit with "Australia" printed on his back. I only passed him because his snowshoe kept coming off, something he was unhappy, yet good-natured about. There was a section of downhill where I passed everyone I could see in front of me including the one guy who had passed me earlier. I think the racers behind me must have been nursing sore hips and knees like I was. I hit some more singletrack, and the Australia guy was behind me again. I had to be tentative here, but I didn't want to hold him up. I asked if he wanted to get ahead, but he said I was setting a fine pace. However, at the next section where there was a passing lane, I told him to go ahead. He went scampering in high gear, away from me. Oh to be young with good hips! He went bounding down the hill with speed and exuberance Eventually, the singletrack ended and I was dumped onto a wide groomed cross-country ski trail. The flags seemed to suggest that this was the way to go, but there were no course markings so I started doubting myself. There was no one I could see ahead of me and I kept looking behind me and saw no one there either. I was alone on the course and unsure if it was the course. On one steeper section, I turned around to look for someone and caught one snowshoe on the ground and I tripped and went down hard. Oomph! Still when I looked around I saw no one catching up. I eventually caught up to some cross-country skiers and they assured me that I was on the course. It seemed like I was on my own for about 15 minutes until I made it to the final downhill.

This downhill was steep and they had flags so you zig-zagged down the slope. It was fun to watch the ladies race down this section, but by the time I tried to race down it, the course was sloppy and difficult to navigate. I took it pretty easy down there not wanting to injure my hip. As I was going down, I finally saw another racer a few zigs and zags behind me. I did not want to get caught and he was going much fast than me, so I tried to pick it up once I hit the short loop on level ground before the finish line. My time was 1:14:03 over the 10K course and I finished 165th out of 213 (men's results here). Those really don't matter. Before the winter started, I wasn't even sure I would be able to do any snowshoe racing, but I have had a blast in all of the races this year. The ElliptiGO has kept me in good enough shape to run these races and even though I limp for two days after each race, I am thrilled to still be able to participate and to even be a part of the pinnacle of snowshoe racing this year,

I threw my small flipcam video recorder to my wife before the start and she was able to capture some video of the men's race.

The amazing and crazy thing about snowshoe racing is the number of wonderful photographers taking photos of the race. Here are a few of their photo albums. I look old and slow in my photos, but they take some breathtaking photos of the more athletic and speedy racers and the wonderful scenes throughout the course.

Joe Viger's album. Here is a photo of race winner Amber Ferreira on the way down the hill to the finish.

Scott Mason's album Photo of the lead men.

Here is a gallery or photos from Brian Teague who took this shot:

Gianina Lindsey's Snapacidotic gallery see Acidotic Racing team photo above

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