Laying down tracks the day before the race
Race day - sunny but a chilly 20 degrees. My journey was short, but the roads were still in very poor shape. I arrived an hour early and was happy to see other people had made it. The Turtles were already there, and we discussed footwear options. I was really looking forward to racing in my snowshoes - something I never had the chance to do. The Turtles have experience with snowshoe racing and seemed happy to get to race with them in Rhode Island. My WTAC teammates would be racing in trail shoes (I'm the only one with snowshoes), except for Carol Ann, who brought her cross country skis. Besides the various footwear options, the race had multiple distance options. I was going for the longest version, the one Mike dubbed the Death Race - five miles of challenging terrain in deep snow and droopy trees blocking your way. I did a short warm up with Tom and Seth. By the time we finished, the race was about to begin.
The race began on the plowed road for about a 1/4 mile. I didn't want to start too fast, but I also didn't want to get stuck behind faster trail shoe runners that would have a tough time once we got on the trail. At the siren, Bob Jackman (my main competition on snowshoes) took it out hard. I tried to keep my composure, but I was going faster than I wanted trying to not get behind too many non-snowshoe runners. I was feeling winded. Bad sign for a very long snowshoe race! I turned into the woods behind Bob, Aaron Rome (wearing only neoprene socks!), and trail shoe runners Tom B, Jeff, and Ben. I had two more runners closely following me.
Quite the assortment of footwear. Photo by Jana Walker
Heading off to the sufferfest. Photo by Off Rhode Racing
In the woods, I was able to get into a really good groove. I wasn't working too hard, as my breathing was smooth. My legs were turning over in the deep snow nicely, despite the unpacked conditions. I was surprised that the snowshoes didn't have an advantage in this type of snow as the regular shoe runners around me maintained their distance from me. I was getting concerned about the back of my legs. I was kicking up a lot of snow on them, and my tights were getting wet, making my legs cold and numb at times. I tried to convince myself that I was working too hard for frostbite.
As I neared a ridge at the one plus mile mark, I could see my competition ahead of me. Bob was still flying up front with Aaron in tow. They seemed to already have two minutes on me! I reached the ridge, and was now gaining on the three runners in front of me. I was still churning along at my consistent pace, so I guessed they were beginning to fatigue. It didn't seem like anyone was close behind me anymore. By the time we reached the North South Trail again, I was right on the heels of Ben. On a hill he let me pass, and then I quickly caught my teammates Jeff and Tom. I briefly wondered if they might catch me on the ensuing downhill, but that didn't happen. I maneuvered as quickly as I could through the droopy tree section, before the trail opened up in the campground. I was now alone on the course, and I began thinking about how numb my legs were again.
I made it to the plowed camp road at about the 3.5 mile mark feeling good. I knew I would be able to finish at my steady pace. I didn't hesitate to choose the death race option, and headed off back into the woods. Mike warned us that this trail was a mess and would be excruciatingly hard (we didn't have time to mark it the day before). I had plenty of energy and knew the trail well, so I hoped for the best. Maybe Bob was tiring just around the corner? My positivity had a setback when I found myself walking a few steps around a tree. The snow was so deep and my stride didn't match up with Mike's or Bob's. Was I seeing Aaron's sock prints?! I soon was finding myself walking the small hills and around annoying obstacles (becoming more and more frequent). No sign of Bob or Aaron, and I surmised they were battling it out minutes ahead of me. I felt secure in my position, and just focused on getting through this trail. More downed trees, and more deep snow. I knew I was getting closer to the road, but the trail kept getting harder.
Finally, I climbed over the last fallen pine tree and reached the road. I had a 1/4 mile left on the camp road. My legs felt like junk. I thought about ripping off my snowshoes. I decided to just finish the best I could. Looking back, I saw a runner on the road, but I thought he was not on the death course, but the shorter "long" course. As I closed in on the finish, Mike was gesturing to me to hurry up. The dude behind me in shoes was gaining fast! I managed to hold him off (turned out to be teammate Seth) for 3rd place on the death course, 2nd in snowshoes.
Last strides to the finish. Watch out for Seth! Photo by Jana Walker
Team WTAC. Photo by Jana Walker
I was surprised to find out that Aaron won by a wide margin. It's funny to think that socks was the fastest footwear of the day. Bob finished about a minute ahead of me. I instantly began thinking about the what ifs, but I'm happy with how consistently I ran in snowshoes, and for such a long time - 58 and a half minutes! It was very festive at the finish line, and I had zero urge to run a cool down. Everyone had such an awesome experience today. I wasn't sure how this crazy race would turn out, but it was a smashing success. And maybe a once in a lifetime event in southern RI.