Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour

It is a crisp, clear morning on the second of February. In a rural Pennsylvania town, a large crowd gathers around a nervous rodent, anxiously awaiting the critter's claim. A claim that may or may not clash with opinions of the country's top scientists. Confined to his tiny cell throughout most of the proceedings, the rodent is released from imprisonment by his caretakers—an elite group simply known as The Inner Circle. For the 131st time, the age-defying Punxsutawney Phil is placed atop a stump on Gobbler's Knob. It may be the truth, or it may be "alternative facts" drawn up to serve the self-interests of The Inner Circle—no man can say with certainty what the groundhog sees or does not see, and some may dispute how much of a shadow must reach his line of sight—that leads to an official decree across the land. To the rejoice of some, the dismay of most, and in contradiction to many a meteorologist, it is officially declared that winter will extend an additional six weeks.

So why the hell am I telling you this?!!

The Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour Snowshoe Race has a few quirky rules, making it unique from a traditional timed race. The course is a 2.5-mile loop around Black Creek Park, located just west of Rochester, NY, in the town of Chili. The loop is pretty flat, with only 100 feet of gain. Like all timed races, the objective is straight forward—cover as many miles as possible within the allotted time. The low-key event is put on by Goose Adventure Racing, a race production business and
adventure racing team based out of Rochester. The Goose guys can be heard on episode 41 of the Running Inside Out Podcast, where they discuss, among other things, their disdain for roads. In fact, Goose AR's website happens to be

Two days before the race, Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his cage and was declared by The Inner Circle to have seen his shadow, resulting in a longer winter. This meant the Cast-a-Shadow race was extended as well. The race rules state that partially completed loops do not count towards a runner's mileage, but any loop started before the clock hits six hours will count in the standings. Conversely, if the little rodent failed to see his shadow—resulting in an early spring—the race would be "shorter," and only loops finished before 6:00 would count. In other words, finish a loop in 6:00:01 and you're SOL—no whining allowed.

I bought a pair of snowshoes back in early December as a way to manage some cross-training and spend time on the trails while my Achilles tendon healed up. I was looking at running the Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour, provided I could get myself in snowshoe shape by early February. Otherwise I'd sign up for the FLRC's Super Frosty Loomis Snowshoe 10k, held on the same day as CAS. As race day drew nearer, I found myself lacking in snowshoe mileage due to low levels of snowfall in the Ithaca area. I only managed a few decent snowshoe training runs, the longest being about two-and-a-half hours. As luck would have it, the trails at Black Creek Park were low on snow as well. Two days before race day—Groundhog Day—it was announced that CAS would be a trail run. Although I was hoping to make my snowshoe race debut, I was relieved I could stick to my main discipline and not beat my body up while trying to manage a marathon on the shoes. (Hammond Hill had plenty of snow, and the Frosty Loomis remained a snowshoe race.)

The timed loop format was new to me, as was the 1:00 p.m. start time. My original goal was to complete at least a marathon—that is, 11 loops of 2.5 miles each—on snowshoes. I wasn't too sure how well my body would hold up after four months of pretty low training mileage. I'd managed a string of four consecutive 50-mile weeks throughout January, trying to build a solid base without any major fitness gains. Once it was announced CAS was a trail race, I decided 13 loops for 50k seemed pretty reasonable, but I wasn't going to destroy myself getting there. I'd get as far as I'd get.

After some deliberation, I decided to go with the Lone Peak 2.0s on my feet. Yeah, they're old, but they haven't seen a ton of miles and the traction was still solid on the trails' hard-packed snow.

Frosty start. PC: Eric Eagan
The six-hour event consists of a solo division and a three-person relay team division. Both races start at the same time, and with such a short loop it was hard to tell my place in the standings. Shortly after the start I picked out a guy in front of me, vowing to keep him in sight as long as the pace felt pretty relaxed. I was surprised to learn after the second loop that this was the leader for the solo division, which meant I was in second place by only a few seconds. It was also a stark reminder I'd probably started out too fast. Oops. Time to back off.

From the race headquarters at Sunnyside Lodge, the course follows a wide trail briefly through the woods before popping out along side an open field dusted in a uniform layer of fresh snow. The absence of tree cover allows for a nasty, biting headwind to make things a little less fun. The open section is short lived, however, and soon runners are back amongst the trees. In most sections, the trail is 10-15 feet wide, making it easy to pass and avoid congestion. One little section of narrow singletrack makes passing tricky and forces runners to be patient. The final stretch runs along the bank of Black Creek, before taking a hard right back toward the timing tent adjacent to the lodge. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Around the fourth loop—after gnawing a frozen Honey Stinger Waffle proved to be more trouble than it was worth—I realized I'd have to slow down to actually have a decent race. It was here that the leader slipped out of sight and I caught up with Cole Crosby. The winner last year, Cole was working at the race as a rep for Nathan Sports this time, and decided to get some training miles in while "banditing" the course. We ran my fifth loop together and he kept me going as I could feel my energy starting to wane.
Chasing Cole. PC: Eric Eagan

I finished my eighth loop and hit 20 miles a few minutes past the three hour mark. My pace had dropped from 21-23 minutes per loop to nearly 30 minutes on loop 8. I took a quick break here—the halfway point—to sit a minute and mix up some Green Tea Buzz Tailwind in my handheld. The sugar and caffeine combo woke me up and kept me moving for the next four to five loops. Before I knew it, I hit the marathon distance in about 4:10 and 50k in something like 5:07. After the headlamp came on around 5:30 p.m., I felt like I was cruising, despite running at a slower pace than I'd started with.

I hustled on loop 14 to finish before the clock read 6:00, and along the way I was lapped by the leader for the second time. As I neared the timing tent, I could hear the RDs egging people on, telling them they'd better get moving so they could earn the pleasure of running one more loop. A few runners looked less than thrilled for the opportunity. I passed through and called out "I'm starting my cool-down lap!" In half an hour I was back, having officially finished 37.5 miles in 6:25, good enough for second place. (Men's full results with lap splits.)

Hopped up on Tailwind. PC: Eric Eagan
It was fun catching up with a bunch of Rochester trail runners I've gotten to know over the past few years, many of whom I met at Ithaca trail races. It's easy to get to know people when they show up at all the same races as you. Receiving many a high-five from Mike Valone, and then getting heckled repeatedly by Dan Lopata, were a few of the more memorable moments throughout the race. Goose Adventure Racing put on a pretty sweet event, complete with a very boisterous awards ceremony in the lodge immediately afterward. I look forward to hopefully running some more of their trail races in the near future. Thanks guys!

My mileage total was much better than I'd expected, given the limited amount of training. As it turns out, my body held up really well and I felt pretty good the entire race, all things considered. Cast-a-Shadow is a great example of how building a solid base over a long period of time is key in any endurance activity. The longer the distance, the more important that base fitness becomes.

As I type this, evidence of Punxsutawney Phil's accuracy is abound just outside the window. Much of the Northeast got hit with significant snowfall overnight. Ithaca got about three inches, with a few more inches expected tonight. Six more weeks of winter? As Dr. Emmett L. Brown famously asked, "Since when can the weathermen predict the weather, let alone the future?"

And with that, I predict a snowshoe run in my immediate future.

On the snowy banks of the Black Creek. PC: Eric Eagan

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