Friday, March 1, 2019

Snowshoe Racing Debutante

Wintertime in Upstate New York can be conducive to a number of outdoor activities. Cross-country and downhill skiing are abound, along with winter hiking. With the volume of snow dumped across the region this winter, one thing that became difficult is trail running. With that in mind, I signed up to race in snowshoes for the first time.

The Finger Lakes Runners Club holds a snowshoe race on Hammond Hill annually, always the day before the Super Bowl. The Super Frosty Loomis Snowshoe Race 10k course is essentially the FLRC's Thom B course run in reverse, minus a 1.5-ish mile section of red-blazed singletrack on the forest's southeast side. The event has a 5k race concurrently with the 10k. At 1,700 to 2,100 feet elevation, Hammond Hill always has more snow than the surrounding valley at this time of year.

I was originally hoping to run Goose AR's Cast-a-Shadow 6-Hour race on this day instead, thinking there might be little enough snow west of Rochester that it would become a trail race sans snowshoes. (As it was when I ran Cast-a-Shadow in 2017.) But nope—it was full-on snowshoe season this year at CAS and I was unable to find a pair to rent or borrow on short notice. I instead
opted to run the 10k at the local Loomis, where I could rent a pair of Dion racing snowshoes onsite for $5. Besides, the shorter race would make a great tempo effort.

The mercury stood at something like 10° F as runners assembled in and around the starting line's warming hut—a small, rustic cabin with a couple of space heaters and a gas stove to provide warm food at the finish. I checked in and nabbed the last pair of Dions available. (I can't remember the model. If I find out I'll update it here.)

I soon found myself struggling clumsily with numb fingers five minutes before the gun trying to manipulate the icy straps and attach the snowshoes to my Salomon shoes until a woman who obviously had way more experience than me (read: none) with this took pity and completed the task and the crisis was quickly averted. Whew.

All other things equal, snowshoe running takes a much higher effort to maintain a given pace compared to just plain old running. Dubious traction, extraneous lateral movement, and extra weight on your feet all combine to require an extra energy output. My heart rate was jacked after the first quarter-mile uphill so I decided to back off until it dropped, then cruise along at tempo run effort the rest of the way.

Once the initial hill leveled out, I got into a good groove and it was almost like running any singletrack trail. The racing snowshoes were so light and quiet I barely noticed they were there. The trail was broken in pretty well, with enough snow packed down that the footing was solid as long as I didn't step off the trail into the 6-8 inches of virgin powder. Having hardly run any trails since December, it was exhilarating to cut lose on the downhills while chugging along in complete solitude.

I neared the end of the course thinking there was no hope of finishing under an hour, and that's when I could see the timing clock's green LED lights between the trees. I kicked it in to complete the 10k in 58:35—a new event, and therefor "a new PR." (Results.) Afterward, a bunch of us packed back into the warming hut for hot cider and soup, then headed down to the Dryden Hotel for beer and the awards ceremony.

Now in its fifth year, Super Frosty Loomis was a near sell-out and had a record number of finishers. Eric, Dave, and Boris did a fantastic job putting this race together, along with several others who took time out of their Saturday morning to stand around in temperatures 20 below freezing to make the Loomis happen. Thank you all!

Post-race with fellow FLRC board member (and 5k winner) Bill Watson.

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