Tuesday, January 20, 2015

White River Snowshoe 8K Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 1st Edition 
5 miles run in 2015 races
Race: White River Snowshoe 8K
Place: White River Sno Park
Miles from home: 61 miles
Weather: 40s; snowy/rainy

My first thought was "Do these places really save a lot of time by removing the "w" from 'Sno-Park'?"  My second thought was "Is there even going to be any 'sno'?"

Wanting to experience snow in Portland is a tough thing to do. It virtually never snows here, at least of any snow worth value. One must seek it out if they want it during the  
winters. Two winters ago, I had to go to Canada.  Last year we had one little snowstorm and Portland shut.the.eff.down. Like Walking Dead shutdown. Rick Grimes was out trying to kill biters which was easy because they were yarnbombing IPA establishments and couldn't run fast because of their skinny jeans. (Thank you. I will be here all week.) So in order to find some snow and race in it, it meant I had to trek to Mt. Hood.

It's a bit of a shame it took me 2.5 years of living in Portland to venture to Mt. Hood. I have driven past it multiple times en route to various other great places in Oregon. But I had never actually been on the mountain. So, when the opportunity to play in the snow and take on my first snowshoe race ever came upon me, I jumped at it.

Then it wouldn't stop raining.

The night before the race, staying just seven miles from the race site, it was 50something degrees way past midnight and raining. Not normal Portland rain where you barely get wet but like East Coast hate-rain. Like rain that actually seems angry at you for being outside. I wondered if my first ever snowshoe race would be a mudshoe race.

Arriving about an hour prior to race time, my friend Shannon and I wanted to allow ourselves ample time to figure out how to put on, let alone run in, snowshoes. We were pleased as punch to see that at least at the beginning of the race appeared to have some snow on it.  How much was on the rest of the course would be determined.

Here, I give extreme kudos to the race director, Kevin Foreman. A very affable chap he also has a no cancellation policy on races. As for this race, when I asked if it would still go on, Foreman said "If Mt. Hood erupted, there would be a 50/50 chance it's still on."

The course itself had to be modified and lord knows when they did that and how late at night they were up doing so. But come race time, we had ourselves a 4k loop that was entirely on snow. I opted for the 8k, two-looper because I figured I would take me 3 miles to figure out how to run in snowshoes. I didn't want to just get the hang of it and then be done.

A description of the course, for those reading this on how to prepare for future years, is probably unnecessary. Given it will undoubtedly change, suffice it to say we ran a loop which had a gradual uphill for a few hundred yards, a big up hill, a downhill, two short up hills and then a long gradual downhill to the beginning of the second loop. That's the quick version. The longer version goes something like this.

Because I was not aware of how wide the area we could run in was, and even though I hadn't run a step in the shoes, I wanted to be close to the front. I trusted neither my ability to navigate nor pass anyone in front of me so I wanted as clear a path as possible. I didn't want to get tangled up in some sort of Agony of Defeat Wild World of Sports moment. As the first few hundred yards would show, I wasn't too shabby at running in the shoes. Furthermore, the sky had clouded over and white fluffy snowflakes began to fall. It was turning out to be a perfect showshoe running adventure. I was psyched!

I did forget we were at 4500 feet of elevation and running uphill, in snowshoes, in snow, would tax the lungs a bit. But I soon got a little bit of a rhythm. It looked like I was in the top 10 and I felt good. A couple of runners up ahead were obviously going to fight for the top prize but I figured a top 5 finish was within my grasp. Just had to survive the first loop and then I would know what I had in store.

Up ahead I could see a super steep hill but that was obviously meant for sledding or snowboards or
something.  As the 4kers had started 15 minutes ahead of us I figured any of the stragglers would be visible on this hill if we were going to run it. Instead, I saw nothing but kids and adults goofing around as they tried hilariously to get up the hill. What silly goons. Why can't they figure out a way to get up that - WAIT.  Those are runners! Why are the guys in front of me running up that?! Son of a-.

I had great trepidation with this hill. I have suffered a litany of odd calf/Achilles problems in the past few years and the last thing I needed was to tear one of them in this damnable race. Climbing this hill I could feel the strain on both so I was being gentle and slow.  I expected slews of people to pass me on the hill but it appeared my slow shuffle was as fast as everyone else's run and no one did. Fine with me.

At the top of the big hill we still had some slight climbing to do as we snaked through trees and fallen logs.  By now we had also caught up to many of the last of the 4Kers so we had to dodge and weave. As I alluded to earlier I wasn't too adept at that. Down Goes Frazier!  Fall #1.  Back on my feet I trudged forward.

We got to a place where I thought my eyes were deceiving my but more than a few people were sliding ass-first down a hill. "Is this where we go?" I asked as two guys behind me plunged down the ravine.  I guess so. Deathly afraid of tearing something (I hate the loss of fearlessness of getting older) I slid down the hill part on my butt and part on my shoes. Up and running again, I passed the guys who passed me and began trying to track down everyone else.

We ran next to a rivulet of grey water which I am guessing was non-existent three days ago before all this rain came to town. But the sound of its babbling was pleasant. The snow was getting heavier and I was loving this in spite of how much I was sucking at it. I went up two quick hills and my Achilles protested even more. I began to wonder if perhaps the 4k might have been smarter. I then somehow stepped on the back of one of my shoes and down I went again. Fall #2.

That all but ended the uphills and we began too trek downward. This I enjoyed. My lungs felt good, my calfs didn't hurt and I began passing people. One fella, however, wasn't exactly letting me pass. That was his
prerogative but I would have liked a little bit of leeway.  Finally, when I felt I had enough steam, I plowed off to the left and into the untrodden much deeper snow.  I sailed past him and set my sights on the remaining guys in front of me. About 50 yards later, I fell again. This time, however, could see why. I had run right out of my showshoe.

I quickly tried to get my foot back in but this was not a simple contraption. Plus, I was inexperienced in doing so. Plus, my hands were in gloves. Plus, my foot was covered in snow. Plus, I was on the side of a hill and other runners were coming at me. Plus, when I tried to kick my foot free of the shoe, I sent it sailing about 15 feet in front of me. This would be hilarious if I wasn't trying to race. Finally, I got the shoe back on and started running again. Just a few steps later and I realized I had not tightened it properly. I had to pull over again and secure the shoe. Now I was angry at myself for not being more prepared and experienced. I also remembered I don't like races where there is "equipment." I want shoes. That's it.

Bombing down the hill I found I could run downhill very well, just like in real life. I shifted through trees and followed the path in front of me hoping to catch as many people that had passed me as possible. We came to the turning point where I would make a right to finish the race but this loop I had to make a left to start it all over again. I could see all the racers in front of me who had passed me when I was down stretched out in front of me like ants on ice cream: black bodies on white snow.

Having obviously gained a great deal of ground on all of them, I went into racing mode. There were more than a few places where we were all brought to a walk, even if just for a few paces to catch our wind. Do not underestimate this sort of exercise: it is tiring.  But I could tell I was less tired than they were so I timed my quick walk breaks accordingly. I would walk until I was right behind them and then run. Making sure to pass them with strength and not look back. If I had to walk it would be after I had put some distance between us. I passed no less than 7 or 8 runners this way until I was at the base of the big hill again. No shame here - I am walking this bad boy.

At the top, knowing there were just two quick bumps to get over and mostly flat or slightly uphill for a few hundred yards, I began to motor.  I passed the guy who I had veered into the snow to pass on the previous lap and strained to see anyone else to chase down. No one. I was quite miffed at myself but alas.  The remainder of the race was me just picking them up and putting them down. I felt like I had been doing this my whole life, especially when we hit the long gradual downhill. I hopped over logs I had stepped over on the first lap. I didn't slow to take turns on gradual sloping hills. The flip-flap of my snowshoes was a nice rhythmic noise and I felt in tune with it all. I was pushing the pace but couldn't see anyone ahead of me. 

As I entered the last forested portion of the run, which had us leaping over logs and zig-zagging trees on a slight uphill I had walked on the first lap, I simply sped up. I saw one final competitor in front of me I recognized from my race. I went up the incline and made the right turn. Down the hill I went closing the gap. I was getting closer and closer even as I could hear the footsteps of a runner behind me. I deduced correctly it was a 4k runner who I had just passed and he wanted to race me hard to the finish (even though were were in separate races) and I used this challenge to spur me on more. Unfortunately, I was running out of real estate to catch the runner in front of me.

I came barreling into the finish just 5 seconds behind one runner and finished 13th overall. One of the runners I was tracking down (and was catching) before I fell finished 7th. I have ever reason to believe I would have been there if not further up the placings if not for the ejected snowshoe. I was a little perturbed but soon got over it. The race was a huge success and everyone was having a blast. What easily could have been a sopping mess instead turned into a winter blessing.

Shannon came in a little bit later, just one week off of finishing a tough 50k in a time which made her pleased as well. I made a few new friends while Kevin gave away door prizes and many enjoyed a beer or two. I gave the race two copies of No Handoffs and as it ends up both recipients were people I had talked to after the race. My favorite quote from one of them "And earlier I asked you if you ran many races."

Later I found out that while I hadn't had the best day ever, I had qualified for the 2015 National Championship race in Wisconsin. So I have that going for me.

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