Brave The Blizzard Snowshoe Race

The second race in the WMAC snowshoe series was held in Guilderland, NY, just a few miles outside of the state capitol Albany, NY. This is the 5th year of this event, and the first time in those 5 years that there has been snow to run on. This winter bounty attracted an excited crowd from all over the Northeast to take on this challenging 4 mile course.
Once again I showed up with my dad’s big old clunker snowshoes, hoping that the added weight and size wouldn’t slow me down that much. But as luck would have it, I bumped into Dave Dunham in the parking lot who happened to have 4 extra pair of racing shoes in his trunk – the perks of being a sponsored athlete. Dave was kind enough to lend me a pair and I was ready to go.

The Albany Running Exchange, the club that put on the race, pulled out all the stops. They had a full on snowshoeing expo in gym of the elementary school adjacent to the course. You could test all kinds of gear, get a massage, fill up on a pancake breakfast, purchase A.R.E. clothing, hang out with a snowman mascot, etc. Did I mention the throngs of smiling people? This was my kind of race.

The start of the race was through an unpacked field with about 10 inches of heavy, wet snow covering the ground. I noticed Dave Dunham meticulously walking back and forth along a single path perpendicular to the start line. What I discovered after the start, was that Dave was packing a trail for himself to use out of the gate. While we were all trampling through the deep wet snow, Dave was running on a packed trail. Now why didn’t I think of that? Despite the sludgy start, I managed to come out of the mess in second place behind Dave as we entered the single track through the woods. My goal: Stay with Dave as long as I could – he was the man to beat, or should I say, he was the man to pull me to a great performance.

The pace seemed slow to me and I was barely laboring, but we were pulling away from the pack. I didn’t want to pass as I thought maybe I’d tire out too quickly, so I just tucked in behind Dave and relaxed. Near the one mile point we were caught by another racer who joined the lead train. The three of us ran the next two and a half miles on eachother’s heels. Past a hundred cheering fans along the course, and even a young girl who was building snowmen to block the trails we were to avoid.

Dave’s shoes were a little different than I was used to and landed at a bit of an angle, which caused me to crack my ankle bones with the hard aluminum frames every 100 steps or so causing my ankles to swell and bruise. If it weren’t for my recent reading of “The New Toughness Training For Sports“, I’m sure I would have let out a scream each time it happened (note to self: wear ankle pads).

I was starting to tire. The course seemed to go on forever with no end in sight. We were told that it was a 5k, but I had a feeling that we had reached that point a while back. I could sense Dave slowing in front of me as well, and later learned that he was also wondering when this thing was going to end. He had the added burden of running the entire race with someone (me) six inches off his heels, which is a huge psychological weight to carry. Finally, the racer behind me said “on your right” as he burst around me through the deep snow. I was in no mood for a duel, so I let him in. We remained a chain of three, but now I was in 3rd. The “easy” victory that I was savoring in the early stages of the race had vanished. Two hundred yards further and the racer in the middle called “on your right” to Dave. But Dave was in a spunkier mood than I was and he sped up. He was not going to let this kid win easily, he was going to make him earn it. Dave’s increased speed was more than I could handle now, and the two of them drifted slowly away from me. Another hundred yards and the racer tried again, but this time he unleashed a fury of flying snow as he launched by Dave’s best effort to stave him off. I could see the field containing the finish line through the trees ahead, it must have been only a quarter mile to the finish. The lead runner was still sprinting and getting farther ahead of us as we entered the field. Dave kicked enough to keep me from catching back up and crossed the line in 2nd. I finished 3rd, only seven seconds behind him. The winner turned out to be the founder of the Albany Running Exchange, Josh Merlis. Had we known the course as well as he did, perhaps we would have had some extra mental steam to get us through the dragging later parts.

Goal for next race: Don’t tuck in behind anyone – go for it and see how long I can hang on to the lead (that’s gonna leave a mark).

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