The rains may have washed away the snow in the rest of New England, but up on Woodford Mountain, the snow was heavy and deep. Perfect conditions for the first of the 2010 Dion Snowshoes WMAC Snowshoe Series. Speaking of deep, the roster of athletes that showed up was like a who’s who list of Snowshoe and Mountain racing in New England.
Woodford defending champion and Former US Mountain Running Team member, Josh Ferenc, jumped out to an early lead in his usual fashion. Jim Johnson (NH Runner of the Year in 2009) was not going to let Josh have it that easy and jumped right on his heels. Although the pace was very fast and the snow was sticky and wet, I positioned myself right behind Jim to see how long I could hold on.
Within the first half mile, we met the longest, steepest hill in the race. This is where Josh usually breaks away from the pack and settles in to a comfortable lead. But Jim Johnson hung tight, and despite the pace, my legs were feeling very strong and I coasted behind Jim all the way up. When we made the turn into the woods and onto the single track at the top of the hill, the three of us had opened up a nice gap on 4th place.
We wound through the trees and over rocks on the sinuous, undulating single track. Josh surged a few times, but Jim and I held on tight. I was very surprised at how comfortable I was feeling. My heart rate was low and my breathing was not labored. In the back of my mind I was waiting for the anchor to drop, I mean how could I possibly be running with Josh Ferenc? My thoughts were violently interrupted by Jim Johnson screaming “Watch out!!”. My eyes darted around, and discovered a large, sharp stake coming out of the ground and pointing right at my face. I quickly dodged to the left, narrowly missing certain facial reconstruction. My heart raced and then settled… I smiled. This was snowshoe racing.
Suddenly Josh dropped like a rag doll in front of us and made a loud thump. He had tripped and come down hard on his chest and face on a large trailside boulder. Jim and I asked him if he was ok as we went by. He said something about his face. We kept turning back to check on him, he was not getting up. We charged on. Part of me felt guilty for not making certain of his well-being, but another part was in race mode and I was not letting go of this “hell of a race” I was having.
Another mile in and we came to another climb. Jim asked me if I wanted to go by. I said no. He said he was really dogging it and was out of shape. I countered with “You’re winning the race!”. I was feeling very comfortable, especially on the climbs. Apparently the crazy Tabata leg strength training I have been doing is really paying off. Part of me wanted to pass Jim and just go for it, but another part was thinking “when is this fairy tale going to end?”.
The curiosity that had marked my start to this race – Run out front with the big boys and see how long you can hang on – Had now turned into a fearful need for security. Now that I discovered that I could run with the big boys, I was afraid of blowing the chance at a victory if I did make a surge to take the lead. So I sat on Jim’s heels. Regardless of how many times he asked me to go by, I sat there, scared to make the move.
With 3/4 of a mile to go, Brian Rusiecki, one of the top trail runners in the East, was starting to close the gap on us. As we left the single track and entered the final 300 meters on the access road, Brian was only a few seconds behind us. I was not feeling tired, and thought that I could sprint to the finish now and come out ahead of Jim. Jim had the same idea. So we sprinted like mad men for the last few hundred meters of the race and Jim’s young legs proved a bit quicker than mine, as we finished less than a second apart. It was a very exciting finish.
I race because it’s an opportunity to see who I am… Not just how fit I am physically, but how well put together I am mentally. Obstacles show up in life all the time. Sometimes we have more than enough resources to deal with them, but choose not to use those resources when needed. Racing brings this to the surface every time. It shows you your weak points. It shows you your fears. If you look closely, it shows you opportunity.
Good things to come in 2010.