Back on that cold January evening when I punched in my sixteen credit card digits and made the commitment to attempt the Nor’East Trail Runs Triple Crown Ultra Snowshoe Series (wow.. what a mouthful!), I decided to try this new thing because it just seemed like fun – it was simply something that I had never attempted before. I had owned my Dion 21” racing snowshoes for just over two months and with great enjoyment, ran some weekends in the Whites Mountains because it was a snazzy (whose eyes don’t get attracted to neon orange snowshoes?!) and fast way of covering ground through the mountains, as long as the trails were somewhat packed!
I did the 10K race and found out that it was, without a doubt, a rad time! The other folks were a super nice crowd to be a part of, and it felt pretty darn good to run on these short but sturdy snowshoes! The half-marathon saw more of my competitive side once I had found out that I can actually move rather efficiently over packed powder. When the 50K was about half over, I completely realized that this was going to be the toughest day of pushing myself – possibly, ever! I wanted to quit, but didn’t. I was frigid down to my toe bones, but kept moving. All of the prior experience of walking that mile to work in minus fifteen temperatures over the winter months (training to be more comfortable in uncomfortable circumstances..) helped program my mind so I could convince myself through repetition of my thoughts that “this isn’t so bad”, “I’ve felt worse before”, or “just keep moving, maybe it will get better after
it gets worse!”
T-minus 12 days
So, in a way, I did not want the snowshoe series to end, I was having fun getting to know these folks, chatting it up and saying hi at each event. The thought to race again came to me basically instantaneously as I saw the results from the 50K, “I finished, but still got no points?!”, I remember thinking to myself.
The last race of the entire season was taking place in about two weeks, for sure I’d be there for that!
Once again, I punched in my credit card info and just like that, I was officially in for my last race of the winter (snowshoe) season, but my first night race with this crew! It was advertised as a run “under the lights” at the venue – and the groomed trails – I was now accustomed to: Viking Nordic Center, in Londonderry, Vermont.
All I had to do now was keep up my morning runs, rest and eat – like I had been for the previous events.
I was sore Monday following the 50K at Merck Forest, but by Tuesday I was back to my old self – running two steps at a time from the 1st
floor to the 6th floor, and from the 6th floor back to our office on the 4th, no pain at all! For the next two weeks I focused on keeping my hamstring loose, foam rolling and…essentially traversing a fine precipice of just ‘babying’ it, and hammering hard enough to destroy the muscle with hills and moderate mileage during the weeks, ramping it back up with Ciara and the doggies over the weekends.
T-Minus 13 hours
Friday rolled around, much like the way most Friday’s do.
March 15th 2019, read the face of my Coros watch.
Morning. I wanted to bury my phone out in the field, similarly to every other day when my alarm goes off at 4:01am. This was a pretty typical morning. I hit the pavement at 5:31am with a dying headlamp, quickly finding out that my legs were concrete and craved rest. Not a good way to start a day with a night run in just a few hours, so with 2.34miles logged, I retired home under a dim light and readied for the work day. I hoped for a smooth and pain-free day; all I wanted to do was get back in my car and make the hour drive to Londonderry.
To my pleasant surprise it was a sunny day when I got out at 2:45pm. Salomon’s laced up, I made the uneventful 1.06 mile jog back to my car, playing Frogger with the traffic and stop lights.
Once home with Ciara, I made a quick snack of raw cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, washed up with a handful of dates; quick and easily digestible by the time I would arrive at the Nordic Center.
Once again, I made the drive solo, flying south on the interstate – but this time I was accompanied by glorious afternoon sun rays and with minimal traffic, I was in heaven! Trying to cool my thoughts from the work day and meditating the best I could while auto-piloting the fifty-something miles southwest, I pulled into the muddy ski lot with plenty of time to spare!
With about an hour to stretch and do whatever my little heart desired out there in Vermont, I followed the sun with no hesitation! Right up onto the front porch of the Clubhouse, directly in the glowing warmth I stretched, then went for a quick 2-mile warm up down the road in the 60+ degree afternoon sun. It was beautiful! “What a way to ring in Spring!”, I thought to myself, I was psyched that we were all so lucky to have the opportunity to run on the last fading snowflakes.
T-minus 3 minutes
We all gathered out in the familiar field area where we had begun several occasions in the past, group photos taken, jackets and extra gear dropped, the course for tonights race was outlined – emphasis on the initial 50 feet, count down commenced – and we were off!!
Once again the quicker of the bunch took right off, leaving me to my comfortable steady “sustainable” pace. It took about 10 paces to enter the ‘danger zone’; it was like someone standing in front had thrown a slushie in my face and down my shoes!
“What-the-shit..that-is-cooooold!!!” The words going through my head as a bounced through 8 inches of deep slush and ice-water. Similarly to the 50K trail run, my shoes did minimal to keep ice water out of my socks. If I could run while in shock – I was certainly going to find out how tonight!
I was on the heels of a gentleman who I overheard saying “I have another race tomorrow, I’m not pushing it today”, well I was and it didn’t seem like I would pass him anytime soon! We hung out turn after turn, I stayed to his right side, mirroring every step, he was quicker on the descents but once we hit the first ascent of the evening – I left him in my snowy dust.
Once again all of my hill climbing was paying off, one runner down (never to catch up), one runner to track down! My body reflected auto racing as I leaned into the turns, hitting the apex of each turn, trying to plan my lines while glancing 30 feet out ahead. Trying to control my breathing (which was like a freight train at this point), I gained on first place.
Passing a sign which read To Finish, I thought to myself “ehh oh well, I’ll try again next lap”, as we rounded yet again another curve which gave way to hills. Hills were saving me, I knew I was quick all throughout the course, but no one seemed to be able to control their breath and just motor through these hills, I was stoked!
First of the rolling hills I passed this last runner as if he were walking on sand dunes – “looking great, dude!!” I exclaimed with a wave passing by.
And then there was one.
I was left to race in my own mind, my favorite kind. Now all I had to do was not break an ankle and get my breathing slowed back down. At the beginning of the second lap Adam was there taking photos as he was dressed up in a T-Rex costume, laughter is always a welcome medicine on any of my runs!
Back through the 50 or so foot stretch of ice water, sinking mid-shin with every step. It certainly did not feel excellent, but reassured myself – I wasn’t here for a walk in the park. I was here to run the hardest and strongest that I had yet, I mean, it was only a 5K..
Right away I had numbness jolt up the side of my calf from the ice water, I knew it was from the ice bath because I had never felt such a targeted numbing pain like that. “Run through it, one lap left, you’re almost done, ignore the feeling, land on your feet correctly, take off with power, breathe hard and deep – and repeat” I told myself over and over.
It was finally now on the second lap as we retraced our first steps through the Nordic trails that I was able to sit back, take in the setting sun through the trees and smell the forest – and what else.. oil burning?
The fading light through the rolling snowy trails now began to resemble some fairy tale forest land, minus the gnomes – but they had set up oil lamps all through the second half of the course!! I was so excited for this, the smell of the burning oil and the flickering of the real burning flame out there was pure magic. Enough to relieve the pain temporarily from the cold jolting up my shin.
Hitting the hills again, now for the last time, I believed within myself that this was it, I had done it. Passed everyone and now I was just cruising it on home. The hills provided temporary warmth from the ice water dripping off my shorts, I was out here to have fun – and this truly, truly was turning out to be a fantastic day, the type of days that we don’t want to end.
Last hill, cow bells rang, Adam, Eliza and the other spectators hootin’ and hollerin’ at the top of the hill – pushed it now up and over the starting line that was scratched into the quickly melting ski slopes.
Sticking around to see the other racers sprint it in, shaking hands, clapping for new friends like so many others had done for me – quickly took my mind off my own freezing shorts and dripping wet shoes, and suddenly I wasn’t cold anymore.
Okay, fair enough – I was super cold!
Quick change of shoes and socks, add a jacket into the mix and I was doing better – even better yet with the head of romaine and a cucumber to eat during the raffle and last hurrah around the cast iron fire place. Surprised yet again when Adam called out “Erik” as the winner of some energy gel jackets, I looked around to see how many other Erik’s there were out here with us.. none!
Retreating to my fireplace spot in the back with my new raffle prize and the remainder of my romaine head, I just munched and munched. Similar to the way a waiter is guaranteed to come over only when you have a full mouth of snacks, a friend came over to talk about the 50K.
I was super stoked as I listened to so much enthusiasm that I had never heard before: I had influenced her to try something new? To step out of a comfort zone and attempt the 50K? I was beyond touched, and all the while I was the one trying to not be noticed as I pushed myself beyond my own limits – but to help someone, to influence them to try new things – my night, my day, my week was made. This, I thought, was why I signed up for this stuff. Hearing a reaction like this brought me extreme contentment – I had done something that helped someone else make a positive decision!
The following days passed as I slowly wore out the ‘refresh’ button on my internet browser, anxiously awaiting the “official results” to be posted on the Nor’East website. Sitting in clinic at work with my little bit of down time, I checked Facebook – which I never do on my phone because it loads all skewed and funky – but to my surprise there it was! A whole write up and the official results and congratulatory remarks on both of their online pages. It was now ‘official’. I had initially no intention of claiming overall first place, nor the idea that I could end up in this spot when I signed up for this whole shin-dig, but there it was, my name in the ‘first-place’ spot!
Folks are still asking me how “the thing I did the other night” went, and honestly it is hilarious to see their reactions to the distances that we all traveled on snowshoes. It was such a fun event, really the highlight of my Winter 2019.
I won my Dion snowshoes, with several options of how I wanted to customize them – they offer several binding options and crampon (spike) offerings, I learned the hard way in the White Mountains that the only spikes that hold up to my abuse are the stainless steel “ice” cleats. Can’t wait to get those babies in the mail but I have a feeling that when I do, they will be hanging on the ‘gear wall’ with my older, beaten Dion snowshoes patiently awaiting next seasons’ snowfall.
That is okay though, I am ready for Spring; ready to smell the defrosting soil, heck – ready to feel traction once again, chunky rubber lugs of my Salomon SpeedCross4’s gripping granite as I push up to the mountain tops on bare rock. I’m ready to not have to dress in so many layers to go out and run. Totally psyched to have several other Nor’East Trail Runs events already logged in the calendar, amped to run 50K trail events with these folks again and be able to hang out, still a sweaty mess – but not have hypothermia such a factor in my days!
Follow along in the future for more epic adventures, and if you missed the series leading up to this point – be sure to catch the link to back track and see how I got started in this whole, crazy, snowshoe running series: for the love of doing new things and pushing into the discomfort-zone!
Have a super rad day and thanks for following along the journey!
Overall Punxsutawney Phil 5K stats
Recorded with my Coros Pace GPS watch
- 1st place finish
- 2.49 miles
- 21min 37seconds
- 8:41 pace
- 174′ elevation gain