Finding myself at work Wednesday, January 2nd certainly did not dissuade me from opening the email as it dinged its way into my inbox – “Racing in Vermont with Nor’East Trail Runs”, the title read as it flashed its preview across my phone. That single word making up the end of the title alone had all my attention! These folks are super rad – graciously hosting the Nor’Witch 50K that I took part in several months earlier before the snow hit the mountains; they now had a growing, sweet line up for the summer months (several of which I had already begged them to take the sixteen digits from my credit card for!). The email read that they were beginning a winter running series – all on snowshoes – just the email that I had been waiting for! I tossed the thought around – questioning whether I could manage the logistics of escaping the hospital work life early enough to arrive for their night-time, ‘under-the-lights’ series hosted at the Viking Nordic Center. While only a bit over an hour away on back roads, this drive-time would probably double as I would be dealing with the after-work rush hour traffic if I were to join the event.
I kept checking their website though, looking for updates – hoping that perhaps I could join for any of the mileage under their night-time skiing lights! After all, I had these sweet, super light 21″ Dion snowshoes that I had only been able to bust out on the steep hiking trails of the White Mountains so far and I secretly wanted to test them out in a heated, head-to-head battle!
The Triple Crown Ultra Series
– were the words that burned onto my retinas (again during work hours of course!) on the afternoon of their first race, ‘do go on..’, I thought to myself! I could sign up just for three of the races during this series that were held on weekend days – this completely had my attention now. One text to Ciara later to inquire her opinion of the whole situation – she had approved! Just another reason I was ready to throw my hard-earned paycheck in their direction!
The first race of this three-part-er would be taking place the following weekend and featured a 5K/10K – well naturally being the ultra, I was automatically signed up for the bigger/longer races throughout! First would be my sort of ‘break in’ race of a 10K distance. Next, two weeks later I would take strap on these bright orange snowshoes for a half-marathon (13.1mile) distance – and finally on March 3rd would be the culmination of all winter racing, climbing and trail-training: the 50K (~31mile) distance! I was definitely psyched, once again doing something (such as the Nor’Witch 50K) that I had never tried, not sure if I would do well at all – but I was sure as heck signed up and going to have fun the whole way around those tracks!
Fast forward to Friday, January 25th
– as I was just walking in the door from work and had one thing on my mind: hiking. Ciara was going to be gone all weekend, the weather was looking fantastic, with low winds on Saturday – I was surely heading to the White Mountains! Then again, the sound of an email came though just as I set my work bags down, unzipped the jacket and was greeted by Grace – the cat! For a split-second I could not believe what I saw: the email was from Nor’East Trail Runs and it was all about the snowshoe race – tomorrow.
Wait, what? I was mentally prepared for a snowshoe run on Sunday, not in only several hours! Well my plans quickly changed – all I can say is that I am so so so grateful for that email! Perhaps I would have checked later into Friday evening and realized that race day was not actually Sunday – as I had thought – but there is a very good chance that, without that email I would have gone right on hiking Saturday, only to return home to epic levels of disappointment!
The Gregory 75 liter pack quickly got tossed aside for some slick running gear – Salomon insulated running pants, my Salomon SpeedCross4’s which boasted about 650 miles at the time (still so dang comfy..), the North Face fleece that is more or less wind proof and is my go-to for most chilly morning runs, mittens (not gloves, because I have a habit of balling up my hands while I run to keep them warm!), Darn Tough socks (which are really the only thing that works for my toes in these New Hampshire winter days!), not sure if I would need more layering – so I brought the Marmot Gore-Tex jacket! And of course, about 6 carrots – my (probably strange..) go to juicy breakfast food prior to beginning a hike, or work day – because it “just works”! The Muir Energy packets got packed, but I wouldn’t find myself needing them for a short run as this.
I was completely entrusting my GPS to help me arrive at the Viking Nordic Center as I had never been to that part of Vermont. The roads were clear this winter morning, the skies also quickly turning blue – complete with a lovely peachy/strawberry sunrise. Aside from a big rig full of dairy that could not ascend a snow-covered hill, the drive west was uneventful. All the while, I could not help but eyeball this mass of rock before me on the drive into town – which I later found to be known as Magic Mountain Ski Resort; I would have to look further into this little mountain when I had the chance! I arrived to a free-for-all in the parking lot of the Nordic Center, cars parked facing whatever direction they chose, so I decided to try to fit right in, testing my parallel parking skills!
The first objective upon my arrival: check in; second: bathroom.
The 32oz of french press coffee before I hit the road, then those juicy carrots demanding to find their way out of my body, not caring that I was in public spaces where peeing on the fly is frowned upon! Standing in line for the restroom, I was highly amused by the sign next to an area map that featured Wall Drug – of Wall, South Dakota. Ciara and I saw signs for this “Free Ice Water Store”, and their varying cleaver signs all the way from the deserts of Utah as we tracked our way cross-country over a year earlier! It was relieving to learn that if I desired a quick trip to Wall Drug, one could make the drive in only 27 Hours!
It was no surprise to me that I did not recognize anybody at the event that day; most seemed to make small talk as we lined up with our colorful mini-snowshoes on. Most of the runners that day had Dion snowshoes, while several others rocked their MSRs or Tubbs – which seemed out of place to see any color other than silver, white and orange (of the Dions!) blurring as they ran across the snow!
Just like that – after a few kind words from Adam, we were off scootin’! It’s hard to say how many of us wacky snowshoe enthusiasts lined up that 10 degree winter morning (I’m sure its recorded somewhere..), but if I had to guess – 25 of us or so took to the trails! I felt good, hung right out by a runner who was decked out in La Sportiva leggings, which had me thinking: “dang these folks all look super official and quick – and here I am with my busted, old fleece!”. But, I was there to have fun after all – and that’s just what I did that cold morning! I passed Mr. La Sportiva on the downhill while feeling super powerful, and we never crossed paths again during those miles out there (until meeting back up later at the Club House). There was one gentleman who was out front of me (the whole race I had no idea what place I was in), I saw him first lap coming back on the lollipop section of the course as I began out, once.
On the second lap, he was gone!
I continued to feel supercharged during the entire race – thinking to myself that this running on snowshoes thing may actually be my calling! I felt powerful. I ran on the tops of my hips, strong and with explosive, full strides. I wanted to do this more often! The course was great: rolling snowy hills, all groomed but with some punching through as we hit several spots with water trickling underneath – I was loving it!
Back at the Club House, I did not find anyone – I was sure they must be around somewhere, but to me – that meant that I must have placed fairly high! Folks began to stroll in as I stretched and munched on my carrots, some even offered cleaver remarks on my snack as they grabbed for gooey bars and simple-sugar gel packets (remarks that I am totally accustomed to by now!).
I was chilled and wanted to check out the sunshine going on around me – so unfortunately, this time, I didn’t stay for the raffle; but I did check out that nearly 3000ft summit across the road! According to my GPS/Trails app – this pile of rock was also known as Glebe Mountain and, as I could see – was definitely open for business! After trying to show some consideration and checking in with the Ski Patrol, I hit the trails. They had instructed me to purchase an Up-hill Ski Pass and proceed only using the trails to the far left; I would gladly comply with one of those instructions, but I was not going to pay to ascend their mountain under my own leg power!
Glebe Mountain was an excellent little run! Even met a fellow snowshoer toward the top whose flask was toppling out of his pack – he was a hot mess at 10:30 in the morning. Also trying to locate the summit – we chatted at the top of the highest ski lift for a moment, but once I felt as if I had been exposed to enough of his alcohol soaked breath – I proceeded on as he looked around for something on the ground that clearly did not exist. I quickly found the trail leading to the high-point and began descending, only to find that he had still made no progress. I generously pointed him in the direction of “up” and began my run-session down the slopes – of course, avoiding any occupied trails and stuck primarily next to the woods (my goal was to run, not attract negative attention of the Ski Patrol!). Several snowboarders stopped to ask if I was “okay”; I was running on snowshoes, maybe the first of this outdoorsy kind they had ever encountered on their slopes? Either way it was a blue sky day and I was (still) loving it!
When I returned home and saw the results I was astonished to find that the mystery runner (actually, the only person ahead of me that day) out in the lead had blown us all away by nearly nine minutes! And right at that moment – I certainly recognized his name, (which I’ll leave out here – but head to their website to check the results if you are that interested!) a quick google search displayed his many accomplishments; most importantly to me though was his study of a raw-plant-based diet in athleticism, struck me as extraordinary as I had also been trying out the raw game for about a month prior to the 10K (side note: not because of the 10K, just something Ciara and I decided to give a whirl again – and we felt great!)! ‘Small world’, I thought to myself, and terrifically ironic that the first two finishers were fueled completely on raw plants!
Overall 10K stats:
- 2nd Place Finish
- 597′ elevation gain
- 47min 17sec
- 8:58 /mile pace
Let’s do what we did for 10K, but only longer this time!
I was still riding the high of actually locking in second place as I readied my gear once again. Actually.. let’s rewind that several days, mmkay? I honestly did not know if we would even be running the half-marathon event, I was afraid that the folks at Nor’East would end up canceling due to a lack of snow; it had rained with unseasonably warm temps for days leading up to the half marathon! My fingers could cross only so far, I was really hoping to meet up at the half to be given a chance to chat it up with the other ‘mystery’ raw-vegan!
Once again, another email hit my inbox from Nor’East Trail Runs – GOOD NEWS!
The race was on and apparently while the rest of the world drowned in frigid rainfall, the Viking Nordic Center was the only location on the east coast to receive snow. Once again, it was the same Salomon running pants, same SpeedCross4’s which I thought still needed more wintery mileage. It wasn’t nearly as chilly this time as the first race of the season, so no antique fleece this time! I traded that in for the bright blue Marmot jacket which was reserved for rainy days – knowing it would be clear skies.. sometimes you just go with it anyway!
The morning of the 13-miler, I opted to spend my drive time on the highway and was welcomed by an even more incredible sunrise this time! The excitement was extremely high in my Subaru as I made my way east once again – even broke out some Mos Def and danced my booty off the whole way there (I know Ciara can picture this); I just had the high spirits and secretly knew in my mind that (..que sera, sera..) I would do fine. I would be totally stoked for second place if I continued to feel as good as I had two weeks prior, but somehow I had a bit of a notion that I was capable of locking down first (highly.. highly unlikely)!
After another breakfast snack of carrots to fuel me through 13 miles – I pulled in, checked in, acquired my bib – and because I was signed up for the series – at each check in we were given an option of a ‘gift’! As I already had a sweet beanie from the 10K day, I opted for the water bottle: ‘pretty rad of them for doing that’, I thought to myself.
Just minutes prior to taking to the trails, the snowshoes – along with the Julbo alpine shades – went on. I was ready for these miles today, feeling great overall and ready to crush it! Speaking of ‘crushing it’, as I looked around briefly – I didn’t see the other raw plant-based runner! ..Once again, the day was proving to be on my side!
As we took off right at 8am, I went out fast – and I did not look back. I felt strong, my breathing was slow and powerful – “destroy miles” was what I was focusing on, and today – running just never felt so fluid, so right!
At about one mile into the course I glanced over my shoulder as I rounded a corner, I was alone in the woods.
Up ahead however, I could not believe my eyes – another runner in all green coming straight at me (I had no idea where he had come from!) while there was a red rope hanging several feet in the air, right across the dang trail!
That was when something definitely did not feel right. I was pissed.
I didn’t know if I should keep going straight or turn around to see where I veered off the path. Another runner came up on me and we shared our thoughts as to what led us astray; we matched paces and chatted a bit (despite myself being filled with sadness mixed with a bit of frustration on the inside – I tried to agree with him that it was just a beautiful day and that we were lucky to have the opportunity to be out on the trails that morning), we crested a hill and suddenly realized that we were back at the Club House – the start/finish of the race – except we were traveling backwards.
Adam (of Nor’East Trail Runs) was facing the opposite direction, waiting for us running folk to come around the other corner! We met up, explained what happened and that we were now 2.2miles into our event and had absolutely no idea where to go. He explained that they knew nothing about the red tape that was placed on the course. I was genuinely bummed out, thinking that the race was shot now and there would be no finish –
we agreed to just go back out there and ‘run our race’.
Which I did, not long after re-entering the woods, we encountered the other racers who now had the same problem, lost and confused as to which direction was the correct path. While the conditions were great with some hard trails which made for quick and efficient snowshoe running – no one knew what place they were in or who to follow; I just ran until my breath pumped like a freight train up the hills, certainly one way of eliminating some internal frustration! I really got to recognize several of the racers out there that day – we were supposed to make 4 laps of the course, which turned out to be only three after the backtracking – I remembered passing by and waving to several of the runners out there at least three times!
After I passed Adam for the first time (going the correct direction this time!), my mind was somewhat set at ease; we really were all just out there running our own race, putting down the 13+ miles (some covering more than others!). I was tracking the event on my watch, which made it easy to tell when I hit my own “finish line”, but when I returned to the starting line at 11.5 miles or so – I was not sure if I should head out for another 4ish mile lap or call it. Adam generously offered that I could be done and marked my time down; I decided in fairness to keep going. Basically running circles around the starting area, trying to not confuse other racers as they began their second or third laps.
Not far into the race, the back strap on my snowshoes began pressing on my right heel – so hard in fact that I thought it was a pebble or some ice (which was ironic because the day prior I had picked up a pair of trail running gaiters to prevent just this sort of thing!). In the spirit of the day, I simply ran through the discomfort. By the time I hit 12.8 miles, ascending any bit of hill was getting so uncomfortable with sharp stabbing pain to my heel – (I was convinced I would be dripping blood as I took my shoe off) I thought of reaching a finger into my shoe to see if anything was actually there, but never actually tried – I’m just stubborn sometimes!
I passed the finish line for the final time that day.
I met a super nice woman named Jen who had her phone out and ended up taking a handful of wonderful photos during the race that I did not know about, and even several with the Race Director himself! We discussed the race for several minutes until the chill sunk deep into my bones and I retreated back to the Club House woodstove. I amused myself for a several minutes with the amount of sweat droplets just pouring out of my sleeve and sizzling on the stove!
With no where to rush off to, I ended up hanging around for the raffle – and won just what I had my eye fixed on – a box of turmeric apple cider vinegar from Vermont Village! The day really did turn out to be a fantastic one, I didn’t let the directional mishaps bring me down much longer than those initial few miles!
For the following week I was on edge, not knowing what the outcome of the race would be or how they would handle the results. As they mentioned back in the Club House, they asked us each for our .gpx files, GPS tracks that we may have had from our watches to show our stats: pace, distance covered, etc.
The email featuring the “Prelim Results” came out that Wednesday – three days after the race; I almost didn’t want to open that mail, for the fear that they would have just decided to not award any points, with everyone running varying distances and the stats being all over the board. Well according to the email, they decided to go by each runners’ pace – the chart this time had my name listed first! I was fairly excited, but with the disclaimer of “let us know any concerns” concluding the email, I was certain these standings would be altered as I only covered 12.8 miles, but had a pace which was a full 1minute 21seconds faster than the next in-line. I checked the Results tab on their website probably hourly for the remainder of the week – assuming that once they posted anything on the website, that decision would be final!
Saturday morning finally came, and I hit the refresh button for the last time on netrailruns.com: the results were posted and my name was officially still on the top of the list. I had done it.
Overall 13.1Mi stats:
- 1st Place Finish
- 1,434′ elevation gain
- 9min 15sec /mile pace