Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Leadville Snowshoe "Marathon" "Race" Report

Despite piles and piles of fresh snow, and cold temperatures on race day, Smokey put on a great, friendly, low-key snowshoe race. Just the kind of race you'd want this time of year. Very fun, low-stress, and challenging.

There was so much new snow on the golf course, where the race began, that it couldn't be groomed. Instead, the night before, some folks packed out a narrow, single track trail leading to the "mini-powerline" climb and up onto the road around Turquoise Lake. From there, they managed to groom a track following the road all the way to Mayqueen. The road conditions were still very, very soft and slow and so it was decided that the marathon distance would be cancelled. There'd be a 10K option and a half marathon option, with a single aid station at the 5-mile mark. (It was an out-and-back course, so you'd hit the aid station twice.) Those crazy enough to dare, could run further around the lake, and turn around whenever they wanted. My friend, Craig, and I were the only two runners to do so. Personally, my goal was to get 5-6 hours on my feet. I'd just keep running until the 3-hour mark and then turn around. Carter Summit (where the 100 MTB course pops out onto the road) seemed like a good, logical goal. It was the high point of the course.

Though all the new snow dissuaded most of the Front Range folks from making the trip up to Leadville, a good contingent of locals showed up. I'd say 20 or so. The start of the race was comical, with no one wanting to lead the way. I fell into second place as we followed the deep, narrow single track through the woods to the lake. It was very slow-going, with most racers-- including myself-- barely able to run. Despite the brisk 16F temperatures, I started overheating a bit, and my sunglasses fogged up around mile 1.5. I couldn't see anything, and was happy to step aside to fix the situation, dropping back behind a long train of racers. It took me an hour to reach the the top of the "mini-powerline" climb-- the 3-mile mark! I had to laugh.

Things sped up a bit on the better-groomed lake road, but not by much. It was still soft enough that I sinking into the snow with each step. During the week, before the storm, the lake road was like concrete and I was able to snowshoe along at a blazingly fast ~11:30 min/mile pace. Now? More like a ~14:00 min/mile pace. Patience was the key. Given the fact that I was just out to run for 5-6 hours, regardless of speed or distance, I didn't really feel like I was racing. It felt more like a relaxed, group run. When I reached the aid station, I chugged what remained of my energy drink and refilled both my bottles-- plus grabbed a third for good measure and threw it in my pack. Smokey informed me that Craig had continued on and was aiming for Carter Summit and told him to tell me to hurry up so that he wouldn't be out there all alone! I told Smokey of my plans and he promised he'd leave the cooler there with some water for me on my return trip. Off I went.

I waved and cheered for the other racers as we crossed paths near the turnaround. I continued on, solo, slowing climbing up the road to the summit.

The week prior to the race, I had obsessed over the weather forecast and what exactly I should wear. I experimented with different combinations of clothes on shorter snowshoe outings during the week, finally settling an outfit that provided a lot of waterproof protection below the waist, and lots of breathability above the waist. You kick up a lot of snow while snowshoeing and it coats the back of your legs all the way up to your butt-- especially in powdery conditions. If you're not careful, you also work up quite a sweat and can quickly become drenched if it can't evaporate. A recipe for hypothermia. Now, on a shorter, hour-long outing this isn't such a big deal. But I definitely wanted to be comfortable out there for 5-6 hours. I swore to myself that during the race if I ever felt too cold, too hot, too sweaty, etc. I would stop and immediately address the situation rather than stubbornly pressing on. As it turned out, I only had to make one or two minor adjustments during the entire race. I had guessed perfectly and was surprisingly comfortable. Three (!) layers of gloves/mittens and four (!) layers of wool shirts turned out to be perfect!

Though slow, the course was beautiful in all the new-fallen snow. It was very peaceful being out there all alone. I never resorted to my ipod, and just soaked in the scenery and let my mind wander. As I approached the summit, around the second meadow, I could feel the snow getting softer and softer. I guess because of the increasing elevation or perhaps because of the terrain and the prevailing wind? I could easily see that continuing much further would require more and more effort. Craig and I hooted and high-fived as we crossed paths near the summit. He had about a 20-minute lead on me, I'd estimate. That felt about right as Craig has handily beaten me in every single race we've ever run together. The man is a beast, with a Leadville 100 PR of 22:38. He's training for the 100 again this year, going for his 6th finish. It'll be great to be out there racing with him again. If I run an absolutely perfect race, maybe-- just maybe-- I could conceivably catch him around mile 80. Doubtful!

After more-or-less climbing for 9.5 straight miles, it was refreshing to finally be able to turn around and run downhill. I hit the summit at almost exactly 3 hours. I felt tired, but good. I was getting down enough calories-- icy maltodextrin slush!-- and wasn't feeling any knee issues. The descent went relatively quickly-- emphasis on relatively.

Sure enough, there was the cooler waiting for me. I restocked my bottles, and headed down the last section of road. Right near the top of the powerlines, I ran into two friends, Becca and Chris, who were out cross country skiing around the lake-- a much more sensible mode of travel! We stopped and chatted for a bit, and then I pointed in the direction of the finish line and grunted, smiling, "Beer that way!" Sliding down the steep powerline section of the trail was fun. The course was basically an 18" wide, 24" deep chute. It was definitely packed down better in the return direction, as now ~20 racers had packed it down going each way. I was easily able to negative split the final, flattish three miles of the course given the better snow conditions. I crossed the finish line alone, the last racer to finish for the day. I was spent, but happy. Smokey was the only one left at the finish line, cleaning up. I was very grateful that he had hung around and waited for me. He served me some homemade soup in my finisher's mug and we chatted about training and reminisced about last year's 100. (Smokey and I were neck-and-neck up to mile 94 and then he pulled away and crushed the final 6 miles beating me by 17 minutes and 22 frickin' places! Simply amazing.)

Today's race? 5:37:38. 18.99 miles. 2,406 ft of vertical. Basically, the equivalent of a double-crossing of Hope Pass with only a third of the elevation gain! Ah, snowshoeing...

It's not really as steep as it looks...

All-in-all, it was a fantastic day. Quintessential Leadville. I probably won't be on my feet that long until I run the Quad Rock 50 in May!

A big thanks to Smokey for organizing such an awesome, local event. It was fantastic training for February. And congrats to everyone who showed up and raced, no matter the distance!


Really, I try not to obsess about gear, but I wanted to record exactly what I was wearing for future reference. I felt it was perfect for the conditions. The only piece of gear that I have reservations about are the shoes. Despite having run multiple 100s in the older MT101s, I'm not a fan of the MT110s for long runs. I thought the cushion of the snow would mitigate their rigidity, but the ball of my right foot was definitely sore afterwards. There's just something odd about their fit. It almost feels like there's a lump in the sole of the shoe. I wanted a waterproof shoe, which I why I went with them (at half price), but I think next year I'll try to get some kind of waterproof overshoe/bootie for my normal Montrail Fluidflexes... I could also go hardcore and screw my running shoes directly to the snowshoe platform (so no straps are required).

The Icebreaker shirts are definitely trendy and expensive, but I love 'em. I run almost all my races-- summer races included-- in one or more of them. I just wait until they're on sale, and only acquire one or two every year.

Conditions: 16F, partly cloudy, 5-10 mph winds, very soft, new snow.

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