Snowshoe Racing: My Off Season Challenge

Last December I was flipping through the latest issue Trail Runner magazine, and came across a listing of National Snowshoe Association snowshoe races. The first race on the 2015 schedule was in a small town in northern Wisconsin, near where my grandfather lives. I learned that this 10k in Minocqua, WI could qualify me for the National Championship Half Marathon. I was long overdue for a visit up north to see him, so this felt like a good excuse for entering the race. I had been back country snowshoeing for several years and the idea of running on snowshoes seemed really hard to me. But as a trail runner this is what I go for – a challenge.

Moose Tracks 10k race start

Moose Tracks 10k race start

I registered for the Moosetracks 10k in Minocqua, WI, and bought my racing snowshoes. I had about 3 weeks until the race to train, but southern Wisconsin hadn’t gotten any snow yet. I had zero opportunities to try out my snowshoes, except for the one time that I ran around our yard on the frozen grass, just to know what it felt like to have the things on my feet. I was also injured during December and I knew that I wasn’t going to be in the best shape, but I was confident that I could at least be competitive in the race.

Moose Tracks 10k - January 4

Moose Tracks 10k – January 4

It was 4 degrees with a windchill of -12 when the 10k started at 11am, I counted my articles of clothing: 14! There was 5 inches of fresh powder – nice conditions for downhill skiing or snowboarding – but super hard to run in snowshoes. Racing snowshoes are smaller than back country snowshoes and don’t hold the weight of your body above the snow as well.

I went out with the leaders and tried to stay at the front of the pack. The snow was so fine that the stampede of racers whipped up a huge snow cloud making it hard to see and got snow down my neck gator. Only a half mile into the race my muscles were screaming and I quickly realized I was going too fast, but we were already into a single track stretch. I would have had to get off the trail to let racers pass, or suck it up princess and do my best to go with the flow of traffic. I sucked it up. Since it was so cold, my snowshoes glided under fluffy piles of snow making the weight of lifting my leg really heavy.

The course was two laps of a 5k loop. The second loop was much better than the first because the snow was packed down by the racers that came through behind me. That’s the problem with being at the front of a snowshoe race on fresh snow – you are using your energy to stomp down the trail while trying to move fast. Once the trails were easier to run, I was actually able to really enjoy the beauty of running through the woods blanketed in snow. I felt like a woodland creature bounding through a deep forest. I finished 3rd, the second place woman beat me by 15 seconds. I left the race feeling pretty good about the whole experience and I was now qualified for the National Championship Half Marathon.

Pretending not to be nervous before the Half Marathon.

Pretending not to be nervous before the Half Marathon.

I ran a really good 50k a few weeks before the half marathon. This boosted my confidence for the snowshoe race, maybe a little too much. We had snow that I could have trained on, but I didn’t bother. The two nights leading up to the half marathon I spent away from my kids. This was the longest I had ever been away from Mischa, my 15 month old baby. The extra sleep was amazing and I am going to remember this for racing in the future.Β  Sleeping away from my family won’t always be possible, but getting to bed at 8pm instead of my usual 11pm certainly is.

My race started at 9am and the weather was great, 25 degrees and overcast. But there wasn’t a whole lot of snow in Eau Claire, WI where the Championships were held. This fact would make the trails much easier to run for everyone. The half marathon was the last race of the weekend, so the course was packed down by the 5k and 10k events held the day before.

Focusing on a hill.

Focusing on a hill.

There were 68 racers from 16 states. This was a small, but serious group of snowshoers, almost all more experienced than me in the sport. I was counting on my trail running skills to save me.Β  I went out near the front of the pack. I knew there was a quite a bit of double track, so I didn’t worry about getting stuck behind racers going too slow. The leaders went flying out at the gun! I got a sinking feeling that I was way out of my league. I stuck to a steady pace, focusing on the clickety clack of my snowshoes slapping on the crusty snow. This course was two laps of a 10k, so I would assess my situation at the halfway point.

Around mile 5, I was ready to start passing girls. Passing on single track is a big commitment on snowshoes – cruise up behind the racer ahead, announce my desire to pass, accelerate past my opponent, continue accelerating while not showing my urge to stop and lay down in the snow, once ahead of the racer try to recover my heart rate and return to a sustainable pace. I did this to three women. This put me in 5th place, where I stayed for the rest of the race. Once I got a strong lead on the girls behind me I focused on just finishing the dang race.

Racing alongside snowshoe legend Jim "Braveheart" McDonell.

Racing alongside snowshoe legend Jim “Braveheart” McDonell.

Running hills on snowshoes is not something I enjoy, but maybe with more training I could learn to like it. The fact that I didn’t put any training in before this 13 mile race really destroyed my calf muscles. The race was one week ago and I am still not able to walk down stairs straight – I have to walk sideways which is hard when I am carrying the children.

I was the 5th woman over the finish line. This earned me a silver medal in the open division! My mom was there at the race with me and when I crossed the finishing mat and they announced Jonnah Perkins, 31, from Black Earth Wisconsin, our 5th place female, I could see tears welling up in her eyes. This race was not the hardest race that I’ve competed in, but I think that she was proud of me for finding a new sport and going for it. As we left the race to make our drive home she said, Jonnah, you are a national silver medal holder in the sport of snowshoeing.

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