I started snowshoeing last season a little bit though there wasn’t much snow. So when the snow arrived this season I got after it! I basically used the snowshoes to trudge through the deep powder and explore the peaks in the Tahoe Basin area. I found that snowshoeing gave me a lot of happiness, and it’s a little different than running in that it’s less impact on the body and the workout your quads feel when you snowshoe down the mountain is equally or often more tough and strenuous than ascending. I fell in love with it.
Why did I decide to race the National Snowshoe 10k Championships? Well, If you know Peter Fain, my coach and Donner Party Mountain Runner President, you know that he is an avid snowshoer and is very knowledgeable in the sport. He has created a snowshoe race in the Tahoe area called the “Return of the Racing Gnome.” In preparation for those races Peter set up training runs for the club, and I decided to go to one in January.
I showed up with my snowshoes and my gortex Salomon winter boots and we ran a marked 10k course. I ran with Sarah Raitter, Lupe Cababda (both of Reno Distance Training) and Jaime Cabada, and well, they kicked my butt! I hadn’t been “running” in snowshoes, I had been skyrunning in snowshoes. I realized that it was time to get back into speedy shape to be ready for my first trail race in March, Way Too Cool 50k. So I stepped up my milage, tempos, track workouts with Magnum Running in Reno, and Peter patiently coached me through the weeks. Sarah and Peter had spoken with me about the snowshoe championships and how much fun it is. They have both been on the national team multiple years in a row, and urged me to give it a try. “If it’s fun… I’ll be there.”
A week up to the race, I spoke with Peter off and on about what to expect, and he gave me all the details. What he also gave me was the honest truth about how much of a suffer fest it will be. I am a stubborn person and I’m sure I’m difficult to coach. However, he gave me his snowshoes to race in and a pep talk the night before I traveled to Utah, and I was focused. I find that in the past year or so all of my racing debut races have all been experimental and new. I have to say that I enjoy the unknown and the excitement and challenge of it. I think with more experience comes more success, but also more opportunity to learn and be accepting of failures that happen. I realize that I don’t know much about snowshoeing so I ate up all of Peter’s coaching advice, and it worked out pretty well!
I flew into Salt Lake City with a bag, my borrowed snowshoes, and my adventure dog Foscoe. JP Donovan decided to drive out to the race and compete as well, and so we traveled around together. It was a great weekend learning about the snowshoe community. There are so many friendly people and die-hard snowshoers! I loved every minute of the experience. There are a few Salomon Team members that I had not met yet, and when I found out that Anita Ortiz and Richard Bolt would be participating in the weekend’s races I was thrilled to spend time with them. There were several “newly” snowshoe racers at the championship including Zach Miller. We had discussed the snowshoes we had prior to the championships, and he had mentioned that a pair he had been training with up to this event were assembled with duct tape and bound in some areas by shoe string. We showed up, some knowing exactly what was coming and others that were ready to try a new sport, and the support was overwhelming!
Race day, I warmed up a few minutes and rushed down to the start line. People near the start showed me how to keep my back straps from slapping me in the ankles and the countdown began. We were off, and it was a fast start with lots of speedy, strong ladies. The first 5k was rolling downhill, and my legs felt sore from my training but strong except for the part that there were little weights on my feet and some drag in my heels. I went out in 6:45 for the first mile, and was not feeling winded. I took the lead even though my game plan was to wait until the last 5k to assess the field. I felt good, and I needed to work on my mental game so I decided to try and hold the lead. I pushed on the downhills, accelerated on the flats and in the last 5k I faced the rolling upward hills to the finish. There was a little headwind going into the last 5k, and so the charge did not feel as quick. I kept focused on my breathing, and as I neared mile 5 I felt the lack of oxygen in the pit of my stomach and my head became light. I focused on taking deeper breathes. My legs weren’t heavy like I expected but I was feeling a little nauseated and had to find a balance point, something Peter had spoke to me about. I was going to red line; I didn’t end up red lining but it was very “pink.” Focusing on the horizon of the climbs, deep breathing and quick climbing feet. Then before I realized it, I saw the finish line and lengthened my strides and my consciousness was coming back to me. I made it. First snowshoe race, and I was in love.
After the race, I enjoyed a cool down adventure with Zach, JP and Foscoe. We ran down the powdered slopes of Powder Mountain, freely navigating around the aspens and feeling invigorated by the feeling of a non-tracked downhill on snowshoes. We climbed up to a ridge-line, feeling legs burning and chest trying to mend from the day’s race. The thing about snowshoeing is you never feel the pressure of feeling like you have to move fast or hit certain mile splits. It is all about adventuring and moving in the mountains. We watched the sunset over the mountains and dreamed of ridegelines we saw in the distance and what kind of type 2 fun could be had here. It was a great end to the day!
Sunday, there was a half and marathon championship race. We went to go spectate, and learned there was also a relay race we could enter. I was able to get on a relay team with Richard and JP, and I had a great time navigating more trails and cheering for those in the marathon and half. Zach ended up racing and winning the half marathon as well. Tahoe local Sarah McMahan won for the females! There were lots of Tahoe/Reno locals who competed in the championships. Lupe Cababda’s first national championships, and he also found himself on the podium representing the US national snowshoe team in the 10k.
Being a national champion in a sport is an honor, and I hope to learn more about the sport as my adventures continue. I plan on racing the national championships in the future as well as some of the world championships. Sarah Raitter, 6th national snowshoe team and local athlete that I train with at Wednesday speed workouts, and I have already been talking about how exciting the Championships next year will be! They will be held in Bend, Oregon next year…and you all should be there!