Moose: A Hazard of Snowshoeing

I have run numerous races across the country in various environments and never once been warned about moose. That warning came before the start of the Western Winter Roundup Snowshoe 10k in Sandpoint, ID and added enough levity to the pre-race briefing that I temporarily forgot my nervousness and was ready to go.
Sara managed to get the first couple hours off work so she was able to come with me to the land of potatoes for my attempt to qualify for Nationals. We left Missoula Friday afternoon and got to Sandpoint with enough time to walk around a rainy downtown. We stayed with Taylor's aunt and uncle, who provided generous hospitality and put up with my pre-race jitters. They live right on Lake Pend Oreille in a gorgeous house that provides Taylor with a home base for the annual Long Bridge Swim. Sara and I had a great view from the top deck looking across the lake where if it was clear I'm sure we could have seen bald eagles over the water and wolf puppies rolling in the snow. But it was cloudy so we missed it.

We left the house just after 7:00 and made it to the Western Pleasures Ranch an hour before the 9:00 start. Fortunately the rain had stopped sometime in the early morning so I didn't have to start out wet. I was also worried that I would be the only one in the race, but there ended up being a fair number of cars in the parking lot, so the race was on!

This was when we received the moose warning. We heard the normal speech about the course markings, aid-stations, and grooming situation. Then Dennis, the race director, added in this little gem about the wildlife. "Oh, and watch out for moose. They are cantankerous this time of year so if you see one try to keep a tree between it and you. Don't try and run; you're on snowshoes and will lose." (paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it). I couldn't help but laugh and then laugh at myself because I still have problems remembering how far north I am. Moose can be legitimate obstacles here!

After examining the other starters I knew there were one or two guys I would have to watch pretty carefully. Only one of them ended up doing the 10k so as soon as we started it was a head-to-head duel between the two of us. I had decided I was going to go out comfortable, size up the competition, run with them a while, then if I was feeling good, make my move around the four mile mark. The race started and after 50 yards I was in front pushing the pace. So much for the race plan. 

The other guy, Brian, ran side by side with me for the first half mile or so. The trail here was almost skate ski groomed so it was plenty wide and fairly packed. After a slight downhill I edged ahead and tried to keep pressing. Since this was only my second ever true snowshoe race I had not been inured to the pounding and scraping sound of snowshoes following me, so I began to worry that Brian was always about to pass me. This kept me pressing the pace in the early miles trying to get some peace and quiet.

About two miles in I was able to create enough separation that I  relaxed a little and enjoyed race. The course had left and rejoined the 5k course so I had a little bit more of a packed trail and I started to find a bit of a rhythm. On a tight turn I realized that I relaxed a little too much and Brian had started to close the gap on me again. 

Best. Award. Ever.
Around the three mile mark the course turned away from the 5k course again and continued climbing. I found the Mt Sentinel training runs paying off as I was able to quickly find my climbing gear and drop the hammer a bit on the climb. By the top I had a sizable lead again decided to keep pressing to attempt to get out of sight. I know when I am trying to catch someone in a race it is more difficult if I can't see them, so I assumed it would be the same for Brian. 

I really worked the downhill section that varied between faux-solid surface, groomed track, and snowshoe groomed. It made for unsure footing, but I still love downhill running in the snow so decided to just keep my legs turning and hope I stayed upright. 

I created enough space that I could no longer see Brian and started to think I was home free, then I saw moose tracks emerge from the woods and continue down the trail. Now I got worried. I started talking a little bit to the moose (myself) and making some extra noise so it would know I was there and not ruin my day. There was no moose to be seen though so really I just had a great mid-race conversation with myself. 

The last couple miles consisted of gradual climbs and descents on harder groomed surface so I was able to find a good, solid rhythm and finish strong. The course had a wonderful variety of terrain and a couple big climbs that made it quite challenging. Being able to race and test myself helped my confidence in my training going forward, and I qualified for Nationals! The best part though was the first place prize. This was by far the best non-cash award I have ever seen at any race. Period.

We hung around a little bit after the race before my core temperature returned to normal and a t-shirt was too little for winter conditions. I got hit in the face with a wave of exhaustion as soon as I got to the car. I managed to make it back to the Missoula with the combined effects of Del Taco, Fluid recovery, and Sara taking the driver's seat. Then, I slept.

If you are ever in Sandpoint in January, I highly recommend checking out this race. It's very well marked, fun terrain, good vibe, and the lodge offers a great post-race meal. Just watch out for moose!

Happy trails,


What was your most memorable pre-race briefing?