US Snowshoe Nationals

10k Course Map (Blue=ski trail, Red=single track)
I spent this last weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin competing in my first national championships since 8th grade (National Junior Basketball All-Star Tournament - Nationals Champs!): the US Snowshoe Championships. According to February Wisconsin weather, it was warm, but I knew after stepping off the plane that I'd be struggling with the single digit (and negative) "feels like" temperatures. This was not Tucson!

I landed in Minneapolis on Friday morning and waited for the arrival of Eric Bofinger. He was my travel companion through the weekend after Cory introduced us (they ran together in college). The drive to Eau Claire was quick, and easy once we figured out how to make it out of the airport/Mall of America confusion. This was my first ever incursion into Wisconsin and the farmhouses and cornfields lived up to the stereotype. With the wide rolling fields it looked like a great place for a cross country race, if it was 50 degrees warmer. The big issue in my mind was the severe lack of snow. There was no possible way a national caliber snowshoe race could be held a few minutes down the highway.

We arrived in Eau Claire in time for lunch and an early packet pickup. The race was at Lowes Creek Park and hosted by the Chippewa Off Road Bike Association (CORBA) who do an incredible job with trail maintenance in the area. We got a look at the course that afternoon and I was very impressed with how there was just enough snow to run. There were a couple bald patches, which meant quick steps along frozen dirt, and a lot of the "snow" could be considered ice, but it was enough to race.

While jogging the course my right calf seized violently and forced me to stop and work it out a little bit. I managed to get it loose enough to finish the jog, but the rest of the evening I could barely walk on it. I massaged it constantly the rest of the evening hoping it would be loose enough to race by the morning.

The course itself looked fast! The first 2k of the 10k was wide, mostly flat packed ski trail apart from one bottle neck single track section of 200 meters. Looking at it I was immediately reminded of college cross country and ridiculously fast starts.

Start of the Women's 10k Race
The rest of the course alternated between fun single track, sharp rolling hills, and wider ski trails (in my mind "road sections"). The entire thing seemed like it would be super fast. Hard packed snow. Wide "roads." No huge hills. I was going to hurt.

After an athlete reception, state of the association address, and the first of four door prize drawings, we went back to the hotel and tried to calm down the pre-race jitters. I continued to work on my calf and ended up sleeping in my compression tights and downing Fluid Recovery, while curled up around a bottle of ibuprofen.

Saturday morning my calf was feeling good enough to walk on and after a longer warmup it loosened to the point where I didn't think I would tear it by racing. Temperatures were hovering around 10-14 degrees with a slight breeze when we toed the line, but I still went with a single long sleeve layer with a Patagonia tee over the top (our official Team Cycling House running shirt) and one layer of tights. I did opt for two layers of socks, which ended up being perfect.

My plan going into the 10k was to get out hard, but not stupid then try to keep the leaders in sight as long as possible. I actually followed my race plan pretty closely and after the first 2k I was still in contact-ish with the lead and sitting in a comfortable 9th. The first mile went by in 6:07, which is by far the fastest mile I have ever run in snowshoes, but based on the conditions and necessity of getting out hard, I still think it was about right.

Finishing 8th - Photo by Skye Aaron Marthaler
After 2k we entered our first real section of trail and I managed to move up slightly before hitting a series of rolling hills. The uphills killed me! I am finding that for me to race steep rollers well I need to have some solid running workouts under me, which I just didn't have for this race. I managed to hang somewhat close to 6th place for the first few climbs, and used the descents to catch up, but eventually I just couldn't close the gap anymore and I fell back a bit.

The middle stretch of the race was tougher for me. We had a long "road" stretch that was slightly uphill and I just couldn't gain any ground on the guy in front of me. Meanwhile the guy behind kept creeping closer. As he passed me I did everything I could to go with him, but that only lasted a few steps. He was rolling!

The last few K's were primarily on fun single track that was a little more technical and I got some momentum going again. I also saw that one of the guys up front was coming back to me some and I kept trying to push to close the gap. I eventually just ran out of time and finished in 40:33 for 8th place. Eric came in shortly after me to nab 12th place in his second snowshoe race ever.

Overall I was very happy with my 10k race. My goal was to finish top ten and see what it takes to be at the top. I achieved the former and understand the latter so Saturday was a success.

We went to a local burger joint for lunch where we ate with the 5th (the guy who had passed me in the middle K's) and 10th place guys who had traveled down from Duluth. They were also new to the national scene and seemed excited for more racing. It was promising to see so many people new to the sport finishing near the top. It bodes well for the future of snowshoe racing.

First in my age group
The awards ceremony lasted a long time due to all the national teams that needed to be announced so it was almost time for the banquet by the time we had claimed our medals. At the banquet I ended up winning three nights and free entry at next year's championship race in Ogden, UT! Thanks VisitOgden! I was already pretty excited about getting to compete at altitude on a hopefully more mountainous course, and now I'm just ecstatic.

Unfortunately after the race my calf completely seized up again and every step was hurting. By this point I couldn't put my heel on the ground while sitting on the toilet. I seriously contemplated dropping Sundays 1/2 Marathon Championships, alas, I did not.

It was difficult for me to get excited for the race on Sunday. I had put all my focus into the 10k on Saturday so Sunday became a lesser race. Between that and my calf it was a struggle to get to the start line. A slow warmup, and slightly warmer temperatures, helped me get my calf to the runnable point and the promise of working with Eric for at least the first of the two laps helped get me a little more excited.

The race immediately divided into groups that stayed the exact same for 12.5 miles. The first five runners (4 of whom were in the first four on Saturday) pushed the pace early and a second group went out very relaxed. Eric and I bridged the gap with the hope of picking off any first group stragglers on lap two. That didn't work, and we ended up running just the two of us for 1 1/2 laps before he pulled away slightly to finish 6th to my 7th.

Almost the entire race felt terrible for me. I felt like I was exerting myself way more than necessary without seeing the speed. I did have just enough good moments the first portion to hang with Eric and hopefully help him out some, but it wasn't enough to help close the gap on 5th place.

I'm glad I ran the double since it was a great exercise in mental toughness (I'll give myself a C+) and provided more experience on the snowshoes. Mostly I learned that I had enough fitness to almost fake a 10k, and not enough to fake a 1/2.

Legos for engineers stuck in Never, Never Land (Mall of America)
I am already looking forward to next year. On the flight home I scheduled out a year's worth of general training blocks with the focus being the US Sky Running Series, and ultimately the 2016 US Snowshoe Championships. I want to make that world team and after this last weekend I believe it's realistic.

For now I'm off to Solvang, CA for another couple weeks of riding and guiding for the Cycling House. My calf is hanging in there and I'm hoping that I can spin out the rest of the soreness over the next week. Most important, I am able to put me heel on the ground now while sitting on the toilet.

Happy Trails,