Snowshoes and Treadmills: A Match Made in Nightmares

Off to an Early Lead
After a winter of trying to not take working out to seriously, I lifted my racing moratorium two weeks ago to race in Sandpoint, ID on snowshoes followed a few days later by a treadmill race. I know, I just did a double-take typing that. Not only did I step on a treadmill, but I did indeed race on one. Overall both events were weirdly enjoyable.

First, the snowshoeing. 

Early on a Saturday morning Sara and I drove the few hours west to Sandpoint to compete in the Western Pleasure Snowshoe Roundup. I won this race last year so I had a bit of pressure to defend my title, but this was Sara's first time here. Both of us were using this race as a rust-buster/learning experience before the US Snowshoe National Champs next week in Ogden. 

Looking goofy at the finish
Snow conditions seemed similar to last year, wet and somewhat packed with surprise puddles underneath, but with perhaps a few extra inches of snow. A few more people were at the start line than last year, which may be why we didn't get the moose warning this time. With enough of us stomping through the woods the race director must have decided that we would scare away any moose waiting to ambush us. 

As usual I my stomach starting butterflying around a bit just before the race, which was actually a relief because the last few races of 2015 I had zero butterflies, which usually means I'm not quite ready to go. My butterflies were causing me to size up the competition and just like bicycle racing, everyone looks fast in tights. Sometimes I miss the good old days of road running where I could follow the simple equation of short shorts equals speed. 

Double Champions!
Once the gun went off my sizing up of the competition seemed pointless. Within a few steps I had a large lead and realized this would be a race against myself. The first couple miles of the race last year I remember not being comfortable and struggling to maintain pace with another runner. Eventually I found a rhythm and could pull away. This year though I immediately fell into a fast rhythm and clipped off the first two miles of gradual downhill quicker than 2015. The crux of this race lies in a long hill that never seems to end. This too felt better than last year.

I was also experimenting with using my Stance snow socks on top of short tights, rather than full length, and after the first couple miles of flipping snow on my legs decided I liked the new arrangement, plus the socks are brighter.

A course change off the top of the climb meant that I stopped comparing myself to last year and was just able to enjoy the screaming plumb-line descent before working my way to the finish. Although fresh moose prints around mile four made me think we should not have skipped the moose warning.

After crossing the finish line my plan was to wait a few minutes then head back onto the course to get some pictures of Sara. I figured I'd wait for the next guy to come in before going to find her, but when I looked up Sara was coming in just ahead of the second place male! She ended up finishing second overall and was top female by a long shot. She is still undefeated in snowshoe racing, 2 for 2! 

I spent the next few days recovering some, and mostly dreading the Wednesday night treadmill showdown at Runner's Edge. The Treadmill Challenge is now an annual tradition that pits the top runners in Missoula against each other for the enjoyment of spectators. Six men and six women race each other three at a time: ten minutes, 12% grade, farthest advances to the finals. It's brutal. 

Racing 'El Nino' and Jesse - photo courtesy of Votography Images
I was placed in a heat with one of my training buddies, Jesse Carnes, and the two-time defending champion Andy Drobeck (going by El Nino for the night, because why not wear costumes on a treadmill in front of 150 yelling people drinking and betting on you? All in the name of charity, of course). Andy is one of those guys who simply goes. The chance of either Jesse or I beating him was about the same as Donald Trump winning a presidential bid on the Democratic ticket with Bernie as a running mate. Some things just don't happen.
Off to a strong start - photo by Votography

We still went for it though. As the treadmills got going and the crowd resumed its raucous cheering, complete with Andy's olympic marathon trials competitor wife, Trisha, serenading us with a vuvuzela, I realized just how painful this was going to be. Jesse immediately put his treadmill at 8.2 mph and Andy at 8.0. I split the difference at 8.1 and tried to settle into an easy rhythm. For the first couple minutes I was able to match any of Andy's pace increases, but by the two minute mark I already felt the way I hoped not to feel until the six minute mark. By four minutes we were holding around 8.4 or 8.5 mph. Jesse had started going backwards at this point after taking it out a little fast, a backwards trend that I was soon to follow. 

At five minutes though we both pulled off our singlets. We had teamed up with "Stop Drobeck" markered chests that we hoped would incite the crowd enough to give us an extra boost. Instead, Andy cranked up his treadmill another level, and we continued to slide backwards. 

"Stop Drobeck" - photo by Votography
From then on it was a struggle not to hit the speed down button. I could have, and probably should have, been keeping a close eye on the distance to see what speed I needed to maintain to catch Henry Reich's 1.34 miles from the first heat so I could make finals, but my mind was in survival mode and I totally forgot about Henry, and there was no way I could do math at that point anyway. 

When we hit a minute to go I tried to crank it back up a bit, but I couldn't really go until 30 seconds remaining. I managed to claw up to about 9.5 mph, but missed Henry's mark by .03 miles and barely made it off the treadmill. I was still gasping for breath and throwing up in the back alley when Andy won the final round 20 minutes later. 

Despite the race being brutal and tearing me apart, it was a great event overall that raised a great deal of money for Missoula Youth Homes. Treadmills still are my least favorite thing to run on, but in that setting I could be convinced to do it again, as long as I don't have to train on a treadmill before hand.

Photo by Votography
At this point Sara and I are just over a week out from Snowshoe Nationals. She's in the middle of a build-up for the Chuckanut 50k and I'm sitting here somewhat wishing I had trained more this winter. I think I'm in better running fitness than last year, but doubt I'm fit enough to pick up the next three spots and earn a World Team berth. We'll know next week though, and mostly expect to have a fun trip in Utah. 

See you after Nationals. Happy Trails!