Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snowshoe racing. Yep that's a thing!

So I heard of a weird and crazy thing happening in the next town over, called a snowshoe race. Let's think about that for a second.



Yep, it's basically a perfect combination of awkward footwear, keeping warm by any means necessary, and high risk racing with lots of falls. 

I had been thinking of getting to the snowshoe race on the weekend but I decided not to because I was busy with lab work, Popeye's chicken, bowling, and then out at the bars until close. I woke up though (a direct result of the fried chicken) about an hour and forty minutes before the race start, and it was a beautiful day. Plus I don't believe in hangovers. I tried calling a friend who was going, but they didn't answer so I did the logical thing; ate two Clif bars and started to run toward Westbrooke. 

To give a bit of context, that morning wasn't too cold (maybe -15C), but it had snowed the whole night before and as a result the roads and sidewalks weren't properly plowed. I figured that the run was probably about 15km, but that someone going to the race would pick up the guy who is running along the side of the road with snowshoes tied to his bag, right? Wrong.
This is not the face of a guy who may not be happy with his choices

People tell me frequently enough that I'm "crazy" when I tell them of some of the stuff that I do outdoors. This time I thought that I was a bit crazy or stupid too. I realized that to get to the race with no help I had to run at basically my race pace because of the snow. This sign was probably the best thing that I could imagine:
..but I still had a couple of Kilometers..
I got to the race just on time to sign up, but not with enough time to have a bathroom break that I desperately needed. Seriously that chicken.
When I got to the start line, the race organizers was just explaining that some crazy guy had run all the way from Queen's University, and was just in the bathroom so the race would start as soon as he was out.  I realized that there wouldn't be time for the bathroom, so I just got to the start line in time to hear the end of this. I raised my hand and let him know that I was there and the race could start. This was when I knew that I was in a good place - all of the racers (about 50) gave me a round of applause. It almost made the explosive pain in my gut go away. Almost. It did however give me the confidence to be quite assertive at the start of the 6.5km long race. Which looks exactly as funny as you hope it does.

I'm the guy in the white sleeves and green vest slotting into second place. I realized immediately that this was an ambitious thing to do, and if we hadn't been running through farm fields I may have actually pulled off to hide behind a treeline and relieve myself. One guy who I definitely knew to watch out for was my friend (who didn't answer his phone) Derek Snider, a very accomplished runner (having competed and raced internationally) and skier. He's also a pretty nice guy, so when I heard him come up behind me I just got right out of the way. This left me in third place, amazed at the pace of the guys ahead of me, and concerned about the real snowshoe racers behind me.

A snowshoe race obviously must follow a trail of some sort, so there was a very skinny trail packed through the bush. This is pretty hard to navigate on snowshoes, but you definitely want to stay on the trail, otherwise the more snow you're fighting through the harder it will be. In my rush to make it to the start line on time, I put my shoes on the wrong feet, which meant that the binding release was on the inside of my legs. Now, I either have massive calves, very little coordination running in snowshoes, the trail was too skinny, or some combination of all of these but I kept charlie horsing my calves on the snowshoes, causing some pretty serious brusing, and of course loosening of my snowshoe bindings. 
Bruised calves and fantastic PJs
I had fun being in a race situation again, and it was nice to be assertive and own that third position in the race. There was a guy trailing me, but I was in 3rd and the next closest person behind him was too far back to catch us-as long as nothing bad happened.
I talked a fair amount to him, trying to figure out what snowshoe racers were like and what other sports they do. After some fairly one sided conversation he asked me if I did ultra marathons which are basically day long races on your feet. I told him that I did if I felt like it, but not officially (planning on doing one this weekend). I was promptly informed that he's an Ironman Triathlete, and he does ultra marathons too. I guess that these snowshoe racers are pretty hard core!
I tested him by accelerating my pace a few times, and found that I could create a gap between us quickly enough, but I wasn't interested in holding that pace if I didn't have to (remember I had run an hour and a half in the snow just to get to the race). So I held down third place and enjoyed talking at my fellow competitor. I was too tired for my heart rate to go high enough to get me to the point of breathlessness, and I was enjoying what I was doing. No pressure, right?

Looking the part of a guy who's falling asleep in this one (thanks Robby Breadner for emailing the photo)

With just over a kilometer to go, I felt my left snowshoe completely come loose, but I figured that for that distance, I could get away with kind of dragging my left foot, and may still keep my podium finish. After a minute of foot dragging, we were caught by 5th place, and another 30 seconds or so later I totally lost my snow shoe. It was pretty sad, but I had to stop and re attach my snowshoe with my cold hands, and watch the other two run towards the finish (we probably had 800m till the finish). I still came in strong once I re-attached my snowshoe, with a good race smile on my face.
(thanks again Robby Breadner for the photo)
The race was a great experience, I was shocked that there were so many people taking part, and was more than happy with my 5th place finish - if I had wanted to win, I should have taken it more seriously; I went for the fun and enjoyed not being too competitive (and doing well) at a race where nobody knows me. One thing that struck me was just how challenging it is to run in snow with snowshoes. It's tough to balance, it's insanely hard on the calves, and the quads. Just so that everyone is aware, I have since built up a tolerance for Popeyes, so I can exercise and eat it, please don't judge. The real moral of the story here though is that sometimes we all have to do things and if you push yourself really hard, you may find a new sport or do something that you never really thought that you'd be able to do. Now I've got the taste for these races, and I've done more since.
Keep posted for more updates!

The person who caught me at the end of the race and place fourth was Lindsay, Derek's girlfriend and another very fast runner. Yep I got chicked, and I was lucky to have stayed ahead of her so long anyway!

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