2020 Bigfoot 5K: The Snow Must Go On

“SUCCESS” CAN BE AN ELUSIVE BEAST, depending on how you define it.

Last Saturday was the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K/10K at Timber Ridge Resort in Traverse City. Despite rain all the day before, the race went on as scheduled. I’ve run the 5K every year since 2014. I look forward to it until about three days before, when the “why did you sign up for this AGAIN?” thoughts show up.

Why the ambivalence? Because I much prefer a well-paced ultra to going all out for 3.1 miles. There should be no way I’d want to run in snowshoes. It’s the ultimate cardio workout, and even the 5K is REALLY. HARD. WORK.

Yes, I am as out of breath as I look. More, actually.

But dammit, it’s fun. And easy to learn. I’d never worn snowshoes before my first Bigfoot, and I fell a few times (eight? I forget) but had a good time. So I definitely recommend it for anyone who’s interested.

There are a few differences from regular running, footwear the most obvious. Snowshoes require a wider gait to avoid stepping on yourself and face-planting. And the singletrack gets narrow and thoughtfully runs through parts of the woods where branches poke up out of the snow, perfect for tripping on. On the plus side, good form is enforced because racing snowshoes are hinged in front, so the toe rises last and comes down first..

One key strategy is to establish a position where you can run your pace. Get stuck behind slower runners and you have to pass in the deep ungroomed snow, burning up your energy reserves. Conversely, give way to faster runners when possible so they don’t have to pass in deep snow.

So how do I define “success” at this race? For me it should be the same every year: run the best race I know how, with an age group award a bonus. And so it was until this year, when I became a victim of my own success, so to speak.

As I mentioned, I finished in the top 10 in the 2019 5K. But more significantly, I was second in the Masters category – both exciting and frustrating. What’s the big deal? Trevor, the Masters winner, got a Bigfoot statue trophy. And for second place I got a lovely mug with Hershey’s Kisses as an age group winner.

I could also have gotten a hug from this guy. Others did.

So there’d only been Trevor between me and that trophy. He’d beaten me by over five minutes, so I wouldn’t have caught him even with a JATO strapped on. But I was getting faster, right? Maybe this year I could close the gap, or maybe he wouldn’t show. I was cautiously optimistic.

It had rained all Friday, and Saturday temps were mid-30s (up from 14 below in 2019), so I was concerned about snow quality. The parking lot at the resort was icy and slushy, but on the trails the snow was in surprisingly good shape. I wore just one shirt under my wind jacket, a wise move as I was warm from the start. Some runners were even in shorts and T-shirts.

As usual, I went out hard to get a strong position on the singletrack. Once I got there I caught my breath and ran a strong steady pace. I was well behind the lead pack but I knew I’d have opportunities to gain some ground.

Sure enough, I passed a few runners on the wider tracks, and a few others had snowshoes issues and had to drop back. As we slogged up the monster hill back to the top of the ridge around the two-mile mark, I figured I was in good shape, maybe in the top 10 again.

The second key to a strong time is to stay upright. Falling down is painless (and comical) but it takes time to stand back up and get back on pace. During the toughest part of the course I kept my balance like a pro. Naturally it was on the final leg – wide, flat, well-groomed straightaway – that I tasted snow. Twice. A couple people shouted encouragement as they swept by me.

Then again, I could have fallen at the finish line! (She took it in good humor.)

It turned out not to matter much. I still finished in 30 minutes, 40 seconds, my best time by over a minute! And yet I dropped from #7 in 2019 to #20 this year, and from second place Masters to fifth. The warmer temperatures had brought more runners this year, and the good trail conditions led to faster times across the board.

So was I less successful than last year? Here’s how I’ve decided to handle it: celebrate my new best time, and train to do even better next year. And be grateful I’m healthy and fit, and can be competitive in this race. I shared the Kisses in my newest mug with my wife and friends who’d come to support me and help with race cleanup. They’re the best!

The Masters winner? Yep. Trevor, again. He also improved on 2019 by a minute. Hey, dude, have you considered trying the 10K? I mean, winning the 5K all the time has to be getting tedious…

BONUS: Here are some examples of northern Michigan humor.

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