Tag Archives: Bigfoot Snowshoe Run

Must be the Shoes! Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K Recap

“So am I giving you my shoes again this year?” Jeff asked me.

I was at the south Traverse City Running Fit, picking up my Bigfoot Snowshoe Race packet. Jeff is the store manager, and before the 2015 race he’d seen me struggle with the rental shoes. He’d very generously loaned me his own top of the line pair, and in them I’d finished in the top 20.

I wasn’t sure if he was joking, but I told him I was renting again. Jeff shook his head. “Why don’t you just buy a pair?” he said.

Bigfoot 2016 - New Snowshoes

They will pay for themselves in 5 years, after all.

Well, good racing snowshoes start at around $200.00, and I said it didn’t seem worth it for one race per year. Jeff pointed to some shoes on the wall. The store was going to stop carrying them, so they were half off. And I’d get credit for the $20 I’d paid for the rental.

“How about the quality?” I asked.

“Not as good as mine,” Jeff replied, perhaps reflexively. “But way better than the rentals.”

Well, then – deal! I took them back to my hotel room and strapped in my running shoes. This year there would be no numb fingers fumbling with bindings on race morning! When I got to Timber Ridge I just slipped on the pre-strapped snowshoes, tied the laces, and I was good to go.

Ready to rock in my brand new snowshoes!

Ready to rock in my brand new snowshoes!

Race conditions were near ideal; dry, powdery snow and temperature in the low 20s. I wore just one layer, my Brooks Heater Hog, with a windbreaker over it. Some of the racers wore even less. You may start cold, but trust me, you get warm really fast.

After the 10K, the guy in the cowboy hat was down a short sleeve shirt.

After the 10K, the guy in the cowboy hat was down to a short sleeve shirt.

After a quarter-mile warmup I got into the starting queue. The 5K (my race) and the 10K start together. Randy, the race organizer, got on the mike to send us off, telling us that with over 500 runners, he believed it was the largest snowshoe race in the country.

“Did I mention this is hard?” he said. “There’s no such thing as starting out too slowly here.” The winning 5K time at Bigfoot is usually around 26 minutes and top 10K times are around one hour, roughly double what road race winning times would be. Randy’s advice was good for first-timers and the fun runners, but my strategy was just the opposite.

The race begins on wide, groomed trail but then switches to singletrack, squeezing everyone into single file. In 2014, my first year, I started in the middle of the field and quickly found myself in a conga line, where passing requires pushing hard through deep, ungroomed snow. Better to start fast and get ahead of most of the field. So I hit the opening stretch pretty hard.

From 2014. The racer in red is trying to pass people. Not so easy!

From the 2014 race, where I got stuck in the conga line. The racer in red is trying to pass people. Not so easy!

A few hundred yards down the trail, Mandy, one of my friends from Running Fit Events, saw me as I passed her. “How are you doing, Jeff?” she asked.

“Already out of breath,” I told her. But I recovered on the singletrack, and the early effort paid off, as I was able to run my target pace most of the way. It wasn’t a perfect race; I face planted twice (hey, this is hard). But the new snowshoes felt light and stable, allowing me to sprint when needed, and I continued to pick off other runners throughout, including a few right before the finish.

Charging to the finish! Thanks so much to Timber Ridge for this photo!

Charging to the finish! Thanks so much to Timber Ridge for this photo!

My time this year (34:12) was over 90 seconds faster than last year’s result. I improved from 19th place overall to 14th place, and only 30 seconds or so away from cracking the top 10. Must have been the shoes!

The only bummer? I was the sole representative of my running group up there. This must change! It’s too much fun to have it all to myself.

And for anyone who might be considering a snowshoe race? Just do it! No previous experience is required. If you can run, you can showshoe. And it’s a real change of pace, both figuratively and literally.

Yes, even dogs and monsters can snowshoe!

Yes, even dogs and monsters can snowshoe!

Oh, and Mandy won the 10K. Another notch in the belt for, “Iron Mandy.” Congratulations!

P.S. If you’d like to see lots more photos of this event, check out the Timber Ridge Resort Facebook page.

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Peace Amid the Storm

Several years ago I was part of an advanced Aikido class in which we learned some Japanese history and a bit about the samurai culture, from which comes the sword techniques that form the basis of Aikido. One day Sensei spoke about the mindset of the samurai.

“Let’s say a samurai is out walking and it begins to rain,” he said. “Ordinary people would run for cover. But a samurai keeps walking. He does not let external events – those he cannot control – disturb his serenity.”

Perhaps serenity could also come from the idea that "I have a sword and you don't" but that's beside the point.

Perhaps serenity could also come from the idea that “I have a sword and you don’t” but that’s beside the point.

Since then I have had many opportunities to put this principle into practice. Walking outside on a recent cold windy day, I suddenly became aware of my body posture – stooping, hunched shoulders, and scrunched-up face. It was pure reflex – a natural reaction. But was it helping anything? Not a bit. So I stood straight, dropped my shoulders and relaxed my face. I wasn’t any warmer, but I was more comfortable.

Then there’s running. Living in a four-season state, I get to train and race in all sorts of conditions, not all of which are enjoyable. But to reap the benefits of running, I must run, and treadmills just don’t do it for me. And just as important as the physical benefits, running outdoors provides a way to re-establish my sense of serenity. By working the body and clearing the mind of everyday clutter, I can find a way to enjoy the moment regardless of the weather.

I had one such moment at last summer’s Road Runner Classic 8K trail race. Part way into a one-mile warmup run, it began to rain lightly. People fled for cover. I am a samurai, I told myself, and continued my warmup. The rain continued and became a downpour. Water flooded my shoes and streamed down my hair, but I completed my mile. After all, one can only get so wet.

I had a set of dry backup clothes in my car, but that's beside the point.

I had a set of dry backup clothes in my car, but that’s beside the point.

I returned to the staging area, looking at everyone huddled under various shelters, and was struck by how miserable they looked, all hunched in their raincoats. How did I, the one soaked from head to toe, feel? Check the photo. A little thing like a rainstorm was not going to affect my serenity. Why should it? I understood the risk of rain that day, and since I could do nothing to change the weather, getting upset about it would not have helped. So I chose to embrace the rain, and man, was it fun.

At the finish line. Sticking it out has its benefits.

At the finish line. Sticking it out has its benefits.

Now I’m far from being able to apply this all the time. Today (Friday), after a hectic week at work, I was looking forward to Saturday’s Bigfoot Snowshoe race in Traverse City. But I had stuff to do before I could head up north, and for a good part of last night and this morning I was tense and anxious, wondering how I’d get everything done in time. Finally, the absurdity of the situation struck me.

You’re heading up north to have fun, I thought. Why are you wasting your day off stressing out? After that, despite snow and slippery roads in the TC area, I was able to maintain my serenity. So perhaps I’m learning.

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P.S. The title of this post comes from this quote: Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.