Tag Archives: snowshoes

This Running Life

Life would be so much simpler if I hadn’t started running.

This fall has been ten solid weeks of continual “busy mode” with any time I haven’t spent at my office job consumed with working races, running them, or travel. All my own fault; I knew what was coming and signed up for the commitments anyway. And yet, even “winding down” has its share of little adventures. Here a just a few.

Half the fun is not the run: Earlier this week we returned from Richmond (their marathon weekend), where we visited my daughter and her wife. With fall race season (mostly) over, I was really looking forward to kicking back with family and relaxing. And we did the race: Tori and Jess ran the 8K, and me the half marathon.

Richmond lets you choose the name on your bib. Silly, but fun!

Richmond claims it has “The World’s Friendliest Marathon,” and they back it up well. Lots of cheering spectators on the course, a huge crowd lining the last half mile to the finish, and well organized. And when I couldn’t find my drop bag afterward, the staff invited me into the VIP tent while they searched for it. Turned out I’d been looking in the wrong station, but they forgave me, saying they were grateful they hadn’t lost it.

But my half marathon was a self-imposed sufferfest. I hadn’t trained enough to seriously attempt a PR, but I just couldn’t run easy, take pictures and enjoy the live bands and the junk food station. No, I had to run it hard anyway and be miserable for 13.1 miles. One of these days I’ll be able to get out of my own way and have fun. Maybe.

What is this “Free Time” you speak of? On the drive back I went over my upcoming commitments. There was a high-priority office task to work out, I had to finish a composting talk for Frost Middle School, and what about the weekend? Every weekend since early September has involved working a race, running one, or traveling somewhere. I had to finish planning for whatever this one would be.

Wait a second. What do I have coming up this weekend? Nothing. It’s a free weekend at last. It was true, but such was my frame of mind that I couldn’t process it. Even now, on this free weekend, it’s kind of hard to believe.

The keys to happiness: At 5 a.m. Wednesday I got up for the regular 6 a.m. club run. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to talk myself out of it. The run went fine and I returned to my car as the rest of the group went their way. You know that little fear we get sometimes that we’ve locked the keys in the car, or they’ve fallen out of our pocket? Well, I reached into my coat pocket where I keep my keys – and they weren’t there.

So: it’s cold out, I’m sweaty, by myself, with no nearby businesses to duck into. What now? Call an Uber? Run to the nearest coffee shop? And how will I find my keys? They could be anywhere on the 6-mile loop we all just ran. Then I checked more carefully and found they’d snuggled way down deep in the pocket. All was well. But the key gods were in a playful mood, because I misplaced them twice more that morning.

Snow long, it’s been good to know ya: Earlier this month we got a YUGE dump of snow – about nine inches in 24 hours – and after shoveling it all out of my driveway, I decided to make some hay with it, so to speak. I broke out the snowshoes and spent a couple of hours tramping down a quarter-mile trail around my property, and testing it with a mile run. I’d be able to get in some early training for the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K in January! Then off I went to Richmond, and of course it warmed up and it all went away. C’est la vie en niege!

Just before we left for Richmond.

And when we got back. You can just make out the traces of the trail I made.

Why do I not feel so relieved? One recent Sunday morning I joined a group to run the Potawatomi Trail in Pinckney, just for fun. The “Poto” as we know it round here can be challenging with rolling hills and plenty of rocks and roots, but it’s one of my favorite trails. While we were out there, someone mentioned hunters. “Wait,” I said, “Deer season doesn’t start until next week, right?”

“Gun season hasn’t started yet,” he said. “Bow season is still open, though.”

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.

Big Feet, Cold Hands, Hot Shoes

“HERE’S THE WORLD’S MOST PROLIFIC RUNNER,” I heard over the loudspeaker as I charged across the finish line. As much charge as I could muster wearing snowshoes, but I tried my best to make it look good.

Saturday was the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K race in Traverse City. One year ago here I began my quest to run every Running Fit event in 2014. Now one year later I was getting public props for continuing the streak. It’s fun to be notorious!

Me with Bigfoot Costume Guy - 2015Course conditions were good, with plenty of snow on the trails at Timber Ridge. The temperature was about 20 degrees but with a bitter wind, so it was damn chilly in the starting queue. My fingers were already numb from putting on my snowshoes and stayed cold throughout the race, even in heavy gloves. Took my feet over an hour to fully recover afterward, too. But hey, it was a fun time. Right?

Racing snowshoes come in several types of length, width, and style, but they all have an anchor at the toe and a floating heel. You slip your running shoes into the bindings and use a rubber strap around the heel. The running form is slightly wider so you don’t hit your ankles, and there is more knee lift. And snow flies everywhere from your shoes and those ahead of you, so wearing a waterproof outer layer is a really good idea.

The super snowshoes I wore for the race. See below for how I got them.  Also notice the ice balls on the socks!

The super snowshoes I wore for the race. See below for how I got them. Also notice the ice balls on the socks!

A good set of racing snowshoes starts at around $200, so like many racers I rented some and picked them up at the resort on race morning. Last year I really liked the pair I got. This year I was handed a set with odd bindings that came loose during a test run. I went back in to see if a different model was available.

The race director, also named Jeff, was standing near the shoe table. “Having a problem?” he asked me as I made the exchange. “Let me know if those don’t work for you. I have a pair you could use.” I thanked him but figured the second pair would work. They laced up just fine, but out in the deep snow the toe on my right shoe dug under the rim and locked up. That was a recipe for a multitude of face plants in a race.

Jeff noticed my trouble and beckoned me over to his van, where he pulled out a sleek red pair with sneakers already locked in. “These are the fastest shoes in the West,” he said. The shoes were a size larger than mine but fit fine with my heavy socks. I had no time to try them out; the race was about to start. I got in line a minute before the gun. But here I was, wearing the race director’s top-notch snowshoes. Incredible!

For me, the toughest part of a 5K is the first half mile – it takes that long for my body to catch up aerobically. In snowshoes, I’m going nowhere near as fast as a road race, but the effort has the same effect. Last year I started near the back and ended up behind a lot of walkers. This year I started farther up and was able to go as fast as I wanted, and after the first mile I felt good and began passing other racers in earnest.

On the trail (actually from 2014, but it was pretty much the same).

On the trail (actually from 2014, but it was pretty much the same this year).

I crossed the finish line in 35:40, over seven minutes faster than last year. (It helps to not get lost and climb an extra hill.) I had hopes of winning my age group but settled for third, and #17 overall (out of 417). The 50-54 group is tough – the top three (including me) beat all but three of the 40-49 racers, and most of the 30-39 too. And a 55-year old came in second overall. Just wait until next year!

I thanked Jeff profusely for helping me out and being so generous with his best snowshoes. A box of homemade truffles just might be headed his way. (Don’t tell him.)

In the men's room at the resort. I'm not sure why it appealed to me so much. Frozen brain, maybe.

In the men’s room at the resort. I’m not sure why it appealed to me so much. Frozen brain, maybe.

Race Recap: Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K

Knock, knock!
+++Who’s there?
Yeti.
+++Yeti who?
Yeti ‘nother new experience…

Boo! Bad joke! Brain hurt!

Boo! Bad joke! Brain hurt!

This year’s race calendar includes a number of “firsts” for me, and the first of these firsts was the Bigfoot Snowshoe Race in Traverse City. We go up north frequently in the summer but not too often in the winter, and the snowstorm greeting my arrival reminded me why. But I made it safely to Running Fit to pick up my race packet and then to my aunt and uncle’s for the night (thanks again!).

Buy the shirt, dude...or I release my buddy here.

Buy the shirt, dude…or I release my buddy here.

I declined the T-shirt, (it cost extra and was cotton), but spotted a long sleeve tech top (shown here) with the race name on it. It’s a Heater Hog, I was told, designed for under 40 degrees, was “the perfect top for the race” and was 20% off. So, what the hell… Per their advice it was the only layer I wore under my coat, and to my surprise, I was comfortably warm during the race. (In fact, I wore the same outfit for a recent long run, and was actually too warm.)

 

Ready to startThe race was at Timber Ridge Resort, just outside TC, with log lodges and great land for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Race morning was overcast and in the low 20s, and the snow on the ground was deep and powdery – perfect conditions. The rented snowshoes ($20 with registration) were smaller and lighter than expected, and surprisingly easy to slip into.

As this was my first time ever in snowshoes, let alone the first time racing in them, I lined up near the back so not to get in the way of the experienced runners. The first quarter mile or so was a packed snow path wide enough to have some space and to pass slower racers, but when we entered the woods it narrowed, forcing us into single file – and the group ahead slowed to a walk.

This was a bit frustrating. Turns out that running in snowshoes isn’t all that hard, and I wanted to race, darn it! With the snow on either side about two feet deep, passing was a chore, but that’s what a bunch of us wound up doing. It was actually a pleasure when we reached the wider trails and roads, and I could sprint until the course narrowed again.

They're off!

They’re off!

Dashing through the snow.  You can see how the snow gets kicked up behind you. Click for a better view.

Dashing through the snow. You can see how it gets kicked up behind. You are advised to wear a waterproof jacket.

He charges toward the finish as the crowd goes wild...

He charges toward the finish as the crowd goes wild…

The trail was marked with flags, but near the end I missed a turn and added about a quarter mile to my race. Yet even with that, plus starting in the back, I managed a fourth-place finish in my age group. Look out next year! And the overall winner of the 5K was 55 years old. How’s that for inspiration?

Let's play a quick game of, "who's more ridiculous".

Let’s play a quick game of, “who’s crazier”.

I had a great time, and recommend this race to any winter runner looking for a change of pace (pun intended). It’s a good workout and a nice break from road running in sloppy conditions. I’m now considering snowshoes for regular winter training.

Next on the race calendar: the Super 5K this Sunday. Looks like it’s going to be a cold one, like last year (click here to see the 2013 writeup). Oh, joy. But I signed up anyway, and also volunteered to help with post-race cleanup. Inside.
FitnessFridayLinkup button