Tag Archives: Timber Ridge Resort

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.

Let There Be Snow! Bigfoot Snowshoe Race Recap

Yes! There was snow!

And I made the papers! (See below.)

If I’m going to drive four hours to compete in a snowshoe race, it would be a major bummer for there to be no snow. And while Traverse City was patchy in spots, at Timber Ridge Resort there was plenty left on the trails. The Bigfoot 5K/10K race was going to be run regardless, but a muddy trail run just doesn’t seem worthy of the name.

bigfoot-2017-guy-in-costume

For those of you who might contemplate a snowshoe race, I can highly recommend it, even if you have no experience whatever with snowshoes. As the race site puts it, “No training required, just strap ’em on and run!” And my first race in them in 2014 really was just like that, although I did face plant a few times. Rental snowshoes are hit or miss, so I ended up getting my own pair and my times have gotten even better.

This was the warmest, wettest year of my four Bigfoot 5Ks. The previous years were all dry, with temps in the 20s and deep, fresh powder nicely groomed. This year I considered running it in shorts (some people did) and wore just two light layers on top. In a race like this, you get warm really fast.

Heading out for my pre-race warmup.

Me (in yellow vest) heading out for my pre-race warmup. (Didn’t take long in that weather.)

I hoped to beat last year’s finish of 34:12 and maybe even break into the top 10 overall. But having just completed a 50K in the snow two weeks ago, I was a bit worried about how my legs would hold up. On the other hand, it made a 5K, even in snowshoes, seem a bit puny in comparison.

I lined up near the front, close behind the 10K elites attempting to qualify for Nationals. I didn’t want to get in their way, but I needed to get to the singletrack ahead of the mob, as it quickly turns into a conga line. I had to do some fancy dodging in the initial quarter mile, and my quick start left me breathing hard, but once on the singletrack I fell into a rhythm and got down to work. I was in the lead group of 20 or so and held my position, passing several people who got winded or tripped and fell, and despite one fall of my own, nobody passed me.

The course has some of everything – part wide road great for sprinting, and part well groomed trail through the woods. It’s gently rolling overall, with some nice long downhills and a couple of absolutely brutal climbs. All the better! Who wants flat perfection in a snowshoe race? Go run on a track, Usain!

A photo from the 2014 race showing one of the climbs.

A photo from the 2014 race showing one of the less brutal climbs. Notice the snow kicked up by the shoes. They recommend you wear a waterproof layer in front!

My finish was a mix of good and bad news. My wife and two of our camping friends came all the way up to see me race, but after the start they went back into the lodge to warm up. Based on my expected time, they came back out at the 30 minute mark, but I’d already finished! Perhaps due to the wet snow, the course was rerouted a bit, and ended up a quarter mile short. So I crossed the finish line with a net time of 28:55 – what looks like a five-minute PR! Extrapolating to that final quarter mile gives me an adjusted time of right around 32:00, which still represents a substantial improvement and new PR.

Placement-wise, I improved too – from 13th overall last year to 12th overall this year, scoring an age group win and second fastest over 50. Another 30 seconds and I would have made the top ten. Oh, well – next year!

Unfortunately, there are no photos of me in action this year – no race photographer and I was racing – but I wound up in the media in a couple of other ways. My friends picked up a copy of Northern Express, which had an article describing the Bigfoot, with a nice large photo from the 2016 race. And lo & behold, I was in it!

bigfoot-photo-from-northern-express

Then following the race, I was dutifully sorting out recyclables as Zero Waste captain, when I got called over for an interview! A reporter from Traverse Magazine was collecting race stories, and Randy the race director told him he should interview “our Zero Waste guy.” So he did. I’ll keep an eye out for when it appears.

And speaking of Zero Waste, you can read the sustainability report from the race at my new site, Happy Planet Running. (More on this to come.)

Next up – another winter 5K, this time in trail shoes, on the switchbacks in Chelsea. Hope the weather’s lousy!

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.