Thursday, February 10, 2011

Snow Report

Living in California's Bay Area makes training for a winter race in Alaska a rather dicey proposition. This past weekend we saw temperatures in the mid-70s. It is the literal middle of winter!

I've tried to head up to the snow in the mountains as much as possible taking a few trips to Tahoe and one to Yosemite. However, it seems that every time I go, the sun follows. My initial trip to Tahoe was after the first major storm of the season at the end of November. My first snowshoe trip ended in my running shorts as temperatures climbed into the 50s during the afternoon.

I had the week off work between X-mas and New Years. With the promise of a winter storm on its way I headed back up to spend a few days. My first day saw some great snow, but temps around 40 with beautiful sunny skies.

Snowshoing at Tahoe Donner in (unfortunately) lovely weather

The next morning in Reno, I managed a run in weather just cold enough to test out my tights. I then headed up to Mt. Rose to try some back-country snowshoeing. While more hiking than running, it was a blast. I was "lucky" enough to be hit by the initial front of a blizzard on my way back to the car. In fact, I had to resort to my GPS to even find my car in the white out conditions. As I drove down to Incline Village, the storm began to build.

The brunt of the storm hit on my drive to the lake
I was hopeful for a very chilly morning the next day and anxious to test out my newly purchased Kahtoola Microspikes. The spikes were amazing, but the only other accomplishment was validating what it felt like to run overdressed for the conditions. It was perhaps in the low 30s, but I think I was dressed for much cooler. The problem, of course, is that I have no idea HOW much.

The storm dropped quite a bit of snow, but it turned out to be a better test for my new SUV than my cold weather running gear.

New Grand Cherokee gets its first taste of snow...
...and handles it just like a Jeep should!

As it turns out, the day after a left, the mercury plummeted into single digits...alas.

After another incredible, but warm snow weekend in Yosemite, I decided that perhaps I should try an entirely different state. I also needed to get in at least one run of at least 30 miles before my 100 so I was overjoyed to discover an event that looked to accomplish both goals while providing a brand new challenge. The folks who put on the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run and Kat'cina Mosa 100k in Utah have also been hosting a Snowshoe race for the past 4 years. Sponosored by Kahtoola, the race includes a 5K, 10K, 25K, marathon and a 50K. It sounded like just what I needed. My limited experience on snowshoes told me that this would definitely be a bit more of a workout than your normal 50K run.

Apparently, the full name for the event is the Kahtoola Wasatch Winter Bigfoot Snowshoe Festival though the RD just referred to it as the Bigfoot Snowshoe race and many of the fee handouts followed that theme. The race consisted of multiple loops comprised of a 10K loop around what, in summer, would be a golf course and a 5K loop that utilizes some of the final trails followed by the Wasatch Front 100. The area where the race is held was quite beautiful, especially in the snow, but a dead camera battery meant that it would be sans-photos for me.

Despite significant snowfall the week prior, upon my arrival the sun was shining and the weather report for Saturday morning looked all too familiar. The start would be nice and cold in the 20s, but the afternoon was set to warm up to around 40. Once again, I would not be testing my gear or my ability to handle cold temps. At least I'd be getting in some good miles and a significant ultra-marathon level effort.

The 50K would be made up of laps run in the following order: 10K, 5K, 10K, 10K, 5K, 10K. The longer golf-course loop was a wide XC-ski path with about 7-800ft of climbing. Between the extra effort of the shoes and a starting elevation of close to 6000ft, I had to force myself to slow in the early miles as I could feel the extra effort. Eventually, I relaxed and passed a few people before settling into a position that I would hold for most of the race. The 10K loop was not difficult, but even on the first lap it was clear that the "big climb" was going to be a slushy mess as the course warmed up. I finished just under 1:08 for the lap. I knew this was going to be anything but a negative-split race.

The 5K loop was on a single-track path through the woods with around 1000ft of climbing. While certainly more difficult going, it was also much more beautiful and enjoyable. However, when they say "single-track snowshoe trail" it is to be taken literally. The path was at least 6" deep and barely wide enough for both my shoes side-by-side. When the lead racers came down the hill as I was heading up, I had to basically dive into the deep snow on the side of the trail to make way. As a side note, those guys were flying!

During the second 10K loop, I could tell things were going to continue to be more difficult both physically and mentally as the day continued. It took me over 10 minutes longer to complete and as I came into the start area, the lead 50K runner was right with me. Half way through the race and I was already lapped! The guy mentioned that he wasn't really a runner, but did snowshoe all winter. This would be his first time going further than a marathon. However, I heard someone say that he had beaten the 25K course record on his split. As I watched him head out for his final 15K, I was amazed. He may not have been a runner, but he moved faster on snowshoes than I could without them.

I motivated myself on my next lap with the promise of a change of socks at the 35K mark. I hadn't worn my overboots and a couple of off-trail excursions on the downhill of the 5K loop had left my feet quite wet. Another 6 minutes added to this loop split as exhaustion and sticky snow began to take their toll. With warmer feet, I headed into the 5K loop and focused on just enjoying the final mountain trip before one last slog around the golf course. I passed a number of marathoners during this loop as they had only has a single 12K loop between their 2 5Ks.

With a final lap to go I was at 5:41 and change. I would have had to run better than my second 10K lap to break 7 hours so I decided not to push. Besides, I knew the big climb was going to by going uphill in sand. Still, I pushed a bit to keep it at a solid effort finishing at 7 hours and 11 minutes for 4th place in the 50K race. It significantly harder than a 50K trail run. Despite the time, I felt more like I would after a solid 50-miler. Happy to be finished I took off my cold wet clothes to go sit by the fire inside.

I learned that the winner had crushed the course record finishing the 50K in 5:09:53. I had been prepared to be an hour behind the leader, but 2 hours! I then learned that the guy was actually 50 years old to boot. An inspiring performance and, as he sat down to chat, a very low-key, humble guy. Had I not noticed the crest on his jacket I would never have known he was a member of the US National Snowshoe Team. OK, truth is, I didn't even know such a thing existed until I saw it, but it was clear to me what sort of effort it took to make the team.

Despite the less than perfect conditions for Susitna prep, snowshoeing has been a great way to stay fit and motivated during the winter months. I'm not sure if I would return to this particular race again, but certainly plan to keep the sport on as part of my winter regimen even after my race up north.

1 comment:

olga said...

This is so funny you can't find snow! As for your Mt. Rose trip - I'd say driving to Incline village on those windy roads in a blizzard would have been more scary for me. C'mon, Steve, you know Alaska has nothing on you! Suck it up! I am jealous:)