Thursday, February 24, 2011

No Shoe-In

This winter, I made a few New Years running resolutions. You know, the usual: “Lose Weight, Get Stronger & Get Faster”. I also made another resolution: “Do more snowshoe racing”. Fortunately, the decision to do the last thing, made accomplishing the first three things so much easier. Although, when I first started out, it sure didn’t feel that way!

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I hinted “strongly” to my wife that I’d like to see a nice shiny pair of Dion racing snowshoes under the tree this year. So, imagine my excitement (and surprise) to see exactly that on Christmas morn. Unfortunately, the snowshoes didn’t come with the pre-requisite snow allotment and I’d have to wait a few weeks to try them out. It’s hard to believe, given the kind of winter we’ve had, but in late-December and early-January snowshoe race after snowshoe race was either cancelled or postponed due to lack of snow!

By the second week of January, Mother Nature decided it was time to have a proper winter and dumped a bunch of much-needed snow on us. And, continued dumping snow on us for what seemed like weeks on end. Finally, I had my chance to head into the woods and try out my new snowshoes. I was so excited for the opportunity to see how these sleek and light shoes performed. Barely two minutes in to my “run” I got a very close look at my new gems as I was doubled over them gasping for oxygen. This was going to be harder than I thought!

Slowly, after much suffering and wheezing, I began to learn how to pace myself while I churned through the snow. My training times were not impressive, and I ended each workout completely exhausted, but I could see clear improvement from week to week. At this point, I was also doing some snowshoe races on the weekends. My goals for these races were fairly low-key. Run the whole way, get in a good cardio workout and have some fun in the process!

The other benefit to doing these snowshoe races was to see first-hand how the real snowshoe racers do it. The first thing I noticed while watching these Pro’s was how effortlessly they moved across the snow. Quick light steps as opposed to my lumbering, stumbling strides. The other thing I noticed was that ALL of the other competitors were smaller than me. In fact, I didn’t see anyone even remotely close to my 6’-4” height and 190 lb. frame. So, while they were moving quickly through the deep snow, I was “post-holing” all over the place. Hmmm.

Finally, after weeks training (and deep snow races), my fitness improved and I was beginning to close the gap on the faster snowshoe folks. Fortunately, the snow conditions also improved (for me anyway) and what was once deep, fluffy powder had been thawed, compacted, and re-frozen to a fast, weight-bearing, super-speedway. By mid-February, I decided I was ready to mount a serious challenge to their snowshoe supremacy!

At the Horse Hill 7k in Merrimack, NH (results) I took advantage of the fast conditions and hung with the speedy shoers right up until the last (of three) climbs of the day. I was also able to hold off 2 racers on the final decent and out-sprint another over the last 400 meters of the course. Even though I was still the 6th fastest master, I did manage to finish in the top 12 overall. And, more importantly, for the first time all year, I felt like I was actually “in the race”!

The following week at the Beaver Brook 5k in Hollis, NH (results) the quick conditions remained in place and so did my race strategy - “Hold on to the tail of the tiger for as long as you can and then see if you can bite him in the end”. Unfortunately, my over-exuberance came back to bite me instead as I went out too fast, got caught out of position on the first section of climbing single-track and paid dearly for it for the remainder of the race. Nothing like using the middle mile of a 5k to recover from a too-fast first!

In the end, I managed to catch my breath over the middle third of the race, hold off some hard-charging shoers and finish respectably. As was the case in the previous race, I was able to out-kick a couple of veteran racers over the last quarter mile and finished as the 4th fastest master. I also managed to crack the top 10 overall and finish with a near 8 minute per mile pace – a far cry from the 14 minute miles I was cranking out early in my training!

So, now that we are on the cusp of March, I’ve hung up the snowshoes for the season and have turned all my focus towards the goal race for the spring - The New Bedford Half Marathon. During the 2-months of snowshoe training I continued to maintain my long runs & tempo runs and have seen a clear improvement in the quality of each. I’ve also managed to shed 10 pounds of extra weight which leaves me with just 6 pounds more to go to reach my goal weight of 180.

Lose Weight? Check. Get Stronger? Check. Get Faster? Only time will tell!

(photo credits to: Scott Mason, Steve Wolfe, Bob Jackman & Gianina Lindsey)


  1. I can't wait for new bedford for you. You will find yourself stronger and faster after such a good winter of cross training. I smell a sub 3 at this year's cape cod marathon if you keep up with the new fitness. Nice race at beaver brook.

  2. Nope, I got my one win this year! I'm heading down to Salem, MA for a 10 miler on Sunday. A tune up race for NB.