On Saturday morning, Colby, I and 3 other novice, yet intrepid, snowshoers (Andie, Diva Cindi and Heather) took on the Peak Races 10K Snowshoe Race in Pittsfield, Vermont. This race was one for the books.
I included the quote above because this race was most definitely an “it’s the journey, not the destination” experience for me. I went in with no expectations other than to finish. This was my 5th time on snowshoes, if there is a way to train for a snowshoe race, I don’t know it and didn’t do it, it was a difficult course and it was freaking cold. No Garmin, no stopwatch, heck – no watch at all. I didn’t even note my time when I crossed the finish line, as I was too focused on attending to some blisters and getting some soup. And let me tell ya, I know I won’t do it for every race, but when I am able to stop focusing on the destination, the journey definitely becomes really fun. Interestingly, the last race that felt this way for me was the Spartan Sprint Fenway – also put on by the Peak Race guys. They obviously know how to get me out of my zone, and I’m grateful.
The day starts early when you have to leave by 5:30 AM for a race. It was pitch black and freezing. By pitch black, I mean Vermont pitch black, which is as dark as you can get if there isn’t a lot of star cover. (If you live near a city, you may not even know this kind of black. It is overwhelming and beautiful. It also has a tendency to make you want to go back to bed). By freezing, I mean Minus-6 Degrees Fahrenheit. Minus 6. It cannot be said enough. Minus 6. Still, with plenty of nervous laughter and a warmed-up car, we got ready and headed up to the Green Mountain Trails for the race. Our entertainment on the ride was watching the temperature fluctuate between Minus 6, Minus 4 and Minus 2.
The thermometer had bounced back down to minus 6 when we arrived at Riverside Farm for check in. We tried to console ourselves with the fact that some racers had begun the previous morning at 8 AM – racing through the dark and freezing night – in the 100 mile race, and were still going. Those were the real crazy people – not us! (Though many would beg to differ, including every person we ever told that we were doing this race).
Check in was painful. Literally, not figuratively. My toes were numb by the time I got my packet & snowshoes (yes! We got free snowshoes with our race registration!! Yippee!). The race volunteers were AWESOME – quick, exceptionally friendly and helpful, but even just the few minutes I spent moving through the line chilled me to the bone. Cue more nervous laughter. Lots.
After heading back to the car for a few to sit in the heat and sort out our layers, it was time to head up to the start. Temps had warmed up to just under zero by then. Oh joy.
8 AM, and we were off! What a start. From the get-go, this race was no joke. The first mile was pretty much completely up hill. And by uphill, I mean the Matterhorn, not Blueberry. It was a straight-up climb, single track. Only a few speedy speedy racers were able to head off the side and zoom ahead of the groups. I personally was fine staying in the single track and absorbing the body heat of the people around me.
It wasn’t until after the first mile and a half that the groups started to spread out. Even throughout the remainder of the course, there were plenty of sections where you would come up behind groups and follow the leader through a single track. Since this was a “journey, not destination” race for me, it bothered me not at all. I generally only passed people if they were very out of pace or wanted me to. Otherwise, it was kind of nice to be in a pack and get to visit with people. It also made the several stretches where I was by myself – and could barely even see anyone else on the course – that much cooler.
I am a newbie snowshoer, but I really could feel the benefits of my endurance running while climbing this insane mountain. I was tired, but not desperately so. I never felt that I needed to stop and though I could definitely feel my leg muscles working their hardest, I wasn’t uncomfortable. I tossed up a silent thanks for my love of distance running – it definitely helped.
Once we got to the top of the Matterhorn, we were rewarded with a cute stone cabin and an amazing view of the valley and the other mountains surrounding it. It was simply breathtaking, and I was so glad that this was a “journey, not destination” race for me, because I had no problem stopping to take it all in. I earned that view! And enjoyed it immensely.
Shortly after passing the peak, we were treated even further to the “Labyrinth” section of the course – a heavily wooded area full of pine trees. It was gorgeous and magical. Sunlight peeked through the trees and shadows danced on the snow. It felt vast and cozy at the same time. The paths criss-crossed through the trees, so you felt like you were playing some sort of game. And maybe you were.
Of course, Peak Races’ tagline isn’t “Go Beyond Your Limits” for nothin’, so after the Labyrinth, it was not all smooth sailing. There were plenty more uphill sections of the course (just when you would think the hills had to be behind you, another would pop up!) and some incredibly steep downhill sections, which can be just as difficult to navigate, albeit in a different way. I personally loved the downhill sections, but then again, I also love to roll down hills in the snow without a sled, so maybe it is just me. I couldn’t resist throwing out a “Wheeee” everytime I slip-slided down one of those suckers. Some people decided just to slide down the hill on their backsides, which looked like fun. I did not have waterproof pants on, so opted out of that. Wet pants in zero degree weather didn’t seem quite as fun.
After a lot of ups and downs, periods of sensory deprivation (miles of looking at a snow-covered ground will do that to you), and beating up my quads, calves and hamstrings, I smelled the bonfires and knew I was getting close. Turned a corner, down a hill and there it was – the finish line! And Colby! And a fire! And soup! Blessed warmth!
Truth be told, I was actually pretty warm throughout most of the race, and shed a lot of layers. But I’ve been around the skiing block enough to know that I would be freezing my butt off within 10 minutes of stopping, however, so was extremely grateful for the fire. And the soup.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I failed to mention that Colby finished 8th and I finished 10th overall for women in the race. I think we’re both pretty happy with our finish places! This race was HARD.
The race organizers at the end were just as friendly and wonderful as the people who checked us in earlier that morning. I gotta say, this race had one of the best atmospheres of any races I have done. Maybe it was the extreme weather, maybe it was the fact that many people were newish to snowshoeing so people weren’t taking themselves too seriously, or maybe it is just that snowshoers are nice people. Whatever it was, I talked to great people before the race, during the race and after the race. And of course, I rode home with some of the best people in the world.
I snowshoed a 6.5 mile loop with 1900’ of vertical climb in sub zero temps and can honestly say that it was a great way to spend a Saturday. I wish that they were holding the same race this weekend , so I could do it all again.
Now that is saying something.