Photo courtesy of Far North Endurance
On the edge of the Sandwich, NH fairgrounds around mile 3.5 -photo courtesy of Far North Endurance

Sidehiller is the longest running snowshoe race in New Hampshire. This 4 mile race attracts a large crowd of resilient winter athletes from all over New England. Many of them are hoping to secure a place in the coveted USSSA (United States Snowshoe Association) 2014 Championships to be held in Woodford, VT in late February. This is also race number two in the increasingly popular Granite State Snowshoe Series.

Welcome to snowshoe country
Welcome to snowshoe country

In snowshoe racing, the actual split times and pace per mile stats mean very little. It’s more about competing against like-minded athletes, and enjoying the experience of racing in the great outdoors. A race course can vary from year to year, and there may be route changes up until race day based upon the snow cover. Sidehiller 2014 was not the same race as Sidehiller 2013. Each race is a singular experience, and the only true performance standard is how you match up against your peers on race day.

The temperature hovered around 10 degrees, and the blustery wind made the “real feel” a wicked -14 below zero. As I sat in the warmth of my vehicle contemplating my second snowshoe race, I marveled at the audacity and resilience of these runners. These are not the same folks that are giddy to line up for Color Runs, Light Runs, or Disney race weekends. This is a different crowd;  no frills, no excuses, and nowhere to hide. The wind continued to whine and rock the car gently. Each new gust brought a smattering of frozen particles that made a crackling drum roll on the windows.

Fresh snow had fallen the day before, so I put on my Outdoor Research gaiters to keep the snow out of my running shoes. I smeared Vasoline over my cheekbones and across the bridge of my nose to reduce wind burn and keep some heat locked in. Then, after putting mittens on over my running gloves, I braced myself and opened the car door. I popped the trunk to retrieve my Crescent Moon snowshoes and begin a quick 10-minute warmup routine.

snotsickles
It isn’t pretty, I know.

The goal of warming up is really quite simple. You run around and engage your muscles in an effort to get them primed for the effort that awaits. Done right, the warmup usually results in a light sweat and a feeling of readiness when you toe the line. In this case, it resulted in cold fingers and a stinging nose. I resignedly trudged across the ball field to the starting line to join the rest of the 150 or so participants.

The course consisted of two 2-mile loops around the outskirts of the fairgrounds. There were a few times that we got into some narrow single track in the woods, but for the most part, the race was run in the open fields. The snow was so powdery and light in places that is was like running in a trench full of quicksand. My quads were screaming less than a mile into the race. On the plus side, I was warmed up now.

The total elevation gain was about 500′. There were a few ups and downs and many times where runners passed each other in loop backs. So, I had the benefit if seeing those in front of me several times throughout the race. It was rather humbling, but also engaging to see the battle being played out up ahead.

After completing the first loop of the course, I focused on catching people and using the course to my advantage. I learned not to struggle in the powdery trenches, but to really dig in on the packed snow. I ran the downhill sections aggressively, and to showed a bit of restraint on the steep inclines. I slowly moved up in position over lap two and finished strong.

After crossing the line, I patted the back of the finisher ahead of me and shook the hand of the finisher behind me. There was the usual post race banter and then people quickly moved to their cars and trucks to find shelter and warm clothing. I missed the post race gathering and awards ceremony. My daughter had graciously come to watch the race and take some pictures, and her hands were frozen. It was the least I could do to turn on the heater and head out.

On the ride home I began looking forward to next weekend’s adventure, the Beaver Brook Snowshoe Race in Hollis, NH. I hope to see you there. Do you have stories to share or thoughts about snowshoe racing? If so, please leave your comments for others to see.

Thoughts?