Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hey I won! (without winning)

I didn't plan on entering all five of the races Finnish Line Snowshoe series this winter, but cold weather forced two ski races to postpone, so on days when more sensible people might stay indoors I ventured into the icy forests and bogs surrounding Fairbanks and did the snowshoe races, which are purportedly held "regardless of temperature."

Effectively, I should have been 2nd overall in the series, as local runner Chad Carroll won four of the five races and beat me every time. I'd have been happy with that and would have brought home a pair of Atlas Run snowshoes, to complement the pair I bought in December. However, they scored the standings by age group wins, not overall. So I scored 15 each week, while Chad was upset by 3-time Equinox Marathon and Midnight Sun Run winner, Kevin Brinegar at the Ballaine Ridge race on February 9. So I won by 5 points, and got a pair of ultra light Atlas Race shoes.

Here's a run down of the season
12/4/07 - Heart of Darkness 7 k (+10 F) 3rd overall in 33:04, 1:09 behind Chad
1/12/08 - Moose Mountain Challenge 8k (-22 F) 2nd overall in 41:29, 1:21 behind Chad
1/27/08 - Emily's 8k Memorial (-10 F) 2nd overall in 39:44, 25 sec behind Chad
2/9/08 - Ballaine Ridge 9k (-15 F) 3rd overall in 48:35, 1:56 behind Kevin (I was just coming off a cold and tried to run steady but not too hard)
2/23/08 - Fairbanks Snowshoe Classic (+12 F) 2nd overall, 13 sec behind Chad

Here's an article in the local paper: http://www.newsminer.com/news/2008/feb/25/sayre-celebrates-turning-50-winning-snowshoe-serie/

In this last race my new shoes broke and have sent back for warranty replacement so I was on some lower rate loaners. But just minutes before the race Andy Holland lent me his Atlas Race shoes. Those were so light, like putting on a pair of racing flats for the first time.

I felt a little wobbly for the first two or three km, wondering if I'd be able to keep Chad and Kevin in sight for much longer. But by 4k, they weren't pulling away, and in fact I began to gain on them. Felt good the rest of the way, but didn't quite have the guts or aerobic uptake to mount a serious challenge to Chad--kept him honest and wondering though!

My hat's off to both of them for putting on the series, and for the challenging competition this winter.

Snowshoe running is kind of weird, and some people knock it. I think it's legit and would like to see the sport to keep growing. Racing appears to be languishing in Alaska (http://www.adn.com/outdoors/story/317694.html), although it seems to be thriving elsewhere, particularly in the upper Midwest and Rockies. Very few runners here seem interested, and even fewer skier-runners. I find that the sports are very complementary. I hardly trained on shoes all winter--the five races plus maybe six or seven easy runs of 40 min to 1:10. Other than that I skied five or six times a week and ran about twice a week. Skiing builds up your quads and cardiovascular system like no other sport--and I'm thinking that it helps your agility so you are used to navigating those narrow trails. I also enjoyed the low key atmosphere at the snowshoe races.

At the world level, I don't think the lithe Kenyans would be so dominant. It'd be great to see this sport develop to the point that there are World Championships that get broad participation and publid attention, and of course inclusion to the Winter Olympics.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Razor's Edge at 8km

Over the past two weekends I raced in two 8 kilometer races. A week ago Sunday it was an 8k snowshoe race and last weekend we had an 8k cross country ski race, using the classical technique. Both were under what anyone but the most tough and hardcore would deem as near brutal conditions, with temps about 12 below zero--give or take.

Although I won my age group both times, the experiences and outcomes were quite different.

I don't even train as a snowshoe runner, other than a casual jog for 40-50 minutes once every week or two, and I only run about 15-20 miles a week total during the winter. Meanwhile, I train 7-8 hrs a week on skis, in addition to coaching. So you can throw out the principle of specificity. Nevertheless, I'm starting to develop a feel for what it takes at this diverticula of the sport of running.

We have a full schedule of ski and snowshoe races this winter and I'm doing most of them--just because they're there. However, I've been trying to compete/participate with a measured effort usually, especially with the snowshoe running. So at the first race I just paced myself, planning on mainting an effort which I could hold for about an hour, known in physiological and training circles as your lactate threshold. The effort seemed successful: the two leaders (top 20 overall in last year's US championships, and medalists in the 35-39 age group) took it out pretty hard and I just hung back with an up and coming high school runner on my heels. They had a good 30 to 40 seconds on us at about 3k, when I subtly put in a surge. By half way, a spruce bog where the inverted temperature was probably no more than -25, I could see that I was gaining on 2nd place. Rather than picking it up, I just kept it even. With some big climbs he started coming back, and at about 6k I passed him. NO Way! Here's a guy still running in the 33s for 10k, albeit coming off an injury now. What was more surpising was that I was catching the leader too. He usually beats me by a minute or two over these distances. I got to within 20 seconds, and crossed the line 24 seconds back at the finish. Go figure.

So this last weekend in the ski race, all the big shots were hunkered down or resting or elsewhere, so it was more of a JV/B team race, except for 3 of us aging masters skiers and one of the local high schools who was using the race as their final selector for Regionals and State coming up this month. A pack of 6 took it out pretty hard, but I was close enough, through about 2k, to reel them in if needed. I was in 8th following behind one of the high school skiers. At 2.5k, I got a little impatient and decided to go around him to stay within striking distance of my masters rival, vying for medals at World Masters this month, still about 15 or 20 seconds up.

That was a tactical error because by the 4k lap I was spent and just hanging on. Fighting off frostbite on my cheek, and in heavy oxygen debt I did hold on to 8th place, but finished the 2nd lap a good 20 seconds slower than the first, if not more.

At 50, even at top shape (I've averaged 10 hours aerobic training a week for about 10 weeks now), the ceiling, like the hit song is low low low. And if you hit that ceiling, maybe 170 beats/min for more than maybe 50 or 60 seconds, you'll hit the flo' and slap your own bootie in disgust. With steep hills and some intense competition in skiing, it can be difficult to find zone just below oxygen debt, especially in the short races. Meanwhile, these kids (and some masters skiers) thrive at heart rates of 170 - 190 bpm.

I'm looking forward to putting these short ski races (10k and under) behind me after this weekend. Coming up over the next 8 weeks or so are 30k, 50k, 20k, 50k, and 30k. Plus I'll mix in two snowshoe races, a 9k and a 10k.

Aerobics or bust, just bring it on!