As in pretty much every area of my life, I'm a big chicken when it comes to driving in the snow, so I was pretty thrilled when my friend Cheri offered me a ride. She had to be at registration early to bring giveaways from her sponsor, Power Bar, so she rolled into my driveway at 5:50 a.m. On a good day, the drive to Grafton takes around 45 minutes; slowed by heavy snow and covered roads, we took nearly an hour and fifteen minutes.
|View of the bluffs on the River Road|
|We survived the trip!|
|The great hall of the lodge, largely empty 1.5 hours before race time|
As the start time neared, I pinned on my bib, took off my boots, and padded around in sock feet. I couldn't wear my running shoes inside because I was trying something new. Earlier in the week, Mickey had shared a link in response to my Facebook whining about not wanting to run on icy roads.
|Runners waiting for their waves|
Running in fresh snow is hard work, but we had the advantage of following 23 other waves of runners whose feet had packed the snow into a flat, hard pathway for us. I ran cautiously at first, unsure of my footing on the smooth surface, but I quickly gained confidence as my shoes dug in. Any question I had as to the value of the screw shoes was put to rest on the first climb. I watched as people ahead of me skidded on the slippery surface, losing traction and momentum. With no such problem, I was able to pass people who were slowed by the conditions. That didn't stop my friend Jody from passing me on the hill, though. He's still a much stronger runner than I am.
|Stolen from either Cheri or Amy :)|
The hills, like always, left me gasping and out of breath, walking the biggest ones, but the scenery was a wonderful distraction. I could've spent the entire race taking pictures of the snow-covered trees. It was such a neat experience to run somewhere I'm so familiar with and see it look so different.
The snow smoothed over many of the rocks and roots you have to look out for, and it covered the treacherous layer of leaves that can hide all kinds of ankle-turners. Because it was so packed down, it was almost like running a really white sidewalk. Downhills were a blast. Rather than hurt my time, I think it may have actually helped me. The only time I felt like the conditions slowed me down was when I had to crawl through a fallen tree or was caught behind someone slower and had to either bide my time or detour through the thicker snow on the sides to pass.
Coming into mile 6, where the course crosses the park road and then loops back up, I was looking forward to seeing my friend JB, who was continuing a tradition of running the last section with me after finishing his race. Patrick, Chuck, and Robin were at the turn cheering and taking pictures, so I got to wave to all of them and then pick up my pacer. :)
This year's race was a wonderful contrast to last year's suffer-fest, and I was a much happier running partner for my friend this time around. Last year I'd been hurting and also feeling the effects of basically not training for the month leading up to the race. This year I ran much stronger and, better yet, was having fun. Having just cruised down a long hill, I was feeling good and passed a couple people as we started up the trail. The stairs were terrible as always and made me very thankful for my long legs as they seemed even taller than usual. We were admiring the beautiful day and I mentioned how sad I was that I didn't have any pictures, so JB offered to take my phone and get some pictures for me. I think he did an awesome job.
|Up another hill...|
|Might be my favorite running picture of me ever.|
The last mile of the race is a blast, primarily downhill and you can let loose. I was pushing hard (and had the freight train breathing to prove it) until about .5 miles from the finish when my shoe came untied. What to do? I didn't want to stop and tie it and have someone pass me, but I didn't want to step on it and fall. Instead I slowed up, watched Jody pass me again, and ran carefully into the finish. Stupid shoelace.
So now, in the space of a week I'm 2/2 in snowy winter races. That bodes well for the Little Woods Ultra on the 28th. And what more can you ask for than to have your favorite races in crazy beautiful, memorable circumstances? That, and sharing the experience with so many of my friends was plenty for me. Even so, I still got one more treat from the day, and that was a 4+ minute PR on the course! I'm pretty happy about that.
|I like the direction this is going.|