The Rocky Mountains of Colorado had been getting peppered with snow for a few days, so when the morning of the “Swift Skeddadle” snowshoe race at the Frisco Nordic Center dawned to bright blue skies, I knew it was going to be a good day.
I strapped into my Atlas Dual Trac Snowshoes, put my sunglasses down over my eyes and made my way to the START line. Danelle Balangee, the event’s coordinator, greeted us participants with a cheerful good morning and detailed instructions on how to follow the trail for the race. Blue flags staked into the ground and orange ribbons tied to the trees…those were our markers. “Blue!” and “Orange!” we shouted back as Danelle employed us to recite the designated color scheme.
“10, 9, 8…3, 2, 1 – GO!” And we were off!
The Swift Skeddadle, on this particular day, consisted of roughly 100 participants. Some were out there to compete in the competitive 10K event and others (namely me) chose to embark on a somewhat less intense (but still challenging) 4K event.
The first part of a snowshoe race is always a little interesting because, well let’s face it, snowshoes can be a little awkward. Between scrambling to find your place within the pack and gauge the type of snow you’re treading on, it take a few minutes to get into the groove. But, once you’re there, it’s like you become one with that single-track trail; the snow covered trees brushing against your arms and the steady beat of snowshoes on the ground almost form a symbiosis.
Within about 10 minutes of the race I began to feel myself slipping into that sweet spot of racing. My breathing had begun to settle and I found myself clipping along at a pretty good pace. Occasionally a runner would slip by, but I didn’t allow the fierce competitiveness of my fellow racers to rattle me and I kept on trucking at my own deliberate pace.
Shortly thereafter we came up a clearing that opened the trail onto a gorgeous snow laden and frozen lake. The snow was extremely deep and heavy, making it impossible to trek along without concentrating so hard you nearly were face to face with the snow. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small hill, but as the tracks continued no where else but exactly in front of me I didn’t give it a second thought. I should have known better. As I begun to pass by the hill I could hear the shouts of some of the cross-country skiers atop the hill. I just assumed they were heckling us crazy snowshoers.
Finally I realized that not only were these not hecklers, but they were actually some of the Swift Skeddadle organizers trying to get those of us that were beginning to go off track…back on track. Some racers were not so lucky to have heard the gracious cross-country skiers and ultimately added a tiring three miles to their 10K race.
At any rate, I finally realized what the skiers were trying to say and I quickly trudged my way back to the hill and up over the top. Seeing all the racers who had been behind me throughout the race, ahead of me because of my silly mistake somehow lit the fire of my competitive spirit. I saw the aid station at the top of the hill and knew that if I had a prayer in the world of doing well at this event that stopping for a nice cup of H20 just wasn’t in the game plan.
The climb ahead was brutal. Ahead of me was a woman, about my age, and a teenage boy who quickly bowed-out with snowshoe problems. While I was a fair distance behind the girl, I made it my goal to keep her within my sights. The climb was intense and almost never ending; splinters from the nearby trees were evidence to the fact that two legs alone were not enough to carry me up the hill…but still I pushed on forward. Finally we came to the top of the hill and were able to get back into somewhat of a faster pace. I quickly glanced behind me and eyeballed the group of about four gentlemen I had heard nipping at my heels on the uphill climb. There was no way I was going to let them pass me.
I could feel my legs burning from the climb and from the duration we had already been out on the trail, but seeing only one set of snowshoe tracks on the trail gave me inspiration. After what seemed like an endless amount of short climbs and descents, I saw a downhill slope that I knew would be my chance to gather some speed. I relaxed my upper body and allowed my momentum to carry me down the hill. I remember thinking even as we came out of the hill and the ground leveled off again, that somehow I was still carrying some of the speed I had gathered…and apparently the girl ahead of me noticed it as well. As she had been leading me the entire race and challenging me to push myself if only to keep her within my sights, I was amazed that she stepped off the trail to let me pass. With a nod of understanding a brief smile in passing, I realized that she was allowing me to take over her slot in the lead.
Without quite knowing where the energy came from, a sudden burst of speed erupted from my legs and I took off through the snow. The very thought that I might actually win this race was a feeling not quite like anything I had experienced. The trail briefly spit me out of the woods and onto a road and then swallowed me back up into the trees. A sign ahead pointed to the left indicating the way back to the starting line.
My legs pumped faster and faster as my adrenaline seemed to be pumping faster and faster. Finally the trail came out of the woods for good and all that was left was the open straight away to the finish…and it was just me, alone out there. I stuck my head down and pushed ahead as hard as I could, unwilling to relinquish my very first “first place” finish.
Glancing behind, thinking somehow I would see a crowd of snowshoers gaining quickly on me, I saw but a few racers grimacing their way to the finish. That day, March 12, 2005, I crossed the finish line at the Swift Skeddadle in first place…and damn did it feel good.