Seeing Fabius’ Highland Forest Park in New York for the first time, snowshoe racers participating in the USSSA National Championships knew they were getting into something difficult. All it took was the drive up the steep, steep hill leading up to Skyline Lodge, headquarters for all things Championship: reception, reunions, registration, race-start, and rewards. Racers knew they were in for some fun as well when spotting the “Snowman Crossing” sign before reaching the parking lot for the expansive lodge.
The course was indeed difficult, as many felt that this was the most challenging course on which they had ever competed. The hilly course alone would have made this the tops on most people’s lists, but the item that put the cherry on top was how surface conditions were for the later races.
The Juniors 5 km raced first (9 a.m.), and then the Women’s 10 km championship ran an hour later (10 a.m.). By the time the Men’s race was underway (11:30 a.m.), the course was all chewed and churned up; the melting temperatures (around 35 degrees) helped the soft, deep snow get even more sugary. Footing was difficult throughout the course, but of course this couldn’t be a snowshoe championship without the challenge.
Many fast snowshoe racers, used to much better conditions, likely were slowed 10 to 15 minutes total (compared to a near-perfectly groomed course) with the challenges faced on this day on this layout. It was observed the spread among the snowshoe racers was greater than you would see in a normal snowshoe race.
This was likely due to a combination of the leaders being better able to handle the surface conditions and having slightly better surface conditions to run on (i.e. as more of the pack dug up most spots on the course, the more difficult it was for those behind them to step on those same spots). The top-placing snowshoe racers tended to be triathletes, meaning greater hip strength, leg strength and core strength contributing to the better results versus those that specialize in other types of summer events.
There were steep inclines and sharp declines throughout the course, with a hill just past the midway point just under a half-mile in the climbing length. Then it took you to a sudden drop several hundred feet, and then mounted a similar incline a half-mile in length up another hill, which concluded with a few hundred feet of no-nonsense climbing.
There were overall over a couple miles of single track, which was tough as well due to the narrow track and difficult stepping. The biggest challenge of the day (and for some, their running/snowshoeing life) was the final incline to the finish, which felt like running straight up a cliff. The word of the day was “humbling,” to describe their race performance being affected by the racecourse and, ultimately, the final hill.
No matter how much determination one had trying to climb the final ascent, it was difficult to feel movement any faster than a crawl in the roughly two minutes it took — finally — to cross the finish line at the top.
With this race being in New York, there was obviously a huge group of racers hailing from the Eastern states. But there was also a strong contingent from the Midwest and additionally other scattered parts of the country at this Nationals race, with most flying out to Syracuse a couple of days before the race, on Thursday.
Just looking at the top six in either the men’s race or the women’s race, you would see competitors hailing from Colorado, Iowa, New York, Minnesota, Arizona and New Hampshire, from all parts of this country that see snow yearly – from the mountains to the plains to other high altitudes. Next year the race will be in the Midwest, with potential sites being discussed in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.
One knows the course will likely be difficult, but it would be tough to meet the challenging standards of the National Snowshoe Championships at New York’s Highland Forest Park on March 6, 2010.
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