Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sidehiller Snowshoe Race - Race Report

As I sit here at my computer and watch the snow continue to pile up in our latest storm, I continue to be amazed at the sheer volume of the white stuff we got this winter. We've never had a big storm, just a lot of 4, 6 and 8 inch storms, with almost no break in between.

Conditions for this year's edition of the Sidehiller 4 Miler could not have been any more perfect. OK, the snow started to get a little slow as the day wore on, but a gorgeous sunny 32 degree day with no wind sure is nice.

The town of Sandwich is a place of good memories for me. The first job I had and how I was able to relocate from the Philadelphia area to New England all took place in Center Sandwich. I got my first race directing and organizing experience when I used to help with the Sandwich Notch 60 Mile Sled Dog race. I also started my trail and mountain running career there when I went from speed hiking over to running up small mountains in the area when a friend convinced me to do the Mt. Washington Road Race.

Sandwich is a neat place- it's on the way to nowhere and unless you go to the Sandwich Fair or know someone in town, you probably would never even know it existed. That's one of the things that makes it so fun, the center of town looks like a snapshot taken out of New England history, which all white clapboard houses and antique shops and a bed and breakfast. For those of you who were fans of the Newhart show that took place in Vermont, the small town scene at the end of the opening credits was filmed in Center Sandwich. They show a car driving by this sign.

The Sidehiller 4 Miler to me very much fits in with that small New England town feel. The race starts on the Sandwich Fairgrounds on groomed ski trails and after you do a loop, you cross the road and do about a 3 mile loop through woods, old orchards, people's back yards and over stone walls, before coming back over to the fairgrounds to finish. Post-race food is provided by the Sandwich General Store, which has a fitting name for a place to go for food, as racer Dave Dunham pointed out during pre-race announcements.

The race is only possible because of the landowners who let us use their land, and the Sandwich Sidehillers Winter Trails club who sponsor the race along with my running club, the White Mountain Milers. The Sidehillers are a great bunch, a club that is a mixture of snowmobilers and cross country skiers, which gives the group a great mix of people whose common bond is the love of trails in the winter. For those of you ran the race, it was members of the Sidehillers who were shovelling snow on the road for you as you crossed from the Fairgrounds into the woods and back. I know they get a kick out of hosting this race too.

Race prep for me began two weeks before the race when I met Sidehillers Tony Leiper and Russ Johnson at the Fairgrounds so we could check out course conditions. We were amazed at how much snow was out there. In other years we've needed to shovel snow on the stone walls that the course goes over. This year Russ was able to drive his snow machine right over them as he groomed the course.

We lucked out race week, as we got close to a a foot and half of fresh snow, leaving the woods looking like a winter wonderland with fresh snow covering every tree branch.

Come Race Day morning, I headed over the Fairgrounds at 7 AM, giving me plenty of time to set up registration, do a last minute check of course markings and get a chance to ski a couple of laps around the Fairgrounds' groomed trails. People began coming in around 9:30 and it was a chance for me to catch up with some fellow snowshoe enthusiasts I haven't seen in a while, like Jack Casey and Bill Morse. Bob Dion from Dion Snowshoes got there a few minutes later and the line began to start at his car as he and wife, Denise, gave out loaners to the people who needed them.

There was a nice mixture of locals, first time snowshoe racers and WMAC regulars who showed up, along with some members of the Milers too. Ages ranged from 14 year old Miler, Peter Haine, to 78 year old WMAC Veteran, Richard Busa.

The race started right at 11 and the racers were off. Conditions on the fairgrounds were a little slow in the first mile, due to the recent snow and the warming of the day. Kevin Tilton and Dave Dunham lead the pack, followed by first time snowshoer Max Thomas of Wolfeboro, along with Bob Dion and Acidotic Racing's Chris Dunn and the rest of the pack.

Kevin Tilton won the race in 33:17, beating Dunham by 6 seconds, whose late race surge wasn't enough to overtake Tilton. Dunham started the day with a very early mornuing run up to the Fire Tower atop Green Mountain in Effingham. Tilton was coming off a 21 Mile, 9 Hour backcountry ski trip the day before. It's a wonder both of them had any energy left at the finish.

Acidotic's Chris Dunn came in third in 37:11 followed by Bob Dion and Jack Casey. Chris was the race director for the 1st Annual Cobble Mountain Snowshoe Classic in Gilford, NH, which got rave reviews from the competitors. It's really great to see Chris' enthusiasm to promote the sport, as he has started a 3 race series this year.

The first woman of the day was Sarah Hudson of Brookline, MA, who finished her first snowshoe race in 45:14. She was followed by local Center Sandwich resident, Tracy Olafson and WMAC Iron Woman Laurel Shortell, who keeps her 70 plus consecutive WMAC race series streak alive for another weekend.

Among the teams who showed up, the first two spots were taken by the Central Mass Striders, Comprehensive Racing had three runners in the top 10, and WMAC/DION had a strong showing as well. Two White Mountain Milers ran their first snowshoe race- 16 year old Max Thomas, who finished 7th in a time of 39:46 and 14 year old Peter Haine who finished in 17th place. They joined Miler Andrea Masters who ran Sandwich for the second time. It was also great to see several members of the Rochester Runners Club come out. Club President Don Yeaton sent me an email saying he's hooked on the sport. Hopefully we'll see even more of them in Sandwich next year.

Thanks again to everyone who came out to the race. It was great to see some old friends and see a lot of first time racers too. I'll see some of you on the trails and the USATF-NE Mountain Circuit in just a few months- assuming winter actually ends at some point.

Pictures for the race are here
Results are here

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