Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sidehiller 4 Mile Snowshoe Race

The Sidehiller Snowshoe Race brings me back to my first winter activities when I moved to NH with my wife in 1992. We both helped out with the Sandwich Notch 60 Sleddog Race for 10 years, when we lived in Holderness. We got to know a good number of people in Sandwich through the race, and also many members of the Sandwich Sidehiller Winter Trails Club- the club that grooms the snowmobile and skiing trails in the area. So when I wanted to start a snowshoe race it was only logical to approach the Sidehillers, even though I don't live one town away anymore (ok, it's only 3 towns away but Sandwich always seems like it's in the middle of nowhere, in its own little universe, especially to those of us living in the bustling metropolis of Madison, NH).

This year marked the 5th Annual Sidehiller Race, and we had our best turnout yet. The turnout is due to four reasons- it's the only race that's part of both the Granite State Snowshoe Series and the Dion/WMAC Series, it's a US Snowshoe Association Qualifying Race, and because of the support of Bob and Denise Dion, who provide free loaner snowshoes to anyone who wants them for the race (The Dions do this for all of the WMAC races).

Working on a race with the Sidehillers is always funny because they are the most dedicated bunch of volunteers you could imagine. Other than a few emails and phone conversations with members, I never met with any of them before the race to go over volunteer logistics. But, come race morning, after I said hi to Jim Johnson, Kristin, Dave Dunham and Jim Pawlicki on Bean Road, up comes this guy who I didn't know, driving a tractor towards where I was parked. The first words out of his mouth were "So, where exactly is the crossing so I know where to break through the snowbanks?" It was one of the Sidehillers, there to help put snow on the road for the one road crossing in the race. The Sidehillers always are great about shoveling snow on the road there. Heck, it seems like half the town gets involved in some way or another with the race.

So after I chatted with this guy, I went out and finished the markings on the woods side of the course while Dave, Jim and Jim marked the Fairgrounds side. The snow seemed really packed, like it was earlier in the week when I had done some marking on some of the woods section. Unfortunately, that was wrong as I think the very cold winter we have had led to a course that seemed packed but offered pretty dry, sandy snow just beneath the surface, making for a slow grind for most of the day.

After getting back to the fairgrounds, more volunteers showed up along with Chris Dunn from Acidotic Racing, who came early to help setup registration and mix the all important Heed Sports drink. I got to say hi to a lot of people I knew, either from other snowshoe races or from the mountain circuit.

The race went off at 11 AM and it seemed the field went out pretty fast. I later heard from several runners that the whole pack went out pretty aggressively. The battle for first place was between Kevin Tilton and Jim Johnson, with Kevin chasing down Jim for about the first 3 miles of the race, fittingly enough catching him on the last "Sidehill" before the final downhill back out of the woods. I have run a lot with Kevin and seen him finish a lot of races and this was one you could tell that he was pretty spent afterwards. Jim gave him a great fight, finishing 13 seconds back, never letting up even at the end.

Of course, both being in great shape, Jim went on to race at another snowshoe race on Sunday and Kevin went out for a long run on snowmobile trails on Sunday as well.

Dave Dunham rounded out the top 3 for the men, the first half to a double racing weekend for him too.

On the women's side, Kim Webster of Framingham, MA, took the win, with Leslie Dillon of Troy, NY second and Amber Cullen of Concord, NH 3rd.

The youngest finisher of the race was 17 and the oldest was WMAC Silverback Richard Busa, age 79. Richard finished with a smile, out there enjoying the day as he always seems to. I hope I'm still able to drive to races when I'm 79, let alone run them!

A special thanks to Kevin O'Hara, the Sidehillers, Mocha Rizing for providing food, the CMS trio for helping mark the course, Chris Dunn and all of the racers from Dungeon Rock and Acidtotic who have helped to completely energize the new Granite Staet Snowshoe Series.

Results can be found here, photos from Kristin here, more photos from Tad Thomas here and race reports from Jim Johnson and Chris Dunn and Dave Dunham

So ends another Sidehiller, right in the middle of a really great snowy winter. It's February 8th and if you wonder how much snow we've had this winter, I've had to run on roads only twice this winter- once down in Philly over the Xmas holidays and once when the snowmobile trail Kevin Tilton and I wanted to take was closed. The rest of the time has been all on snowmobile trails. Thanks to the Sidehillers and all of the other clubs that keep them groomed for us. It makes for great rail running.

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