A 5k? Really? This is a bit shorter than my usual fare. Okay, a lot shorter than my usual preferred distances, but the Snow Dash Extreme 5k was billed as being Extreme! It’s not like I’m getting much other adventure these days… So, okay, why not? I even convinced Devo to come along for company.
Whatever the baseline interestingness of the inaugural Snow Dash, it was rendered a whole lot more interesting by the 50+ inches of snow that fell in the preceding 48 hours at the tiny Echo Mountain ski area near Evergreen. When we got to Echo Mountain (no mean feat), we were greeted by gorgeous blue skies, snow-laden trees, and 50+ inches of new powder. Did I mention that there were 50-something inches of new snow for a running race?
And it was cold! I’d erred on the side of more layers than I’d normally run in but it was still downright chilly on the starting line. “We had to cut a little distance off the course for safety reasons,” yelled Levi, the personable race director. “So it’s about a mile shorter than 5k now. But it’s still plenty tough. On your marks, get set, DASH!”
I started mid-pack and jockeyed for position on the churned up, slightly-down-hill cat track for 200 yards at the start. The traverse gave way to a postholed switchbacking climb up the ski run. It was a toss-up whether it was easier to stay in the inconsistently-spaced boot track or to just break my own. I was sucking air pretty hard and that air was cold. Lungs were feeling the frigid air (ironic, given that this was a fundraiser for the American Lung Association). I was pretty well red-lined and began to suspect I’d gone out too fast. Little sparkles in my peripheral vision suggested a visual migraine coming on, though probably it was just the sun sparkling off the pristine powder.
Other people seemed to be having more trouble than I was, though, and I passed one hiker after another. There were a couple of slick traverses that took their toll; I’d never run in Kahtoola microspikes before, but they were fantastic! The majority was without traction (or in YakTraks which is essentially the same thing) and they were sliding all over the place.
By the top of the first climb I was completely anaerobic but I could see only about five people ahead of me. Wait, what?! I’m a solid middle-of-the-pack guy. Maybe I flirt with the top 20% in popular road races where there are a lot of newbies, but in anything serious, I’m well within the middle of the bell curve. I’ve never in my life been at the front of a race! Ever. Crap! I’d started in Fun Mode, but I now had something to prove.
We rounded a bend and started a hell-bent-for-leather descent through thigh-deep snow. It was glorious… and over too soon. The first (only) real obstacle in this extreme race was the Slippery Slope, the downhill side of a large snowboarding ramp, steep and packed down nice and smooth. I later watched as tractionless runners spent five minutes getting over the hill, but the microspikes let me flat-foot up the slope, over the log at the top, and onward in about five seconds.
Still, I was completely cooked. The course map called for another major climb here and I figured that my position in the lead pack would quickly fall as other, smarter runners took me from behind… but no one came! And instead of turning for another climb, we crossed a wooden bridge, hurdled a low concrete barrier, and turned downhill again. I heard the RD announce the first finisher… and that guy wasn’t more than a minute ahead of me. Sure enough, I rounded a bend, traversed a swamp of tires laid out in the parking lot, and turned for a controlled fall downhill across the finish mats. 14:07 and 4th place.
What the hell just happened?!
I stumbled around a bit getting my heart rate under control, drinking a fine Avery brew (great choice of race sponsors, by the way), chatting with other finishers, watching people (eventually) come to grips with the Slippery Slope, and generally enjoying the smug finish line vibe. The sun was bright, my lungs were lightly seared, and it was generally gorgeous out. But several thoughts kept rattling around in my brain. First, how in the nine hells did I end up finishing where I did? It’s not like I’m in particularly good shape right now and my forte is usually the really long stuff. Second, there’s no way that was anything close to 3.1 miles… or even 2 miles. I can’t run 2 miles in 14 minutes on pavement with a tail wind. At a guess, I’d say closer to one mile. Third, I have got to get me some Microspikes! Those things are fantastic!
So I paid a fair sum for a one mile race. Not that it wasn’t a good way to spend a morning, but it would have been nicer had it been a little longer. I was tempted to go out for a second lap.
On the official record, I came in 15th. This is still completely new territory for me and I’m flabergasted, but the second and third waves runners had the enormous advantage of not having to break trail. It’s not really a fair comparison with the trailbreakers in the first wave. As far as I’m concerned, it was a 4th place finish and something I’m probably never going to manage again.
Here’s a nice first-person video from Eric Garber, the guy who came in first.
Kudos to Levi for a good time and a spirited pre- and post-race party. It was definitely an interesting race!