Boston in the Spring: My First Boston Marathon

Ah Boston. A truly Classic City, with a classic race. When I moved out to Providence last Spring, I had it on my bucket-list to run Boston when I could, as living so close to the race meant there was no more excuse to make the pilgrimage . 2022 would be my year to give this race a go. The Boston Marathon is one of the most iconic running events in the world. From the screaming fans and spectators along the course, to the difficult downhill start and Newton hills, Boston is iconic for everything distance running.

What is a wild thing is that my running journey took me from the OKC Marathon in 2011 straight into ultra marathon running-skipping Boston. I have been lucky-enough that I have run other marathons and qualifiers fast-enough for myself to qualify for Boston at any time of my choosing. But I delayed my run at Boston until now.

This year’s marathon would be the first held in the Spring on Patriot’s Day. It would be approximately around 3 years of waiting due to Covid that Boston would be held on “Marathon Monday”. My training has been ramping up in preparation for the Cocodona 250 mile so Boston was viewed by me as more of a training race than anything. If it was in the cards for me to running sub 2:30 and PR, I would keep pushing, but if not, I would not sweat it and just take in the whole experience-placing time out the window.

The challenging nature of the Boston course would be a great last long-run and test for my legs before taking on the rigors of a 250 mile ultra race in Arizona with 40,000 feet of ascent. The lead-up to the race was smooth. Ashlee and myself were able to take on all of the sights and sounds of the Boston Marathon weekend. The expo was jam-packed and wild. The UCAN panel talk was fun (as I just signed with UCAN) and the breweries we went to were awesome.

All the excitement around Boston is next-level. I was pretty over-whelmed seeing so many people at the expo and around Boston. The City was BUZZING. We were lucky enough to also go to the Red Sox game vs the Twins Saturday night as part of fundraising for the Boston Red Sox Foundation. The Game was awesome and a perfect way to kick-off the Boston Marathon weekend.

Come race morning, we took the T to the finish line and over to the buses to the start. It was cool getting to make the grand voyage to Hopkinton. Once there, I thought I could devore some bananas but they did not have any. I should had had more to eat but my UCAN energy bar was a nice snack. I took my Spartan Hydrate Tablet which gives me that long lasting blast of electrolytes, filled up my bottle of Ucan Energy and proceeded to the start. You walk up to the corral and huddle along with everyone. The sing the National Anthem and then boom! You are off to the races.

The hard thing for me was how jammed up the field is. I was cruising at those downhill miles hovering around 5:45-5:50, my goal pace. Everything felt relaxed except that I could tell as early as mile 4 that my body felt tired. The run felt more like a fartlek as I had to break stride the first 6-8 miles as runners were all around you moving at erratic paces. When a water stop would come about, you would have runners weave from the far left-side of the road to the far right-creating some dodging traffic. It is funny because running trails, you rarely have those issues of traffic control. I felt a little like a fish out of water never getting into a rhythm, almost tripping over others feet a bunch of times and running way outside the tangents just to try and get some real running room.

But Boston is Boston. The crowd was fun and it was here everyone started calling me “Boston” because of the text on my shirt. As I was running for the Red Sox Foundation, it was an obvious way the crowd could cheer for me specifically. “Go Boston”, “You Got This Boston”, “Boston Strong”, was a lot of the things I heard. That was super cool. I did tell myself “My name is not Boston guys, if you look to my back you would see my name!” My legs were already feeling the downs and ups of the first 12 miles. I kept relaxed near my PR pace. It was not until near the half-way mark that I knew it might be a stretch to PR and even hard to run my current pace of 2:33/2:34. My legs felt toasted already. I went through my UCAN Energy and 3 Ucan Edge Gels which were amazing. But I was so dang thirsty. I spent the next 4 miles trying to get water. But every time I finally made it to the water stops, I grabbed Gatorade instead and threw the cups down. I had one I grabbed of water only to have the cup explode in my face. No water in my system. I could keep on pushing in this gradual dehydrated descent or just take in the sights.

So, I decided to just chill, and use this run as more of a workout. I can run other Bostons to try and run fast. This was my first. I blew kisses to the Wellesley girls which they went wild as one of them faked fainting which was hilarious. They really know how to entertain the runners. I started giving hi-fives to people. I tried some of those Maurten gels just to get something to wet my palate. That stuff is like jello. The one I had was with the caffeine and that gave me a nice boost for a few miles. Miles 15-22 was my hardest stretch. I needed more water and it was at this point the field was spread-out enough where I could hydrate more. I literally stopped at the water stop and chugged the water. I did that for the next few stops. I started feeling a little sick as my pace slowed.

Taking Boston in Stride.

The hills soon came about and they do slow you down but I ran them conservative. I did not want to blow the run but pushing too hard. It was until after Heartbreak that everyone started pushing fast and I did not know if we were done or had more to go. I had myself in such a hydration deficit that I needed more and more water. I started to pick things up and at mile 24, decided to take a swig of Gatorade. BAD IDEA. Immediately my stomach revolted. I felt sick to my stomach almost instantly knew I had to throw it up. I was dry-heaving and eventually was able to yak it not once, twice, three, four times. Every few steps I took, I yak’d. It was a surreal moment as the crowd was like “Oh” and people yelled “Cmon dude, keep going, you got this”. I held up my hand as I had one more yak. I had expelled the Gatorade and then gave a big thumbs up and said “I’m good” and the crowd erupted in cheers. It was epic. Like out of a scene out of a movie from animal house or something, it was too classic. I then picked things up back to low 6 minute mile pace heading into the finish.

I made the famous Right turn onto Hereford and then Left onto Boylston. I pushed to the finish and crossed the line in 2:44. A slow marathon for me in terms of time, but I was proud of the finish as I gave up tons of time the last 4 miles with all of my stopping.

The Boston marathon is a tough course and a cult-classic in the world of distance running. While NYC has an overall bigger crowd the majority of the time, Boston is like a crescendo of noise and excitement. It starts out loud and then becomes more quiet. Each time you cross through a town, things get loud again. Once to Newton, things get rowdy. And you ride that wave of noise and excitement into the finish. I will definitely run Boston again, and with a better idea of how to run it, maybe I can give a really hard effort out there.

Snowshoe Running-The Top Secret Success to a Fitter Ultra Runner.

As I have transitioned from my snowshoes and into my trail running shoes for a busy Spring of races, I feel fitter and stronger than ever before. Why is that the case? Is snowshoe running to thank? Why do not more people snowshoe?

Let us look to our European friends. Some of the top athletes in the sport of Ultra Running like Kilian Jornet, François D’Haene, and many others practice Ski-mountaineering in the winter-time. Being on the snow, helps them build different strengths, revving their aerobic engine on full-blast but without the true pounding of hard running on roads and technical trails. They come off of their skis each season fitter than before. Not all of us though have mountains. I live in Rhode Island, and Skimo just does not exist as a possibility for me. But I can snowshoe.

World Cup photo from Olympic site.

So it still boggles my mind that more trail runners do not snowshoe run. Snowshoe running is in many ways trail running on snow. Sure it is a much harder effort to go not as fast on a regular trail, but through practice and time invested, you get better at understanding the different snow conditions and how to move faster through them. Snowshoe running just adds another dimension to trail running that similar to Skimo, gives you that new-found strength that builds your overall fitness without taxing your body the same as running year-round.

The Half Marathon at Nationals 2019. Photo Credits Charles Crosby

Snowshoe running can even be done on sand so for those that live in warmer climates, you can sandshoe and gain similar benefits to running on the snow. When you snowshoe, you engage your hip flexors, hamstrings, ankles, legs, quads, and core. In many ways snowshoe gives you not only a major aerobic workout but also a full-body workout helping to strengthen muscles, ligaments, tendons etc. without the stress of pounding. Also a little goes a long way. You do not have to snowshoe everyday to become fit. I typically will snowshoe run once or twice a week when I have snow to run on in the winter months. That is why I love it. The little effort you put into it, can provide massive gains. Snow provides resistance so more energy is needed to move through it. Having an extra pound on each foot also is like weight-lifting for your legs and in turn, increases your heart-rate and demand for more oxygen. Over time, you just become stronger and stronger.

This article by Irunfar.com tells a lot of what makes snowshoe running such a great resource for runners in the winter: https://www.irunfar.com/snowshoe-running-basics-why-and-how#:~:text=Ballengee%2C%20who%20has%20a%20degree,flexibility%2C%20and%20enhancing%20muscular%20balance.

Getting up to speed. Photo Credits Charles Crosby
USA Nationals 2022. Video By Gregory T Photography

(Ring …Ring)-Call to the trail runner and ultra runners out there…

Rather than spending all-winter on the treadmill and counting down the minutes until winter is over, why not embrace winter? Because I snowshoe run, winter feels a little brighter. It gets me outside and allows my body to gain better circulation and adaptation to the cold. I look forward to snowstorms so I can grab my snowshoes and explore. Snowshoe races are fun and affordable. Heck, running snowshoes are cheap compared to all other winter sports where you could very well spend thousands of dollars just to participate.

To sum things up. Snowshoe running has me ready to go for Boston and the Cocodona 250 mile. Training has been going really well and I feel more resilient than ever before.

I ran a race in February where I ran 90 miles and 30,000 feet of ascent and 29,000 feet of descent all on snowshoes. Because I did this on snow, my body recovered in a couple days. It was eye-opening. Any other ultra effort would be weeks. With that time on feet, Cocodona 250 with 160 more miles and 10,000 more feet of gain does not seem so intimidating.

You have to at least give it a try. Give it some time. Snowshoe running is awesome and is a BIG secret that trail and ultra runners out there have not grasped fully. I hope that changes. It may not be for everyone, but I hope that more of you out there give it a go.

In the meantime, I will be out there logging some snowy miles, pushing my limits, and reaping the benefits of snowshoe running.

The North American SNowshoe Champs at Cockadoodle Shoe. Photo credits Jeremy Drowne.

2022 US Snowshoe Nationals: It is Great to Be Back!

The last National championships that I had the chance to run was back in 2019 at the same venue of this years’ running: The Lakewoods Resort in Cable, Wisconsin. It was a course I have known well with both a win in the Half-marathon and a 5th place (national team) finish in the 10k in 2019. This course and venue has treated me well and it was really exciting to be back after such a long hiatus due the state of the world around the Covid-19 pandemic. Without having Nationals on the calendar the past year or so, I have been yearning for that connection with the snowshoe community that I love so much.

The host site: Lakewoods Resort. Photo by Cole Crosby.

For those that do not know about snowshoe running, take the community feel and openness we see in Trail and Ultra running, shrink it down and make it even more inclusive, laid-back, fun, and close-knit. It really is a special community. Snowshoe runners come from so many different endurance disciplines from Triathlon, Road Racing, Cross-Country, Nordic Ski, Trail/Ultra running, Ski-Mountaineering, and Mountain running. That diverse range of endurance experiences really lend such a rich and unique family of athletes tied together by running over the snow. The Lakewoods Resort offered a wonderful rustic experience of the Wisconsin Northwoods but with amenities such as a nice bar/restaurant, a heated pool, arcade, hot tub, and tons of cabins and rooms for the whole family and for groups.

The Course: Similar to 2019, the course would wind through an approximate 5k loop (ran a little short) out on the rolling terrain of the now snow-covered golf course twice to get the 10k distance. It is a fair course as the series of ups and downs are never too steep but steep enough to throw you out of a rhythm. If you can “ride the wave” of the rolling terrain, you will do well out there.

The start of the course. Photo by Cole C.

Nationals is a celebration of our sport and it truly is the pinnacle of snowshoe racing in the United States each and every year. This year the Top 5 Ladies, Men, and Masters runners would be given the “National Team” designation. A great field of snowshoers came from 15 states ready to shoe and compete for those top spots.

The start of the 2022 National Championships. Photo Credits: USSSA
Runners start the 2022 US Snowshoe Nationals. Photo Credits USSSA.

The course conditions were tough as a few inches of fresh snow dropped onto the course overnight making it tough to find the right footing as at times the snow mimicked the feeling of sand.

That did not stop the top shoers from running fast from the start and putting on quite a run. Eric Hartmark, a multiple-time National Champion took to the front and put on a “Masterclass” performance out on the course.

Eric in the Green Top-#33 to the Lead. Photo Credits: USSSA

After a fast first loop, Eric was out front and I was trailing behind about 40 seconds back. I gave my best effort to close the gap to Eric but he was just too strong. Eric would pull away for the win in 37:57 to my 39:44 finish time. Course knowledge and snowshoe experience played a big part in the performances of the athletes as the choppy snow could easily sap the energy out quickly. The remainder of the Men’s National Team was: Jeffery Quednow in 3rd (40:41), Ryan Edwardson 4th Male (42:14), and Kelly Mortenson as 5th Male (42:35).

Cole Giving chase to Eric after lap 1. Photo Credits: Charles Crosby

The Ladies race was incredible to watch. From my perspective, on the second loop, I caught glimpses of the top 3 women running at a pace that looked like a run-away freight train and definitely put some extra pep in my step out there on the course.

2020 World Champion, Michelle Hummel took to the front (in black) and put on a ferocious pace. But as the course wore on, the ladies at the front had quite the battle.

Michelle Hummel Leads the US Snowshoe Nationals 2022. Photo Credits: USSSA

Michelle Hummel and Jackie Hering pushed one another up and down the hills on the backside of the course until Jackie had just that little extra push to take the title as National Champion. Jackie’s time of (41:50) placed her 4th Overall to Michelle’s 7th Overall (42:24) . The remainder of the Ladies National team comprised of: Amber Tookey in 11th overall (44:18), Viki Chavez (47:00) 15th Overall and Amber Ferreira (47:32) 16th Overall.

Jackie Hering-Race Director and National Champion. Photo Credits: USSSA

Along with the National 10k, there was a Kids run, 5k, Evening snowshoe hike the night before and a wonderful awards ceremony.

Your Men’s 2022 National Team. Photo Credits: Charles Crosby.

Race Results:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rT_xOKy1faM1UuJDsAXJI2_A-nfHcMc0K7Z9GX-fT6I/edit

What a great weekend to be back at Snowshoe Nationals. Along with great performances out on the course, just the time spent re-connecting with members of the community after such a long time away was truly the warmth we all needed.

Snowshoe Nationals-The Culmination of a Season.

Snowshoe Running Nationals has always been at the heartbeat of the snowshoe running season here in the US. It is the event that you try and peak for and hope to give your all to close-out a successful winter season. What I have loved most about Nationals, is the joining of our community in one venue, one culminating event.

2013 Nationals in Bend. Where it all started for me.

Nationals is snowshoe running at its finest. Athletes from all over the country come to put their best foot forward as the Top 5 Men and Women Open Division, Top 3 Boys and Girls Division and Top 3 Masters Men and Women Comprise our National team. We are a small close-knit group of snowshoe running enthusiasts but that is what makes Nationals so special. Take it as you will but it is a sudo-family reunion and I just love it.

The East Coast Dion Crew at Cable, WI Nationals 2019.

Nationals has changed a lot since I got into the sport in 2013. In 2013, regional championships and qualifiers were needed to be able to enter into Nationals. You had to finish the event at a specific age-grade to the field to get in. That plus a US Snowshoe membership something near $25 would allow for you to compete for the hardware. The championships would rotate across the different regions each year from the East, to the Midwest, Mountain West and the West Coast. This often gave us a different challenge and different venue to prepare for each season. But as the sport has evolved, gaining more participation has been more important.

Some of the Swag at Nationals with my Race Tee.

Today, it is an even more inclusive process. Anyone can run in Nationals. No qualifiers are needed nor a US Snowshoe Association membership is required to participate. The sport needs to grow and I hope for it to grow and this is just one way to do that.

Pushing hard to the finish for a National Team Spot at Cable, WI in 2019. I finished 5th. I am hoping to place top 5 again in 2022.

To run in a National championship, it is usually expensive, but snowshoe entry fees for nationals range in the $40-60 range which includes some sweet swag and great medals. How much is an Ironman in Kona going to cost you??? Answer–in the thousands. Snowshoe is just a great way to be a part of a fun and inclusive community and get to partake in a true National event. Not many can say they get to do that in other sports.

The courses at Nationals have always been exciting too. From steep power-hiking sections like in Bend, to dizzying single-track in Vermont, to the rolling terrain on a snow-covered golf course at Cable, Wisconsin, to high altitude Leadville; the national courses have been incredibly diverse, challenging but also incredibly rewarding.

The start of 2019 Nationals.

If snowshoe continues to grow and more media and brands invest in the sport: its athletes, marketing of the sport and help to make it more appealing to the IOC, I can see Nationals becoming more professionalized like the US Olympic Marathon trails.

But for now, it is a small tribe of runners that love to play in the snow. Runners that come from all different types of backgrounds: Triathlon, Xterra, Ultra running, Mountain running, Marathons, Nordic Ski, you name it. That is another reason that makes Nationals so much fun. It is a think-tank of so many other different sports and disciplines that get the benefits of snowshoe running and really goes to show how special this sport can be for building strong aerobic endurance.

The 2022 National Championships are being held back in Cable, Wisconsin where I made the team in 2019 and is back after being canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic. I hope to see many of you there and look forward to sharing my experience. Snowshoe running is a very fun community and I hope you join us at Nationals in the future.

Should Snowshoe Running Be an Olympic Sport?

Photo Credits Italy Fever.

So I am sure you had the chance to watch some of the recent Winter Olympics in Beijing and was hopefully inspired by all of the Olympians. I always love the Winter Olympics because you get to see sports like Curling, Biathlon, Slalom Ski, and so many other cool sports you just do not normally get to see everyday.

As many of you might know, I love snowshoe running as well as competing in snowshoe running. It is a really awesome winter sport with an incredible tight-knit community around it. From the local races, national championships to the Worlds, it is such a diverse range of endurance athletes that come to the snow to run. So why is Snowshoe Running NOT an Olympic sport? What is keeping it from being one? And of course the answer to do I think it should be an Olympic sport–my quick answer is “Yes”.

So how does a sport become “Olympic”? Citing https://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2016/08/09/how-a-sport-becomes-an-olympic-event/?sh=38cffbec2ce9 :

It is a host of a few factors but these are the main few:

  1. The Sport has to have an International Organization or Governing Body. Snowshoe Running fits this as there is the World Snowshoe Federation that started around 2010.
  2. Appeal to a younger generation and wide appeal. Snowshoe Running might have an older crowd, but it continues to grow in participation because the barrier to entry is low. All you need is a pair of running snowshoes or snowshoes at that. As more runners look for ways to stay active and trail running continues to grow, snowshoe is the perfect winter activity to stay fit and “trail run” on those snowy paths that are too difficult to run through on regular trail shoes. Right now, snowshoe as a category has more yearly participation than Nordic skiing and is trending closer to snowboarding. Approximately 8 million snowshoe globally and this number continues to grow.
  3. Global Participation–The IOC looks at a sport needing to have 20 countries on 5 continents that have federations/associations that contest championships. In the 2014 Snowshoe runner magazine article, Snowshoe running was just under with 18 countries on 5 continents but now in 2022 that number is over 20. Here is the article I am referencing: https://www.snowshoemag.com/2014/03/18/why-snowshoeing-should-be-an-olympic-sport/
  4. Here is the big one—$$$$. That is where snowshoe running falls short. Without big media companies televising competitions, a national or international circuit with big brand sponsors like what we see on the PGA Tour, snowshoe running just is not lucrative enough to merit it a place in the Olympics.
Photo Courtesy of Saranac Lake ADK

The catch 22 here is that if Snowshoe was in the Olympics, the sport would explode here in the US and internationally but in order to get into the Olympics, snowshoe running needs more financial backing and support: for the athletes, races, and venues. Without this, snowshoe running will still remain a highly fun and accessible fringe sport.

Imagine tuning into an NBC broadcast and watching an international snowshoe running competition as athletes duke it out for glory to their countries. I can tell you that spectating snowshoe running is actually a lot of fun and it is one of those sports you watch and are instantly amused. It is really entertaining and maybe a little comical but surely entertaining. For kids to watch athletes compete at the highest level in snowshoe running, it would provide a future in the growth of the sport. Snowshoe is about having fun in winter, in the snow. Just that simple premise is something really inclusive about what the sport can provide.

2018 World Snowshoe Championships in Spain. Video on World Snowshoe Federation Youtube.

And that is why I am writing this article. Because snowshoe running is at a cross-roads. It hits many of the marks it needs to be accepted by the IOC but the lack of funding is what is keeping the sport off the list. Hearing that a sport like Ski Mountaineering will be in the next Winter Olympics in 2026 gives me hope that snowshoe can follow. It is very similar in that snowshoe running is more popular in Europe like Skimo but is starting to grow in the US. Snowshoe again has more global appeal in that Skimo needs mountains, snowshoe does not. The fact that warm weather climates can train for snowshoe on the sand, gives it a massive advantage.

There is a lot of potential here with snowshoe running. I have been doing it since 2013 and it has been the secret to staying injury-free and gaining new strength in the winter I can use in my season of ultras. I hope brands take notice, media takes notice and sees this as an opportunity to cut their teeth in a sport that is prime for the taking. Imagine watching a competition with drones showing runners dart in and out through the woods. The courses at the Olympics would offer such a dynamic mix of venue from open stadium sections to wooded singletrack, maybe some mountain summits. It would be exciting for people to follow along.

La Ciaspolada is one of the biggest snowshoe races in Europe. Video on Sportrentino.

So back to the question: Should it be an Olympic Sport?

Yes. Because snowshoe running is the most accessible winter sport available. The cost to do it is similar to running where all you need is a pair of running snowshoes: $100-$300 will get you a pair that lasts years. Most other winter sports run you into the thousands. Snow levels required to run on snowshoes is minimal–about 4 inches of powder offer a nice fast track. You can run on wooded trails, parks, golf courses–really anywhere that has snow on it. Heck, you can even run on sand. If we want winter sports to grow in participation, why not hit a global market of runners that have yet to discover the fun and exhilaration snowshoe running can give to you?

Running through the Snow at the Cockadoodle Shoe 10k. Photo Credits: Jeremy Drowne.

I love the sport of snowshoe running and I hope that more media and companies get behind the sport in the future. In the meantime, I am going to do my best to help advocate for this sport. Because the athletes that compete at the highest level are incredible endurance athletes and the sport truly has changed me for the better. I hope that one day it gets the respect it deserves.

Let’s see where the snow flies…