Snow Not Stopping Graham

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The Level Legion: Inside The Race

Last we left the The Level Legion: Boston Marathon Edition, they were providing some insight into their recent training for the Boston Marathon. With just over six weeks to go now, we’re getting close to taper time. However, it’s the perfect time to get in races for various reasons, whether it be for a marathon pace workout, changing things up with a dose of speed, or even just for a confidence booster. With every race, each runner has their own unique story to tell.

Scott Graham just competed at the Dion US Snowshoe Championships in Woodford, VT over the weekend. Scott ran a 68:15 for 10k and finished 142nd. Here’s the story, straight from Scott:

If there is no report then it didn’t happen. Well then, I guess it really did happen.

Boston Legion GrahamSo lets start with my training for the prior week to set the stage.

Saturday – I went out on a 14 mile run all over Concord, MA. It was a great day and I felt super. After that, I spent the next few hours breaking up the iceberg I had going on in my driveway. I didn’t want to be viewed as the village idiot any longer. After I finished up my back was a little tight.
Sunday – I went to do an easy 5 mile run with the group. I was hurting but no rest for me.
Monday – 9.6 miles
Tuesday – 9.4 miles
Wednesday – 6.2 miles
Thursday – a very easy 4.1 miles
Friday – day of rest.

My back at this point was in major revolt mode. Sleeping was difficult. So I decided to start taking Advil every couple of hours to see if I could loosen it up enough for the race. The bad part about advil for me is it really goofs up my stomach. But I figured I could run with a goofed up stomach and couldn’t run with a locked up back. Advil it was.

Now I needed to pack for the race. Not knowing what the weather was going to be at race time I decided to pack EVERYTHING; I had a big duffle bag ready to go Friday night. Earlier in the week I also did a quick check on my Dion snowshoes. Good thing I did because one of the bindings was on the hairy edge and I figured I might need a set of deep cleats for the race. I got on the Dion website and saw that they were out of the deep cleats. NOOOO! I called up Bob Dion to see what could be done and he assured me that all I would need was my ice cleats and he could put a new set of bindings in the mail right away. Try that with Tubbs or Redfeather! The bindings showed up Thursday night and in one minute I had them changed. The shoes looked FAST. My equipment was set and I was ready to go.

Saturday morning started early. Real early. I was up at 4 AM. My back felt OK, not great but runable. I went through my race morning routine and was on the road at 5 AM. A quick stop a DD for 2 bagels, 2 Cokes and a banana and I was on my way. When I left the house it was 5 degrees. I was a bit nervous about what the temperature would be in Woodford, VT but I couldn’t control that so I had to put it out of my mind. As I drove through central MA I noticed that they didn’t have half the snow we had. That was a bit different. Then once I turned north on rt 91 things started to change. Snow was piling up and it was getting colder. I noticed at one point my dashboard read -8. I arrived in Woodford 2.5 hours after I left home. No traffic makes for a quick ride.

I checked in and found a nice warm spot in the lodge to stretch and relax. Soon it was time for the junior race. I checked my watch and it went off right at 9 AM exactly. I love it when a race director does that. The kids ran a 5K course that wound around the base of the mountain, and the kids ran great.

Next up was the senior women’s race. Once again the gun went off right at 10 AM to the second. Right from the gun Amber Cullen Ferrira took the lead (a Westford, MA alumni). We saw the women a couple times before they headed up the mountain to complete the bulk of the course. Amber was already taking total control of the race even in the early stages.

With about 800 yards left to the race we could see them coming back down the mountain. To say Amber was in the lead would be a HUGE understatement. She was in the lead and 2+ minutes later came the second place woman. Amber was amazing. The second place woman was another runner from acidotic RACING, Kristina Welts. So aR took 1st and 2nd. Not too bad for a bunch of hicks from NE.

Now it was time for me to get ready. My right foot was already complaining about being cold. I took off my trainers and changed up my socks. Both items were wet. No wonder my foot was cold. Now was decision time. What to wear? It seemed to be warming up. So I went with the under-dress this time. I knew I would be getting hot as I climbed the mountain. So I went with a base layer up top and my acidotic Racing singlet. For pants I just went with some sporthill sweats. On my feet I wore my racing flats with a pair of short gators. On my hands I had a pair of light gloves with a thin pair of mittens. To top it all off a poly hat. I was ready for speed. Well I was ready to slog up the mountain.

I went outside and did a quick warm-up. A couple of quick strides up one of the hills did the trick. I knew the race would start on time so it was time to line up. I seeded myself back about two-thirds of the way. This was a national championship and I knew I didn’t want to get in the single track area and clog up the course. The race director said a couple of words and pointed out one thing out that held true. He said “This is a New England-style course. It constantly changes. Lots of ups, downs, wide open trails and single track. You will never be able to get in a rhythm on this course”. So true.

Right at 11:30 the gun sounded and the field went out like it was black Friday at Walmart, where they were giving away free donuts to the first 50 customers at the midnight opening. In the first 100 yards I think I was already 100 yards behind the leaders. Holy Cow this was a fast field. We wound around the base of the mountain then hit our first steep climb. It was short but it already caused some people to walk and clogged up the trail a bit. About 8/10’s of a mile into the race we finally headed out to start the 2.5 mile climb up the mountain. The climb was mostly on single track and this caused a lot of conga lines. Once again, people who went out too fast were clogging up the trail. I didn’t mind, I had seeded myself exactly in the right position. The trail was tight and it was impossible to pass with out the person in front of you stepping aside.

We weaved back and forth across the mountain. I was holding my own but I was starting to get tired. In fact at one point one of my snowshoes caught the edge of the snow bank and I went down. DAMN!!! One of my major goals was to see if I could complete the race with out falling. NOPE!!

We finally reached the top and I was looking for some rest going back down. It wasn’t happening. First the single track down the mountain was always twisting and turning so you had to stay focused and run in control or you’d be making snow angels face down. Second, the race director Tim decided to make sure you had great views by running you UP towards the top a second time. I don’t know about the rest of the runners but all I saw was the snow under my feet because I was so beat up.

A couple of times we hit wide open areas to run and I was able to let the “big dogs run”. With about 2K to go I noticed a couple guys up ahead were coming back to me. I told myself ‘I need to catch these guys’. If they were in my age category I would be pissed at myself for not trying. Time to light up the engines. I started pushing hard. Two kilometers is what, 1.2 miles? GO OLD MAN GO!!

I knew I had to catch them before we hit the switch back part of the course going down the final hill. I knew I wouldn’t be stable in that area. I caught them and tried to stretch out my lead.

1K to go. Here comes the switchbacks.

Sure enough they were all chewed up with lots of deep holes. I was stumbling all over the place like a drunk during an earthquake. I could hear the guys catching me.

Viger Graham Snowshoe Nationals

Graham hits the switchbacks very ‘gracefully’. Courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.

With a quarter mile to go I was back on level ground and there were 3 guys right on my tail. Lets see what these legs got left. I did a full systems check: legs feel good, breathing was under control. Funny but climbing the mountain I was a mess. It seems my breathing has not been so good the last year. I have good endurance but once I need to take in a large volume of oxygen I just can’t expand my chest enough. But it was go time.

I started to dig deep. I had nobody in front of me so it was all about holding off the guys behind me. What we had left was in the shape of a backwards S, with the first 2 sections being flat to down hill. I knew I could hold them off on these sections. The third section was up a slight hill, and here is were I figured the race would be won or lost. The final section was down the same hill we just ran up. Here we go!!!!

First section, they are about 10 yards behind me. Hold steady.

Second section, still 10 yards back. OK it’s go time. Drive that stiletto into their hearts and give it a twist.

My legs responded and I was flying up the hill. I took a peak over my shoulder and they were shat out my back door. I turned the last corner to the finish and I could see they were all dropping further back.

Drive to the finish. Leg responded again. Where were these legs going up the mountain? I crossed the finish line and was dead tired. I grabbed my knees and just wobbled for a couple of minutes.

I knew I had given it all I had but the competition was off the chart. One thing I wanted to make sure of was that I didn’t finish DFL. Success!

I went back into the lodge and changed up quick. I was soaked and I knew if I stayed in these wet clothes I’d be a shivering mess in short order. I’m glad I packed everything. Now it was time to check the results. I didn’t have to wait even a second; by the time I got back outside they were posted. I was 8th in my age category and 142nd over all out of 213 male runners. WOW, I don’t think I’ve ever finished in the back 1/3 of any race but then again I’ve never run in a national title race before. I was satisfied.

Now for the hardest part of the day: driving 2.5 hours back home. I bought a couple of Cokes to keep me awake and listened to an audio version of “Born to Run”. Go figure!!!

A good day was had by ALL.

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