I don't know of any races in Minnesota that take place entirely on a frozen lake other than the events at Yukon Days. I suppose I could do a Google search to find out, but opening up a new tab in my browser and typing all that in seems like an awful lot of work.
Packet pick-up for Yukon Days was at C.G. Hooks Eatery, conveniently located across the street from the lake. When I went inside to get my number and Yukon Days sweatshirt, I ran into Jim McDoonell. Jim taught a "Running with Snowshoes" class in February of 2010 (read about it here). I said "hi" and thanked him for the class.
He seemed to remember me, but he may have just been being polite. Either way, he's a pretty tough guy. At 60 years old he's still racing in a kilt, singlet, and arm warmers. While the temperature on the lake was warmer than the polar vortex we'd just finished, a northwest breeze put the windchill around 10 degrees Fahrenheit--not kilt weather if you ask me.
After pinning on my number and dropping my sweatshirt in the car, I strapped on my snowshoes and started heading down to the lake. Halfway down the bank, I checked the back pocket of the shorts I was wearing under my running pants to make sure I had my car key. An unsuccessful hunt for the key and a subsequent rise in my anxiety level made for a perfect warmup. Resigned to the fact that my key was either buried under the snow or locked in my car, I went back towards the lake, planning to call Laura to get me after the race.
As I stepped down the steep bank, I felt something in the front pocket of my running pants--the mystery of the missing key was solved. Fortunately it was too late for my body to bring down my heart rate and turn down my adrenal glands; I was ready to race.
Following a short warmup, I chatted with a friendly runner from Minneapolis, got well-wished from Jim, and started off on the three-mile trek around White Bear Lake. I ran behind the two lead runners for about 100 yards, but the pace was feeling pretty slow, so I decided to pick it up and run in the lead.
The course was a laid out with cones in the shape of the triangle with sides of 1.2, 0.8, and 1 mile long. About a quarter-mile before the first turn, the binding on my right snowshoe slipped off my shoe and up around my ankle. It was a little uncomfortable, so I decided if I felt like I had enough of a lead at the turn I would fix it.
Alas, as I turned left to run past the fish house village on White Bear Lake, the two gentlemen were still close behind me. My unreasonably competitive nature pushed me forward, risking a welt around my ankle to hold my lead.
Running past the fish houses was the best part of the race. I was kind of hoping the fisherman would come out of their houses--maybe do a little cheering, offer some refreshments, or scream things like, "you're scaring all the fish away!" or, "this lake is for fishermen, not yuppies running in snowshoes!"
For the second time I was disappointed. The only fishermen I saw were two guys drilling a hole with a gas-powered auger and some kid in snow pants jumping over holes in the ice. There were a couple fresh holes along the course, and my dark side secretly hoped that one of the two runners behind me would step in a hole and the other one would stop to help. Then, I could fix my binding and win the race in comfort.
Karma paid me back for my evil thought by subtly slipping the binding of my other snowshoe onto my ankle. The two runners were still close behind me at the next turn, so I had to suffer with ankle discomfort for the last mile of the race.
My lungs began to heat up and my legs felt heavy as I prayed to see the finish line through the foggy winter weather. The last half mile was really tough. There was a one mile race before the three mile snowshoe, and the runners had left the snow all sloppy, making footing a problem. I pushed ahead, slipping and sliding left and right, somehow keeping my balance.
I did manage to keep my lead, and finished first out of 47 runners in a time of 21:45. I cheered for about ten minutes and chatted with the second and third place runners for a bit. The second place dude was running the three mile "no snowshoe" race next, where he ended up finishing fifth.
Jim came in eighth overall, and his legs looked pretty cold and red after running in a kilt. Talk about tough.
I won a sweet mug for my effort, out of which I'm savoring the sweet taste of victory (it tastes like coffee) as I type this race report.
Training didn't go so hot last week--I was pretty busy with work and other commitments. I'm hoping the long MLK weekend and fewer weeknight obligations this week will help me get back into a better training routine.