Frigus Snowshoe “15k”
My first first place finish
Frigus is a snowshoeing festival put on by The Endurance Society with the options for 5k, 15k and marathon distances. I was intrigued when I stumbled across the Endurance Society’s website while looking for local races. According to their mission it “is an organization that is dedicated to providing extraordinary physical and psychological adventures to the endurance community.” I also really liked their logo. I decided to sign up for Frigus to get a chance to try racing in my newly-purchased running snowshoes, put a pre-season race on my calendar, and find out more about the illusive Endurance Society.
The 5k course does a loop around the pond and woods behind the Cortina Inn, and the 15k branches off and goes out and back on Canty trail up Blue Ridge Mountain. The marathon does the 15k course 3x. It was a super relaxed and friendly atmosphere at registration before the race. It was a pretty small group of passionate locals, many of whom seemed to be friends.
Five minutes before the start, Andy, the society’s founder, gave a pre-race meeting. Unfortunately the warm weather lately has not been very snowshoe-race-friendly and most of the 5k course would be rough with snowshoes, but the 15k trail was pretty decently snow-covered, especially at higher elevation.
I decided to start out carrying my snowshoes for the little loop around the lake. Once in the woods, it seemed like the snow was around to stay, so I quickly strapped on my snowshoes and headed onwards.
The 5k portion of the course through the woods was surprisingly technical with a lot of twists and turns that would have been much easier with another foot of snow, as branches were easily snagged on clumsy snowshoes. I felt slow since the trail was gently rolling up and down – not up enough to really merit walking, I thought (though plenty of people were), and not down enough to gain some speed in my classic all-out-hill bombing style I’ve honed on winter hikes.
The turn off for the 15k course came sooner than I expected (0.8mi) and from there it was a short section in the woods before the Old Turnpike Road crossing and the start of Canty trail. Race volunteers took numbers at the aid station at the start of Canty trail (which I didn’t use in either direction as I had my running vest on and stocked with plenty of Gu’s and water). Canty trail was a pretty straightforward moderate climb all the way up. The first part was pretty mild and I tried to do a bit of running when I could. By this point, most of the runners had dispersed. I kept passing and being passed by a guy with an Endurance Society flag and a skeleton mascot attached to his running pack (I’m really into the Society pride these folks seemed to have), but mostly everyone was dispersed enough at this point. There were two pretty small water crossings we had been warned about, though I had no trouble finding rocks to walk across on without getting wet.
As the trail got steeper, I gave up running completely and just tried to hike as fast as I could, up and up and up. I was jealous of the skeleton + flag guy with his poles. I tried different methods – swinging my arms, pushing my hands against my thighs with every step, hands on the hips… I took some caffeinated gels and hoped my legs would get to work faster.
The trail closer to the summit was so beautiful with the trees all covered in frost with a mystical fog. I hadn’t seen anybody coming back down the trail yet so I figured I still had a good way to go. Finally the fast guys started bounding down the trail – I must be somewhat close! I let woman who had been steadily catching up to me pass, and then I saw the two guys I’d been mostly keeping up with coming back down my way. This was the moment I realized that I had been first female this whole way, and that the summit was right there, meaning I had a chance to win this thing! Holy smokes!
After a quick check in with the race volunteer at the summit, I stole back into first as the other woman (who, it turned out was actually running the marathon, not 15k, but I didn’t know this at the time…) was adjusting her snowshoes. I bounded down the trail – practically flying – with a huge smile on my face, my self-perception as “slow but steady” runner melting away. I passed skeleton + flag guy for a final time and even the guy in front of him. I passed other runners on the slog up who cheered me on, recognizing that I was the first female. It felt fantastic.
After a mile and a half of fast and fun down, the trail started to get slipperier as snow was melting and I had to be a bit more cautious. I was worried that my spurt of energy was wearing out as I got to the flatter and rolling section of the trail, and I kept thinking the other woman was right on my tail, so I pushed myself to keep going as fast as I could, which actually involved quite a lot of walking and pretty lame attempts at running.
I was happy to get to the 5k course section again, but quickly realized that it wasn’t all over yet. The remainder of the 5k course was frustratingly patchy snow/ice, unending rolling hills where, as before, running seemed too exhausting, but I felt super lame walking the flattish sections. Also there were roots and rocks and awkward scrambles. Skeleton + flag guy caught up to me but didn’t feel like passing so we huffed it together, and ultimately lost the course together as we popped out of the woods at the Cortina Inn parking lot.
We backtracked a bit and got back on course, then I saw Cody waiting for me and sped up, proud to show him that I was actually in the lead! I could see the finish line and yet had to do one more little out and back section to the pond before making a sharp turn into the finish line.
I was congratulated by the race director, handed my medals – one normal finisher medal, and one special handmade ceramic 1st place medal – and a pair of Goodr sunglasses as a prize. I was so proud of myself and felt like my training and winter hiking has really paid off.
Overall, this was an awesome race experience. I think the course was a bit short, but nobody was complaining. I’ll definitely do another Endurance Society race in the future.