The Peak Races are all about “going beyond your limits”. With the Snow Devil, this snowshoe run is really at the pinnacle of providing a rustic racing experience that tests the toughest winter runners and snowshoers out there. The 100 mile distance, is its pinnacle event where in the event’s 14 year history, only 2 individuals have ever finished in 36 hour cut-off.
The race venue is held on Spartan Founder’s Joe De Sena’s family farm, Riverside Farm nestled in the valley of the green lush mountains of Central Vermont with the famous Killington ski resort in its rear-view. The Snow Devil has a wide range of snowshoe distances ranging from the 100 mile Friday morning to 100k, Marathon, 1/2 and 10k, providing a different option for every snowshoer. The course in its 6.5 mile loop boasts a steep 1,500 foot climb out of the gates with rolling terrain on the back half of the course to help shake the legs out after that big uphill push. It is the perfect stage for pushing yourself beyond what you think is possible.
After the course had a massive snowstorm dump 18 inches overnight on Thursday and wet icy snow would fall throughout the 100 mile race on Friday, it was looking to be a monumental challenge.
15 brave runners toed the starting line for the 100 mile at 6am Friday. As we entered into the first ascent, snow falling and headlamps on, we came to a course that was knee to waist-deep in snow that had covered the trail and even some of the course markers. Our brave crew of runners, myself at the front, broke trail through a lap that felt like eternity and truly felt like a Spartan race (with nature as our prime obstacle course). After finally navigating through the first lap, the race was on. As the laps progressed, runners could sip on warm soup and noodles at the nearby horse barn and warm up in the pony house. The snow was wet and icy and made for a technical snowshoer’s course but we were all up to the challenge. Make sure if you decide to take on this challenge- bring tons of supplies: multiple snow shoes, changes of clothes, lots of food, water, towels and blankets as there was no better way to keep moving onto the next lap, then changing into dry socks and clothes-especially during the harshness of the night hours.
Runners were given cots to sleep in over night to recharge from the cold darkness of the woods. The night was a struggle for us all as we fought through our body rhythms, the cold wind chill, and our low energy levels.
As night turned to day, what was once a battle with the solitude of the darkness now became a celebration of warmth and energy. As your body felt reinvigorated with excitement for the warmth of the sun and the buzzing of the other snowshoe runners flocking to the race site now gave us the timely boost we all needed. As I began my 12th lap of 16, I started out with the marathoners and it was one of my best laps as the company out on the trail really gave me a strong boost.
I was the lone runner still going at this point in the 100 mile as the night really battered the other brave snowshoers out there and many decided to do one more lap and then be done with their efforts. Many of these snowshoers had never snowshoed before but put up 50 plus miles onto the board. As I neared the start of my 14th lap, Peak Races HQ notified me that racers would have to start their final lap by 1:30pm. I could keep going on after that but the official finish result would then not be tabulated. With finally the soreness of running 80+ miles on snowshoes catching up to me, our rag-tag crew patched me up and out I went chasing the clock. That 14th lap was a tough one as the snow became slick from the morning foot traffic and I pushed up the steep climb with all the grit I had. It was a lap that was not meant to be for me. My gaiter fell off mid-lap, I had lost my snowshoe up the climb and had some issues sledding down some of the steep and slick descents–then having to retighten my snowshoe. By the time I turned into the field to begin my 15th lap out of 16, It was now after 1pm and I still had two laps to go to get an official finish. We called my effort off at 90 miles or so- 2 laps to go. I would had been 1 lap shy of the 100 + mile finish based on the overall 3:30pm cut-off.
A bitter end to such a tough and hard-fought effort through 31 hours of downright harsh snow and weather conditions. But that is the ethos of Peak Races. To go beyond your limits, you have to struggle, you have to fight. And fight I did. Through the deep snow drifts of lap 1 to the bitter sub zero cold of the night, to the final laps of the day; I gave all I had and that is what snowshoe ultra running is all about. The finish is not as important as the journey and how you got to your current position. Snowshoe ultra running has the potential to be that “Next BIG winter endurance challenge” out there for athletes and for snowshoers, especially for those that run ultras in the warm months already. It is something like a true winter expedition experience we all can do in our snowy backyards. It comes down to just a matter of grit, some solid snowshoes, and the willingness to push beyond your limits.