• 2023 Moose Dash

    The one 5k I truly love!

Blog Author Photo
Become a Patron!

The Moose Dash 5k at the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center is so good, I keep coming back for more. It's a local race with a family feel--everyone is friendly, the route is fantastic, everyone cheers until the last athete finishes and then we all head to the welcome yurt to enjoy a cup of soup together. 

The course is well-laid through the trail network. There's a stadium start and finish and the run itself threads through a network of wide nordic trails and more intimate single track. Some years the RLTC will even put racers through an ungroomed section of trail, but this year the snow was packed and fast. 

Now, I am notoriously terrible at 5k, but something magic happens in Rangeley. I usually can't break a 5k into strategic sections, so I just end up running in a brisk steady state until the end, where I pick up the pace a little, but end up getting passed in the chute anyway. I am a terrible closer. Something, though, changes when I strap on my snowshoes for the Moose Dash. Maybe it's the strategic differences inherent in snowshoe running? Maybe it's knowing that I'm on a course that plays to my specific strengths? I don't know, but I manage to run the technically best and most fun 5k's at the Moose Dash.

This year was much warmer than is typical, which made me a little nervous. It's easy to overheat while snowshoe running, and I overheat faster than average. I went with a ball cap instead of an insulating hat and combined a tee shirt and arm sleeves to give a chance to shed heat up top. I am so glad I did!

The first kilometer takes a narrower nordic trail downhill towards Saddleback Lake. I take this section a little casually. I'm working, for sure, but you can't win the race on this first downhill. You can, however, lose it here. I've seen folks overheat within the first few minutes of the race by overdressing and then starting too fast. I've also seen folks push too hard in this first kilometer and then not be able to recover from the early effort.

Because the devious part of this race course is the 1.5K of single track that you enter right before the nordic trail ends at the lake. The RLTC grooms their single track network with a snow dog to keep the trail in gorgeous condition for fat bike and snowshoers. You could easily assume that a groomed trail is easy, and yes it's easier than the wilder hiking trails I usually snowshoe run on, but it's swoopy and dips constantly as you work your way back uphill towards the rest of the nordic network. This is where my trail running experience best comes into play--I'm confident on much more technical terrain, so I don't slow down as much as other athletes might. And if folks took the downhill too fast and then get tentative on the single track, I can make some passing moves in the woods here. 

The tougher part for me is maintaining any leads I can manage to make on the single track. At about the halfway point of the race you reenter the nordic and remain on the ski trails until the finish. Again, I'm not a great closer and the other racers have a mile and a half left of the kind of running that they're naturally better at. There's a hairpin turn at this point that allows you to see how far back the other runners are. I had a gap, but not a large one. 

In a few yards you start to climb again, and this hill is significant. Again, if the folks behind me are tired, I can maintain my position. The snow was magically powdery here for a warm day in March, and our snowshoes lost a little bit of floatation on this section of trail. It made the trail feel like more single track underfoot, which was a confidence boost for me. I peeled back my arms sleeves to my wrists, pulled off my neck gaiter and climbed as hard and fast as I could.

I kept the pressure on during the downhill return to the stadium. This final section of trails has some steep drops and tight corners where you can accelerate and add to a lead where another runner can't see your moves. I'm not normally able to race tactically like this, but like I said, it's different for me at the Moose Dash. I'm more likely to fall on drops than climbs in my running snowshoes, but it felt invigorating to take some risks here. 

I knew I was getting a little tired when my brain starting doubting my place in the race. There were two runners ahead of me, but three sets of tracks in the snow. Logically, the third tracks belonged to the RD who set the signs on the course that morning, but I started second guessing myself. I didn't make any pace adjustments but started mentally reconciling to my B goal, not getting passed on the last stretch of nordic. 

But on the final corner into the stadium, I heard the words "third place" over the cowbells. I gave everything I had for the last hundred meters and finished strong, capping off a women's sweep of the overall podium. That's the most powerful part of the Moose Dash for me: it's a race where the women set the tone early and keep the pressure on until the end. We saw two more women finish before the first guy came in. The race vibe is incredibly supportive and we all hung out and cheered in the sunshine until the last runner finished.

Snowshoe racing is an entirely different sport than a "normal" 5k. If you're interested at all in challenging yourself on one, I can't recommend a race any more highly than the Rangeley Moose Dash. It's well marked, well managed, and such a supportive place to take some risks.

Photos taken by Rangeley Lakes Trails Center

Categories: race report



Never Miss an Article!

Join Chickpea's mailing list and you'll never have to worry about missing a training tip or an adventure.

Thank you for subscribing!