Playing With Fire: 2019 US Snowshoe Nationals in Cable, Wisconsin

Cable, Wisconsin

To set the scene, I had just finished running the Caumsett 50k at a personal best. I quickly switched gears, with five days of active recovery before traveling to Cable, Wisconsin for the US Snowshoe Championships, March 9th, 2019. I would run the National 10k race on Saturday (where the top 5 get onto the National team) and follow that up with the Half-Marathon championship on Sunday.

I had done my best to recover in a such a short amount of time and do not recommend doing this often. I walked a couple miles after Caumsett and made sure to eat, rest, and get hydrated leading up to the event.

I have been running Snowshoe Nationals on and off for the last 8 years. I love the sport and the camaraderie of the people that make up the world of snowshoeing. It is one of those sports that takes runners of all different disciplines: track, road running, marathon, triathlon, xc skiing/biathlon,  trail running and ultra running, and they all take pride and pleasure in snowshoe running as a means of cross-training and having fun competition in the winter months. When I lived in Upstate NY, it was a great activity to compete with less pounding that the body would endure from running on pavement or on technical rocky terrain of the trails.

I was able to run a turn-up race at the Pennsylvania State Championships where I did not have a great race: placed 3rd, but felt good to get going again on snowshoes. I knew that I would be ready come Nationals.

The trip was a guy’s trip, heading out there with my father as we had the chance to experience the Northwoods of Wisconsin together. It was fun as my father’s family grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin so it was fun to experience a little bit of my family’s home state.

My dad, Chuck, supporting me at the crack of dawn.

We flew out on Thursday to Duluth, stopped in at Duluth Trading company and the local running store to load up on some nutrition before settling into our hotel. We arrived to the Lakewoods Resort just before sun-down to be treated to a winter wonderland. It was an absolutely picturesque winter environment.  We caught some walleye fish sandwiches, some local craft beer, and some cheese curds which they are soooooo good and then caught some rest for registration the next day.

The Lakewoods resort is a rustic lodge situated in the Northwoods of Wisconsin with hundreds of miles of pine forest, beautiful lakes, and one of the most extensive networks of xc ski and snowmobile trails in the country.  It is a winter sport paradise. My body responded well from all of the recovery and though a little tight and sore, I felt that I would be able to compete at the event and hope to get onto the National team.

The check-in for the race was a breeze as I was able to see Mark Elmore of the USSA and Bob and Denise Dion of Dion snowshoes and then we headed to the town of Cable to get a nice lunch and scope out the surroundings before heading back to prepare for the big day. I was able to go out and preview the course and loved the rolling terrain of the course since it is on a golf course. It brought me back to my college days of workouts out on the OU-Jimmie Austin Golf course. I have always done well on rolling terrain so I was excited to see what my body could give. Our room was right next door to the race course so it would make any of the race prep quite a dream. Nice 32 degrees with a slight breeze and wonderful wet powdery snow.

The next morning was race day and we had another stellar crew of Men and Women competing for the National team.

For the Men: Eric Hartmark (multiple time National Champ and runner up-becoming a legend), Scott Gall (multiple national team member), Josiah Middaugh (multiple national champ and legend of sport), East coast guys like Tim Van Orden, Eric Sambolec and myself. 

For the Women: Michelle Hummel (World and National Champ), Amber Fererra (Multiple National Champ), Jackie Hering.

The ladies race started out first and after a fast first 5k, the loose snow conditions became even more choppy with much slower 2nd lap times from the 1st. Jackie Hering won the race in 46 minutes.

I was able to warm-up right by the hotel room and make sure I had all of the hydration and snacks I could ever want as well as stay warm before our race went out.

For the guys race, we lined up and then were off!. I took to the lead pack and settled into around 5-9th place. The first 5k was fast as I split some 6 minute and low  minute miles but knew the second lap was going to be tough. My legs felt pretty good except for being a little tired but I was ready to perform to the best of my abilities. I ran with Eric Scalfone through the first lap then surged ahead. I soon got ahead of Josiah Middaugh as his snowshoe slipped off and he went to re-tighten them.  Eric Hartmark and Scott Gall were battling up front as I was now in third through the first lap. I knew that If I held my own, I could be on the team. As I went through the second lap, I tried to remain as relaxed as possible and not to push too hard when the snow was chewed up. By mile 4-5, I lost some ground on Eric and Scott and soon by mile 5 was caught by Josiah and then Jeff DeVries. On the back section of the golf course, the trail was like running through snowy soup which in many ways felt like torture. As I was passed by Josiah and later by Jeff, I was in a whole lot of hurt, but I kept plugging along, knowing that every step counted. By the time I was about 1k from the finish, I regained my second wind as I knew I was 5th and did not want to be passed. I looked back and could see a guy about 30 seconds back and was closing on me. I mustered the last bit of energy I had, pushed the hill, flew down the downhill then hammered the steep last climb through the trees. I looked back once more and knew with a downhill finish, I had it. I sprinted to the finish running 5th place in 49 minutes. I looked at Eric Hartmark and fist-pumped him telling him I made the team! 

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It was so many years of close races at Nationals for me that this one I really had to earn and fight for and truly felt like I earned a spot on the National Squad. I was able to facetime my wife, Ashlee and share in the bliss of finally executing a solid race to make the team. Looking back 6 days prior, I was running my fastest 50k I had ever run in 3 hours and 3 minutes (5:50 mile pace) and here I was making the team in tough conditions. It was surreal.

I jogged to cool-down and start thinking that I was going to be running a Half-marathon tomorrow. How could I possibly do that!

We went to a bar that was out on a little inlet for a celebratory lunch and after more Spotted Cow beer, a pizza and some more cheese curds, it was time to head to the awards.

I had always dreamed of being up there with my other top competitors standing on that National team stage. I had some weird mishaps at Bend Nationals in 2013 where I made wrong turn that DQ my National team spot, so with this finish, I felt that I had finally put the pieces together!  Thank you to Bob and Denise Dion of Dion Snowshoes for believing in me and getting me the right version of Dions to allow me to get the most out of my racing performance. I raced in the Dion 120 Frame with Deep Cleat and Secure-fit bindings.  Dions are great because not only are they light and springy and designed specifically for snowshoe running but they are the only modular snowshoe — which means you can customize and interchange the parts based on the conditions. I can run with an ice cleat in really hard packed and icy conditions, a standard cleat on nice groomed ski resort powder or use the deep cleat for superior grip and traction which I use almost all of the time! Thanks Dion!

Check out their website for more info on Dion snowshoes:
https://dionnevitrek.com/collections

The next morning, we awoke to 4 fresh inches of snow that would help fill in the holes on the course. The marathon runners were already out on the course.  Let me start by saying I love the Snowshoe Half Marathon! As an ultra runner, this event suits my level of speed and endurance perfectly as the 10k can be really fast for me in terms of how the snow conditions play out. Normally, I do well in difficult snow, not hard-packed race track courses that really gauge what your mile pr might be versus being able to gauge your 10k.

I knew that the wet snow would make for the challenge of staying dry. I had all of my proper layers. Run Mits from Nathan, Merino wool Fits socks (2 pairs), and a Peter Millar Running vest to provide insulation and water/moisture repellency.

As we lined-up, the snow started falling some more as 8 inches of total snow was expected to fall throughout the day. This was a snowshoe race!  As the Half-Marathon group headed out, a young-gun from Colorado shot out to the front. I paced with Tim Van Orden, a veteran in snowshoe running as we established a smart and consistent pace. I had so much fun in this race! Even with sore legs from the 10k prior and the Caumsett 50k, I was overjoyed to just get out there in this beautiful winter wonderland and run on this excellent course. The snow conditions happened to be really tough. Traction was not easy to come by so energy conservation was going to be key. I took a Boom Raspberry gel every 4 miles or so to keep me warm and full of the needed energy and hydrated with tailwind in my Nathan Speedraw Plus Insulated Handheld which keeps the tailwind from freezing and was key to my success.

Coming into the second loop, I separated from Tim and was just coasting. We caught the Colorado runner and I passed him on a steep uphill and gradually increased my tempo. By my 3rd lap, I was moving really well and finished the race with another strong 5k loop to win my first Snowshoe National Event!  I was so pumped to finish and run so well. Tim came through next in an incredible effort by him. I hope that I can snowshoe the way that he does when I am his age! I was happy to finish when I did, because I was wet but still warm  and had I been out there another 30 minutes, I probably would have started to freeze up some.

SO overall a 5th in the 10k-National team berth and a National Championship win in the Half-Marathon…I would say that is pretty darn good.

Overall, it was an incredible trip that I will treasure forever. I had such a great time sharing the experience with my Father, as we got to tour a different part of the country together and one that was reminiscent of my dad’s childhood.

I will now get to travel to Japan for the World Snowshoe Championships next February and lets see if we can get a Gold medal for the US!

Thank you  to my Father for embarking on this adventure with me!  Thank you Ashlee for your constant love and support.

Thank you to my Sponsors where your gear is pushed to the test in snowshoe running and I thank you for helping to give me the gear and tools to succeed:

361 Degrees—For the shoes to train and race in a variety of distances and terrains. The Chaser road flat is a great shoe to use with my Dion Snowshoes!

Nathan–  Speedraw Plus Insulated Handheld was clutch in keeping my fluids from freezing in the half marathon.

Janji— Your alpaca LS shirts, running quarter zip and running tights helped to keep me warm and insulated in all types of cold, wet, and icy conditions that snowshoe running throws at you.

Fits Socks— For providing me the best running socks for the outdoors period. They fit great and the merino blend of Fits keeps my feet dry and cool in the summer during my ultras and warm, dry and insulated during my snowshoe races. That versatility and reliability is hard to beat! Thank you.

Boom Nutrition—The only gels I really swear by. Sure I have used other gels before, but Boom gives you the best blend of nutrients for endurance events with extra calories, a smooth finish that is not goopy like others out there, and delicious real fruit ingredients and flavors. Because your gels should taste good too!

Team MPF/RNR-My club team of the Northeast that has continued to support trail running and being in the outdoors. I am lucky to be a part of this group.

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