Snowshoe Shuffle a Sugar Snow Challenge

At the start of the Snowshoe Shuffle a mouse’s snug snowy world exploded in churning metal cleats sending it scurrying for cover. And as much as rodents can have “one of those days”, the same can be said for ‘snowshoe racers, and snowshoe races, and the Feb. 5 Snowshoe Shuffle, in New Brighton, MN was a day of challenges.

Gunning for a qualifying slot at the Mar. 11 National Championship the front line of racers blasted off the start line surging forward in a collective trample through the snow crust into 18-inches of sugar snow below.

Chaos. Falling bodies. One racer took a kick to the ankle and dropped from the race. And amid the snow storm a cleat-dodging mouse scampered for traction (as did many a ‘shoer) and its life. Somewhere in the horde of 267 racers a snowshoe racer stooped, scooped, and tossed our rodent friend to a safer snowbank.

“I’ve never fallen in a snow shoe race, but I fell today,” noted Josh “T-Cross” Jorde, 35, who has raced the Shuffle three times and is qualified for Nationals. “Snagged on crust as I pulled up from the sugar snow during the first downhill.” Jorde switched this year from Atlas to Northern Lites and commented that the Northern Lites were perhaps not the right shoe for the race’s deep, unstable snow conditions. Notably, many racers were using Dion Racers with the deep cleat configuration on Saturday.

Emi “SnowBee” Yasaka, 33, winner of several recent races in Wisconsin and Minnesota also had difficulty in the deep powder, “I fell a few times.”

“T-Cross” Jorde also noted another aspect of the race that bedeviled many racers – confusing signage, “I took three wrong turns.”

Unfortunately, “T-Cross” Jorde was not the only racer lost on the twisting trails at the 2011 Shuffle.

Event Growing Pains

In fact, Bruce LaMere, who helped establish and set up the race acknowledged that this year was a learning experience for the Snowshoe Shuffle, which has become the 3rd largest qualifying race for a spot at Nationals in the United States. “At the start of the race it was announced that the 10k race would first follow the 5k course and follow the 5k signs, “ he noted, but acknowledged that when it came to the race there was a breakdown in racers understanding on the race-course as 10k racers looked for 10k signs, and took wrong turns in the opposite direction of 5k signs. As a result, several 10k snowshoe racers ran a significantly shortened race, and others discovered the mistake and retraced their steps adding to their mileage – in many cases skewing final finishing times, results, and awards for many racers. Results available here  “Next year we will mark both 5k and 10k distances with clear signage separately and throughout the race,” stated LaMere.

Erin “Jungle Chicken” Ward, 36, a 2:45 marathoner who ran in the 2008 Olympic trials experienced the gamut of the day’s challenges, but was exuberant about the experience. “I fell four times,” she grinned, but nonetheless found herself out in front in the women’s field. Regardless, when results came in she found herself not 1st overall, but 2nd in her age-group.

“Jungle Chicken” Ward, who finished 3rd overall female at Snowshoe Nationals in 2010 and 4th overall at the 2007 Nationals focused on the Shuffle’s challenging course conditions as an excellent training for upcoming Championship in Cable, WI, on Mar. 11, 2011. That sentiment was echoed by Mark “Burst” Brose, 40, who finished 1st overall at the inaugural King Boreas 7.5k snowshoe race in St. Paul last weekend. “I held pace,  though the sugar snow was tough, and it was good training for Nationals,” he noted.

“Jungle Chicken” Ward, who is a member of the Atlas Racing Team, also noted that her snowshoe racing on her “light” Atlas’ was also an excellent conditioner for hip flexor and gluteus strength for marathon racing.

Welcome the Newbies

Jeremy “JerIce” Polson, 33, a first time snowshoe racer, said that running in the deep snow was a “real wake up call.” Polson, a former decorated runner at the University of Minnesota, is a 2:25 marathoner and 4:06 miler, said he enjoyed the experience and was looking forward to more snowshoe racing.

Another first-time snowshoe racer Alan “Da Man” Swenson, 69, enjoyed moving through the open fields, single-track woods, and lakeshores on his Tubbs. “Snowshoe racing gets the competitive juices flowing again and its easier on the knees,” said “Da Man” Swenson, who played softball for over three decades.

Fun in the Sugar Snow

An experienced snowshoe racer, Rick “Ricky Bobby” Cleary, 48, said that though he was able to adapt to the sugar snow conditions with “shorter strides, with quicker turn-over,” he finished with some walking in the final 200 yard stretch of deep, churned up snow at the finish. “My legs were toast,” he said.

Paul “Coolio” Marietta, 33, agreed that not only was the finish tough, the ongoing sections of sugar snow were a true test. “It was tough to get into a groove. The powder snow was just an energy suck.” “Coolio” Marietta is also looking forward to Nationals with training buddy Fred “Fast Freddy” Johnson, 47.

At the awards ceremony, Kyle “Dash” Donovan, winner of the Savage, MN Winterrific Jan. 25 race said the Shuffle’s deep powder favored triathletes and endurance athletes strong biking backgrounds as Guy “Trojan” Rex, 47, nodded in agreement.  Said “Dash” Donovan “I’ve got more of a road running background and the hard-pack trails suit me better. The powder was difficult.”

Clayton “Snow Ninja” Hubred, 13, was able to persevere though on his Atlas’ to qualify for Nationals despite the tough conditions. “The first 100 yards was draining. I had to do a quick walk at times.”

A Little Bit of History

Started as a fund raiser for Camp Bovey a camp for inner-city youths, by Eastside Neighborhood Services (ESNS), this, the 6th Annual, Snowshoe Shuffle, in New Brighton, MN (and National Championship Qualifier) has grown from 65 racers at its inaugural 2005 event to a stampeding herd of 267 snowshoe racers for the Feb. 5, 2011 event. At the time of the event’s 2005 inception, the late Cindy Brochman who passed away in late 2009, helped get the event sanctioned as a qualifier for nationals.

A group of approximately 12 snowshoe racers wore “Holewa Racing Team” shirts in honor of recently departed Joe Holewa who established Camp Bovey in 1950 and served as its camp director for many years. “The team will be back racing next year,” said his son Curt Holewa.

NOTE: ESNS was filming a promotional video at the event which it will have on its main home page  in a few weeks.

All Eyes on Cable, WI

Many of the snowshoe racers at the Shuffle said they were looking past the race results of the 2011 Shuffle and focusing on peaking in their training and then tapering for Nationals in Cable, WI.

Rumor has it the National course is going to be tough and varied making the Shuffle, perhaps an ideal training experience for many. As young “Snow Ninja” Hubred so aptly stated on Saturday, “Competing at Nationals is going to be cool.”

Cool indeed. Somebody go warn the mice of Cable, WI. The hot cleats of March are coming.