When Duluth’s Eric Hartmark (see photo, chased by Gall) won the inaugural Exeter Marathon (RI) in 2:21 he led by 20 minutes at the line. Imagine the difference of pressure at the front today as he was matched shoe-for-shoe by the one snowshoer best qualified to pounce like a snow tiger if he erred: multiyear National Team member, Scott Gall of Iowa.
Qualifying for the Dion Snowshoes USSSA National Championship at Boulder Lake, north of Duluth, gave Hartmark his first competitive experience racing on frozen white sugar snow while enjoying -15F temperatures. In the eight km “Stomp,” winner Kelly Mortensen (St Paul) — national team member, 2009 runner-up — and Greg Hexum (Duluth), a multiyear national champion with even more team memberships, were not about to let this upstart show them what for. Two minutes back gave Hartmark plenty of time to think about this ankle turning, speed-robbing sugar snow racing business.
The snow, thus the track, at Lakewoods Resort’s hilly course was entirely different from Boulder Lakes. Lakewoods’ pack was already firming from recent melting. Adding the new four-inch overnight white that painted the trees and layout, lifting everyone’s mood with this spring winter wonderland, was what I term a “Tennessee snow,” like what I experienced as a kid: very wet. Not sloppy so, but this snow had a moisture content that was a factor as temperatures hovered around the 32 degree mark during the day. So when groomed, this snow pressed to a nice trail that yielded much different conditions than those found in the first miles of the 2010 Syracuse nationals. Sugar snow there resembled the Boulder Lake snow.
For a marathoner like Hartmark, these trails worked to advantage. Gall’s pressure remained throughout — the first clock at the six km pass showed them locked one-two. But Eric Hartmark never flinched and won the Dion Snowshoes USSSA 2011 Championship, in 41:41:4.
Gall told me, “Eric took two minor wrong turns and probably lost another 10 seconds maybe so I’d say he had control the whole way. At one point he missed a turn and I gained the lead just for him to re-catch and pass me. He was very strong the whole way. ”
Were there shades of the 2010 championship race this weekend? There, recall Scott Gall led eventual winner, Josiah Middaugh, then was passed, finishing with the silver again. That had to flash in his head here as he valiantly chased Hartmark across the final orange marker in the snow.
Scott Gall first appeared near the top at the Bolton Valley, NH, championship in 2006 finishing sixth as Greg Hexum won. He was the bronze medalist in 2008 (did not compete 2009), silver 2010, and silver today. He also is the race director for the Iowa Snowshoe State Championship from The Runner’s Flat owned by he and Sarah in Cedar Falls.
And 29 seconds later, Michael Reneau (No. 86 photo) Oregon, claimed third, also holding the position through the first loop. Though he is now in Covallis working and training there, his hometown is Houlton, WI, just across the St. Croix River from Stillwater, Mn, a far NE suburb of the Twin Cities. Reneau is a snowshoer who can handle pain. Why can I say that?
Because he was a star wrestler at Hudson High school, a wickedly tough sport involving some of the most dedicated, intense of athletes. He was first American at the 2008 Chicago Marathon, among many other notable finishes. His qualifying for the championship came at the White River Mt. Hood race. Winning bronze and joining the national team for the first time, Reneau was in the hunt for the win to the end.
Jeff Beck, Rochester, New York, and Greg Hexum, Esko (SW of Duluth), Minnesota, both titans in snowshoe racing, battled mightily for the final placement on the two remaining national team positions while Jared Scott, Grand Canyon, Arizona, sizzled the lightning round — the four km last loop — trying to knock one of them out.
In the 2007 Minneapolis national race, Jeff Beck and Greg Hexum literally burned the snow as they raced off the start what Hexum characterized as two of the fastest kilometers ever in snowshoe racing. He won the championship while Beck took silver.
Once again in the north central region, they find themselves racing mano-a-mano, this time for the sole ownership of fourth overall and clinching a national team spot. In the case of Beck, he might want the opportunity to exact some snowshoe racing revenge on Hexum, which he wasn’t able to do the last time around here.
It wouldn’t be easy as Hexum, also the 2006 national champion and on the 2010 national team, was in his element, the trails and woods of the upper Midwest. He led Beck through the first clock by a blink, and the cowbells were clanging loudly, pushing them out to the flats where they dove down a steep hill, raced a circular track outlining the edge of a frozen snow-covered summer lake to one of this race’s signature climbs: a ten yard ascent requiring hands and cleats to mount.
Another signature of the course racers discovered when returning through the tunnel after traversing the hills of the Southside. There a charming young woman greeted me, as I tried to zip by heading to a groomed trail. She pointed to this embankment, exclaiming happily, “You get to climb that!” Surprises just like this one is exactly why training includes off-trail snowshoeing, breaking new snow, digging up climbs that aren’t on the beaten path as training partners Brad Canham and Doug Hubred always seem to find.
Jeff Beck may have flown beneath the national radar prior to that 2007 battle with Hexum, but no more. At the 2008 event while competing at Ogden, Utah’s 4300 ft. elevation from the 454 ft. in New York, he gave winner Josiah Middaugh a race, with a silver finish.
Now back at national championship snowshoe racing after a two-year absence, Beck is holding the fifth and final national team point, in position to pass Hexum. Still within striking distance is Scott, 29 seconds back — and closing. Scott goes on a charge, racing a final split for the four km loop that is virtually the same as Reneau’s, the third quickest. Beck stays on track while Hexum slows from the torrid pace filtering back from the front.
Marathoner Bill Randy of Cedar Falls, Iowa, finishes 2010 Boston in 2:26. He qualified for this event at the Snowshoe Shuffle in Minneapolis while his friend, Scott Gall, raced it for training. Randy, sitting seventh at the turn, charges on his snowshoes but can’t close the gap sufficiently to be a factor in the team order.
Coming to the finish, Mark Elmore calling the race and placements, cowbells clanging, the crowd cheering, Beck has pulled ahead and captures fourth with a ten second margin on the long downhill, all of it gained in the final segment, while Hexum holds off Scott by a handful of ticks on the clock as their race ends. Scott, winning his age class gold, simply ran out of snow track in his quest to make the five.
Racing as a member of Team Invo-8, Scott was followed by teammates Jim Johnson, Salem, New Hampshire, in eighth, then Mr. “I Race up Mt. Washington Quickly Because I Can” Kevin Tilton, North Conway, New Hampshire, my take on his favorite race, a toughie.
Closing out the top ten was Kelly Mortenson, St Paul, who won the Boulder Lake Qualifier that included Hartmark and Hexum, with a finish of 45 minutes flat.
Some of the biggest jumps in results occurring in the last loop were:
Michael Wenzel, Edgar, WI, up three to No. 12
Bob Bolton, Rapid City, SD, up four to No. 14
Darren Brungardt, Dillion, CO, up four to No. 20
Danny Ferreira, Concord, NH, up two to No. 21
Kyle Donovan, River Falls, WI, up two to No. 24
Peter Witucki, Chicago, IL, up two to No. 27
Christopher Langdon, Duluth, MN, up two to No. 29
Tony Stensland, Duluth, MN, up two to No. 38
Mark Brose, Minneapolis, MN, up six (!) to No. 43
Bill Wonder, Eau Claire, WI, up four to No. 48
Jonathon Delf, Rice Lake, WI, up four to No. 49
Michael Quednow, Westboro, WI, up four to No. 50
Jason Samers, West Auburn, WI, up four to No. 56
Stephen Blacklocks, Brooklyn, NY, up four to No. 59
Scott Purrington, Stillwater, MN, up four to No. 61
Fred Johnson, River Falls, WI, up six to No. 62
Jim Cihak, Marquette, MI, up four to No. 64
Jason Reed, San Bruno, CA, up five to No. 67
John Kann, Rice Lake, WI, up eight (!) to No. 69
Jim Graupner, Lake Elmo, MN, up three to No. 70
John Wilke, Phillips, WI, up five to No. 73
Mike Vavra, Chippewa Falls, WI up three to No. 77
Mike Most, River Falls, WI, up three to No. 91
Doug Hubred, Golden Valley, MN, up three to No. 95
Paul Schemanski, Petoskey, MI up three to 92
Incredible performances are not just limited to the front-runners. A fixture in snowshoeing, Richard Busa, Marlboro, Massachusetts, completed the distance while medaling gold, and giving promise to all of us we can be racing snowshoes for a long time to come.
Edward Rousseau (see photo, No. 49), Minneapolis, is a noted distance athlete in training for ultra distance road records. “Easy” Ed pushed up the big hill climb coming out of the bottoms on the short loop with ease.
Brad Ayers, Frederic, WI, bravely fought the course with an arm in a sling, bandages, and a tough leg, yet carried a special medal for an Army Ranger stationed in Afghanistan while he raced.
The day’s tough luck award has to be Mark Burgess, Lea Zulu, CO, whose snowshoe binding broke, putting him out of the standings, though he cleared the first timer. He ran in on the course wearing one snowshoe and one running shoe. Too bad — his six km time had him about No. 15.
Mitchell Kasyon completed the Colorado dual win with his 26:04 overall victory, the quickest junior of the day by three minutes. Ben Palladino, New York, second, and Paul Seliger representing the host state of Wisconsin rounded out the top three medal winners in the 15-19 class. Bartholomew Hallgren edged Mitchell Seliger, both of Wisconsin, by a close two seconds for the next two slots as Eric Hulbert, New York, improved dramatically over his 2010 Syracuse finishing next with the unique 33:39 mix of numbers. Josiah Heil, also a 2010 finisher, completed the class with his finish over the difficult layout.
In the 14 and under group, Michigan’s Tim Buerger won in 34:25 over Ezra Hulbert, New York. Clayton Hubred, Minnesota’s only entrant in the Junior’s class, took third in his inaugural championship race.
These results were expertly done by White River sports Timing (www.itiming.com). They not only provided bib numbers, and splits, but also ranked the splits thus allowing one to easily pick out who went faster and slower from the split to the finish. The expertise they have picked up timing cross-country ski events showed itself at this event.
photos: top, third, fourth
Copyright: Used with permission. Dean S. Acheson photo
Dean has a unique touch, which allows him to capture the essence of the racer. He is a professional photographer and writer living in northern Wisconsin. His many photos of nature and action sports, including the DION Snowshoes USSSA National Snowshoe Championships, may be found at www.GoNorthPhotos.com. Images are available for print purchase and licensing. Images of the Cable nationals will be posted in coming days. For specific image request, e-mail email@example.com or call (715) 356-7394.
Photo No. 2: courtesy Kelly Randolph, official USSSA event photographer.
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