Perhaps the best explanation of why snowshoers come out on a beautiful Wisconsin Sunday, one of the few snowshoe races not contended on a Saturday, with an infinite azure sky, stirring terrain, and plenty of deep snow cover comes from ‘Rowdy’ Roddie Larson, USSSA National 70+ Class Champion, who lives not all that far away:
“There is so much to like about Jay and Judy Punke’s races. They have just the right amount of challenge and distance for my winter fitness, and of course running through several environments is interesting and very scenic. But mostly . . . I really like doing their races because of the post race feast! No mere bagels and bananas here; they know how to feed tired snowshoers!” Yes they do, with generous bowls of delicious, hot potage consumed with special canned beverages for the adults.
Why a Sunday event? Judy Punke allowed that some of the local entrants at the Birkebiener XC Ski race held the previous day like to snowshoe and this helps them do both. Also, a growing number of competitors have work on Saturday.
What about the race course in this near 5,000 acre forest with its natural feature, Nine Mile Swamp, and wooded uplands? It roughly tracks a clockwise loop about six kilometers in length with the two loop course mysteriously stretching more than 12 km. It is a ton-of-fun single track with a rolling layout requiring good focus to avoid whacking a tree. Jim McDonell, a Wausau native living in Woodbury, Minnesota, had never raced this course. With family in the area, he tied in a visit and a race, too. “C.J. Snowshoe (Jay Punke’s snowshoe ‘name’) did a great job of creating lots of scenic and fun single track while still handling the issue of passing.”
“He did this by having a wide trail at the start and finish and by having a lot of dual single track. I understand the dual single track was new this year, and I have not seen that at other races. Starting the 12 km ten minutes ahead of the 6 km was also new this year and another good idea to alleviate the traffic. I loved the undulating single track. Not just around corners but also the small up and down undulations. Well marked (every kilometer is posted, too. Ed.). All participants deserve a big thank you for their willingness to move over . . . even into deep snow and close conditions. Snow and temperature conditions were ideal. The beer at the awards made me remember my Wisconsin roots!” (see photo of Jim’s post race, snow-covered appendages).
Roddie points out, “I was pleasantly surprised to see all the ‘passing lanes.’ I’ve never seen that in a single-track race before, and it made it easy to pass up slower folks without floundering off-trail.” Ever the competitor, Roddie doesn’t think of anyone passing her; her focus is getting past the person in front!
Energetic Jay Punke, after setting up all morning, getting the 12km racers off at 11:50 a.m., and the 6km group started at noon, then puts on his Cross Country Iversons and starts chasing down snowshoers . . . as he zoomed by me, he called out, “Go, Mountain Man!” This contest is one of three this season having the ever fun Mountaineer Class with 46” snowshoes and a 15 pound backpack requirement. Still tiny in absolute entrants, it is filled with the endurance requirements resembling longer distances whether on snow or trail.
Describing his course, Jay notes, “You will be on more than 10km of single track, and less than 2km of ski trail. Our trail has slightly more hills” than others in the state. The major climb out of the frozen marsh comes about 3 km on the first loop and 9 km on the second time around. You know you’re in the swamp as you pass to the side of small foot bridges covered with snow.
Kicking off the race day, though, is the ever popular kids contest led by the gigantic Sno’ Dog racing with his Iversons (see picture, top). This puppy runs standing up so he only needs two snowshoes, just like his ‘owner’ Dave Sykora, winner of the Mountaineer Class.
The hottest race of the day was the 6 km men’s class as the top three, Kris Borchardt, Kyle Schmit and Jeff Quednow basically stayed in a train right through to the finish although Kyle and Jeff swapped positions during the race. Kris noted (see photo w Jay), “I never could get a gap on them, but I felt the longer I could lead the better chance of winning. This is my home course so I knew how the finish,” a short trek of about one kilometer coming out of the woods onto the ski trails, “would lead to a challenge by both. It was a wild sprint to the end. I was ready but, still, there was less than two seconds between us at the line.” Picking up ten minutes over 2008, Kris won in 34:22, adding 2009 to his 2007 victory.
Following this trio, Jason Ruesch (“2008’s 6km winner,” Kris reminded me) and then Brian Hallgren finished, placing second in their respective classes. Bart Hallgren, Brian’s nephew, had entered and might have been a factor in the results but fell ill on race day.
Jeff Quednow is only 17 and with a big future in snowshoe racing. Others in his class were Mitchell Seliger and Paul Seliger, both 15, also with very good efforts.
Overall women’s winner, Kristi Speer, ran away with a 43:49. Laurel Heckel stepped up over 2008 and won second overall and her class; following were Colleen Richey (class winner), Angela Delf (class winner), Julie Pagel, Margaret Allmann, and Andrea Krzanowski.
Special mention to the three girls, Emma (13), Cassie (11) and Caroline Coenen (8), in the under 19 class who are future stars in the USSSA snowshoeing world based on their results this year.
The 12 km men’s event had a competitive front of the pack. Jim McDonell led the group to the single track and then was passed by Jonathan Delf, leading the remainder of the way and winning in 1:01:39. John Kann, Rice Lake, a multi-year medalist owning his class at the USSSA National Championships, got by Braveheart, pardon me, I mean Jim, climbing the long hill on the second loop. ‘Braveheart’ finishing third and also a dominate USSSA National Medalist is the name listed in the results for Jim McDonell’s alter ego.
The 12km women’s winner and sole participant, Andrea Mueller, was tough competition for the men, finishing fourth overall.
The emerging Mountaineer Class was won by Dave Sykora with his brand new Iversons Cross Country wooden model. Dave won this pair in a drawing at Perkinstown’s popular snowshoe race held one month ago. Following was Joe Pehoski, Justin Cavey, and Gary Peterson. I must have thought I was sweeping the trails as I stayed at the back but as Jay Punke puts it, “Everybody in this class gets a medal; they’re all Mountain Men.”
I wrote in the article about the Snowshoe Shuffle, the USSSA Qualifier raced in the Twin Cities, “There’s something about racing in the snow that brings out the nicest of people.” (click here to read: http://www.snowshoemag.com/view_content.cfm?content_id=482)
Now let me add, snowshoeing brings out the most honest and trustworthy, too. Returning to my personal aid station, the black ‘Hot Rod’ Mercury, after completing – finally – the 12 km Mountaineering Class challenge, I discovered I had left the passenger rear door completely open while gone for this lengthy traipsing. I could understand doing that AFTER the race when, perhaps, all brain cylinders aren’t firing in synch. Well . . . nothing was gone or disturbed . . . it was like no one noticed such an asinine goof. The parking lot was jammed with snowshoers and cross country skiers. I concluded that white snow and a blue sky paints a safe environment.
Racer friendly fact: For your calendar, the 2010 Stomp The Swamp Snowshoe Race will be held Sunday, February 21.
Check out Revel Sports for complete Results (special thanks to them for helping Snowshoe Magazine get the results quickly): http://revelsports.com/Races/Events.htm.
Comments or thoughts about this race or story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on Phillip Gary Smith: www.ultrasuperior.com.
Many Photos courtesy of Barb McDonell. Thanks! Information on the United States Snowshoe Association: www.snowshoeracing.com.