Snowshoe Magazine Interview: Keri Nelson

This is the second in a series of interviews with notable snowshoe personalities that we will be presenting throughout the season.

Keri Nelson of Gunnison, Colorado was second at the 2007 USSSA Snowshoe Running Championships and then came back to win the 2008 race.

Snowshoe Magazine: What is your athletic background and how did you get into snowshoe running?

Keri Nelson:  I ran cross-country and track and Nordic skied in high school.  I skied one year in college at Western State College and then took up mountain biking and adventure racing.  I didn’t run a whole lot during college, when I graduated in 2003 I decided to do the Pikes Peak Marathon as my first marathon.  Since then I have run 19 marathons on road and off and tons of trail races.  I love racing and didn’t want to give it up during the winter so I looked for wintertime running races; snowshoeing.  I fell in love with it right away since it fit my strengths and was really challenging (especially Danelle Ballengee’s and Bruce’s (Pedal Power) courses).

SSM: Describe a typical training week and your key workouts.

KN: Last year was the first year I designed a specific snowshoe-training program for the winter.  I spent the fall strength training and working on my power.  I did a lot plyometric drills and core workouts to work on my balance, which I think is really important for snowshoeing.  During the winter I tried to get on the snow as much as possible and incorporated a weekly tempo run/snowshoe and a hill workout.  Sometimes I would stop at the Powderhorn Ski area and snowshoe to the top, about 60 minutes, and then down.  It takes a lot of leg strength to be fast on the downhill, so I really worked on it last winter.  I was amazed at how much I improved on the downhills snowshoeing and in my running races this last summer.  When the weather was bad or I couldn’t get on snow I would do stair stepper workouts at the gym.  I actually really like the stair stepper.

How much specific snowshoe running do you do to prepare for snowshoe races?

KN: Last winter I tried to get out on my snowshoes at least three days a week.  It’s easier to run in the winter on snowshoes than regular shoes and I would much rather be outside than in.  So I made it a priority to get out on my snowshoes.  Plus I raced in a snowshoe race of some sort every weekend starting the second week of December to March.  I really love the racing. It’s a chance to meet up with everyone and push yourself.  Snowshoeing tends to be a bit easier on the body than trail running, I recover a bit quicker.

What are your goal races for the upcoming season?

KN: My goals this year are fairly similar to last years.  I have a race planned pretty much every weekend through March.  My big races though include the Colorado State Championships, US Nationals in Oregon, the Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon, and the Jeremy Wright North American Championships.  I’ll do the Turquoise Lake 20 mile snowshoe in Leadville for the fifth time this year.  Plus I’ll try and sneak in a winter tri and some Nordic ski races.

With your varied background, is there any sport that you enjoy above others?

KN: I enjoy all the sports I do but trail running is my passion.  I’ve considered doing some longer ultra length stuff but right now I enjoy racing a lot and don’t feel as though I want to spend a month recovering from an ultra.  I use a lot of the races I do as training for more important races, but I still try and do the best I can at every race.

Tell us about your US Nationals races – 2007 when you came 2nd and last year when you won? How did the races play out, what did you like/dislike about the courses, etc.

KN: The 2007 course was pretty flat and fast.  I don’t do well on flat courses, I don’t have much speed.  I rely more on my uphill running strength and now my downhills, these are what I enjoy.  So the course in Minneapolis was hard for me.  I gave it all I had.  But I am a huge fan of Nikki Kimball who I was second to.  She is an amazing athlete and great person.  I met her for the first time at the Nationals.  I knew she was going to be there and it was a bit intimidating lining up against her.  I came back to Nationals last year in Ogden with many more races under my belt and more confidence.  The course was much more suited for me, lots of challenging single track and some tough hills.  Although I am waiting for a true Colorado course for Nationals, maybe one that Danelle, Mike Kloser, or Bruce design!!

What are your strengths as an athlete?

KN: I love uphill, whether it is on a bike, running, or skiing.  I am not a fast person but I love technical, challenging uphills and downhills.  I can really get into my racing zone when I’m concentrated on the course.  Plus usually if you are going up you’ll be rewarded with a fast and fun downhill and great views.  I’m a horrible road runner and have yet to break 3 hours in a marathon despite several attempts.

Your favorite trail to train on?

KN: This is a tough question because there are many places I love to run and train.  I have a favorite place for every type of workout I do.  Some of my favorites are Amassa Back Trail in Moab, the Crag Crest Trail on the Grand Mesa, Colorado, the Monument Trail in the Colorado National Monument, and the Monarch Crest Trail outside of Gunnison, CO.  My all time favorite hill workout is a tempo run up Crested Butte Ski area, my personal record is 54 minutes, which is faster than I have mountain biked it!!

When you’re not training, what other things do you enjoy?

KN: All kinds of outdoor sports: kayaking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding…  I helped coach the Middle School Cross Country team this fall and really enjoyed it.  Also I love exploring southwestern culture, Anasazi Indian dwellings and petrogylphs, pictographs, and the geology.  I’m in the four corner areas every chance I get with my family.

Do you get strength and support from family/friends?

KN: Absolutely.  My mom and sister come to a lot of my races.  My friend Jane is the one who got me into trail running initially and we do a lot of training together.  Plus the people I have met at races keep me coming back, I love those guys!!

Who is/are your sports hero(es)?

KN: There are a lot of people who have inspired me, a lot of them are local athletes from Gunnison.  We have an awesome athletic community, including Olympic Mountain Biking bronze medalist Susan Demattei and three time Nordic skiing Olympian Ingrid Butts, both of who are the most inspirational and nicest people you’ll ever meet.  I would have to say though that from the start my biggest heroes have been Danelle Ballengee, my friend Jane Tunnadine, Colorado runners Anita Ortiz, Lisa Goldsmith, Bernie Boetcher (see photo).  I would see these guys at races and think I can only hope to love racing and be as successful at it as these guys are.

Tell us about the Gunnison Endurance Project, what it is and your involvement?

KN: When I moved back to Gunnison this summer I asked Scott Drum, an Exercise Science professor at Western State College/runner/really cool guy, if I could help out with the High Altitude Performance Lab in order to learn more about exercise physiology.  He had created a proposal for a trail running team that would base their training and racing on science/physiology based out of Gunnison.  He had asked Leadville Trail 100 winner Duncan Callahan and all round running phenom Tim Parr if they were interested, which they both were.  I suppose he saw my enthusiasm for racing and improving my performances and asked if I would be interested.  So the Gunnison Endurance Project was born and is in the process of planning our first year of racing together.  We just finished the Rim Rock Run in Grand Junction with Tim and me winning and Duncan placing third.  Plus Tim broke the 12 year old course record, which the race director said the night before couldn’t be touched!!

Future aspirations, snowshoe related and other?

KN: I want to snowshoe race as much as possible this winter and hopefully get in another international race (I raced in the Japanese Snowshoe Nationals last year).  I want to branch out a bit next year and travel to some races rather than focusing on just Colorado region.  Plus the World Mountain Running Challenge in Austria.  We’ve also discussed doing some longer “adventure runs” together as the GEP including the Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon.  Outside of racing myself I would love to do some coaching myself, middle school/high school cross country possibly even college and programs like Girls on the Run.

Quickie Questions

What snowshoes do you use?

KN: Atlas Race Speed, best out there!!

My perfect snowshoe outing ___.

KN: An intense snowshoe race through the Colorado Mountains, incorporating crawling through culverts and climbing over downed trees in waist deep snow.

What was your most unique snowshoe experience? 

KN: Being lost during a blizzard in the middle of Turquoise Lake during a 20 mile race and ending up on the complete opposite side of the lake than where we were meant to be.

Favorite post-snowshoe meal?

KN: A big fat burrito and sweet potato fries

Your best snowshoeing tip?

KN: A strong core and good balance, be relaxed and don’t try to hard.  When the snow gets deep the more you fight it the harder it will be.

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About the author

Derrick Spafford