To the Principal’s Office! Lessons from Atlas Star Greg Hexum

Study these championship snowshoe-racing lessons from two-time USSSA National Winner, Minnesota’s Greg Hexum (see far right in black, 1st in photo, 4th in race  ). No better cheat sheet — what leaders are thinking in a race — is available for earning a coveted spot on the USSSA National Team. Nothing like this tutorial delivered from the dramatic 2011 Cable, Wis. USSSA Championship race at historic Lakewoods Resort.

Hexum’s partial snowshoe credentials as a two-time national champion include: member of the elite Atlas Racing Team, four USSSA National Teams and one top-ten finish (2008 at altitude) in his five national championship competitions.

At Cable, he arrived late and left early. A high school principal’s work is never done as duties were sandwiched on both sides of the 2011 championship festivities.

“Not all elite runners can transfer their talents smoothly to snowshoe racing, but Erik Hartmark had a quick learning curve. This isn’t a surprise given his cross-country prowess.

I have been fortunate to battle with Jeff Beck (see photo, trailing Hexum, but finishing ahead fourth) at a few snowshoe nationals. He always shows up ready to compete. I anticipated that he would be in the top five and I was hoping at age 40 to qualify for another National Team. Our race plans converged so that we sort of duked it out for the majority of the race.

Sometimes it can be dangerous to focus too much on the person right next to you in a race while not monitoring what is happening ahead of you and behind you. It this case, we were pushing pretty hard and moving pretty fast up the nasty climbs, so I knew that if I just kept racing hard with Beck, that we’d be safe from guys behind us. At about 2.5 km, some of the guys who were early contenders started to come apart and six of us emerged to gap the pack a little. That would be the five eventual national team members and Randy Bill of Iowa, who had a tough day. By the way, watch out for Bill in the future. The guy has a huge engine.

I could see up front that Scott Gall and Eric Hartmark were feeling each other out, while Mike Reneau, Beck, Bill and I were strung out trying to staying in touch. Hartmark seemed to be repeatedly going off the front when Scott would get contact. Knowing how strong Scott is, I assumed that this would cost Hartmark the race. As it turns out, the traffic packed trail in the last kilometer allowed Erik to use his speed to combat Scott’s strength.

The same thing was true in my one-on-one with Beck. At 5 km or so, Reneau was starting to pull away from Beck and I. I decided to try to match Reneau’s tempo and this put me past Beck. Reneau was really ramping up the pace, however, and I lost contact with him. I actually thought based on how he was moving Reneau might have a shot at bringing back both Erik and Scott. Over a one or two minute span, Reneau went after the leaders, I passed Beck, and we both dropped Randy Bill. From this point through about 9k, Beck and I exchanged leads multiple times.

I am fairly certain, he thought I was coming apart a couple of times, and I thought the same about him. Beck was getting a gap on me on the uphills, and I was passing him on the downhills. I remember one specific instance on the second lap where he and I were dodging some first lap traffic, where I thought he had disappeared for a minute behind me. I actually starting looking ahead and started thinking about trying to get back some ground on 3rd place, but on the next hill, Beck came dancing past me again.

At this point in our careers, Jeff’s wide-open speed is just better than mine. When we hit hard-pack with about 600 meters to go, Jeff was clearly pulling away. Knowing that anything can happen in a snowshoe race, I just tried to stay close. I actually closed a little on a final uphill, but it wasn’t enough. As it turns out, however, it was a good thing I kept racing because Jared Scott was coming on strong. Randy Bill gutted it out on a rough day and he held off Jim Johnson, who would have been a major contender for a national team spot had he not raced the U.S. 50 km Championships a week before this race.

Team Atlas showed strong, as did the Midwest. I am pretty happy with how it turned out (Hexum finishing, above).

An interesting sidebar is that while warming up, I tore one of my direct mounted racing flats right off of my Atlas racing shoe. With about three minutes before the race, I had the choice to throw on an unfamiliar backup pair, or do what I did, which was to use about 15 feet of duct tape to strap the shoe to my foot. This held surprisingly well, given the terrain. Direct mounts make for simple and generally reliable binding, but there is no room for error if you take off all of the straps like I do.”

For a quick review, here are the men’s top finishers for 2011:

(last photo start, Hexum no. 25 leading winner Hartmark 101)

Eric Hartmark, MN –    41:41
Scott Gall, IA –             41:49
Michael Reneau, OR – 42:18
Jeffrey Beck, NY –        42:54
Greg Hexum, MN –       43:04
Scott Jared, AZ –          43:10
Bill Randy, IA –              43:33
Jim Johnson, NH –        43:54
Kevin Tilton, NH –          44:36
Kelly Mortenson, MN –   45:00

photos: 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 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 or call (715) 356-7394.

This is the men’s championship article for 2011:
This is the women’s championship article for 2011:

Reviewing these times and articles reminds one of the great commentary broadcast by the man on high, USSSA Sports Director, Mark Elmore, standing on his elevated perch with wind and snow whipping in his eyes, yet excitingly and accurately describing the thrilling finishes of all classes. A true champion himself, he has fun doing that, but do not ever forget the effort and sheer intestinal fortitude it took to brave those elements. You might email him and let him know how you feel. But don’t tell him anything about this little ditty; he’d be embarrassed. United States National Snowshoe Association:


The book HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life authored by Phillip Gary Smith is at his author’s page:

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About Phillip Gary Smith

Phillip Gary Smith, Senior Editor, published "The 300-Mile Man" about Roberto Marron's historic doubling of the Tuscobia 150 mile endurance snow run. He publishes "iHarmonizing Competition" on various forms of competition including drag racing, his favorite motor sport. Earlier, he wrote "HARMONIZING:Keys to Living in the Song of Life" as a manual for life with chapters such as Winning by Losing, Can God Pay Your Visa Bill?, and a young classic story, The Year I Met a Christmas Angel. His book, "Ultra Superior," is the first written on the Superior Trail ultra distance events. He mixes writing with his profession--the venture capital world--a dying art. He is a creator of CUBE Speakers, a group espousing themes in "HARMONIZING:Keys" in a unique way. Currently he has two books in the works. Twitter: @iHarmonizing

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