The Athens Udder Snowshoe Race, a 3-miler run this year on Saturday, February 4th, 2012, is usually one of the fastest and easiest snowshoe races in Wisconsin yearly because it is a pancake-flat course and runs mostly on groomed ski trails. This year was no different, except because of the starting line needing to be moved (to avoid racers possibly falling through the ice on the Black Creek at a weak point, a problem posed by this mild winter), this race was shortened by a little over a minute as finishers started and finished closer to the winding trails in the woods. No snow had fallen for nearly a week, and the course was groomed perfectly to a hard-packed track and it stayed frozen due to the low temperatures seen overnight. By the 10:30 a.m. start it had warmed up to 30 degrees – all of this led to possibly some of the fastest times ever run on the Athens course in Erbach Park, where the race has been held every one of its eight years.
This year saw a few more racers than last year, with a nice total of 207 competitors able to revel in the fast course, 96 men and 111 women. It was a familiar face taking the top spot overall, Westboro’s Jeffrey Quednow, 20. He definitely took advantage of the fast track, dipping under the 20-minute mark with an ultra-quick time of 19:50. It was the second time in three years that Quednow had won the Athens Udder – last year he wasn’t able to make it to this race.
In 2010, it was Quednow’s first time racing at Athens and it was his father (Mike Quednow) that finished second overall. Jeffrey really enjoyed the course this year, “I thought it was pretty fast – I liked it, it was rock-solid and a harder pack, but more sugary in the final mile. I took the lead about a half-mile in – it felt really good. I didn’t want to push it out, but had to go with the other guys because it can be difficult to make up a lot of time in snowshoe race. I felt like I went close to all-out in the beginning, and I knew about halfway into the race that I had a good lead – I just tried to maintain it until the end.” Quednow ended up with a relatively comfortable winning margin.
Taking second overall, just over a minute behind Quednow, was River Falls’ Jim Felling, 33, who also cruised on the course, clocking 20:53. Closing in on Felling was the ever-improving Jordan Neeck, 22, from Phillips. Neeck was third overall and was just 14 seconds behind Felling’s finishing time. Neeck has made great strides in improving from last year, gaining more than just a few minutes on his competition – after graduating from college, he has more time to focus on his training now, and his workouts have definitely paid off. He also is using a lighter and faster pair of snowshoes this year which have helped him improve not only year-to-year, but also seemingly race-to-race as he is surprisingly beating a higher brand of elite competition every weekend.
Fourth overall was last year’s champion, Kronenwetter’s Kris Borchardt, 32. His time was over 3 minutes faster than last year’s winning time of 24:44 but it wasn’t enough as he finished behind three others and 19 seconds behind Neeck, hitting the line in 21:26. Rounding out the top five was Marathon’s Paul Seliger, 18, another 30 seconds behind Borchardt in 21:56. Close behind was Chelsea’s Bill Bellendorf, 42, in 22:09. Sixth-place Bellendorf led Seliger for most of the race until the final half-mile, where Seliger pulled away to beat him by 13 seconds.
Medford’s Joe Freudenthal, 25, was just another 18 seconds behind Bellendorf in 22:27, seventh overall. It was over a minute until the eight-place finisher hit the line, in the form of Medford’s Josiah Heil, 16, running 23:43. Ninth place went to the third consecutive Medford resident finisher, Davey Sapinski, 37, who timed 24:17, and was 34 seconds back. Rounding out the top ten was the familiar CJ Snowshoe (Jay Punke), 51. This Wausau resident, usually with a 15-pound backpack and big wooden snowshoes on, finished in 24:33.
Minocqua’s Sarah Kaufman, 26, was the overall women’s champion, and torched the course in 25:22. Kaufman was enthusiastic about the Udder event and her effort, “This is my first time running at Athens – I thought it was a nice flat course. There were no hills, and the weather today was perfect. This is my first year snowshoeing and it’s actually just my fourth time ever on snowshoes. I received snowshoes for Christmas from my boyfriend’s parents (her boyfriend is Jake Rhyner, who wasn’t at Athens but has won at Rib Lake, Perkinstown and Phillips in previous weeks this season). I’ve been running for a long time – I ran in college at UW-La Crosse.”
Kaufman talked about the battle she had on her hands, as her closest competitor was just seconds behind her the whole race, “Kristi Speer was pretty close – I kept looking back to see where she was. I had to work for it today.” Phillips’ Speer, 30, gave it all she had to push Kaufman, and Speer was just 14 seconds back in 25:36, taking second place. Third for the ladies went to Medford’s Michayla Heil, 19, about a minute behind Speer in 26:33. Fourth place went to Phillips’ Bonnie Nutt, 16, around two minutes behind Heil in 28:29. Rounding out the top five for the women was Westboro’s Patty Thiede, 44, who was 25 seconds after Nutt in 28:54.
Another Masters runner was next in the sixth-place position, and this was Rhinelander’s Mary Lucas, 52, who dominated her age group as she completed the course in 29:13. Hometown favorite Katrina Becker, 32, took the seventh spot in 29:46, an Athens resident with some homefield advantage. Eighth place overall for the females went to West Bend’s Barb Wilke, 46, who clocked 29:50, barely being edged by Becker. Ninth place went to Medford’s Laura Lundy, 40, about another minute behind in 30:42. Rounding out the top ten for the ladies went to Sheboygan’s Theresa Lundquist, 25, who finished the course in 31:27.
Race director Chris Kepner was pleased with how the race came together successfully again this year. She was able to help promote her race and give updates through social media on Facebook, where her page currently has over 600 friends. She quantified, “We had over 200 registered, most from Medford (the Snowshoer capital of Wisconsin). We had a lot of Athens people, a lot of them families – everybody has a good time. We keep having generations of snowshoers coming.” She lauded the support she got from the townsfolk, “The Athens Acres 4-H people have really helped out. The A.A.A.A. (Athens Fair Association) folks have been the backbone of this event.”
Kepner knew on Wednesday that the race could not start and finish on the relatively thin Black Creek ice. She stated, “The ice is weaker than usual, and the current is really moving near the shoreline. We didn’t want to risk people falling through so we changed where the start (and finish) was, cutting out a section of the race. People did a really good job grooming the course (so it became a really fast day).” Adding to the day’s excitement and also aiding to a faster effort were the gunshots heard on a nearby shooting and archery range, set along the midpoint section of the course – keeping snowshoe racers on their toes and alert on this unique second mile of the race! The final mile of the course looped around to what was a track-back of the first mile, so racers were slowed just a little by the more sugary snow that 200 previous snowshoers had just chewed up, but it was still fast nonetheless.
This is called the Athens “Udder” snowshoe race, set in the woods on the ski trails at Erbach Park in Athens with dairy farms all around the landscape. The Athens Polar Plunge jumped off soon after at the same site, which had a dozen or more brave souls that dared to jump into the frozen Black Creek. This race will always be known for having a fast course, but this year’s conditions led to some of the quickest times in its history.
Results and additional pictures of this race are available at www.performancetiming.com and www.kepnerphotography.com (photos in article are courtesy of them) and additionally on www.facebook.com (search for Athens Udder Snowshoe).
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The Athens Udder is part of the Braveheart Snowshoe Series: www.uppermidwesttrailrunners.com.