Winter blew through the Murphy-Hanrehan State Park early Saturday morning, January 18, with a fresh half-foot of accumulation providing a wonderland-look for the Minnesota State Snowshoe Championships. Co-Director Mike Millonig whistled racers off to their 10-, 20- or 30 km distance the old-fashioned way: two-fingers to the lips. Those snowshoeing the double-duty 10 km may qualify for the USSSA national championships while competing for the state crown.
Ryan Albu, Minneapolis, secured the 2014 Minnesota Snowshoe Championship by churning the counter-clockwise woods-lined route in a winning 53:09, the day’s best 10 km loop. Leading the entire way, Albu blasted a snow cloud anytime he edged off the tracked course for a pass as he caught 20- and 30 km competitors already on the course. Albu nabs the title with a strong history as “an avid runner,” he told me, on roads and off trails. He also is a RRCA Coach. His winter emphasis now is on snowshoe training and racing. His first experience snowshoeing? This winter, as he said, “I tried it and was hooked. I bought some Dion shoes (the 121’s) online that weekend. I snowshoe along the creek, and around Lake Harriet either on the lake or on the unplowed running path. I also can snowshoe at work as there is a small pond and forest near my office with hilly trails in it. I’ve logged about 100 miles in my snowshoes so far.”
Regarding the course, he said, “I found the conditions on Saturday to be absolutely perfect for speed. I thought it would be heavy powder, over one-foot deep the entire way, and I can hardly muster a 12 minute-mile in those sort of conditions. With the way the course became packed by the longer distance racers, I could snowshoe with almost a regular running stride during the 10 km. I can snowshoe about an 8:00 pace on a perfect path, and I averaged about 8:30 during this race.”
The 35-year-old University of Minnesota Electrical Engineer (B.S. and M.S.) has one patent with several under various levels of the approval process; he acts as a design engineer with St. Jude Medical.
The women’s 2014 Minnesota Snowshoe Crown found Arden Hills’ Kate Poucher and her 1:23:09. The 23-year-old is an active athlete in the state with races such as the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon, run in conjunction with Grandma’s Marathon.
Well-known Twin Cities runner, E Fischer-Drew, Minnetonka, captured the silver plaque with her 1:43. Long associated with the FANS 12 & 24 Hour Runs, Fischer-Drew competes and volunteers at the event along with regional trail and road races. She’s ventured west to Wyoming’s challenging Bighorn 50KM on more than one occasion.
John Teske, 42, Bloomington, snatched the second place overall 10 km slot, joining Albu as the only two “breaking the buck” by scoring a sub-hour finish in this distance. His 57:05 led Plymouth’s Bryan McCarty by five minutes. Teske competed in the 2012 and 2013 Salomon Autumn Trail Series along with racing Trailmix. (See its new home)
McCarty told me he and his wife moved here last summer. “The race was wonderful. I just got into snowshoe racing a few years back, but this was my first Minnesota race. The overall vibe reminded me I was still in the Midwest—everyone was extremely nice, encouraging and welcoming. On the flip side, the course itself made me think I was in the foothills of Colorado. To me, the Minnesota nice combined with the views of Colorado makes Winteriffic one of the best Midwest snowshoe races around.” He soon heads back to hometown, Cedar Falls, IA, to compete in Scott Gall’s February 1 Iowa State Snowshoe Championship and USSSA Dion Qualifier. He also is a RunningVillage partner.
Luke Nelson, Ramsey, captured the 20 km win as he sped to a 1:51 finish, well ahead ahead of Hastings’ Ottilie Walls for the women’s crown. Walls, 43, participates in a multitude of events including the Get in Gear Half, Treadman Duathlon along with Afton’s annual July heat-fest 25 km and 50 km.
Nelson sizzled a 10 km average of 55:46 per loop, demonstrating his triathlete conditioning. The 40-year-old’s ability on a mountain bike, particularly in nasty technical sections, is near legendary. Here’s his story on snowshoeing: “I started snowshoeing a few years ago as a way to get out in the deep snow, exercise my dog and enjoy the winter. I soon realized how fun it was to run up and down hills and through powder. Last year I bought my Dion running snowshoes and started running on packed snowmobile and mountain bike trail as well. I believe that all the running I did on the snowshoes last winter really helped my running for the tri season in the summer. The Winteriffic 20 km was my first snowshoe race. I really liked the varied terrain the course had to offer. The first lap was mostly bashing through powder while following markers, and the second lap was a nice packed single- track trail that I could fly on. It was well-marked with great aid stations. I liked it so much that I’m signing up for more races this winter.” For the past two years Nelson has won the difficult Tri MN Series Overall Championship, and will be the last to claim that award; sadly, after an 11-year-run, the series is discontinued.
Steve Greseth, Rochester, finished last summer’s Minnesota Voyageur, a 50 mile adventure into power line misery as a 59-year-old trail runner. At Winteriffic, he sailed in second place in the men’s class with a Gilligan’s Island three-hour tour.
Prior Lake’s Paulette Odenthal took the silver in the women’s class in 3:35. Odenthal knows these hills well as she competed in the Surf-the-Murph ultras here at the 2013 event, completing the 50 km in about 7:30. Winteriffic, though, runs a counter-clockwise direction, which makes, along with the snow’s help, everything look and race like-new. Odentahl, Executive Director of the famous Get in Gear races, commented, “(Winteriffic) is great. I have done all of them. I enjoyed the new course because of the variety of trails; both single track through the meadows and also a beautiful path around the lake, which made the course-loop varied. The course was marked very well with flagging and signage arrows to show direction and the aid stations adequate for the 6.2 mile loop.”
Continuing his reign as the 30 km snowshoe king at Winteriffic, Joseph Altendahl, Minneapolis, leaves with another, the 2014 title. However, this year’s challenge for him became epic. First, following the 20 km leader (as the 20- and 30 km events start simultaneously 15 minutes before the 10 km), Altendahl made an error in the new snow at the Minnregs Lake intersection. He incorrectly turned left vs. steering straight across the snow-covered road to loop a counter-clockwise loop.
Altendahl later rammed his Northern Lites in an unseen hole, breaking the front bumper of the appliance. Rounding that loop’s start/finish, the affable racer borrowed a pair of Co-Director Colleen Millonig’s spare Red Feathers and sped on to victory. “Let me tell you,” he said, “that was the hardest part of the race. Not only was I getting a little tired but I was so accustomed to my snowshoes from training that putting on a pair of different, longer, and heavier pair of shoes felt extremely awkward. I just kept thinking I was leading so I kept going. It all worked out I guess.” Who said winners have it easy?
Dan LaPlante, Minneapolis, scored the silver with a 3:39. He commented, “I thought it was a well-marked course with great volunteers, good-stuff aid station food, a nice shirt, (Summit Snowshoe) hat and award. Running 30 km in snowshoes hurts bad! Time for a beer!” These two were tuning for the race by cranking Prince music, perhaps listening to a new version of an old favorite, though: “Purple Snow.” Be sure not to ask them about a bear attack on the course; it’s a different kind of needy bare.
Big Lake’s Julie Berg braved the early morning snow storm to make the drive for the race start and realized a great day on the sun-filled course. All smiles, she commented to me as she zoomed by, “It’s great to be here.” On her popular blog she wrote that after an ankle break multiple doctors and surgeons told her she would not run again. Her 30 km trek on snowshoes happily proved them incorrect. “I keep trying to move forward,” she said.
Tuscobia racer, Chuck Fritz, Clive, IA, raced the 30 km and considered doubling with the Boulder Ridge USSSA Dion Qualifier near Duluth, but decided to leave that for another day. He scored a Winteriffic weekend snowshoe.
After the ugly conditions a year ago—ice, brown, slick—forced the event to cancel, today’s beautiful snow-drifted course at a new location in the park won praise for its allure and charming design. Colleen and Mike Millonig with their team of volunteers, along with Hammer Nutrition and particularly Summit Snowshoes (donating a cool wool beanie for each competitor), established this event as a must-do in the bucket list of cool races. And that’s not whistling in the wind.
Photos Courtesy of the dedicated, fine work of Philip Bailey Contact him at Pdb.1@Juno.com. Philip braved cold and winds to get dozens of snazzy photographs. These are just a tiny selection of his day; email him for information, to see about getting the ones you’re in.