Despite Braveheart’s 2014 Midwest Championship (in Cable, Wis.) being anticlimactic in a way, being a week after the Dion National Snowshoe Championship (held in Vermont), it still brought out the best in some racers looking to add an exclamation point to the end of their snowshoe racing season.
This race is always held in conjunction with a hot-air balloon rally on the second weekend of March – this year the race was on Saturday, March 8 with rising temperatures (25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit) that made the deep snow base difficult to snowmobile in marking and measuring the course, and very difficult for snowshoeing fast on also (photos in article courtesy Adam Speer).
This was at the same site as the National Championship race in 2011, and in the three years since it has been billed as the Midwest Championship event, bringing in competitive snowshoers from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa. Jim “Braveheart” McDonell was the brains behind the operation and this annual affair is becoming quite the tradition in northwestern Wisconsin.
Because of the snow’s slippery conditions, it made marking the course even with the best snowmobile difficult, and the usual 5K loop was reduced from its known 3.1 mile distance to just over 2.2 miles per the Garmin watches worn and compared. So with the distance being about 70 percent of standard, this course’s events could be re-stated as a 3.5K for the short race and 7K for the long race – the second loop was the same as the first, although even more difficult than the first lap with dozens of snowshoers already having softened up the course even more.
Both of the top 10K finishers won overall titles in their gender class in multiple Wisconsin races this year – Chaudoir went undefeated in the Badger State in nine or so races (even winning a couple of races overall, beating all men), and Borchardt won six out of eight – he was beat by just six seconds midway through the season and even earlier in the season he placed fourth overall in his first race back after only two weeks of running after a two-month layoff after breaking his foot in a mid-October marathon. It seemed only fitting that they secured the Midwest Championship trophies as well this season – both winning them for the first time.
Weston’s (Wisconsin) Borchardt, 34, took the lead for good shortly into the race, about two minutes in. It didn’t take long to open up a significant gap on the rest of the 10K competition, although he did have company with Plymouth’s (Minnesota) Jon Delaney, 17, (who won the 5K race) following closely a few seconds behind him. Because of how difficult the course was – with lots of softness, slipperyness, sinking and postholing leading to a much slower going than usual – the conditions led to impede some racers’ performances a lot more than others, depending on who happened to excel (or not excel) with the energy-sapping strength challenge seen with each step. Borchardt’s splits on the course were 18:22 for the first lap, and 21:03 for the second lap, with almost the same effort level given, so that second loop was ultra-difficult to navigate with the added softness and extra holes to avoid.
Woodbury’s Rob Class, 53, was the second place overall finisher in the 10K, about 3.5 minutes behind Borchardt’s time of 39:25. He had some trouble with one of his hamstrings that hindered his performance some, but was able to hang in there and get the silver with a time of 42:53. Not far behind him in third place was Minnesota’s Josh Jorde, 38, taking the bronze in 43:23, thirty seconds back. Also of note was Medford’s Jason Ruesch, 41, taking fourth (44:21), and another Medford rival, Davey Sapinski, 39, taking fifth (47:40) overall for the men.
Green Bay’s Chaudoir, 39, the fastest snowshoeing woman in Wisconsin and now the Midwest, blazed the tough course in a time of 44:14 in being crowned female champion. Her margin of victory was by almost six minutes over Birchwood’s Nicole Finstad, 39, who timed out at 49:58. Finstad secured the silver – Grace Hogan, 16, from Bayfield achieved the bronze in 54:10. Honorable mention goes to Phillips’ Melissa Tekippe, 21, who crossed the finish line in 57:40, taking fourth place for the women.
The 10K race had 14 men and 11 women – including a few that ran the Mountaineering event with their big wooden snowshoes and a heavy backpack on. Green Bay’s Dave Sykora, 64, won the men’s long version (63:50) and Ms. Sadie Libal won the women’s shorter version (43:18). The 5K race saw 39 competitors in its race – 20 men and 19 women traversed just one but still difficult loop on the Lakewoods Resort golf course.
In the 5K race, Robbinsdale Armstrong High School (from Minnesota) had a strong representation, as the aforementioned Delaney led all of his teammates to a nice win on the short course. Delaney stayed right behind Borchardt on the rolling hills and sprinted by him after the last steep hill that curved around to the finish of his shorter race, in 18:15. Delaney had a nice margin of victory on teammate Ben Kaufmann, 16, by about three minutes as Kaufmann clocked 21:14. Another teammate, Clayton Hubred, 15, was only about forty seconds behind him in 21:53. The fourth teammate of their relay team, Jon Cabak, 16, took fourth overall and for the men/boys in 22:21.
For the women’s portion of the 5K, Woodbury’s Katy Class, 49, took home the title with Phillips’ Kristi Speer, 33, hot on her heels most of the race. Class’ time was 27:13 and second-place Speer was just under a minute back at the finish, in 28:05. They were comfortably ahead of the third-place finisher for the women, Plymouth’s Tiffany MacKenzie, 30, who clocked 34:20. The 10K and 5K races started off at 10 a.m., but that wasn’t the only action on the day for twenty of the competitors that did one of the late morning races.
About three hours after the 10K and 5K competitions, the racers gathered back together to do a team relay event. Five teams joined with four members apiece to do battle on an even tougher but shorter course, that was about one full mile in length. The competition was fierce between the two top teams, staying within seconds of each other almost the whole race, but the team “Release The Beerhounds!” wins their third overall team title of the snowshoe season (also winning at Perkinstown and Phillips), this time with the configuration of Borchardt, Ruesch, Sapinski, and Chaudoir. They beat the team of high school boys (the first four finishers in the 5K race from Robbinsdale Armstrong) by just 10 seconds, and stayed just ahead of them the entire race.
The relay race was an exciting affair to end another great event at Braveheart’s Cable Midwest Championships, closing out the 2014 snowshoe season in grand fashion. After the race, Braveheart had his wooden crosscuts (in which he spent hundreds of hours making) given out to the racers that participated in the most snowshoe races – the more you did, the more detailed coasters and wooden potholders you received. There were dozens of door prizes given out as well, including wooden snowshoes and Braveheart-trademarked coffee.
Folks in these parts are looking forward to next year, for the weekend of February 28 – March 2, 2015, Eau Claire, Wisconsin (also in the western part of the state) will host the National Snowshoe Championships. For them to look for any advice on hosting it, look no further than the great job race director PC Rasmussen does for the Cable race — especially in 2011 when Cable hosted Nationals. As long as Cable continues to hold the Midwest Championships every year, coming to Cable at the end of the season should be a priority among competitive snowshoers throughout the Midwest (before hanging the snowshoes up for good, until next December or January).
For more info on the race (http://www.lakewoodsresort.com/events/sponsored-events/hot-air-for-hearts), or to look at the results for the Midwest Snowshoe Championships and Braveheart Series, visit: http://www.lakewoodsresort.com/events/sponsored-events/hot-air-for-hearts/raceresults and also http://www.cutemoose.net/Braveheart_2014_Results.html.
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