Empire State Games Tests Speed and Endurance

On Saturday, February 14th snowshoe racers competed in sprints and a 5K in Paul Smiths, NY as a part of the Empire State Games. The snowshoers raced in 100, 400, and 800 meter sprints in the morning. In the afternoon, most of the same athletes ran a 5K at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC).

At 11 am the racers gathered at a groomed soccer field for the sprinting portion of the competition, with a temperature of about 10° F.

Lauren Brieant and Jessica Setter face off in the 100 m. race.

Lauren Brieant (L) and Jessica Setter face off in the 100 m. race.

The sprints were split into different races, and the first event was the 100 meter race for the women’s 15-19 age category. Jessica Setter (19.65) and Lauren Brieant (20.30) were closely matched, with Setter beating out Brieant by less than a second. Amanda Preston (23.79) took third in the race. All three athletes are Paul Smiths College Striders. In the 20-34 race, Corrie Desilets (20.6) won third place overall and beat Gillian Wright (20.8) by less than a footstep. The contest for third place in the category was also close, with Bianca Fournier (26.8) finishing 0.1 seconds faster than Lea Anthony. Female racers in the remaining categories ran together with Colleen Porter (22.8) finishing first in the 35-49 category and Marilyn Robak Zygo (23.98) finishing first in the 50-64 group.

Eric Kowalik won first place in the 20-34 category.

Eric Kowalik won first place in the 20-34 category.

For the men, the 15-19 race was extremely tight with Joseph St. Cyr (12.78) finishing neck and neck with Cody Sears (12.8). Cody Dennis (13.67) placed third. In the second race, first place in the 20-34 group went to Eric Kowalik (17.13). Loring Porter (19.77) won the 35-49 category and Robert McNamara (20.9) beat Larry Zygo (25.79) by a wide margin in the 50-64 group. Zygo later explained his race with McNamara, “I’m more of an afternoon runner… [Bob] said he trained for some of those sprints.”

The women in a pack after the first 100 m. of the 400 m. race.

The women were in a pack after the first 100 m. of the 400 m. race.

In the 400 meter race, the women all raced together. They stayed close during the first 100 meters and then began to spread out. Lauren Brieant (1:51.03) took the lead and kept it, followed by Setter (1:52.46) and Desilets (1:53.26). Colleen Porter (1:59.83) finished in just under 2 minutes and placed first in her age group. Wright (2:03:02) placed second in the 20-34 group and finished a couple of seconds ahead of Amanda Preston, (2:05.06) who came in third place in the junior category. Lea Anthony (2:07.86) won third in the 20-34 group. Robak Zygo (2:14.91) finished first in the 50-64 category.

Cody Sears was right on the heels of Joseph St. Cyr in the 400 m. race.

Cody Sears was right on the heels of Joseph St. Cyr in the 400 m. race.

The men’s 400 meter played out in the last 100 when Sears (1:28.50) came from behind Kowalik (1:31.16) to gain second, but was still unable to catch the winner, St. Cyr (1:27.72). Cody Dennis (1:33.12) took third in the 15-19 group and Porter (1:49.15) placed first in his age bracket. McNamara and Zygo ran most of the race together, with McNamara (2:13.37) eventually pulling ahead of Zygo (2:16.93).

Jessica Setter crosses the finish line, taking third place overall in the 800 m.

Jessica Setter crosses the finish line, taking third place overall in the 800 m.

The women were split into two groups for the 800 meter race. Colleen Porter (4:27.18) finished first overall, far ahead of the other competitors in her race. When asked about her performance in the sprints, Porter said, “I’d never done a sprint before in my life.” She explained that she had to figure out “how to sprint with cold air and not burn your lungs.” While her lack of experience may have showed in the earlier races, by the 800 m. she was running strong. Lauren Brieant (4:30.21) came in second overall and first in her age category. She stayed in the pack for the first 200 meters, eventually breaking ahead. Setter (4:34.62) and Preston (5:21.28) came in 2nd and 3rd respectively, amongst the juniors. Anthony (4:44.92) and Desilets (4:54.15) won first and second respectively in the 20-34 group. Gillian Wright (4:55.43) ran in a separate race and finished third in her group, less than 2 seconds behind Desilets. Robak Zygo (5:13.59) placed first amongst the masters.

Robert McNamara won all the sprints in his age group.

Robert McNamara won all the sprints in his age group.

The men all raced the 800 together with a close race amongst the first three finishers. St. Cyr (3:26.34) passed Dennis (3:31.27) in the last 100 meters, but Kowalik (3:23.59) was able to maintain his lead with a couple of seconds to spare and win first overall. Cody Sears (3:55.55) came in third place in the Juniors category. Loring Porter (4:20.84) won first in his category. McNamara (5:07) finished ahead of Zygo (5:12.12) in the 50-64 category. Following the 800 m. race, the athletes dispersed to regroup several hours later for the 5K.

With afternoon temperatures around 15º F and some light snow falling, the racers gathered at the VIC in Paul Smiths for the 5K. There was a dusting of snow over the well-packed, groomed trail. The course ran in a loop down through woods and frozen marshes and then back up to the visitor’s center. Since the race was just a single loop, the course did not become overly torn up during the race, although racers reported that some of the cross-over sections between the main trails were a little soft and narrow.

Joseph St. Cyr started the 5K strong and finished in first place.

Joseph St. Cyr started the 5K strong and finished in first place.

Within the first half mile, Joseph St. Cyr was well ahead of the others, followed by Tyler Dezago with Cody Dennis close behind him. They finished in the same order with St. Cyr (24:45) leading Dezago (26:43) by nearly 2 minutes, and Dennis (28:20) falling further behind. All three athletes are students at Paul Smiths College in the 15-19 age group Among the women, Colleen Porter (30:23), who is in the 35-49 age bracket, finished first, followed by Lauren Brieant (32:27). Porter and Brieant were also in the same position shortly after the start of the race.

Colleen Porter was all smiles as she headed for the home stretch.

Colleen Porter was all smiles as she headed for the home stretch.

Porter is a newcomer to the sport, having run her first snowshoe race three weeks prior. She and her husband, Loring, who also competed in the events, had bought some racing snowshoes to use in the backcountry for light travel. They decided to give racing a try, too. “We also picked up running a couple of years ago so we’re just combining some sports together.” Jessica Setter (35:17) finished third overall and second in the Junior category. In the 20-34 group Gillian Wright (36:21) placed first, Desilets (37:40) second and Bianca Fournier (49:05) third. Melissa Sanford (42:55) won second in the 35-49 group and Marilyn Robak Zygo (38:00) came in first in the 50-64 group. Amongst the 35-49 men, Loring Porter (31:41) placed first. About a 0.5 mile into the race, Larry Zygo (35:21) was ahead of Robert (39:00) McNamara, a lead that he held throughout the race. “I just ran easy,” Zygo, of Lake Placid, said after winning his category. He admitted that he’d expected McNamara to catch him because he’d won the sprints. Referring to racing with young college students he admitted, “it can be intimidating. They just take off so you don’t see them.”  He said that running with one of the students helped him to stay focused.

Larry Zygo says that the morning sprints helped prepare him for the 5K.

Larry Zygo says that the morning sprints helped prepare him for the 5K.

For more information about snowshoe racing in the area, visit the Empire State Snowshoe Racing Association’s website.

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