When the 80 finishers of the Women’s Senior 10 km Dion USSSA National Championships lined up for their event in Eau Claire, not one guessed they had found themselves in a race of historic proportions; particularly Brandy Erholtz of Evergreen, Colorado, and Margot Branigan, St. Paul, Minnesota.
The race at the front would be hard-fought, no question, but the result turned snowshoe racing on its head: Both Erholtz and Branigan finished with near identical times of 47:45 as they crashed over the finish line. Crashed! The only difference, the tiny third number blazing a .7 for Erholtz and a .9 for Branigan.
At first glance, Erholtz might seem to hold a big advantage over the field. She earned gold in two USSSA National Women’s titles, 2009 and 2011. Another USSSA National Team membership came with her fourth place in 2012. Six weeks into her pregnancy with young Asher in 2013, Erholtz nabbed a silver for the both of them at Bend, Oregon’s national championships. Her racing experience on snowshoes just this winter yielded a second overall (1:46:39) at the hardcore Leadville Snowshoe Half-Marathon.
Branigan sports a strong racing resume’ with everything from 5 km—like the USATF Minnesota Championship in 19 minutes flat—to the new Jeff Winter City of Lakes Half-Marathon last summer in Minneapolis, where she just missed a bronze overall by a mere three seconds, 1:22:08, in that highly competitive field.
In addition, Branigan raced one of the region’s most demanding snowshoe fields in the Boulder Lake Qualifier, just out of Duluth, for silver. Notably in that race, one of the closest snowshoe finishes ever occurred in the men’s silver chase. Read about that Here
At the 2015 City of Lakes Loppet Snowshoe Race, shortened and moved to a snow-covered location in late January, Branigan and fellow racer at Boulder Lake, Heather Meyers-Wimer, Hudson, finished together at 30:12:17 for the win.
As the race starts, Erholtz recalls, “The gun went off—immediately in snowshoe racing you are pretty much ‘redlining’. Each time I race, I am humbled at how difficult and uncomfortable it feels. However, I reminded myself if you just embrace the pain eventually you’ll get used to it. I had a slight lead after about (a third of a mile) into the race. However, from 5 km on, we went
back and forth numerous times.This was definitely the closest snowshoe race and finish I’ve even been in. I had a close finish back in 2011 at the USATF Mountain Running National Championships.” There she won the bronze medal in 35:12, one second ahead of fourth, two seconds ahead of fifth. “The top four made the World’s team at that race.”
She continued, “The course in (Eau Claire) didn’t play to any of my skills or strengths. I prefer steep uphills and lots of snow. There was also a noticeable lack of snow (though 99 percent of the course was covered), which wasn’t in my favor either. I think I did have experience and altitude on my side, and I did enjoy the single track.”
Her best fan, Asher, stayed with “my mom, ‘grandma,’ who babysat him during the race. I am from Minnesota originally, so I actually had quite a bit of family and a few friends at the race.”
One of the best snowshoe racers on the planet, Eric Hartmark, moved from one location to another around the course watching these two battle. He had an upfront and close view yards away from the line when these two rounded the bend heading for the finish. He reported, “What an amazing race. I couldn’t believe how many lead changes there were throughout the course. I feel like just about every spot I ran to, the lead had either switched from the previous spot, or I watched one of them make a surge to take the lead. (Nearing the finish) Margot had a lead on Brandy coming out of the woods, starting that final loop around the fields. Brandy took the lead when they went behind the buildings before the final straightaway. I ran between the buildings to watch the final sprint to the finish. Brandy had the lead coming from behind the buildings with a step or two on Margot. Very
close to the finish line, maybe the final 20 meters, Margot made a huge surge and was moving faster than Brandy in those final meters. If the finish line had been a few meters farther, or if Margot had made her surge a second or two earlier, it might have been a different result. It was incredible!”
Not to be lost in the fray at the front, Whitney Spivey grabbed the bronze finish less than 19 seconds behind Branigan. She shared these remarks about the race: “I had one of those really good days where everything clicked: I felt strong, my head was in a good place, the weather was decent, and the course was perfect for the type of snowshoes I was wearing.” From Santa Fe, New Mexico, known quaintly as “The Different City,” the semi-arid climate there enjoys an average of seven snowfalls each winter, which is becoming a lot when compared to some northern locations. She stretched her distance nicely just a few weeks before Eau Claire by finishing the Moab Red Hot 33k trail layout in 3:19:43. Spivey narrowly missed the women’s USSSA National Team at 2014’s Vermont Championships, but more than made up for that with a national medal and membership on the national team at Eau Claire. She gives the 2013 Cindy Brochman Snowshoe Person of the Year, Laurie Lambert, credit for teaching her snowshoe racing.
Erin Block, also of St. Paul, earned her fourth USSSA National Team with a time of 48:36 followed by Sarah Gall, Cedar Falls, Iowa, locking the final slot.
Block made her first appearance in a national championship at 2007’s Minnesota race, earning her first national team with a fourth overall. She picked up national championship bronze medals at the 2010 and 2011 races to go along the honor of a national team member.
For Gall, starting national snowshoe racing with a near-miss for the 2007 national team with a sixth place, this year adds her third such honor to go with her 2008 and 2014 National Team memberships.
World Snowshoe medalist, Jennifer Chaudoir, Green Bay, grabbed sixth, winning a slot on the USSSA Masters National Team. Meyers-Wimer won her class gold medal by notching the last sub-50 minute time, 49:54, in the field.
The inaugural USSSA National Snowshoe Half-Marathon presented by Redfeather Snowshoes enjoyed a field of 20 strong racers. Jackie Hering, Mazomanie, nailed the new event’s first gold by touring the two-loop 10 km course, extended with an add-on just before the first aid station, in1:46:48. The head coach and owner of Hering Coaching, she races nearly every form of snowshoeing, bike and running combination there is. Amy Rusiecki, South Deerfield, Massachusetts, doubled-up her weekend and her medals by winning the inaugural national
marathon silver in 1:59:05 after a class silver in the Seniors 10km race. Rusiecki is a power house in trail running; not only the race director for the Vermont 100 but also from her first place U.S.A female at the World Trail Championships 2013. In her story about the half-marathon, Rusiecki wrote in her blog, “The second lap was pure joy on snowshoes.” Gotta love it.
Chloe Mattilio, Paul Smiths, New York, captured the bronze just four ticks over two hours while Suzie Fox, Chaska, Minnesota, secured the class gold in 2:02:55. Jonnah Perkins, Black Earth, finished the top five with a class silver.
Special note to Mary Lou White, Bolton, Connecticut for a gold class medal as the most senior snowshoer of the field.
With the new marathon championship race in Ogden, Utah, to début in 2016, adding to the existing 10 km championship race and the half-marathon championship race, racers have a new incentive to train hard over the coming summer season. Then when next winter arrives, 26.2 miles on snowshoes will seem like a kick . . . .
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