2005: Empire Runners Win National Snowshoe Championships in Alaska

May 2005: Empire Runners Win National Title at Snowshoe National Championships in Anchorage, Alaska. Download the full pdf: may05ern


For the third year in a row, the Empire Runners have  been well represented at the United States Snowshoe National Championships. In 2003, Chris Gilbert finished 10th  overall at  the national championships in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2004, Chris convinced me to join him at the national championships in Squaw Valley, California, where Chris finished 8th  overall, while I ended up 34th .

With the 2005 championships taking place in Anchorage, Alaska, we were able to convince several more club members to join in on the fun this year – Kenny Brown and Brian and Rita Purcell. We all managed to qualify at the Squaw Valley regional race (one of 10 qualifying races) and  made plans to go north.

Unfortunately, Chris Gilbert was not able to make thetrip, but we still managed to take a group of six Empire Runners to Alaska. Brian, Rita, Kenny and myself would race, and our support crew was Kathy Bisordi and Karen Bohn. We all hoped to do a bit of sight seeing as well as compete at the nationals.

Immediately after landing in Alaska, my Mom and I drove around the outskirts of town. We were delighted to get a nice view of Denali (the tallest peak in North America at 20,320 feet) five minutes into our trip! Later that evening we watched the Alaska Aces host the Long Beach Ice Dogs in minor league ice hockey (the only kind there is this year). About eight thousand locals stomped and screamed for their hometown boys, who won in overtime that night.

Saturday morning began with a race, but not running or snowshoeing – we were off to see the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog race! The directors of our snowshoeing race wisely scheduled our event so as to make it possible for us to see the ceremonial start to the Iditarod on Saturday morning. We all decided to set our concerns about racing dogs aside, and went to enjoy the spectacle. It was quite a show! Thousands of spectators lined the streets to watch almost 100 teams begin their 1150 mile journey to Nome. The race was created in 1973 to commemorate the brave trek made by sled dog in 1925 to deliver serum to fight the Diphtheria epidemic that was ravaging Alaska at that time.

Later that day we were finally ready to race ourselves, in Kincaid Park on the outskirts of town. All of uswould toe/shoe the line together, though adults would be racing a 10K and the juniors a 5K. At the sound of the gun, 80 or so individuals who had qualified and traveled great distances took off across the snow. The course took us through a tunnel and off into the woods. It was a great course, with challenging, rolling hills, and a fun mix of road-width and single-track trails – not too different than Annadel really, but with shorter and more numerous hills.

As it has often seemed to end up, Kenny and I traveled a few thousand miles and ended up one after another for most of the race. Kenny was our first runner at 13th  overall (35-39 gold medal) in 47:44 while I was 14th  overall (35-39 silver medal) in 48:04. Brian was close behind in 19th  overall (45-49 silver medal) in 50:46. Rita Purcell was 5th  overall in the Junior Girls race in 45:21. We all had great fun and celebrated later that evening with salmon burgers and milkshakes at a local bar and grill.

Sunday morning bought very sore legs for everyone, but we wouldn’t have time to rest, as today would be the relay component of the snowshoe national championships. In the early stages of our planning, local handicapper Lars picked our team of Kenny Brian, Chris and myself as the team to beat. However, with Chris unable to make the trip the feeling was that we might have to settle for a bit less. I refused to give up however, and put my recruiting skills to work Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. By race time I had secured the services of our newest Empire Runner, Mike Decker (Michigan) to anchor our team. Mike had finished 5th overall the previous day in the individual race, so we were back in business, though we missed Chris’ presence.

At the sound of the gun, the lead-off runners sprinted into the woods to complete the first 2.5K loop (team total of 10K). The course was well packed and very fast (this may have been what led many runners to miss turns, despite the well-marked course). Kenny led off for the Empire Runners team, followed by Brian, myself, and then Mike. I could write a lengthy play-by-play that would bore most everyone, but instead I’ll ask you to trust me that it was one of the most exciting relay races I’ve seen! Our team ran at our near the lead for the entire race. I handed off to Mike, who led the field into the woods. When we saw him emerge from the trees and head across the meadow a quarter of a mile a way, close on his heels was Mike McManus (of Dipsea fame) who had finished 4th  overall the day before. In a desperate sprint for the finish “our” Mike held off “their” Mike by about a stride for the win. We were National Champions!

Now I’ll admit that snowshoeing is an “emerging” or “growing” sport. And I’d prefer to avoid telling you how many teams were there on Sunday (though there were more teams than there were medals). But a win is a win, and we are the 2005 10K Relay Snowshoe National Champions! Mike graciously declined our offer of the team trophy and said that it belonged with our club. We hope more Empire Runners will join in the fun next year – ask any of us how exciting the snowshoe racing is, and how much fun it is to travel to the championships.

Next year – Bolton Valley, Vermont! Happy (snow-covered) trails, E. J. Bohn

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