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January 05. 2013 8:25PM

Andy Schachat's On the Run: Snowshoeing provides an option in winter


 

Merrimack resident Steve Wolfe works out on snowshoes. (JAY REITER/Union Leader)
Most runners in these parts prefer a mild winter like like last year's. On the other hand, there is a group of runners who applauded the snow that fell in the last week of December. That group knew that a lot of snow, the type that will be around for awhile, means it should be a good winter for snowshoe racing.

Snowshoe racing will never be as big as road racing, but its popularity has grown in New Hampshire over the past few years. Races that drew about 50 entrants a few years ago have grown to the 150- to 200-participant range.

The feature event of the New Hampshire snowshoe-racing schedule is the Granite State Snowshoe Series. The series begins Jan. 12 with the Beaver Brook race in Hollis and includes seven races, the last the Granite State championship at a site yet to be determined.

Or, more accurately put, the series hopes to include seven races. Last year's mild winter resulted in the cancellation of many GSSS races, limiting the series to only three events.

The irony did not escape anyone, races being canceled because the weather was too nice.

Snowshoe racing may seem like it's not for everyone. The awkwardness of running with snowshoes takes some getting used to. As with skiing, one of the first lessons new snowshoe racers learn is how to fall. But new participants to the sport are encouraged to stick with it.

On the Granite State Snow Shoe Series website (www.granitestatesnowshoeseries.org), Chris Dunn, the organizer of the series and local expert on snowshoe racing, has written "Snowshoe Racing 101." The article breaks down various aspects of the sport, including types of shoes, what clothes to wear and how to train. Over the past few years, Dunn has given talks to various New Hampshire running clubs to encourage runners to try snowshoe racing. His message is clear: The sport is for everyone.

Those runners who have responded to Dunn's encouragement have reported high marks for the sport. From elite runners to mid-packers, Granite Staters who have discussed their experience with me report that snowshoe racing is a lot of fun. They also say it is a great way to train during the winter.

Snowshoe racing helps build up different muscles from those strengthened by running on roads, and snowshoe racers claim the activity helps build stronger legs. It is also a great break from constant pounding on the pavement.

If following the example of fast runners is an indication of the benefits of snowshoe racing, then the Granite State snowshoe scene is a prime example. Some of New Hampshire's top runners are frequently seen at local snowshoe races. Last year's Granite State Snow Shoe series men's champion was Jim Johnson of Madison. Over the past five years, Johnson probably has more wins and top-five finishes at New Hampshire road races than any other runner. Longtime New England standout Dave Dunham, a former New Hampshire resident now living in Bradford, Mass., also has frequented the New Hampshire snowshoe racing scene. North Conway's Kevin Tilton, possibly the best runner in the White Mountains region, also has become a top snowshoe racer. On the women's side, Leslie Beckwith of North Conway, winner of last October's White Mountain Milers Half Marathon, is the defending GSSS champion.

No local runner who has taken to the snow has done so with greater success than Concord's Amber Ferreira. Ferreira has won numerous road races and has become a world-class triathlete, but snowshoe racing may be her best sport. In 2012, Ferreira won the national snowshoe championship and was second in the world championships.

But, again, snowshoe racing is not just for the swiftest. A glance at the results of any snowshoe race will reveal names familiar to the New Hampshire road race scene. Whether at the front, middle, or back of the pack, many runners who have found the sport very much to their liking.

And this year, there may actually be ample opportunity to enjoy it.

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RUNNING SHORTS: The 2013 New Hampshire road race schedule got off to a fine start. More than 1,400 finished the Millennium Mile, with Makopa Rugabirwa of Concord and Joanna Murphy of Cambridge, Mass., winning. In Portsmouth, there were 395 finishers at the Great Bay Resolution 5K. Winners were Portsmouth's Ryan Proulx and Kate Hyland. The town of Temple saw 156 participants at the Peanut Butter Chip Chase 5K. Many New Hampshire runners crossed the border and ran the 1st Run 5K or 10K race in Lowell, Mass. That's because the race kicked of the 2013 Will Run For Beer Series, a circuit of seven races, five in New Hampshire. Bedford's Colin Cook was the Granite State's best, finishing third in the 5K.

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Andy Schachat's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at schachat44@gmail.com.

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