By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
UPPER SALFORD >> The mountain was high enough and the temperature cold enough, but icy conditions didn’t stop 30 runners from snowshoeing on the frozen ground Saturday morning.
The 10th Annual Pennsylvania Snowshoe Race was held at Spring Mountain in Schwenksville. The race was a qualifier for the 2015 U.S. National Snowshoe Championships which will be held in Eau Claire, Wis., on Feb. 27.
With a temperature that felt below zero and brisk winds, race participants began the 5K competition with an uphill battle while wearing specialized shoes to navigate through snow.
“This was tough going up. Your whole body is on fire,” said Sean Clark of Philadelphia.
Clark, 29, was the first to cross the finish line despite some confusing portions of the course. The 5K route began on the ski slopes of Spring Mountain Adventures, continued through the woods and ended downhill on the slope mountain.
Clark said in the middle of the course, participants became confused. It was later discovered that a flag meant to direct runners was taken down before the race.
“We just tried to help each other through it,” Clark said. “It was more of a puzzle than a race at that point.”
Clark said he eventually got back on track with the help of four other snowshoe runners and it was a team effort.
Clarke began snowshoeing in 2011 but said he is primarily a distance runner. He’s never been to the snowshoe championships but hopes to make it to Wisconsin this year.
Race director Ed Myers said excellent athletes from Pennsylvania and other states like New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland participated in the regional snowshoe race. All participants now qualify for the national championships since they’ve shown they can compete on a snowshoe course, he said.
“Snowshoe racing is probably one of the toughest winter sports there is,” he said.
Myers said most of the national snowshoe winners are trail runners which makes sense because snowshoeing is all about footwork. He said another challenge of the winter sport is running while wearing an extra pound on each foot.
Running with additional weight attached to your feet almost seemed easy after witnessing 9-year-old Rachel Myhre finish in first place for her age division and 11th place overall. She ended the snowshoe course with applause and shouts of amazement.
Rachel’s father, Joe, said his daughter has been running since she was three years old. He said she likes to trail run but also likes the snow.
“So put trail running and snow together, you got a beautiful mix,” he said.
This was Rachel’s first snowshoe race but not her first running competition. She even completed her first half-marathon last year, Joe said.
Rachel, of Collegeville, said she trail runs because she gets bored just passing houses and mailboxes on the street.
“I like to run because it’s an adventure for me,” she said.
Rachel became interested in snowshoeing when she did a 10K race in Wisconsin. At the race, she met someone who did the winter sport and decided to start using her snowshoes for winter running practice.
“I do like it and it gives me quite a workout,” she said. “In the spring, I find that my (running) form is better after snowshoeing.”
Rachel runs about eight miles every two to three days which can explain that even though she found Saturday’s snowshoe course challenging, she said she wished the distance was longer.
Following right behind Rachel in the snowshoe race, Bonnie Stoeckl, 58, finished in 12th place.
Stoeckl of Pequea and her husband, Paul, are trail runners who’ve been racing for 25 years. They both ran in Saturday’s race and even competed in nationals a few years ago when it was held in New York.
“The night before nationals, they got 10 inches. It was very challenging, “she said. “ We became aware very quickly that six miles is a long way to run in 10 inches of snow.”
Stoeckl said snowshoeing is a great workout and she likes being outside in the wintertime.
“I like the way the snow on the groomed surfaces crunch under your snowshoes and I like when there’s a mass start and you get to the first turn, the snow’s flying everywhere like dust,” she said.
Even with snow on the ground and freezing temperatures, runners crossed the finish line with faces drenched in sweat.
Myers said snowshoe runners can burn up to 900 calories an hour doing the winter sport.
“It’s still a great exercise for walkers,” he said adding that walkers can burn about 400 calories an hour.
Nancy Heller, 46, of Downingtown was the only snowshoe race participant to use walking poles on Saturday. Before the race began, Heller said she didn’t care about winning but was there to have fun.
She said even walking while snowshoeing is a total body workout.
“You really need a stable core and back to keep your balance,” she said.
Heller said she likes snowshoeing because it’s fun but also because you don’t realize how much you’re exercising while you’re doing it.
“You don’t realize how hard it is until you’re done,” she said. “Your muscles hurt but when you’re out there, you’re just in the middle of nature and don’t realize that you’re working your body.”
When Heller learned of the regional snowshoe race, she decided to come spend an enjoyable Saturday morning trekking up a snow mountain. Heller was the last participant to finish the race but was unsurprised by the fact since her goal was to have fun not win.
“I just love being outside. Anyway that I can get outside, I’ll do it,” she said.
Heller said her husband claims that she looks like a kid when she snowshoes with a huge grin on her face and her tongue sticking out. Another reason Heller likes to snowshoe is because it’s an easy activity to do.
“The nice thing about this is there’s no learning curve,” she said. “You put a snowshoe on and you go walk.”