It was 15 degrees below zero on Saturday morning, and yet Robert Rusch had forsaken the warmth of an indoor armchair for a morning of snowshoeing in Lester Park.
It was the day of the Northwoods Snow Championship, so the vicious cold wasn’t about to faze him, he said.
“If they would’ve canceled it, I would’ve come anyway,” shrugged Rusch of Rib Lake, Wis.
Dave Schuneman (right) of Duluth and Jim McDonell of Woodbury, Minn., approach the first turn after the start of the 18th Northwoods Snowshoe Championship on Saturday at Lester Park.
Rusch didn’t need to worry about the snowshoe race being canceled. The cold might sap car batteries and solidify bird baths, but organizer Barb Van Skike said there was no chance it could nix the races.
“There were a lot of people who called and said ‘You shouldn’t have this,’ but we’ve never canceled it,” Van Skike said. “And in fact, I wouldn’t know how to go about canceling it. What do you do with $2,000 worth of T-shirts?”
The Northwoods Snowshoe Championship has been held snow or shine for 18 years, and weather has never brought it to its knees — not even last year, when snowless conditions meant racers competed without snowshoes.
A total of 121 people had signed up for Saturday’s races — 58 were competing in the 10-kilometer race,
46 were entered in the half-marathon and 17 were in the full marathon — and none of them, it seemed, were too concerned about frozen digits or frostbitten cheeks.
“I fully expect to be unzipping things along the way,” said Maria Purvey of Long Lake, Minn., who has participated in the snowshoe race
“You can dress for it, as long as
the wind isn’t terrible,” said Purvey’s husband, Bob Hance, a 17-race veteran.
At Aid Station One, at the intersection of Oak Street and Plum Avenue, many racers shed balaclavas or stripped away outer gear even though the cold had condensed their breath into frost that clung to their faces.
That didn’t come as a surprise to aid station worker Mike Millonig. Though the cold cracked a plastic rib in the tent above where he was grilling bacon strips — which provided the racers with fat and sodium — the former Northwoods Championship racer knew what Saturday’s competitors were facing.
“These guys, they got some body heat going,” Millonig said.
Julie Berg’s eyelashes were flocked with white when she stopped by the aid station, but she couldn’t wear her goggles, she said, because they were too warm.
“I never thought I’d overdress, but alas, I did,” Berg said.
At Aid Station Two on Lester River Road, Sharon Hexum-Platzer of Willow River and Steve Treichler of Duluth were trying to keep their water jug from freezing.
“We have to keep moving it in and out of vehicles,” Hexum-Platzer said.
“We’ve gotten smarter over the past 18 years,” she added.
1. Greg Hexum, Esko, 42:20; 2. Ian Lanza, Rochester, Minn., 48:24; 3. Keith Thompson, Duluth, 51:03.
1. Kris Rosenbush, Stewartville, Minn., 1:09:5; 2. Rachel Van Hale, Minneapolis, 1:13:52; 3. Angela Byers, Minneapolis, 1:22:09.
1. Jim Reed, Duluth, 1:54:42; 2. Nathaniel Wilson, Frederic, Wis., 1:54:57; 3. Dave Schuneman, Duluth, 1:55:09.
1. Shelly Wilson, River Falls, Wis., 2:43:12; 2. Sondra Mowers, Duluth, 2:54:53; 3. Kris Kolenz, Duluth, 2:54:54.
1. Scott Marsh, Austin, Minn., 4:58:17; 2. Matt Long, Poplar, 5:43:29; 3. Steve Burrows, Orillia, Ontario, 5:49:06.
1. Julie Berg, Big Lake, Minn., 5:52:44