Ortiz, Middaugh fall into championships | VailDaily.com

Ortiz, Middaugh fall into championships

Ryan Slabaugh

While the goal was to stay upright and run through the snow, the last mile of downhill had as many racers sledding as running. Even Anita Ortiz, the women’s champion, ended up off her feet on more than one occasion.

“I thought I might as well somersault down the downhill,” Ortiz said. “I’m so bad at the downhill.”

Where Ortiz made her time, however, was in the steep climb at the beginning of the race. A grueling start led the 73 racers, the highest number in the Pedal Power event’s history, up to a flatter meadow section, through some trees and then down the final descent to the finish. The tough nine-mile course had one competitor, as he crossed the finish line, smiling.

“It was terrible. I loved it,” he said.

Even Josiah Middaugh, the men’s champion, struggled on the downhill. Both Middaugh and Ortiz are members of the U.S. National Snowshoe Team.

“I seriously fell three times in the last half mile,” Middaugh said. “I actually passed someone on the last part of the downhill.”

For Middaugh and Ortiz, the sugary snow was a pleasant change from the course at the World Snowshoe Championships in Italy, held Jan. 4. Ortiz completed a top-10 finish, while Middaugh finished 29th, but the race wasn’t even on snow. A drought forced the almost 7,000 racers to lace up their tennis shoes and compete on the road.

So even though the finish was tough, both competitors were glad to be home.

“What’s cool about this race,” Middaugh said, “is it’s a true snowshoe race. The snowshoes keep you afloat. There’s a little more strategy in this race. If you go outside the track, you’re in deeper snow. You’re going to lose time.”

Nearly every racer Saturday fell at some point. One racer came across the finish line with icicles hanging from his visor, while Andy Fox of Evergreen, explained all the tortured grins.

“You’ve got to smile to keep from crying,” Fox said.

So the course was tough. Enough said. For most of these athletes, however, the difficulty is what keeps bringing them back to the Pedal Power course set up by organizer Bruce Kelly. Kelly started hosting the Colorado State Championships seven years ago, after finding out nobody else had claimed such an event.

Fox, however, said the event’s title didn’t really matter.

“This is, by far, the funnest race,” Fox said. “My wife’s out there running. It’s really hard to get in a routine. You have to make sure you don’t start too fast. You can die pretty easily.”

And that’s even before the ending, which had tired legs giving up all morning. It’s all about the gravity people, Kelly said.

“The snowboarders, skiers and telemarkers,” he added. “They love the downhill. It’s what they’re best at. The runners don’t do as well. They’re not quite used to this.”

The key, he said (which probably goes under the easier-said-than-done category) is keeping forward. If you lean back, the shoes will slip right from underneath the racer.

For both Ortiz and Middaugh, now two-time defending state champions, the Screaming Snowman race in Eldora in two weeks is next on the agenda. While the race is a qualifier for the U.S. Nationals in March in Salt Lake City, both local athletes have already qualified.

“It’s still fun,” Ortiz said. “It’s a little different crowd. All the top people will be there, but they have their locals, and we have ours.”

Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at rslabaugh@vaildaily.com.