Racing the world – Three Vail snowshoe racers will represent U.S. in World Championships
Three of the valley’s fastest qualified for the inaugural team and left just two spots open for the rest of the country. If you know the runners in the valley, the names shouldn’t be a surprise.
Eagle’s Anita Ortiz, the 2002 U.S. Snowshoe Association (USSSA) and the 2002 North American Snowshoe women’s champion, and Ingrid Middaugh, who finished fifth at the national championships last winter, will be two of the three women representing the U.S.
Ingrid’s husband, Josiah Middaugh, also won the USSSA National Championships and the North American championships last winter, rounds out the threesome, putting Vail on top of the snowshoe-racing scene.
“It speaks for the level of competitors here,” said Ortiz, 37, who was also the top American mountain runner last season, earning her the mountain running athlete-of-the-year award given away by the U.S. Track and Field Association. “You know if you’re doing well around here, you’re good. Every time I do a race, I feel honored to stand next to people like Mike Kloser, Alan Lewis and Mia Stockdale (all prominent racers).”
The trio will be traveling to Valle de Non, Italy, for the 7-kilometer race, which features 600 competitive athletes and another 5,000 openly-registered runners. The elite field will be racing for about $20,000 in prizes.
But the Middaughs and Ortiz aren’t exactly thrilled with the venue. While the Vail residents are used to snowshoe races going up and down the sides of powdery mountains, the Italian track will be groomed and mostly flat. In fact, the trio will climb a whopping 100 meters.
“It’s not the kind of course we would do the best at,” Josiah Middaugh said. “The races we do are a lot of elevation change and single track. I do my best in the single track. And I know Anita likes the climbs, too.”
While winning is on their minds, it’s not necessarily the goal. Without knowing what exactly to expect, other than a lot of sprinting, the athletes are happy just to have the chance. Given the fact that none of them consider snowshoeing as their primary sport, competing for a world championship has given them a new look on snowshoe racing.
“I was just doing it for a workout,” said Josiah Middaugh, who started competing just last season. He didn’t even know about the national championships until a friend mentioned that it might be a good idea to try it. “Even last year, I had no idea I was going to do that well.”
Ortiz tells the same story.
“I really do think it helps my running in the summer,” said Ortiz, who’s won all four races she’s entered this winter. “Now, I’m not so sure on whether I like snowshoeing or mountain running better.”
Josiah is better known for competing at the Xterra races during the warmer months. Last summer, he won the 20-25 year-old age group at the Xterra World Championships in Maui and won the national amateur championship. He added that racing on snowshoes is just a tad different than being in a pair of running shoes.
“The first race I did,” he said, “I couldn’t believe how slow I was running and how hard it was. I was running 8-minute miles (which is good). I wasn’t expecting that, though.”
Ingrid, on the other hand, hasn’t competed in that many races since she ran cross country at Central Michigan University, and, according to her husband, is a little bit nervous about being on such a big stage.
“She’s really excited about the type of experience,” Josiah said. “She knows what it’s like to race at that level. It’s just been a while, that’s all.”
All three racers will be leaving for the competition on New Year’s Day, but while Ortiz and her husband Mike will be celebrating the coming of 2003 and leaving in the afternoon, the Middaughs will be on a plane when the ball drops.
Their departure time is 12:05 a.m., Jan. 1, meaning Vail can only get faster as the year goes on.
Notes: The USSSA World’s Team also includes Dave Dunham, of Massachusetts, and Michelle Paul, of Michigan.
Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.