This Cocoa Beach, Fla., resident will compete in her seventh national championship on March 1.
Before most of the world is awake, Cecilia Muldoon-Walker straps on her snowshoes and begins a training run. But it isn’t white powdery snow and below-freezing temperatures she stomps through during her workout. It’s the warm ocean breeze and light gray-brown sand of Cocoa Beach, Fla. A competitive snowshoe runner since 2004, Walker has competed in six U.S. snowshoe championship races and this year is taking part in her seventh at the 2014 Dion Snowshoes U.S. National Snowshoe Championships on March 1 in Woodford, Vt.[Update: Muldoon-Walker placed 35th in the 2014 Dion Snowshoes U.S. National Snowshoe Championships.]
This year’s national championship race in Vermont is at a lower altitude (elevation: 2,165 feet) compared to some years. She says training hundreds of miles away from snow at sea level doesn’t hold her back, and her results confirm it. She’s typically a top-20 finisher at the national championships—including an 11th-place finish in 2009—even thought she’s racing primarily against competitors from cold-weather states in the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, upper Midwest and New England.
Aside from an annual trip to race in a qualifier, Muldoon-Walker says she improvises in her training as best possible, even if that means the covering the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, which are only a few strides away.
“I think the sand might be a little bit harder because it’s not as forgiving as the snow,” says Muldoon-Walker, a 51-year old high school art teacher and running coach. “I have to do the majority of my training on the sand, on a bridge or running up a parking garage. Whatever we have in Florida.”
Walker started running at a young age. A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles in high school, she continued her track career at the University of Florida, where her love of long-distance running grew. After college, she traveled the world, competing in road races for Adidas, but took a break from competition when she had children. She got back into road racing in 2002 but on a family ski trip out West found it hard to run in the snow and ice.
After reading an article about a new snowshoe made for running, she decided to try it and entered her first snowshoe race, a 5K in Steamboat Springs, Colo.—a race she won despite being at a disadvantage in the high-altitude environs (elevation: 6,300 feet).
“I thought that it was funny to win a snowshoe race, coming from Florida,” she says. “I was like, ‘Wow this is fun. I’m going to start doing this’.”
In 2006, she placed third overall in the Rail Trail 5K Snowshoe Stomp in Park City, Utah, (elevation: 7.000 feet) and qualified for the USSSA National Championships. Since then, she’s qualified for nationals every year, missing only two because of injury. Because of her hometown’s distance from the snow, Walker usually only makes it to one regional qualifying race and the national championships each year. On Jan. 25 she took part in the Swift Skedaddle Snowshoe Adventure Race in Silverthorne, Colo., (elevation: 9,035 feet) and placed seventh overall among women and first in her age division.
The farthest she’s traveled for a snowshoe race is Italy for La Ciaspolada—an 8K village-to-village race that dates back to 1972—where she placed 15th out of 7,000 participants. One wintery destination still on her list: Anchorage, Alaska.
“If they had a nationals [in Anchorage] I’d definitely go,” she says. “Snowshoeing gives you a good excuse to travel to nice places and get some snowboarding in on the side.”
When she isn’t working up a sweat to reach snowy elevations of nearly 8,000 feet, Walker competes in local road races. In October she was the top female 10K finisher in Cocoa Beach’s USA Beach Running Championships 10K and Half Marathon. When asked if she prefers snow or sand, Walker’s answer is surprising.
“Definitely snow,” she says. “There is great weather here, and I can probably train almost every day outside … but for me to go somewhere else to run a snowshoe race, it’s just different than what I see every day,” she says. “It’s nice to be in the woods where you have the winterscape with the trees and singletrack trail.”
Did You Know?
In January, Minnesota’s Eric Hartmark, the 2013 U.S. snowshoe racing runner-up, finished seventh at the 2014 ISSF World Snowshoe Championships in Rattvik, Sweden. Fellow Minnesotan Michael Reneau finished 16th in the race, while Colorado’s Mark Rickman took 14th place in the men’s masters race. Carolyn Stocker of Massachusetts, placed 13th in the women’s race, while Marcy Schwam, also of Massachusetts, took 11th in the women’s masters race.