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Snowshoeing one heck of a hobby for Ferreira and Folcik-Welts

  • Concord's Amber Ferreira runs alone up front in winning the national championship earlier this month in Vermont.

    Concord's Amber Ferreira runs alone up front in winning the national championship earlier this month in Vermont.

  • Northwood's Kristina Folcik-Welts runs to a runner-up finish at the national snowshoe championships earlier this month in Vermont.

    Northwood's Kristina Folcik-Welts runs to a runner-up finish at the national snowshoe championships earlier this month in Vermont.

  • Concord's Amber Ferreira runs alone up front in winning the national championship earlier this month in Vermont.
  • Northwood's Kristina Folcik-Welts runs to a runner-up finish at the national snowshoe championships earlier this month in Vermont.

Snowshoe racing is a means to an end for Concord’s Amber Ferreira and Northwood’s Kristina Folcik-Welts. They both use it to train for their primary endurance sports – triathlons for Ferreira and ultra trail running for Folcik-Welts. But the means produced impressive ends for the two women at the U.S. Snowshoe National Championships held earlier this month at Prospect Mountain in Woodford, Vt.

Ferreira won the 10-kilometer race to claim her second national snowshoe title and Folcik-Welts finished second. The top five finishers qualified for the U.S. National Team and a place in the 2015 World Championships, which are expected to be held in Quebec. Three of those top five were from New Hampshire – Ferreira, Folcik-Welts and Laconia’s Abbey Wood, who was fifth.

“I just do training in the winter, I don’t really do formal Ironman racing, and I use snowshoeing as a fun way to keep in shape,” said Ferreira, 31, who was second at the 2012 World Snowshoe Championships. “My natural gait allows me to run well on snowshoes and the strength from biking on the trainer all winter helps. Biking and snowshoeing transfer well, they crisscross.”

Even if snowshoe racing is more of a side project for Ferreira, reclaiming the national snowshoe title she first won in 2010 was one of her winter goals. Folcik-Welts, on the other hand, had never raced in the National Championships and she wasn’t sure what to expect at the event, especially after suffering a concussion in November.

“I was out for about eight weeks with the concussion so I didn’t have a lot of training and I was just winging it,” she said. “I was hoping for a top five, but I didn’t expect it, and I was beyond thrilled to get second, although Amber just destroyed the competition.”

Ferreira finished in 51:31, well ahead of the 53:51 turned in by Folcik-Welts, 37, and the rest of the 114 women in the field. Level Renner Magazine wrote that Ferreira, “cut through the hilly, snow covered trails like an arctic wolf chugging Red Bull and riding a snowmobile.” It’s not a shock Ferreira turned in such a fast time. She is an exceptional endurance athlete and she went into the race with an all-or-nothing plan.

“As the females lined the start waiting for the gun, I repeated my race plan in my head: go out as fast as you can and make yourself hurt,” Ferreira wrote in her blog at amberferreira.blogspot.com, where she details her life as a professional triathlete. “I was confident in my fitness, but with a brainless plan like this, the race could either go very good or very, very bad.”

There was some hurt in the middle of the race, “my quads were on fire, I had developed a rare abdominal cramp and I started looking behind me like a crazy lady,” Ferreira wrote, but the “brainless plan” worked. And she wasn’t the only one who experienced pain and then blogged about it. Folcik-Welts described the end of her race experience on her blog at dangergirldh.com.

“I finally got to the top of the last descent to the finish where Amber crossed the finish line just as I crested the hill. I had never seen so many spectators at a race before … I somehow forgot that the finish was not at the bottom of the climb and my heart sank when the course turned left and I still had more racing to do on flat groomers,” Folcik-Welts wrote.

“I looked back and saw third place just cresting the hill and ran so hard that I got tunnel vision. Everything started to turn black, my legs were shaking and I just kept praying to not pass out until I crossed the finish line … I never knew I could be capable of pushing that hard, to the point of almost not functioning, but for the second time in my racing career I did just that and it got me on the podium.”

Ferreira and Folcik-Welts, who are friends, shared a laugh when they were on the hay bale podium.

“I cracked a joke with Amber telling her I was going to stalk her during her training to see what she does and that I was going to get her at Worlds,” Folcik-Welts wrote. “She laughed (does Amber do anything other than laugh!?) and didn’t tell me her secret! What I love about Amber is she is not only crazy fast, she is so darn nice and absolutely hilarious! I am not ever sure I will be able to perform at her level but I am going to try my best.”

The two women took very different paths to reach those hay bales. Ferreira, who is from Westford, Mass., grew up playing sports and, “always loved the freedom and simplicity of running.” She ran track at Northeastern University, tried other endurance sports after college, and eventually found her passion for triathlons when she joined the triathlon club at the YMCA in Concord, where she relocated in 2007 to work as a physical therapist at Concord Hospital.

Folcik-Welts, who grew up in Connecticut and moved to Northwood in 2011, describes herself on her website as, “very unathletic until the age of 17 … I had no purpose or direction in life and felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere.” Her transformation began when she was introduced to mountain biking in 1996 and has never really stopped. Now she is a sponsored endurance runner, a health and wellness coach who helps beginning runners, and a race director – she and her husband organize the Bear Brook Granite State Snowshoe Championship Race and the Harmony Hill Summer Cross Country series.

What the two have in common is some eye-catching race results. Ferreira was the 16th pro female to finish in the 2013 U.S. 70.3 (half Ironman triathlon) Championships and 22nd in the 2013 70.3 World Championships. She was named the N.H. Triathlete of the Year from 2009-2012 and won the Rock ’n Race in Concord in 2010, 2012 and 2013. Her primary goal this year is to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October and she’ll compete in three full Ironman events (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) and seven half Ironmans in order to do that.

It was also a productive 2013 for Folcik-Welts, who was the Granite State Snowshoe series winner, the fourth female finisher at the Manchester Marathon, finished first and set a female course record at the Terrapin 50k trail race in Vermont, and was first in the Cayuga 50-mile trail race in New York.

The two probably won’t cross race paths until they return to snowshoes next winter. But when they do, they’ll both be taking a hobby to a World Championship level.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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