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  • 03 Apr 2019 1:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Running Outside the Comfort Zone: An Explorer’s Guide to the Edges of Running, by Susan Lacke.  Velo Press, 2019.

     

                Susan Lacke had never felt at ease in her surroundings.  As a lip-reading deaf person with an odd accent she had never integrated into either regular society or the community of deaf sign language speakers.  It was only during her first 5K that she finally felt that she belonged.  No one really cared that she couldn’t hear, only that her legs could propel her from start to finish.  Shortly after, she became a freelance writer, again in a world where hearing was secondary to written communication.

                But then something began to happen.  Stressed out over trying to qualify for Boston, running seemed more like a job than a release.  Trying to regain a semblance of her own self, Susan did what many writers before her had done (Bill McKibben in Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously, and Kirk Johnson in To the Edge: A Man Death Valley and the Mystery of Endurance), using her profession to restart her joy.  McKibben and Johnson were mourning the death of a loved one; Susan, the death of a lifestyle.                                                               But unlike McKibben and Johnson, Susan did not try to reinvent herself:  rather, she revamped her outlook by approaching her chosen sport in an adventurous manner.

    She ditched Boston and focused only on those events that were outside her comfort zone. Some undertakings, like the Grand Blue Citizen’s Mile, part of the Drake Relays, seem positively doable.  But not to Susan who, like many of us, are still haunted by overbearing phys ed teachers. And I totally get it.  A bullying gym teacher was the prime reason I refused to go out for basketball in high school, despite wanting to be on the team with my friends.                                     Other events, like the Caliente Bare Dare 5K in Florida are outside of nearly everyone’s comfort zone.  And many are just bizarre and a testimony to the author’s internet surfing skills.  Who heard of the Red Bull 400 in Park City, Utah, an uphill run on the ski jump built for the 2002 Olympics where rope netting was erected to keep athletes from slipping backwards and oxygen masks were stationed every 400 meters?  Or the Frozen Dead Guy Days Coffin race where costumed teams tote coffins in honor of Grandpa Bredo, originally cryogenically frozen but now relying on dry ice from charitable neighbors?  Another winner is England’s Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll which initially seems weird but benign:  you chase an eight pound wheel of cheese down a hill.  The catch?  The hill is pock-marked with ruts and divots which are impossible to avoid if you are truly competitive and frantically hurdling downward in search of supper.  More telling, no one is officially in charge so there are no signups and no liability.  There is no website.  Folks just show up at noon on the third Monday of May.

                Miraculously, due in no small part to Susan’s enthusiastic husband Neil, Susan did show up at all these events and survived to write about them.  But that is only part of the story.  Her real challenge came when she revisited her old neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona, where Carlos, her first coach and mentor had trained her and recently succumbed to cancer.  She dared herself to run the trails at their old stomping grounds and commune with her best friend.  Once more, I get it.  Since my husband’s death I have avoided the Finger Lakes National Forest, the site of the Finger Lakes 50s where my husband and I had camped and run every summer. As Susan comments, she had dodged South Mountain “…because I knew that when I came, I’d have to acknowledge the present.  Things were different now.  But it was going to be okay.” Perhaps it is time for me to go back too….

                Each chapter is a self-contained adventure, written in a witty, often hilariously understated style that reveals, in a no-holds barred fashion, the author’s self-examination of her weaknesses, foibles and strengths and hints at future goals.  Most of all, in the words of her husband Neil, she recognizes that “There’s more than one way to be a runner.”  Are you ready to reset your running and expand your adventures and meet the place Where the Sidewalk Ends and the unexpected begins?

     

    Reviewed by laura clark

  • 03 Apr 2019 1:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Running Beyond: Epic Ultra, Trail and Skyrunning Races, text and photos by Ian Corless. White Lion Publishing, 2019.

                It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.  Edmund Hillary

     

                Once upon a time, the query most long distance runners found themselves defending was “Why would you want to run 26 miles?  I don’t even like to drive 26 miles!”  Nowadays that question has ramped up to encompass 100 and even 200 mile events.  Obviously, Edmund Hillary’s and Tenzig Norgay’s assault on Mt. Everest was just the starting line.  But was it?  Read Christopher McDougall’s Natural Born Heroes and discover the mountain prowess of ordinary civilian Cretans that enabled them to flummox the entire Nazi operation by kidnapping a German general.  Or, for a world view, delve into Ian Corless’ Running Beyond where he quotes pioneer Bruno Brunod:  “Older generations were already skyrunners.  My grandfather crossed the mountains working.”

                If this is news to you and you feel you need to catch up, there is no better resource for an overview than Running Beyond with photos, elevation profiles and course descriptions of 35 iconic international skyrunning and ultra events.  At first glance, this hefty, oversize volume would appear to be a typical coffee table book with Corless’ stunning pictures highlighting each race.  But wait! While some of the photographs are of the typical “get your scenics here” variety, others beckon you to partake of the runners’ experience –his agony as he struggles and his ecstasy as he skims over jagged rocks, seemingly not touching the ground.  And interspersed are old-fashioned black-and-white portraits and impressions.  As someone who thinks in color, I have always eschewed classic uncolorized films and even Ansel Adams’ elegant views of nature.  But this time, juxtaposed with the standard color, I finally get it.  The stark portraits, often featuring rakish angles and cut-off views, highlight the focused concentration required just to stay alive.  And through the black and white landscapes which echo this struggle, we experience every nuance in the lichen-covered mountain rock and scraggly, straining plant life. 

                Each chosen race is assigned its own brief chapter, making it easy to hunt and peck.  Skipping around, I first visited those events that were familiar to all runners:  Western States, Everest Trail Race, Comrades, Mount-Blanc, before branching out into the unknown.  Perhaps because of their mythical qualities or simply a desire to  probe deeper into Harry Potter’s roots, I  discovered myself inordinately attracted to those races closely tied to the fell running heritage:  Dragon’s Back 300K in Wales, Lakeland 100 in England  and Glen Coe Skyline 55K in Scotland. I could picture myself extending the 17th and early 18th century pedestrian heritage of the British Isles into this century.

                Besides inviting you to imagine possibilities, or at the very least, daydream yourself into a different body and different set of circumstances, many of the author’s interviews with athletes and race directors provide insight into why something like skyrunning or ultra running which “seemed like a good idea at the time” can be a good idea during the heat of competition.  While we can expect the moment when we wonder why we subject our bodies to such duress, as Corless states, “Amphitheatres of rock, grass and trail have replaced the Coliseum and today our gladiators are runners…Running Beyond is a gateway to what is possible.”

     

    Reviewed by laura clark

  • 12 Mar 2019 3:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Trifecta Finish to 2019 Snowshoe Season

                The end of any season presents a common dilemma regardless of the sport.  Do you stick to your usual game plan, or in anticipation of rest days to come, do you throw caution to the winds and ramp up the intensity?  Matt Miczek and I opted for the latter approach.  We commenced our trifecta weekend warmup with Garnet Hill 5K, tackled the Nor’Easter 25K on Sunday, took a deep breath on Monday for a much-needed laundry day and then attempted our cooldown on Tuesday at the Gore Mountain Citizen’s Races 3 miler. 

                This was the second year that the Dion Snowshoe Series visited Garnet Hill and we were greeted by a sunny, mildly chilly day with perfect snow conditions.  The trick for Matt and me was to turn in a credible performance yet remain fresh for the following day. Typical for a ski venue, the route was up and down with a few level stretches and a challenging break for some woodsy single track. For the first time, I actually looked around a bit and nostalgically noted trails my daughters and I used to cross country ski.


    Jim Tucker – Garnet Hill

     

    As I was finishing my loop, I glanced up and noted that Emily Stanton, the Gore Race Director, was just taking off for her 3K.  In typical fashion I thought, “I could double up and join her for a slightly warmer cooldown.”  Fortunately, I remembered Sunday’s commitment and reigned in my enthusiasm.  But next year our Stryder group has already planned to bring our skis and take full advantage of our race day trail pass.

                On Sunday Matt and I gave my car, Sir Thomas, a break and piled a superabundance of gear into his vehicle.  In retrospect we should have taken Sir Thomas, with his serious studs, as we encountered unexpected snow squalls during the final haul up to the Merck Forest & Farmland Center outside of Dorset, VT.  Mentally, I revised my clothing options, glad I had not packed frugally.  We arrived at the Sap House in time to see the 50Kers complete either their first long pull up Mt. Antone or the tagalong “baby” loop which we would soon learn was anything but babyish.

                We were greeted warmly by race organizers Eliza and Adam, who issued us a mandatory survival kit: hand warmers, laminated map and a space blanket.  While I should have felt reassured that I had these items on my person, this fact did little to alleviate my pre-race nerves.  Normally, I mostly worry about selecting an optimum clothes combination, but this brought home the fact that tackling a 3.5 mile ascent into the Taconic Mountains, with some grades at 45% and over 4,000 feet of total elevation gain was serious business.

                  I have completed PEAK Snowshoe Marathon three times, with a net elevation gain of approximately 8,000 feet, but that was in the beginning of the decade. PEAK no longer exists and has been replaced by FRIGUS in the same Killington, Vermont area.  Still, with the promise of similar elevation, I was hoping for a comparable format at Merck.  PEAK consisted of four 10K loops, half up, half down.  For me, this made it an “easy” marathon because at the beginning of each new round I knew I had only to trudge upward three miles and then enjoy a mostly runnable descent.  The tricks you mind plays to get you through this stuff!

                At first glance upward at Old Town Road, it appeared as if I might expect a similar journey.  We soon turned onto beautiful woodsy single track for a doable ascent.  Except then we started to head downwards…Had I reached the top and failed to stop and enjoy the view?  Not likely.  After a bit the trail steeped upward once more, this time into deep snow where the trick was to mimic your neighbor’s footsteps.  Those climbers lucky enough to discover a match were more fortunate than I who found myself struggling in the wake of different-sized paces.  At the steepest point (natch) Matt and I ran into each other as he was cautiously descending and I was posting upward.  We met at the same savior tree and gave it a grateful hug.  As Matt watched me go, I demonstrated the climbing technique I had invented at PEAK:  Keep your free hand ready to latch onto any and all puller trees and dig your water bottle into the snow to provide an extra point of contact.  It worked great for balance, meaning for all intents and purposes I was crawling rather than running upright.  Oh well, at least I didn’t fall down backwards…

                Like many Adirondack Mountains, the Mt Antone Taconic version features a false summit.  From a nearly prone position I glanced up (something you are not supposed to do when “running” up a mountain as it is very discouraging).  I saw: A Summit!  All too soon, I discovered it wasn’t the correct summit but it did speed me up a bit.  After a much easier but still considerably slanty journey through frosted trees from the screen set of Frozen, I did pause to enjoy the view and eat some of my peanut butter and cheese crackers, which contained so much fat and salt and other bad-for-you artificial ingredients there was no way they could possibly freeze.  Currently, I am reading Running Beyond by Ian Corless with otherworldly photography and scary course descriptions of the world’s iconic skyrunning races.  While Mount Antone was not a mountain with attitude, I truly felt as skyrunners must:  suspended between earth and sky, floating somewhere in the clouds encased inside a private adventure bubble.

     

    Ben Kimball – Merck

     

                Coming back down to earth, I descended the Old Town Road once more, providing a source of entertainment for puffy cloud-like formations of bleating sheep.  At this point I felt like latching onto one and using it as a pillow, but with the thought of the baby loop to come, I refrained.  Matt and I shared a dropbox at this juncture and I gleefully jettisoned my water bottle for an unencumbered few kilometers.  I helped myself to his applesauce pouches, another product that does not freeze under duress and threaten a huge dental bill.  On the way out, I met Blue Jacket Lady, who was looking pretty discouraged.  This puzzled me as she had just completed the baby loop.  Then I started downward and still downward on a nice woodsy trail and I got it.  What goes down must go up.  Mentally that was more difficult than climbing the mountain which I had fully expected to be there.

                Round 2:  As I ticked off each milestone, I kept on telling myself, “Done!  I won’t have to do that one again.” On the way back as I traversed the ridgeline, I approached a time warp where the tree-lined precipice and huts below looked exactly like those seen at PEAK during a similar juncture in the race.  At what point do all races start to look the same?  This happens to me a lot and I would be curious to know if it does to others also, or if it is simply my mind’s way of dealing with stress.  Then, another applesauce, another not so babyish baby loop and another stretch across bare Arctic farmhouse tundra populated by draft horses and warm birds cheerfully chirping in the barns, and I was DONE!  Usually at the end of races, you get a warm afterglow feeling that enables you to stay out and cheer on new arrivals, but not here.  The tundra did me in and I headed directly towards the Sap House and parked myself in front of the heat blower. 

                When I came to, I was surprised to discover that not only did I earn a vial of finisher’s maple syrup, but a larger carafe for woman’s winner of the 25K.  I was actually the last woman standing as others had dropped.  I may not be fast but at least I proved I can stick it out.  Not only that, in the raffle that I was not present to win due to the fact that I was still running, Adam and Eliza were gracious enough to set aside my free entry to their August Lost Cat half, full or 50K.  I am so excited to return for a Nor’easter summer event!

                A day later, at Gore Mountain, Matt and I finally got to do our cooldown.  After all, who wants to cool down after running for hours? We were both surprised that post- event euphoria carried us through, with Matt pulling off his fastest time of the series.  So much for the cautionary tale about resting days, months, years, after major efforts.  By the next day, however, reality caught up and it was all I could do to make it through a workday.  But by stringing together a stage race like this one, we topped off 2019 with a trio of events we will long remember and feel proud of.    


    Jen Ferriss - Gore


  • 20 Feb 2019 6:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Stone Bridge Caveman 6K and 15K Snowshoe Race
        …where two rights definitely do make a wrong

        This bit of wisdom could apply either to our attention span when dealing with the convoluted path of the Stone Bridge Caveman 6K and 15K or to Jen Ferriss’ bleary-eyed packing skills.  Also a cautionary tale about why it is best to purchase a fleet of shoes of varying color patterns, even if your favorite color choice is red…
        Upon pulling into the Caveman parking lot, we proceeded to test the weather and sort out our gear choices.  Jen kicked off her boots and optimistically reached into her bag to retrieve her sneakers.  Only to discover not a matching set, but two delegates from two separate red combinations, both favoring right-footedness.  Since the shoes were styled differently, we had hoped that perhaps one might, for a brief moment in time, adapt to a left-footed role.  Sigh…Neither model was ready to surrender their right-footed leanings.  Luckily, since she was set for a 10 mile XC ski trip the following day, Jen had already opted for the 6K.  Which as far as 5K or 6K distances go, was still plenty challenging.  Especially with two right feet fighting over the steep downhill lead.
     

    The Stoneman Caves venue, owned by outdoor enthusiast Greg Beckler features 14 miles of challenging trails, some groomed for skiing; some single track and so steep they would be impossible to ski.  Winter snowshoers are treated to breathtaking views.  But as with most things worth attempting, there is a Catch-22 involved.  Halfway up the mountain you are greeted by a sign warning: “Far from Lodge.  If you reach this point after 2PM, TURN BACK.  Pack headlamps!”  I reached that point at 1:40 PM.  WHEW!  That wasn’t much wiggle room, but I figured I would be faster than a bigfoot hiker, especially with the freefall that I knew awaited me.  At one point, saplings provided no backup and I actually did fall square on my butt.  Seizing the opportunity and grateful that I wasn’t forced into a deliberate slide, I seized the opportunity.  Too bad there were some barely hidden rocks in the way.  Ouch!
     
        While Greg has installed a Disc Golf route along some of the tamer sections, the 15K course reminded me more of an Orienteering experience in that folks pop up unexpectedly, headed in all different directions, each on their own personal mission.  This is difficult to explain but if you spy someone ahead of you ziggurating up a mountain, you know you will be doing that eventually, but not immediately.  At one point a runner sped downhill past me on a different trail and when I glanced up, I noticed that that particular route bore a sign with the magic words, “To the Finish.”  Considerably cheered, I soldiered on uphill, convinced that I would soon be joining him.  I don’t know why I thought that as he was noticeably younger and faster than I, but then thinking is not necessarily anyone’s strong point mid-race.  
        Despite the potential for confusion, I did not get lost!  Both versions were well-marked with color coded flags, ribbons and arrowed pie plates.  I must admit, though, that I was a bit disconcerted when I spotted Jules Seltzer, who was entered in the 6K, motoring down the trail as I was headed up.  And not a pie plate in sight.  From a race director’s standpoint, multiple markings would just have been confusing in this case and I knew all the intersections would be well-defined.  Still, this is not a journey where you can assuage your various body parts with thoughts of what to eat for supper.  It simply required too much concentration.  And that, ultimately, was part of the fun.
        Our other carpool mate for this trip was Kim Lengyel, who is contemplating training for her first half marathon.  Not wanting to keep us waiting, she had politely signed up for the 6K, but secretly harbored 15K ambitions.  We convinced her to go for it.  After all, I had earmarked the 15K, knowing that everyone would be waiting for me.  Except, of course, it was my car, giving me ultimate authority.  Still, I was admittedly selfish, and likely to remain that way.  We convinced Kim she could definitely tackle the 15K since she is an experienced hiker, which is what most of us would be doing at some point.  Plus, she would not be hampered two right feet as Jen was.
        After her race, Jen was left massaging her sore feet by the blazing fire pit.  Once Kim had finished, the two of them hiked off to explore the cave portion of the property, with its spectacular ice formations, while I changed and recovered.  Eventually, Greg hopes to add year-round lodging and event hosting to the mix.  For now, visit https://stonebridgeandcaves.com.  Or, if you are interested in more extensive visuals, https://www.sho.com/escape-at-dannemora to view the trails where Ben Stiller’s Golden Globe Escape from Dannemora was filmed.  If you are interested in the prison itself, attend our Cock-a-doodle Shoe snowshoe race next year at Saranac Land Trust and afterwards take a spin through town to shudder at the forbidding prison.
    By laura clark

  • 20 Feb 2019 1:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Winning the Snowshoe Lottery:  Saratoga Winterfest 5K & Camp Saratoga 5 Miler

        This year both Winterfest and Camp Saratoga pulled winning numbers in the annual winter weather lottery.  The 2019 weather or not pattern seemed to alternate between days of heavy snow and bitter cold punctuated by periods of sleet (not so bad) and rain (definitely discouraging).  In a “seemed like a good idea at the time” move, I agreed to direct two snowshoe races in the space of two weeks.  This shortened the clutter backlog in my house, focused my thinking and did a lot to pile up the miles for a potential snowshoe marathon, but what it ultimately did was invite all those cold germs to take hold.
        The biggest component of directing a snowshoe race is providing a varied, interesting course with adequate snow coverage.  What this really means is that the course you envision when you survey the route in the fall is not necessarily what you end up with.  Serendipitously, both winter adaptations seemed somewhat improved.  For the first time in recent memory, perhaps in honor of the 20th Winterfest, we had an abundance of snow.  After a snowfall that blessed us with almost two feet, topped off by discouraging downpours, Matt Miczek and I set out to survey the course.  The quad had transformed itself into a skating rink and we were seriously considering offering an alternative Skateathlon.  As far as I could Google, it would have been a first.
    We had never had so much snow before race day and were totally surprised to discover that Saratoga Spa Park workers, in desperation, had blocked our path with a mountain of snow transforming the route into an ice-climbing experience, necessitating yet another course change.  That first day it took us three hours to slog through snow drifts and hang orange flagging over a measly three miles.  Never, ever, will I direct a snowshoe 10-miler!
        The next day, due to the Arctic temperatures and fiercely blowing winds, our route through the fields was effectively erased.  Luckily, some more snow moved in so we were at least able to recover the quad.  The Catch-22 was that neither Matt nor I had a GPS so the course length was anybody’s guess.  Different map explorations suggested 2.6, 2.8, 3.0 with Google Maps awarding us 3.3 miles. A winner!  After the race, we took a survey of GPS owners and the consensus seemed to be around 3.3, with participants enthusiastic about the new route.  At least until next year’s weather dictates otherwise.  
        How many of you spotted the Turkey Season homemade sign after the first uphill?  Probably not Tim Van Orden, overall winner and runner-up Shaun Donegan or female winner Katya Harte and amazing sixty-one year-old runner-up Peggy McKeown.  I have no idea where that sign came from but it will be interesting to see how long it sticks around.  We even had a man in serious Spartathlon training pulling his young daughter on a sled!  
        My reputation for not cancelling and wearing rose-colored glasses got the better of me the following week at Camp as potential snowshoers found it difficult to believe that after yet another downpour we still had decent snow coverage.  Matt and I spent the week rerouting and this time Jennifer Ferriss came along to Facebook proof of my eternal optimism with her IPhone.  I wished I had had a camera the following day to document that the arrow sign she had posted was pointed directly into a mini-lake.  By race day, however, it had reverted back to its customary skating rink format.
        This time around we had to contend with serious wind storms and spent much of our days picking up debris.  At one point we were greeted by a beautiful young pine arching over the trail and festooned it with orange ribbons so folks wouldn’t run into it.  By race day, however, a sturdy mature version had taken the fall directly behind and folks were convinced that we somehow knew the larger version was about to topple and had marked the first as a warning.  Snowshoe hurdling (an actual sport in Canada) at its most exciting!
        By this point the days kind of blended into each other.  I donned the same clothes each morning and the one thing I was looking forward to after the race was washing my socks, which I had worn for five days in a row!  We lost track of our total mileage but I did calculate that between Friday and Saturday race day Matt and I had logged a total of 20 miles on snowshoes.  We were all set for Stone Bridge Cave 15K the following week!

    By laura clark

  • 28 Jan 2019 4:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    More Gore!  Tuesday Night Ski Bowl Citizens’ Races

        Have you ever dreamed about running the VT 100, the ultra where horses and humans share the trail, but figure you could never stay awake all night?  Are your weekends consumed with carpooling your kids to sporting events and birthday parties?  Are you just getting started and reluctant to head off into the wilds on a course you are not sure you can even complete?  Then the Tuesday evening (Jan15-Feb 19) Ski/Snowshoe Series at Gore’s North Creek Ski Bowl is just what you have been waiting for.  And, yes, you heard me correctly.  Track and skate skiers and snowshoe runners and walkers compete on the same lit, professionally groomed stadium course, complete with  a single track line,  ample corduroy gliding areas, with the inside lane reserved for the snowshoers.  Participants can trace the circuit up to four times, yielding a maximum distance of three miles.  Obviously, skiers finish the route way before the snowshoers and they are welcome to get in a few bonus miles while the rest of us complete the journey.  Registration begins at 5:30 PM and with a 6:00 PM start.  Admission is $10 per night, with no charge for season pass holders.  
        Saratoga Stryder Matt Miczek made it for the first event and I joined him for the second.  There were fourteen participants, with the  majority being skiers.  Needless to say, I felt rather intimidated and a bit concerned that I would be run over.  The mass start was exciting but it only took about 10 seconds for the skiers to outdistance  us.  I did have one moment of glory when I passed some track skiers going uphill, but obviously I didn’t stand a chance.  Like all cross-country ski courses, the route was mostly uphill or down to supply momentum.  I counted three longer steep hills, but none were overly intimidating.  It was exhilarating to play hooky and escape normal weekday night chores.  The route was romantically lit (good date night material), we had just been blessed with two feet of fresh powder and the moon was two days past its prime.  One of those picture-postcard evenings.
        But what stood out to me was the casual atmosphere and the enthusiasm of the staff.  They seemed to know everyone by first names and were genuinely glad to greet newcomers.  The event reminded me of some of our earliest snowshoe races when everyone was simply glad to be there and enjoying the outdoors, even down to the part where we patiently waited while the start was delayed to accommodate a latecomer.  Try and find that consideration in a mega-race!
        Afterwards, the North Creek food truck offered dinner and beverages and we gathered around hoping we would win a raffle prize.  There were farm fresh eggs from Cobble Hill Farm, wool scarves knitted by an employee, hats from the ski shop, Adirondack calendars and gift certificates.  Each time you participate you are given a slip of paper for the raffle, and after the drawing all slips are retained for the final big bash on February 19.  What a deal!  My only regret is that I didn’t participate in the first race on January 15.
    See you there!
    Laura Clark
        

  • 21 Jan 2019 3:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Eagle Has Landed…
        Welcome to Our First Ever Triple-Header

        It was inevitable…this weekend we have progressed from double headers to triple plays…wonder what took us so long?  That is the good news—depending upon how obsessive you are.  The bad news is that no one succeeded in reaching this goal.  We were defeated, not by wimpiness, but by work schedules (Friday evening’s Nor’easter) and by a real Nor’easter on Sunday which made driving to Cockadoodle an epic battle.
        The only event in this trifecta that most of us succeeded in attending was Bob Dion’s Hoot Toot & Whistle 3.5 miler in Readsboro, VT.  A mostly flat, but bumpy, route along a 350 mile rail trail, the name commemorates the nickname for the short line Hoot, Toot & Whistle Railroad which traversed the length of Vermont beginning at the southern Readsboro station.  Bob always jokes that if we miss the turnaround we will get to run all the way into Canada on the Catamount Rail Trail.  So far no one has taken him up on the offer.
        Despite early week worries, the snow came through and deposited just enough so we could all enjoy the route without cringing at potential snowshoe damage.  This event attracts a goodly amount of hikers, more than normal, and it was great to see all of us out there. Overall winner was Tim Van Orden.  Bob claimed that he had an advantage as he helped mark the course the day before and constructed numerous plank bridges across the streams. For most of us, all that work would have precluded a less than stellar race, but for Tim, after spending a full year constructing the Nationals course, it was simply a warmup.  Tim shared with me the secret of his success, which sounded like David and Megan Roche’s advice from The Happy Runner.  He remains competitive into his fifties because he saves his hard efforts for weekend races and runs mostly easy during the week.  
    Post-race chatter centered on Cockadoodle Shoe Snowshoe in Saranac Lake the following day. Those who had room reservations were cancelling, and even Jim Tucker, Dean of Fun at Paul Smith’s College,  was reluctant to travel there with his team—and they live in the same town!  Would the dirt road leading to the Land Trust be plowed?  I hardly thought that would have been a priority with the DPW during a blizzard, but apparently Race Director Jeremy Drowne had the necessary pull…I was sad I couldn’t be there, especially since this was one of the few events we have that offers tee shirts, but really I would still be driving and not snugly at home writing.
        Finally, what does all this have to do with eagles?  Sometimes the drive home can be just as exciting as the event itself and this is what happened to the Saratoga Springs carpool.  We have frequently spotted eagles along one particular backroads river stretch, but this time we scored three!  Apparently, they were as concerned about empty larders before the upcoming storm as were the humans who completely emptied Wegmans of their extensive stock of chips and dip.  For those of you who have never gotten lost in a Wegmans, know that it is more like a Museum of Food than an actual grocery store.  They have unlimited supplies of the ordinary stuff and every exotic delicacy you have never heard of.
        OK—getting back to the eagles—not only did we see three but one of them, with the storm just hours away, figured time was running out and decided that my car, Sir Thomas, was a close-enough approximation of a fish.  He bore down at full speed for the windshield, talons extended, wings spread.  I ducked.  Luckily, he veered off at the last minute. I learned later that these talons could easily crush a human hand.  The thought of a windshield body slam and a gripping talon reaching in to secure prey is the stuff of Alfred Hitchcock….It was awesome!

    By laura clark

  • 16 Jan 2019 10:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Happy Runner, by David and Megan Roche, MD.  Human Kinetics, 2019.

        Every runner has the same finish line:  death.

        You have seen photos of exuberant runners crossing under the finish line banner, broad smile, arms raised in victory.  But what about those same runners captured mid-race, trudging upwards, that much closer to the next thunderstorm?  Probably not so much.  Except for stature, we resemble Grumpy attacking yet another day at the mines.  In fact, that standard Grumpy photo could be one of the top reasons for running avoidance.  It simply doesn’t look like fun.
        Enter David Roche, a Western States champion, and his wife Megan, the 2016 USATF Woman’s Ultra Trail Runner of the Year, and their smiley-faced book, The Happy Runner.  SWAP Team coaches (Some Work, All Play), they work their way back from everyone’s ultimate finish line, encouraging their athletes to take the longer view.  Rather than focusing entirely on a definitive goal event, they operate more on a multi-year approach, where process and satisfaction are the ultimate rewards.  
        How many times have you achieved a race breakthrough, an amazing course grade or a community award, only to experience a vague sense of unease and a compulsive urge to set your sights even higher?  Rather than savoring the moment which was supposed to bring ultimate satisfaction, you acknowledge it with a fleeting nod and are off on the treadmill once again.  The authors’ outlook reminded me of mindful running with a bonus factor.  And that extra can be summed up in one word: gratitude for the space you are in.  One of our first Northeast Snowshoe race directors, known for his difficult romps up and down Mt. Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts, always reminded us to take a moment at the top to savor the view.  Sure enough, midway, he kept his famous grin intact.  And while this book is directed towards runners, it applies to anyone who has a tendency to let life’s “challenges” “overwhelm the enjoyment of life itself.    
        The text is a delight, with smoothly flowing prose and a knack for startling phrases (“Every runner has the same finish line: death”) and frequently humorous clips (“People talk about time being short, but it really isn’t in the moment. If you want proof, go get your car registered at the DMV”).  To underscore their philosophy, the Roches cite examples of breakthroughs experienced by some of the famous and the ordinary athletes they coach.  While these are necessarily shortened versions, if you are interested in immersing yourself in a more detailed journey, I urge you to read Emelie Forsberg’s book, Sky Runner: Finding Strength, Happiness and Balance in Your Running.  While she doesn’t coach Emelie, Megan commented that their viewpoint and even some of their workouts are similar!
        The only roadblock I encountered is the fact that the book is written jointly.  While the authors explain upfront that David will report Megan’s experiences and Megan will do the same for David, there also seems to be a middle narrator whose role isn’t as clearly defined.  At first I got distracted trying to figure out who was doing the commentary, but after a while decided it didn’t really matter and just chalked it up to a husband/wife “we.”

        I progressed through warm fuzzies and wagging dog tails (courtesy of their designated companion, Addie dog) until the final third of the book which delved into, of all things: the dreaded training plans.  At my stage in life I figured not much besides a new body would be of any help.  I was resigned to tiptoeing through the tulips, enjoying the experience, but that was about it.  According to the Roches, what I need return spring to my step is to incorporate short strides into the final third of my easier runs.  They promise that improving speed will make every pace feel easier. One week in and quantitative measurements are not possible, but I must say that my recommended easy runs are fraught with more purpose and a deeper feeling of accomplishment.  The verdict is still out, but the mental lift without the wear and tear of a lengthier speed session is a definite winner.
        With a mix of unconditional self-acceptance and self-belief, anything is possible.  And while you may not actualize your dream goal, you will get farther than you would have thought possible!
     
        Reviewed by laura clark

  • 15 Jan 2019 6:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Churney Gurney & Magic: First 2019 Doubleheader

        It takes approximately 10,000,000 snowflakes to make an average-sized snowman; it is safe to say there is not one standing snowman in the Albany/Saratoga region.  What a treat for us to travel to foreign lands this past weekend and remind ourselves that snow does exist!
        Our last event was December 15 at Gore and for those of us currently living in this snow desert, it was a stretch to contemplate a double-header after a month away.  Even though I thought I had my gear close at hand, somehow in the interim items had scattered and I had forgotten the usual drill.  To add to the confusion, the temps registered really, really cold so we had to reach back all the way to last winter.  For you ladies out there, I have a short commercial break:  Athleta Primaloft Ridge Tights are the way to go. At $98 they are pricey but they are so worth it!  Not only did they keep me warm on top of Magic Mountain but they repelled water so well that I felt no need to change my bottoms for the drive home.  This was a first for me.  Sorry guys, but you have all those heavy muscles to power you through.
        Back to the races…this was the first time for Churney Gurney’s reincarnation as a snowshoe event and Bob Underwood was so excited to showcase his mountain bike venue with at least 4 miles of snowy trails.  Alas!  While the midweek rain had erased much of the snow, some fat bikers decided it would be a good idea to go out in it anyway.  It couldn’t have been much fun and all they managed to do was to create deep ruts that the scarce snow couldn’t mask.  Luckily, Bob knew the trails intimately and was able to cobble together a fun 2.8 mile course, covered in what ski slopes would have euphemistically dubbed “frozen granular.”  Luckily, we weren’t skiing.  Those of us who sported the new Dion ice cleats were grateful!
        By the time we finished, the fat bikers were assembling for their Saturday events and we were invited to take a test spin on the demo bikes.  Some of us seized on the offer, but I was a coward.  It is one thing to fall in soft snow; quite another to tumble on the hard stuff. And while falling is all part of the learning curve, I think falling on ice would have been too much learning for one day.  
        On Sunday our carpool arose at 0’dark thirty for the trek to Magic Mountain.  This event is turning out to be a moveable feast.  Last year we explored Lowell Lake Park and the previous year we were treated to isolated trails bounded by two porta potties and a hiking lean-to.  This year we got to explore the mountain itself, where Mike Owens, Chief Magician, works out.  Because of the many ski events in progress we claimed the 9AM slot, an hour earlier than last year.  True to its name, Magic was just on the edge of last week’s Big Snow, with at least 16” of powder.  Flanked by the big-establishment resorts of Bromley and Stratton, Magic retains an old-timey feel with a cadre of loyal skiers.  Known for its challenging terrain, a full 26 percent of its trails are Double Black Diamond.  
        Our route consisted of the uphill used by the skin skiers, followed by a sharp descent.  There were a few stretches of level ground.  One was a teaser halfway up the mountain and the other was a stretch on top where we got to look both ways and scurry across one of the downhills before the skiers bombed down. This was actually the only time I have ever seen Tim Van Orden flying out of control.  He was hurdling along on his second loop, while I was probing my first after a near disaster moments earlier. As he careened around a corner I heard screams below me from the two ladies slightly ahead.  I am pretty sure they opted out of the second loop.  One of the neat things about a two loop course, though, was that by the second time around there were more toeholds grooved into the steep uphill and I knew where on the downhill portions I could let go and where I would be courting another disaster.  Mike hints that next year he might offer a different venue.  Looks like he is trying to beat out Josh Merlis and his endless search for the perfect spot to hold Brave the Blizzard.
        What stands out about this weekend for me, though, was the enthusiasm both race directors had for their respective routes and how eager they were to insure that all of us had a good time on the course and meet some new friends.  Reminds me of what my husband Jeff used to say every year when we directed our Winterfest and Camp Saratoga Snowshoe Races, “It’s like having a party for one hundred of my closest friends.”

    See you next weekend!
    laura


  • 08 Dec 2018 6:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Runner’s World Vegetarian Cookbook, by Heather Mayer Irvine.  Rodale, 2018.

        The third title in the Runner’s World Cookbook series, this compilation, by former Food and Nutrition Editor Heather Mayer Irvine, is as readily recognizable as its popular cousins, Meals on the Run and Runner’s World Cookbook.  Large format, stunning photographs, and an extensive recipe key—with the standard vegan, gluten-free, allergen-free, low-calorie indicators as well as the more unusual pre-run, recovery and fast symbols at the bottom of each offering.  The last label gave me a double-take.  I am not that fast.  Does that mean those recipes are off limits?  Or does partaking promise a faster leg turnover?  But no, what it simply indicates is that preparation requires thirty minutes or less, leaving open the intriguing possibility of a cooking/healthy eating PR.
        Another unique feature is a nutrition/serving breakdown for each offering, allowing you to conveniently dispense with supermarket labels and speed your grocery shopping. But most of all, these recipes are just delicious and many can be made with whatever veggies you have on hand.  Moreover, they represent an eclectic variety of tastes and food philosophies as Irvine combed not only the Rodale kitchen repertoire but favorite standbys of elite runners, chefs and dietitians.  With selections like butternut squash quinoa bowl, Thai carrot soup and desserts prominently featuring chocolate, who can resist?

    Reviewed by laura clark

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