Merck Forest Snowshoe Ultra
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side
It’s the climb
THIS IS A SERIOUSLY BAD LIFE CHOICE, cautions the www.netrailruns.com website. But what the heck? We are all accustomed to races that try to outdo each other in pointing out the hazards of their events, figuring accurately that most of us will be attracted by bragging rights potential. But a quick glance at the course profile might just indicate that the race directors of Nor’east Trail Runs are not exaggerating. With the 50K Ultra offering four up and down rounds of Mt. Antone, for a total of 8,500’ of climbing, the difficulty is more fact than fiction. Thankfully, there is also the option of a 25K “fun run.”
This is the alternative that Mattt Miczek and I chose. We should have known better as we both completed the 25K last year. But there is such a thing as selective memory loss, where folks choose to focus on the highs and ignore the pain. Worse yet, we dragged two unsuspecting friends along with us for the ride…The day after, as I write this, rubbing aching quads, it is tough to believe how I got taken in again. They say that you will experience maximum soreness day two after a momentous event. I can only look forward to tomorrow…
I almost think, though, that year two was tougher than year one. I knew when I started out that the initial carriage road up the mountain was more suited to Clydesdales hauling beer carts than horse and buggy modes of transportation. I immediately recognized certain sections and remembered how tough they would be. On the other hand, the final steep hug-a-tree quarter mile to the false top seemed to be pleasantly shorter than I recollected. And it was comforting to confidently shake my fist at the pretend summit, anticipating the climb to the hole puncher at the real turnaround. The hole puncher was a new addition –a star for your bib at the top of the mountain and a heart at the bottom of the “baby loop.” Rather reminded me of a geocache prize and gave me something to look forward to. Little things matter when, as the website states, “Finishing should be the goal as much as racing.”
Top of the World—Jen Ferriss and Matt Miczek.
Photo by Jen Ferriss.
The first year I looked forward to the baby loop to mark my progress; this year I knew better. First-timers expect a pleasant pat-on-the-back victory lap, but what they get is a runnable downhill and an about-face plod to the aid table, an opportunity to refuel and then tackle the mountain again. For me, this is the insult-to-injury part.
But the day was gorgeous, not to mention starkly cold. Last year, despite the snow storm, there were few things I would have changed about my race strategy. This year I should have replaced my hand warmers before the second round and bought one of those fancy vests that hug water bottles close to your body. I did OK because I could always unscrew my handheld cap to drink the icy water, and realistically, that was a nice excuse to pause and look at the view. Weirdly, although this was a more intimate event, I never felt really abandoned, as folks occasionally ran by as they looped the course.
One such person was blue jacket guy who materialized beside me as I was contemplating the lengthy uphill section stuck in the middle of an exciting downward tumble. He echoed my thoughts when he commented, “This is my least favorite section.” Just having someone acknowledge that I wasn’t a crybaby after I had just shouted, “I’m 73 years old. Why am I still doing this stuff?” seemed to help immensely.
Kim Lengyel, a friend we had convinced to join us, encountered a similar moment of truth. Within sight of the barn (literally, as there was a bona fide barn) she had only the 1.5 mile baby loop to negotiate. But doing so seemed unimaginable. Adam Schalit, co-race director, in his alternate role as coach and cheering squad, poised a simple question with only one possible answer: “How will you feel a half hour from now if you take the easy way out?” It was just what Kim needed and she navigated the remainder of her first 25K snowshoe.
As Garrett Graubins muses in his article, “Everesting” in the 2020 Trail Runner Dirt Annual, “On a long adventure, how often do we dream of the finish line?...But the true reward and occasional answers are found out on the course.” The encounters, brief exchanges, insights and glimpses of a nature bigger than us all, are the true objective. And at this epic event where that was the acknowledged goal, everyone walked away satisfied and fulfilled.
The End. Photo by Jen Ferriss.
By laura clark