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  • 30 Sep 2020 9:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Trail race report written by ATRA contributor Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian. The 2020 Dippikill Froggy Five trail race took place on private property in North Creek, New York with modifications for COVID-19. Photos courtesy of the Albany Running Exchange.

    Fractured Fairy Tales Part II: The Dippikill Froggy Five trail race in Warrensburg, New York.

    For Albany Running Exchange’s (ARE) first trail race in the COVID era we were treated to Dodge the Deer, who, upon achieving Canadian drinking age status (18 years old) next year, hopes to take a field trip and return as a bona fide Great White Stag of the Forest. Not sure if that will work out given current COVID status, but at any rate, his fans will be cheering him on.

    Dodge the Deer was followed up in good order on August 9, by the Dippikill Froggy Five trail race at the State University of New York (SUNY) campus in Warrensburg, again private land that was happy to welcome properly masked runners practicing social distancing measures.

    Our froggy is not your ordinary swamp croaker, diminutive tree climber or aristocratic home pond resident, but big and sturdy and green. One might be tempted to make comparisons to the fairy tale Frog Prince, but that is missing the point entirely. The frog prince was clearly uncomfortable in his skin; our Froggy is not. More like the frog in the popular series, The Land of Stories, where the prince, the fourth son of King Charles Charming, chooses to remain in his green form, but still wins the hand of Red, one of the four princesses of the land. Good for him. But I prefer to picture our froggy as a giant Sesame Street Kermit, full of good will tinged with a touch of sentimental reflection.

    While normally the culmination of ARE’s Running Camp extended weekend, this year Froggy featured no sleepy overnighters, but instead produced a hilly hard-packed dirt road half marathon to share the spotlight. Picture the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run or Lost Cat Marathon in Dorset (Vermont) and you will get the idea. Not sure if it will attract next year’s campers, but the Looney Tunes Road Runner comes to mind as a truth-in-advertising mascot.

    Getting back to Froggy, this event is not recommended for a first-time trail runner or first timer at a five-mile distance, with pinwheel twists, lots of boulder climbs and enough hopping over rocks and roots to challenge any green amphibian. Run these five miles and you will be as spent as if you had run ten. Nevertheless, I love this race for its challenge and the fact that it is very doable, as long as you enter with the attitude that you can endure anything for five miles. Plus, at that length you can give each obstacle its due as you don’t have to save your energy for longer hours down the road.

    Usually the rock hopping stands out for me, but this year my favorite section was the Magical Mystery Tour through the swamp and the lake. It had rained briefly that morning and you could inhale the extra life-boosting oxygen emanating from the water. I marveled at all the water lilies and the amazingly thick carpet of pine needles underfoot, almost like I was running on a reverse cloud. And then it dawned on me. Since the private land had been pretty much forbidden territory during COVID isolation, there had been no swimmers to disturb the lily pads and no eager picnickers dragging kayaks over the pine needles. It was like the world was born again and we were its first inhabitants.

    I eagerly awaited my customary high five with our Disney Mascot-sized Froggy, as he usually stakes a claim to one of the wooden bridges spanning the lake, but he failed to make an appearance. Josh, the race director, chalked it up to poor nutrition. I guess with so few tourists he had to move elsewhere for his summertime junk food fix. Bugs can only take a guy so far in life.

    Once more, race director Josh Merlis produced a sustainable event, with carry-your-own-water and leftover race bibs. Once more, we were recipients of the Fort Bragg, North Carolina 10 Miler leftovers. I always wonder about that event. These guys are soldiers who have a physical fitness requirement, yet so many seem to be no shows. Maybe they just get suddenly deployed. At any rate, after the race, I drove off in search of a Stewart’s Shop and some ice cream. I neglected to remove my bib, thinking it would be pretty cool to show up with a race number since there were so few races being held. Make people wonder. I imagine it did, as only afterwards did I remember that North Carolina was one of the New York State travel-quarantined naughty states. Here I show up, dusty clothes, mussed hair, looking for all the world like I had just arrived. But I did have my mask and they still served me!

    On the start line, Josh asked first-time froggers to raise their hand, and to my surprise, about a third of the participants did. I guess one of the few good things about COVID is that it is getting more people exercising. And I believe that this response is in no small measure due to the Albany Running Exchange’s sterling reputation for taking all the steps necessary to keep their runners safe. I know there are now starting to be other races out there, but if I do not know the club or the race director, I am hesitant to participate, especially as an older runner. But Josh’s events are totally safe, not quite the same, but still immensely satisfying. And best of all, he hinted at the possibility of more pop-ups to come!

    Full results from the 2020 Dippikill Froggy Five Trail Race can be found on the Albany Running Exchange website.


  • 10 Aug 2020 2:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Behind the Mask: A Life Lived Virtually

     

                It had always amused me when my husband would obsess over his alma mater USC’s football games, stating earnestly, “The team needs my help.”  And it was not just him, but it is an attitude common to soccer, rugby and baseball fans worldwide.  Personally, I would rather spend my precious time doing rather than watching.  Still, on some deeper level, I do get it – the sense of instant connection with a casually dropped, “Did you see the game last night?”  But it took the COVID-19 pandemic to convert me to a life lived virtually.

                At first, we were all blissfully unaware of the true implications.  What could be so bad about a few weeks of working from home – I could man the computer in my running clothes and slip out for a mid-day run!  I could get supper started during a work break! I could grab a beer to combat an afternoon slump! Gradually, though, when the true scope of the crisis revealed itself and toilet paper and hand sanitizer assumed a valid place on the currency exchange, I realized that this was not a temporary run in the park.  As race after race folded due to “an abundance of caution,” I considered personal cartoon avatars who would represent me at Indian Ladder, Froggy 5 and Mt. Greylock.  I could be my own superhero!  I could win!  Thankfully, I woke up in time and realized that particular pipe dream was not so far removed from the armchair participation I had previously scoffed at.

                I began to get a bit annoyed that it wasn’t enough for me to run on the twenty miles or so of trails behind my house, communing with the skunks, black flies and owls.  I know it should have been sufficient, but something was missing—a distant goal, companionship, the occasional medal acknowledgement.  For me, it boiled down to the missed opportunity for a shared experience.  Turns out, the penguins knew about this all along.  According to a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine, social isolation in the never-changing landscape of Antarctica led to a 7 % shrinkage in the hippocampus region of the brains of a research crew.  With that bold stroke, shrink wrap became even more real. What saved us all was the genius idea to market “virtual real running events,” that were somehow grounded in community, took place wherever in the world you happened to be quarantined, and required perhaps even more pre-race preparation than the real thing.  There are as many variations as there used to be 5Ks on a Saturday morning.

                My first foray into living life virtually took place via the Saratoga Stryders (www.saratogastryders.org) where we initiated a Saturday-to-Saturday series of virtuals to replace our Grand Prix.  And while the series is free to members, each had an optional donation attached, with the opportunity to throw $5 in the ring for the chosen charity. Our virtual 10K earned over $1000 in individual and matching funds for the Adirondack Backpack program.  Who knew this could be an unintended consequence of a simple $5 donation?  With the opportunity to design our own course, competition was every bit as much about the ability to map a flat, fast route as the talent to actually run fast.  Not quite satisfied with your time? Weather less than ideal? Then wait a few days and try again.  Tension mounted as the final Saturday approached and “secret” times were posted fast and furious.  Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club (www.hmrrc.com) encourages members and non-members alike to sign up for their virtual Colonie Mile, from now until August 9. Participants are actually encouraged to update improved times, with the leaderboard changing daily to reflect a continuing level of excitement.

                Innovation was seemingly endless—no more static penguins in our corner of the world at least.  Bacon Hill Bonanza 5K & 10K offered two options: the fully-marked original route or your choice of an ideal self-designed course.  Mega-events like Freihofers welcomed distant fans who were once more able to participate in their favorite home town event.  My daughter, granddaughter and I “ran” with one of my other daughters who now lives in Ohio, doing a step-by-step iPhone simulation.  Next up, I suspect will be creative route-findings all across the country as runners plot elevation changes, terrain and weather possibilities similar to old favorites.

                Miss your favorite running team? My Albany Ainsley’s Angels chapter has joined other clubs throughout the country on a virtual effort where we push our designated wheelchair rider on busy streets or sketchy trails and for longer distances than we would achieve in real life.  https://runsignup.com/Race/VA/VirginiaBeach/AinsleysAngelsMileageChallengeRemember those long-forgotten spring PE challenges when your entire fourth grade class would track-lap across the United States? Well, turns out through www.runsignup.comyou could have joined the Great Virtual 1000K Race across the Volunteer State (normally a real thing) or, closer to home, a virtual race across New York State.  Play your cards and your entry fees right and you could even compete in both simultaneously!  Or join the world-wide community in the To the Moon Virtual Relay, proving there is no limit to a cybernetic imagination.  In fact, according to Jamie Howard, this trend is not as new as it seems, with sites like https://yes.fit and www.virtualrunners.org offering virtual events ranging from a Sherlock Holmes tour to www.irun4movement.comand their pop culture themes. Heard of 50 staters who aim to run a marathon in every state?  Well, Jamie’s current goal is to run virtually in every state, with no COVID-inducing plane flights or carbon footprints to contend with!

                And yes, there was a point when virtual and real merged to become one of the most anticipated events of the COVID season: the intrepid Gary Cantrell’s (aka Lazarus Lake of Barkley Marathon fame) Backyard Ultra, a last person standing event where participants have an hour to run a 4.16667 mile loop (circumference of Gary’s backyard). In between, they can fill the time by eating, sleeping, burying a goat (I am not making this up). Over 2,400 runners in 56 countries participated, some on treadmills, some cruising through neighborhood loops, some on trails bulldozed through blizzards and some inside their apartments or around their yard, all dependent on quarantine restrictions.  It was one of the most powerful fields ever assembled and whenever one of the 20 Zoom panel runners succumbed, onlookers got to vote for a favorite replacement.  After 63 hours, it came down to Michael Wardian running neighborhood laps in Virginia and Radek Brunning on a treadmill in the Czech Republic.  Their solo Zoom screen pulsed as Gary Cantrell commented, “We experienced a community catharsis, as the Quarantine Backward Ultra reminded us all that, just like the darkest night during the longest race, there is a sunrise coming.  A new day will dawn and we will once again be able to laugh and play together…in real life.”

                And perhaps we are left questioning which is more real after all, an actual event or a virtual experience shared by thousands of participants and onlookers through the magic of fiber optic cables.

                By laura clark

               


  • 10 Aug 2020 2:24 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Kicksology:  The Hype, Science, Culture & Cool of Running Shoes, by Brian Metzler.  Velo Press, 2019

                As a kid, I anticipated the moment every summer when I would open a new box of Keds, smell the freshly glued rubber and close my eyes, envisioning outracing my friends in a game of Capture the Flag.  Comparable to the similarly addictive thrill of inhaling a freshly opened box of September crayons, both landmark events offered the promise of unlimited possibilities.        As an adult, nothing has changed.  Feeling rather smug that my chosen primary sport requires no mechanical fix-it skill, no entourage of complicated equipment, my motto has always been “Have sneakers will travel.”  Sure, heart rate monitors, cell phones and GPS devices have intruded somewhat, but they can still remain a matter of choice, not necessity. With the exception of the barefoot advocates, all you really need is a pair of sneakers.  Is it any wonder then, that our craving for perfection fixates on this truth?

                Brian Metzler, founding editor of Trail Runner, is a confirmed shoe addict who has wear-tested hundreds of pairs of sneakers in his quest to discover the magic bullet that will propel him to fame and injury-free glory.  Now we too can run in his shoes and gain access to his hard-earned insights.  The result is a fascinating journey from the early Boston Marathon’s leather uppers, to Bill Bowerman’s long-suffering wife’s waffle iron, on to Phil McKnight’s Just Do It! marketing brilliance and then a fast-forward to Hokas, Altras and hi-tech unaffordable models.

                Basically, Metzler is on a quest to coax a PR run from a middle-aged, increasingly injury-prone body. Along the way he rediscovered the truth of Dr. George Sheehan’s “We are each an experiment of one.”  Which explains in part why we get so attached to the perfect pair of shoes when we are lucky enough to find a brand and model that seems “made for us.” And once that happens, do we, like Metzler, bombard the shoe company when seemingly minor tweaks are added to a favorite model, or do we simply hoard a supply for the inevitable rainy day?  For as Metzler explains, companies are, in fact, out to make a buck and are therefore compelled to market “new and improved” tweaks.  Ironically, it is from the originally small start-up brands, like Phil Knight’s Nike, or Hoka or Altra with seemingly less at stake, where game-changing innovation usually occurs.

                And so on to expensive tech with Nike’s Vaporfly.  For folks budgeting for the Boston Marathon entry fee a mere $250 for a magic bullet sneaker with a guaranteed qualifier built in would seem a small price to pay for living the dream. But as Metzler discovered, shoes like that are designed for elite bodies sporting elite speed, folks who are capable of running not a few, but 26, 5-minute miles strung together in rapid succession.

                Never one to give up, Metzler then turns his sights to the latest trends in custom-made shoes.  After all, in a sport where 50 to 70 percent of recreational runners are sidelined by injuries every year, the most obvious fix would be the shoe.  Similar to the design-your-own-bear studios, runners can, for a price, select colors and basic components.  On the horizon, however, are shoes with mechanical propulsion feedback, designed to sense the particular way in which your “experiment of one” interfaces with the ground. And I totally get the appeal. With my left foot slightly larger than my right, I am forced to suffer through compromised toenails or a floppy fit.

                Although Metzler barely mentions it, more worrisome to me is the fact that this expensive equipment may trend toward an upwardly mobile population, leaving talented but less wealthy individuals unable to compete on an equal footing.  And what about internationally?  Remember those elite carbon fiber compression swimsuits that created such controversy at the last Summer Olympics?  How much success is due to the athlete and how much to his sponsors?

                Either way, though, as Metzler concludes, us ordinary athletes could most likely gain more from strengthening our bodies than by seeking a special magic bullet.  But it is not nearly as much fun!

    For further reading:

    Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, by Kenny Moore.  There is more to this complex Renaissance Man than a mere waffle iron.

    The Boys of Winter, by Charles Sanders.  Learn about the 22 young men from Adams, MA who lived for nothing more than a perfect black diamond Thunderbolt run down Mt. Greylock. Upon hearing their country’s call, they formed the core of World War II’s famed 10th Mountain Division. Those who returned included Bill Bowerman and the developers of Sugarbush, Vail and Jackson Hole.

    Even today folks of all ages skin or snowshoe up Thunderbolt as a winter rite of passage.  It is worth a trip!

    http://www.thunderboltskirunlcom/skirunners.htm

    http://www.thunderboltskirunners.org

    Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE, by Phil Knight.  Trace the journey of the original start-up shoe company that revamped brand marketing.  Disney move over.


  • 05 Jul 2020 4:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Wherein Dodge the Deer Pulls Up Stakes Yet Again and Bravely Encounters the Trophy of Death:  Or, The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side

                Once more Dodge the Deer has pulled up stakes, abandoning the tame, predictable nature afforded by Schodack Island State Park for a safer haven in the country. This is not the first time Dodge has moved.  Before Schodack, he had spent his formative years at the Pine Bush until, like all adolescents, he decided to exercise his independence and strike out on his own.  This is, apparently, a common impulse for this species. On the drive over, I watched a harried mother deer herd her offspring along the side of the road, when all he really wanted to do was to cross it in front of my car.  Once on the Northway, dangers increased as a prime venison specimen jigsawed across three lanes of traffic to reach a median oasis.  Little did he know…

                Fortunately, our Dodge, being accustomed to interplaying with humans, did his research and consented to join long-time ARE members Chris and Emily Chromczak and their two children, Sophie and Emily, at the Chromczak Family Farm in the Slingerlands for a 5K on June 27.  In addition to the usual woodland animals –woodchucks, chipmunks, skunks and raccoons –for the first time Dodge confronted a flock of free-range chickens who liked nothing better than to sit on Sophie’s lap.  These refugees, possibly from Susan Montanari’s picture book My Dog Is a Chicken, had no idea they were livestock.  In fact, in acknowledgement of their urge to participate, Josh declared that anyone crossing the finish line carrying a chicken would suffer a penalty. 

                While Dodge was understandably skittish around these strange critters, he had far more to worry about. The ARE crew had spent the previous week in unrelenting manual labor hacking through the brush surrounding the farm to create a socially distanced one-mile loop, which we circumnavigated three times. And the payoff? The discovery of a rare bleached-white deer head, complete with antlers.  While we have all seen trophied deer, it is a rare occurrence to discover an intact skull in in the woods as they are favorites of mice and other gnawers.  Needless to say, Dodge was considerably sobered when confronted with this grim reality, exhibited on the registration table for all to gawk at.  The only reassurance to be gained was that, because of its time hidden underground, said deer’s demise was in no way due to COVID-19.

                As for the course itself, it was a perfectly natural re-creation of a deer stomping ground, complete with freshly mowed extremely stiff weed stubble, divots, camouflaged humps and bumps, sharp turns.  Think horse trail and you have the picture.  Pancake flat, as Josh had described it, was slightly off the mark as far as truth in advertising goes.  Picture a rutted horse trail and you get the idea.  Josh suggested spikes, especially if the promised downpours materialized.  Luckily, they didn’t, but after a brief test run, I reverted back to my winter ice spikes.  Although they didn’t make me any faster, they did offer a level of self-confidence and insurance against a rolled ankle.

                We went off in 25-person waves, two runners at a time, spaced about 30 seconds apart.  This was “easy” to do with Josh’s timing system.  As usual, Josh was the perfect host, providing play-by-play commentary throughout the race.  The neat thing was, though, that because of the loopy course that wound around upon itself, we could hear the entire race being played out as we were in it.  There is always a level of uncertainty in any race, but in this case, because of the staggered start, we were never really sure if the person ahead were really ahead.  Makes you honest.  And then again, since their would be other waves and the final results not compiled until way after each event, sectional victory did not necessarily guarantee overall success.  Rather like a time trial at the Tour de France.  On the other hand, what a way to guarantee multiple winners beyond the traditional age group categories!  After each event, we were offered a choice of yummy sandwiches, courtesy of Bountiful Bread, and sent on our way quickly so the parking lot would be available for the next round.

                Leave it to the ARE to host the inaugural and perhaps only live event of the Capital Region summer season. That this could even happen at all was due to the generous donation of the Chromzack Family Farm. These folks literally put their to-do list on hold as they allowed Dodge to reconfigure their land.  I was lucky enough to score the first wave and received a personalized farm tour beforehand.  Veggies are looking good, protected by an electric fence as Josh soon discovered, and the Chromzacks are getting ready to launch their farm stand.  Stop by soon for some treats and in a few years, for the Christmas trees they intend to plant this year.

                On race day, Dodge celebrated his 17th birthday. All sorts of possibilities present themselves for his 18th as he turns legal age in Canada.  Get your enhanced driver’s licenses ready!  You never know…

                By laura clark


  • 05 Jul 2020 4:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Athlete’s Gut: The Inside Science of Digestion, Nutrition, and Stomach Distress, by Patrick Wilson, PhD, RD.  VeloPress, 2020.

    What is more important to an athlete on race day? A convenient parking space? A lucky bib number? A perfect forecast?  Not even close.  The answer is a short porta potty line and a reliable source of TP.  Usual race day stressors are dwarfed if either are in short supply, resulting in even more anxiety.  For a seemingly healthy group, placing low on the scale of COVID-19 risk factors, this preoccupation with the lower reaches of the anatomy can be viewed as an equal-opportunity occupational hazard, open to newbies as well as champions like marathon record holder Paula Radcliff.

                Patrick Wilson is the Director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Old Dominion University and the author of the ground-breaking The Athlete’s Gut: The Inside Science of Digestion, Nutrition, and Stomach Distress. He is nothing if not thorough, with a 30-page appendix of footnotes meticulously documenting his findings and an additional supplement listing stomach woe like traveler’s diarrhea, and common medicines that are anything but gut-friendly.  And while he does not scrimp on the scientific detail, he presents his findings in a manner in which even I, who managed to avoid high school biology in favor of two language classes, can understand.  No small accomplishment.

                And the fact that he does so with a sometimes 1st grade potty-humor style and a pointed effort to utilize every synonym for poop afforded by his online Thesaurus does not hurt his readability.  For me, though, the curbside appeal of this volume, despite an obvious need to complete my chosen event, says a lot for my age.  For on the cover is depicted an intestinal drainpipe layout, complete with colorful Pacman-like figures romping over, under, around and through. My fingers itch to turn the pages and play. And in a refreshing variant on the by now all-too-overused Born to Run sky blue and yellow book jacket, selected for consumer appeal, Wilson presents us with a striking variant: sky blue and sunset orange with a streak of crisp black and white for emphasis.

                So what could go wrong?  It turns out a lot. Wilson encourages us to embrace the emerging science of the gut as the second brain, with a network of 600 million neurons capable of a two-way interchange of messages from the gut to the brain and back again. Referring to a gut reaction or a speaking of a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach is apparently more than mere semantics. While much of this messaging remains to be explored, it is clear that what you eat can influence your mood and emotions.

                So what does all this mean for you as a runner? Besides avoiding trigger foods (whatever they are for your particular body) before competition, the implication is that meditation, yoga, music, happy thoughts, visualization, an unchanging set of pre-race routines, should be vital components of your training routine. On the physical side of the equation, Wilson also claims that it is possible to train your gut to behave by discovering the Goldilocks zone of correct fluid intake and experimenting with fueling on the run.

                My dad used to say that if there are a lot of tools to achieve a particular result, for example, upwards of 30 models of corkscrews, chances are that none of them are doing a really good job.  In this vein, Wilson also explores interventions you might be tempted to try, such as probiotics, supplements, sodium pills, ginger, dietary remedies…and their probability of success.  Basically, it all boils down to Dr. George Sheehan’s axiom, “We are each an experiment of one.”  So, go ahead and experiment—just not on race day!

    Reviewed by laura clark


  • 09 Jun 2020 2:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Spirit Run:  A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, by Noe Alvarez.  Catapult, 2020.

                Those for whom a few days without running is unthinkable most likely started out as ordinary individuals who simply wanted to lose some weight, get in shape for a “real” sport, battle mental turmoil, or raise money for a cause.  After a few months of braving the elements, these benefits, while still important, took second place to feelings of empowerment and release.  Once you get your run in, the rest of the day becomes easier, more peaceful, even if in truth it is not.  For a select few, however, the act of placing one foot in front of the other becomes a path to redemption and a threshold to cultural awareness and acceptance.

                Such was the case for Noe Alvarez, the son of Mexican immigrants who labored in brutal conditions in orchards and fruit-packing plants. As a child he had no clue and enjoyed playing in the fields and helping his father in the orchards. But when he was old enough to join his mother in the inhumane fruit packing factories, he saw the disparity.  Running became his escape and good grades in high school a ticket out of this lifestyle.

                Or so he thought.  Confronted by the cultural divide between himself and middle/upper class college students he felt out of place.  It was as if he had been transported into a foreign country with no Lonely Planet guide.  After attending a lecture about a Native Americans/First Nations movement called the Peace and Dignity Journeys, he dropped out to embark on a 6,000 mile run tracing paths his parents and his ancestors had followed.  Nowadays we would term this “taking a gap year,” but at that place and time it seemed more like quitting and running away.

                Alvarez’s decision to discover his roots and learn how he could make a difference in issues that mattered took real courage.  It was a resolution that passes from his mind to his feet as he pushes through thirst, hunger, animal encounters, hostile townspeople and disputes among exhausted running mates.  Through participating in Ceremonial Circles, he becomes part of each culture he journeys through, of each landscape he explores.  There comes a moment, however, when his swollen knees call a halt.  But by this time, Alvarez has realized the power of story, that the ancient traditions he has absorbed will be an alternate way to continue his advocacy. As he so aptly puts it, even before the new COVID vocabulary, “The world that we had put on pause (during the marathon) was beginning to move again.”

                By taking the next step to continue his college education, he learns that “…if we imagine a better future, and speak it with words and the soles of our feet, we just might see it come to fruition.”

                Reviewed by laura clark


  • 09 Jun 2020 2:29 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

                Took the one less traveled by,

                And that has made all the difference.

                            Robert Frost

               

                Although Marshall Ulrich has embarked on over 130 ultramarathons, including the obligatory Western States and Leadville, what remains his chief motivator is self-discovery, keying into running guru George Sheehan’s “experiment of one” philosophy.  He truly does place both feet on the ground in his quest to determine what genuinely matters to his choose-your-own-adventure lifestyle.

                Growing up on a dairy farm, Ulrich lived a life of hard work and inventive play in the outdoors.  His favorite book, and the one that continues to inspire him to this day, is Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, which sparked his love of adventure. Today he laments the fact that children and adults suffer from Richard Louv’s nature deficit disorder and are more afraid of nature than at peace with it, labeling certain foods and behaviors as “bad” and others as “good”—afraid to break away from rigid rules and choose the path that beckons.

                And that is the essence of Ulrich’s story, his ability to strive for the seemingly impossible, to rise to the challenge of Robert Frost’s beckoning road, and to still recognize that for the majority of folks a Badwater Quad through Death Valley, the 100 mile Iditafoot snowshoe race in Alaska, or a summit of Denali might not be on their radar.  And while all of these feats make fascinating stories, it is Ulrich’s revelation of failures and near-misses that brings him to the human level.  After a near-fatal bout of altitude sickness in a Raid Gauloises Trans-Himalaya race, he despaired of ever achieving his particular call of the wild—a summit of Mt. Everest.  But with typical persistence, he did conquer the altitude and was glad he had achieved his dream.  But at what price?  Even in 2004 his sensibilities were shocked by the complete environmental disregard summiteers had shown this majestic mountain.  Trophy-bagging had taken the place of awe and respect. 

                So, after you partake in this armchair-style adventure, what’s in it for you?  Ulrich simply hopes that, in your own way, you increase your risk potential.  For the risk avoiders he suggests that you unsettle your status quo—take to the trails instead of the roads, walk instead of drive. If you prefer to reduce risk, find something that scares you a bit, get a coach, develop a plan and go for it! If you are already the “Look Ma, no hands!” type of person, you are primed for further adventures along the road less traveled by.

                But whatever you do, expect to be changed by your experiences and be prepared for a difficult re-entry into your former world.  This is especially valid with the “new normal” challenges we will face in the coming year.  But as Marshall Ulrich inscribed on the flyleaf of my copy of his book, “It’s important to get outside during these tough times!”  For now, that may be all the challenge you will need.

                Reviewed by laura clark

    [This review was also published in Ultrarunning Magazine.


  • 18 Mar 2020 1:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    You Are Invited to a Snowshoe Party!

                Bet that header got your attention.  Unfortunately, you are too late. The final event in the Dion Snowshoe Series, Nor’easter’s March 7 Punxsutaweny Phil 5K at the Viking Nordic Center in Londonderry, Vermont included a pop-up birthday bash.  The Catch 22, of course, is that Phil’s birthday was the previous Sunday and not the following Saturday.  But that only gave Phil more opportunity to solidify his prediction of an early spring….                                                                     The route was indeed spring-like, with frozen granular and a few aspiring puddles peeking through, but excellent for a fast 5K tour through the woods.  Occurring as it did after the Spring Ahead mandate, headlamps were required but really not necessary as the fortuitous placement of the full moon, assorted trail lights and kerosene lanterns provide plenty of illumination.  I have come to a greater appreciation of the cast iron stomachs colonials must have possessed to eat their supper while breathing in the fumes.  Running was another matter altogether, but in my mind it was a small price to pay for the atmosphere.

                For me, the most difficult thing to deal with was the timing of the event.  While I love the concept of running in the dark, where it always feels as if you are motoring faster than you really are, it is more difficult to wait around on the weekends.  The Tuesday evening Gore Mountain race series was easier to approach.  You go to work and then drive to the mountain.  Here, on a weekend, when I am accustomed to waking up and going for a long run, things played out a bit differently.  While I did get my errands done while other folks were still watching their Saturday morning cartoons, I then had to figure how to spend the rest of my day.  Did I tire myself out with housecleaning? And when and what to eat for lunch?

                Clearly, the nutritional aspect was already bothering our car mate, Maureen Roberts, who kept chatting about finding a convenience store to score some sustenance afterwards.  Matt Miczek and myself, who had been to Viking before, looked at each other incredulously and wondered where she would find a store open at night in the middle of true Vermont countryside, even if it was Saturday.

    I have been listening to Ben Thompson’s irreverent Guts and Glory series (www.gutsandgloryhistory.com) nonfiction accounts of various pivotal moments of world history.  Coincidently, my current download is titled: The Vikings.  So I was able to distract Maureen with trivial pursuit-type facts.  For example, did you know the legend of the Tooth Fairy was created by Viking mothers who rewarded loose teeth with sweets?  Apparently that was before the advent of dentists.  How about this one: Vikings discovered and then forgot about Iceland a total of three times before they finally broke out their snowshoes and settled it on the fourth try. If you are into history or have kids you want to entertain, these are humorous, lively and totally non-boring accounts. (End of infomercial).

    Moving right along…The Viking  Nordic Center also has cabins to rent and one of these was occupied by a huge group celebrating two birthdays with two kegs of beer, Sloppy Joes and lots of desserts whether or not you  had recently lost a tooth.  And they urged all the racers to stop by after we had sampled mulled cider, pie and fudge in the race cabin.  What a deal!  A race, a party and a dinner solution!  And it was even better than that – trails can seem lonely at night, so the whole crew came out to cheer us on.  Feeling somewhat obligated, we hiked over (groan) to their cabin, Maureen all the while insisting it was “for the story” and not the beer. Weirdly, one of the families hailed from Cambridge, NY, a town near Saratoga, and Dr. Maureen had interned with the local doctor!

    While we arrived home very late and still had to officially Spring Ahead, (think New Year’s Eve), Matt had still another party to attend. The rest of us hung up our snowshoes and went to bed…. a wonderful end to the 2020 Snowshoe Season!

    By laura clark

               


  • 08 Mar 2020 7:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    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


  • 18 Feb 2020 8:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Winterfest/Camp:  A Study in Contrasts

                Once more, Winterfest in Saratoga Spa State Park seemingly justified Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring, leaving us to contend with treacherous ice melted layers.  Yet only a week later Wilton Wildlife Preserve’s Camp Saratoga featured a magnificent landscape pulled directly from a scene out of Frozen.  But then, in his role as weather prognosticator, Phil, like his human counterparts, is only expected to produce a 50% accuracy rate.  So I guess he hit it right on the nose.  Or maybe he felt sorry for us.

                Another weird fact:  While Winterfest, a traction-only race, attracted 36 snowshoers, Camp, which required actual snowshoes, garnered 30 participants.  A number of possibilities present themselves.  Are folks attracted to shorter races?  Were road/trail runners simply thrilled to find a winter race that did not involve snow?  Or, in the spirit of Turkey Trots everywhere, were folks just interested in earning those extra Super Bowl calories?  Of course, the horrific weather the day before Camp might have had something to do with it…

                For Winterfest, co-race director Matt Miczek and I advised, “This is not a race.”  An odd statement for two race directors to make.  But because of the thick ice on the trail, we advised folks to stick to the sides or even venture off into the woods if they were uncomfortable.  Once more, Jamie Howard brought his screw set and set up shop for anyone without traction.  Especially for our RPI College students who understandably did not bring tons of gear with them to decorate their dorms.  Amazingly, although there were a few tumbles, there were no serious umfalls (German for fall—that term seems so much more expressive to me!).  Once more, our thirty year-old chronoprinters limped along, prompting the Stryders who wrestled with them to vote for new models for Camp. 

                Camp featured every brand of weather Groundhog could throw at us.  Friday morning as I was loading supplies into the Lodge I was greeted by rain, sleet, hail and the occasional errant snowflake.  In a move that made perfect sense at the time, I elected to wear a thick hoodie over my waterproof gear so the gear would stay cozy for our afternoon foray to check trail markings. What was I thinking??!!  This necessitated another trip home to change outfits.  Fortunately, I shoved a few Cliff bars and a drug store flashlight into my pockets “just in case.”  Soon after our 1PM start, Matt and I were heartened to discover that the precipitation had switch to a fast-falling snow, rapidly covering all the previous day’s brown stretches.  We were in business…or so we thought.

                We soon realized, however, that the aftermath of the ice storm turned our route into a version of Albany Running Exchange’s famed December Adventure Race, a Dodge the Debris experience.  So we set to work.  At first it was rather fun, in an Arctic explorer sort of way.  Except for the part about the falling pine tree branches.  Initially, we looked upwards every time we heard a crash, but after ten minutes or so we ignored the carnage and soldiered on.  We were on a mission, after all – foolhardy or not.  Hours later…it grew dark, and as gloves and hand warmers played out, it began to be not so much fun anymore.  We’d no sooner clear a section, walk a few feet and round a curve only to discover more carnage ahead.  Our standards began to sink lower and lower.  At first, we diligently cleared each scrap, then we left branches that could be easily run over, then we finally decided climbing over tree trunks in snowshoes was a good idea.  One neat thing were the spider web curtains of flexible tree branches that had to be parted as you would glass beads hanging in the doorframe of a Turkish restaurant. When we slogged through the Opdahl Farm section, the sun miraculously made a brief appearance, casting pastel pink and purplish light over the glittering trees.  It was almost worth it.    

          

                As darkness became reality and we still had “miles to go before we sleep” and one drug store flashlight between us, we learned that it is not a good thing to hang flagging onto pine trees the day before a major ice storm.  If we couldn’t find the trail, how could we expect others to?  By the time we reached the road crossing, with an average pace of one mile per two hours, we were thinking folks could just head down the side of the road and call it a race.  Then we noticed there a live wire and figured the mighty boom we had heard earlier was the power grid giving up.  So we had to bushwhack around the wire to make it back to the parking lot, only to discover our escape route to Route 50 was blocked on one side by the downed line and on the other by a National Grid truck blocking traffic under a one-way bridge!  I was grateful I had filled my gas tank earlier when I had picked up the drinks from Stewarts.

                Eventually, we made it back to our respective homes, only to discover there was no power.  I spooned supper from a jar of peanut butter, layered on dry clothes and went to bed.  Matt was still hopeful we could do a modified course, but with the power line still down and more trees blocking the portions we had cleared, there simply wasn’t enough discretionary time left in our pre-race budget.  Part of me thought an adventure race would be rather neat, but that would not exactly be truth-in-advertising, and this was, after all, a Nationals Qualifier.  Everyone seemed to have a good time circling around the loop we managed to clear that morning and the snow was wonderful.  Afterwards we traded “Did you lose power?” stories while consuming cold chili and lentil soup.

                 Folks later commended us for carrying through despite the conditions, but since it is well-known I rarely cancel, I figured it was a case of “If you build it they will come.”  And really, with all communication lines down for several days, there was no way to get the word out anyway to a bunch of athletes anxious to get in their daily run.


    Happy Shoeing!

    laura


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