The club for runners in Saratoga Springs, NY


  • 15 Feb 2021 4:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Winterfest Features Snow!

                This may seem like a no-brainer but for the first time in many years, Winterfest Snowshoe 5K in the Saratoga Spa NYS Park featured snow rather than its usual ice/mud combination.  Even better, it snowed day-of, so the trails were frosted with a soft coating of fluffy white.  Standing on the threshold of an almost solid year of COVID restrictions, it was uplifting to think that at least something had gone right.  All of us have cycled through the 5 Stages of Grief: from March denial (this will only be for a few weeks), to anger at canceled races, to Virtual Race bargaining with the fitness gods, through fatigue-inducing depression.  Hopefully, we have catapulted into the final phase – accepting a new normal.

                Races have cautiously tiptoed around restrictions with limited fields, outdoor-only venues, no after-event partying, stacks of compliance paperwork and huge bottles of hand sanitizer.  Although it was sobering to forego our usual raffle prizes and pot luck party, folks were just grateful to do something semi-normal once more and wave at each other from a distance. Anything to get out of the house.

                To reduce the number of volunteers who would be counted in our 50-person State Park limit, for the first time in twenty-two years, I hired a timing company, Underdog Race Timing, which also insured that runners could maintain 15 second interval individualized starts. I was probably the last race director in NYS to enter the 21st century.  The week before I was beset with anxiety, feeling that I just wasn’t doing enough.  Granted, there was no food or raffles to organize and no alternate routes to map out due to scanty snow, but still the feeling was unsettling.  Now I finally get why timing companies are so popular. I am not sure I would revert back to pre-COVID in this respect.  I have gotten spoiled.

    Last one to the top, photo by Joe Babcock

                As have the rest of us, perhaps.  With a starting time bordering more on suggestion, runners are now accustomed to pulling up late (after all, why would you want to stand around waiting in 7 degree cold?), grabbing their bib and taking off.  Jamie Howard took this to new levels with a recorded finish time of 11 hours.  He was delighted as he got in a long run and could log in a hero’s snowshoe mileage on our weekly  www.dionwmacsnowshoe.commileage competition—and still make it home in time for the Super Bowl.  While this didn’t actually happen, it could have.  Jamie was busy distributing loaner snowshoes and by the time he shed his heavy clothes and made it to the start, Timer Bob had already moved on to the finish. I for one, appreciate this flexibility.  Back in the day when Edward Alizobek founded our snowshoe series, folks who were distraught at having to spoil their perfect record because of a wedding or other unavoidable event, were permitted to race after the fact, as long as they had another person to accompany them for safety concerns.  Everyone knew everyone else (and still do) and would have an idea of a reasonable time for that person.

                As for me, my main concern on race day was staying warm during the interval between set up and registration, and the snow, while adding atmosphere, was nevertheless cold and wet.  But with the staggered start, I had enough time to remove my husband Jeff’s roomy parka and make it to the start.  Both of us founded the Winterfest race 22 years ago after enjoying Edward’s series, and even though Jeff is no longer here, I had the good fortune to randomly draw his favorite number in memory of his Vietnam call sign—Bulldog 33. Whenever I felt myself falter and lapse into the easy way out, I patted his number and felt the force of his presence with me once more.  It was a good day.

    By laura clark                                                



    Unauthorized Spectator
    photo by Jen Ferriss

  • 03 Feb 2021 12:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Snowshoe Racing



    Churney Gurney snowshoe 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. Photos by Jen Ferriss.

    I’m on my way…off Northway Exit 20 and up onto Gurney Lane Recreation Area to the Churney Gurney 5K Snowshoe and Fat Tire Bike Races in Queensbury, New York. At first glance, the multi-layered parking lots, playing field, swimming pool and recreation center resemble any other such facility. But directly behind it you step into a Beatlesque take on Penny Lane—convoluted forest circles weaving in and out, up and down, sometimes with the roar of the highway in the distance. All compact, meticulously planned-out and designed to provide a maximum amount of trail in what might otherwise have been a postage stamp sort of place. Within its flowing layout on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains, Gurney Lane encompasses 13 miles of trail and is ranked the #1 Mountain Bike Trail System in New York State.

    Heidi and Bob Underwood and Underdog Race Timing have been hosting a winter and a summer version of this festival for three year now. As local mountain bikers they are intimately familiar with the trails and are able to make last minute adjustments when this snow is sketchy. But this year it was perfect—a crunchy base topped off with two inches of fresh snow the day before made for a speedy and pleasant trek.

    Snowshoe Racing

    Looking at the course from a race director’s eye, I admire Bob’s skill in marking it. With all the intersecting lanes, this route could easily require a troop of course marshals. But instead, he has just one, making generous use of caution tape to define routes, divide lanes, and keep the flow smooth and effortless. The only dicey section was at the end in the playing field where Chief Dog, Uncas, insisted on running around with the cones and rearranging them to suit his stylistic preferences.

    Weirdly in this COVID era, registration was held indoors in a nod to the early morning 10-degree temperatures. This is the first race we have had all year where we could go indoors to get warm (besides hanging out in the bathroom), and we were careful not to crowd or linger. As we finished our snowshoe event, the mountain bikers were arriving, the temps were climbing and the sun was brilliant—a fire by the open-air pavilion didn’t hurt either! And, another first, we even had a socially distanced raffle. I had forgotten how much I had missed these little touches. Some of us browsed the outdoor market set up by Grey Ghost Bicycles –another pre-COVID, Penny Lane sort of touch.

    When all was said and done, we experienced the best of Penny Lane—a glimpse into the past, a valiant present effort and a hint of things to come.

    The Gurney Lane Snowshoe Race took place on January 24, 2021. Race results can be found on the Underdog Race Timing website.

  • 25 Jan 2021 12:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)



    Cock-a-Doodle-Shoe snowshoe 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. Photos by Jen Ferriss.

    Now into its ninth year, the Cock-a-Doodle-Shoe Snowshoe Race at the New Land Trust in Saranac, NY is not for the faint-hearted. In just this short span of time, it has easily garnered a reputation for being the coldest, snowiest race the Dion snowshoe series. It would be difficult to beat the 2018 North American Snowshoe Championship, when my car temperature gauge read -17 Fahrenheit in town, before we even made it to the trailhead. Or 2019, when the battery-operated timer froze as soon as the first 5K finisher crossed the line. Or last year, when a drive through a blizzard served as the warmup activity.

    In a weather sense, then, this year was rather a disappointment. Temperatures hovered around 30 degrees F, although the fierce wind did make it seem much colder. On the plus side, it had snowed the day before, giving us perhaps eight inches of fresh snow along with a mixed bag of day-of sleet, snow and sun.

    Sir Thomas proudly shepherded me, Maureen Roberts and Karen Costello to the race, being the vehicle of choice due to his studly accessories. We made it down the Interstate 87 Northway just fine, and into the local gas station for some liquid refreshment – Sir Thomas has a small, dainty tank. But then, overconfident, we got lost. Too late, I plugged in my Nuvi (navigation) and she took us on a grand tour of Saranac’s backwoods, turning us onto roads that eluded Google Maps.

    But what could we do? We had no idea where we were and my Nuvi is an older, unforgiving model. Meaning she was not prone to the soft purr of the modern-day Alexa. If you screwed up and failed to take her advice, you would be subjected to wrathful disdain. And at this point we couldn’t afford to cross her. So we soldiered on. Karen and I were concerned about making it to the race on time, but Maureen, in the driver’s seat is known to take optimism and enthusiasm to competitive levels. She was thrilled to be viewing snowy Adirondack scenery seldom seen by folks pursuing their regular Garmin routes.


    One of the charms of Saranac, New York is that it is a steadfast supporter of the concept of kids’ snowshoe racing. Not only that, but Race Director Jeremy Drowne places his kids’ event on an equal level of importance to the 5K and 10K to follow. Youngsters line up at 10am and the 5K and 10K are advertised to start whenever the kids’ event is completed. So FOMO (fear of missing out) compels everyone to stand around and cheer the kids. This year, there were nine finishers in this family affair and among the onlookers were a Dad packing a two-month-old and a lady who intended to hike the 5K at eight months pregnant.

    Thus inspired, we began the half-mile warmup to our start and dutifully positioned ourselves amid orange flags placed at socially distant intervals. I glanced admiringly at Jeremy’s flags with their longer-than-usual metal staffs. Definitely not the standard Tractor Supply variety, but made for serious snow. And then we were off, heading into an Adirondack forest whose paths were tunneled by snow-laden branches. Runners quickly found their own pace and it was not long until most of us were totally alone in a winter landscape painting. I thought I knew the course pretty well. I remembered the steep, narrow downhill where one icy year I unashamedly slid on my butt. But surprisingly, totally forgot about the steep uphill that preceded it and figured they had changed the course. Sort of like childbirth—you forget all the really tough parts.

    But for me, the worst (read boring) section was circling the fence around the orchard. It is totally exposed and wind-whipped, with just enough upward slant to make you feel guilty for hiking it. I did anyway, rationalizing that it was time for an energy gel. My favorite section is oddly as it is the mile-long Zen Trail loop. This comes at the almost-end, just when you sense that the barn is near and the last thing you desire is a detour. But the beautiful, remote single track is totally worth it. If you are hunting for a negative split, this would be a good race to select as the first 5K is considerably tougher than the last.

    Because of COVID protocols, the warming hut was shuttered and the wood stove was merely ornamental, but as the day was mild, this did not matter. Next year, we look forward to that warm fire as well as the Darn Tough Vermont sock giveaways for which this challenging race is famous.

    Complete results from the 2021 Cock-a-Doodle-Shoe Snowshoe Race can be found on the race website.

  • 21 Jan 2021 6:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Everyone’s a Front Runner at Gore

                Remember those classic shots we used to see of runners crowded at the start line, bent over in starting gate position, fondly fingering their watches?  Back in the day, that is.  Back when things were as normal as things were ever going to be.  Well, Gore 5K Snowshoe Race in the year(s) of COVID was as far removed from this picture as you could imagine.

                Because of COVID restrictions, Heidi Underwood of Underdog Race Timing, gave us a 20-minute start time frame. So there we were, milling around, unsure of what to do.  It was comparable to our Saratoga Stryders Saturday morning runs, when we all recognize that it is time to get going but no one wants to make the first move.  Moreover, it was a sunny almost 30ish afternoon and no one was particularly cold.  It was really quite pleasant just standing there, almost committed, but not quite. I grew impatient and shouting, “Yay, I’m first!” I dashed off. Actually, I wasn’t.  I eventually figured out that without fanfare, eventual winner Jeremy Drowne, had taken the early initiative.

                The course consisted of five 1K loops around the Gore Mountain Ski Bowl.  Rather like one of those bike criterions.  The loops were supposed to have been longer, but some of the trails were closed for snowmaking.  At first, I thought that five times was rather a lot, but eventually I grew to appreciate the abridged route as each swipe of the circle seemed really speedy in comparison to the familiar Citizen’s Race course.  Made me feel like a winner. 

                Beforehand, I had tried to visualize the route, reminding myself that the first uphill, which always seemed the most difficult to me, was followed by a glorious downhill.  I remembered that the next uphill was steep, but brief, and never seemed to bother me that much. But this time the first one seemed easy and the second more difficult. With each go around I tried to hunt and peck the fastest trajectory but naturally didn’t figure it out until the final circle. 

                As a consequence of the staggered window, getting lapped lost its meaning.  Either someone who started just behind you was passing as in a normal race, or perhaps that person was on their first loop while you were pounding out your second.  It was like everyone was their own frontrunner, strangely liberated from the temptation of running someone else’s race.  And while we missed the snack bar and fireplace afterwards, it was just enough to be out there and to see our North Country friends once more. 

                On the drive home, the setting sun tinted the bare-brown trees purplish pink and I was reminded of my time in the Arizona desert.  Folks ask how I could stand to be without greenery, but the setting sun flashes rainbow colors against the sandy canyons, rather like it did for the stark winter trees, reminding me that every place has its special beauty and every outing, even if not quite like before, is more than enough. 

                By laura clark

                Photos by Jen Ferriss

  • 03 Jan 2021 9:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    ARE Adventure 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. Photos courtesy of Josh Merlis. First published at on December 21.

    Forty-eight of us signed up for Josh Merlis’ latest Adventure Running Exchange (ARE) challenge scheduled for December 6th in Upstate New York and the adventure began even before race day. Typically held at the University of Albany’s Warrensburg Dippikill Camp, the venue was relocated at the last minute when the SUNY (State University of New York) administration decided to close the facility because of COVID-19 concerns. Luckily, the Albany Running Exchange has plenty of members who happen to be farmers, so this time we got to explore another farm site in nearby Altamont, New York.

    So what makes this an adventure? Isn’t every trail race an adventure? Yes, but not to such an extent. Because we are all good citizens and respect private property rights, we had no idea what awaited us. We knew the distance would range between 4 and 8 miles with no friendly mileage markers. We expected bushwhacking and wet shoes and rutted fields and we got all that and more.

    ARE Adventure

    Even our vehicles shared in the adventure, as they had to jockey for a parking spot along rutted and muddied fields. Fortunately, my Sir Thomas was equipped with studs so he handled himself well. It was the driver who had difficulty as I was forced to back into my slot, a maneuver I rarely attempt even in a smooth parking lot, but with the help of Grody, resident farm dog, I finally succeeded.

    While we had a brief respite from the Ft. Bragg bibs at Josh’s Hairy Gorilla Half, sustainability was again in force with yet more leftovers. The mission typically starts with a challenge to separate and disorient the runners. This time, I felt like a military recruit in basic training when we were told to spread out in the rice paddy (wheat field) and await the starting gun. Crouching down, I had troubling visions of Viet Cong sharpshooters. It didn’t help that, as the largest military base in the world, Ft. Bragg deployed the most soldiers to Vietnam.

    ARE Adventure

    Once started, I began to congratulate myself on selecting the right running kit. That lasted approximately 5 seconds as an icy cold water and mud mixture began to penetrate my shoes. I began cursing myself for ignoring Josh’s directions about wearing hiking footwear and longed for my neoprene socks. At least I had worn my spikes. The terrain was beyond swampy with a growth of tall, spikey reeds and twisty briars. A machete would have been useful.

    Remembering that running is 90% mental, I tried to convince myself that my feet would warm up once I emerged from the swamp and got into a rhythm. Neither of which ever happened. Josh also advised safety glasses. The only person who took him up on that was Matt Miczek, who was best-dressed for the occasion, sporting cargo explorer pants and an old windbreaker. His glasses were an early casualty, however, as they kept fogging up due to masking requirements.

    ARE Adventure

    It takes a special person to run this type of adventure race, and I’m not sure if it is type of “special” the majority would aspire to. Either that or we were just tired of being virtual cutouts of ourselves and wanted to be real once more. I encountered Jeff Clark (2nd oldest entrant) before the start and he gave me a left-handed compliment when he said, “I thought I was getting too old for this, but then I see you are here, too.” Marcus, Andy and Tim Portuese, ages 8, 9 and 11 represented the opposite end of the spectrum. They were ahead of me and their laughs and shrieks forewarned me about upcoming obstacles.

    First dog was Grody who broke trail for his person (was that even fair?), overall winner and farmer, Brian White. Brian drove his cool Bountiful Bread 4-wheel drive vehicle to the event, well-equipped for any race errands. This time, instead of sponsoring the ARE adventure race with sandwiches, he provided the venue, a win/win situation for him because he now has an Indiana Jones-style running trail. I was just trying to survive when I felt a polite nudge on my hip. Fully expecting an elephant’s trunk, I glanced back to see Grody, as polite as can be, asking to pass “on your left,” but not willing to startle me. His person was not far behind. This is when I first began to suspect that the adventure would not end at the finish line, but rather with another full course loop. Thankfully, as I clambered stiffly up the final log embankment, Josh hinted that it would be just fine if I ended my adventure with one loop. My frozen feet were especially grateful.

    While this was not the Adirondack experience we were normally accustomed to, it was challenging in its own way and turned out to be an adventure we never could have imagined.

    ARE Adventure

    Complete race results can be found on the Albany Running Exchange website.

  • 29 Nov 2020 1:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Trick? Or Treat? at the Hairy Gorilla

    by Laura Clark

    With temperatures in the low twenties and two inches of snow on the ground, Thatcher Park resembled Jack Skellington’s Halloween Town in Tim Burton’s film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. For some, the reminder of the awaiting winter was even scarier than the Halloween gorillas. For others, myself included, this foretaste was a tantalizing harbinger of winter sports to come. But for all of us, Thatcher’s version of Frozen was a complete surprise as the lower elevations had long since melted backwards into a soggy fall day.

    Luckily, at the last minute I threw my ice-spiked sneakers into the car and so was one of the few totally prepared for this Halloween trick/treat. Still, I debated, thinking that the light covering would soon melt. At the registration table I spotted Kim Donegan and asked her, “What would Shaun wear if he were here and not home watching the twins?” Her answer, “Definitely traction,” ended my internal debate. (Shaun is among the most prepared of runners and known for arriving on sight with multiple sneaker and clothing choices). And I was so glad I had tuned in to the imaginary Shaun!

    At first there were many icy, slippery stretches that when melted, morphed into muddy, leaf-covered slickness. There was one lady wearing an octopus costume whose jutting serpentine tentacles were perfect for enforcing social distancing, and served as a reminder of the twisting tree roots hidden beneath the snow and leaves. Bill Hoffman wore his version of desert huaraches complete with spikes and extra-thick ski socks. BRRR! Elaine Morris ditched last year’s gorilla costume which had become heavy and sodden in the rain, only to regret not having its warmth to rely upon this time around. As for myself, I was happily pretending I was snowshoeing along, looking forward to the upcoming season.

    This year’s COVID edition with 287 participants in either the Squirrellly 6 or Hairy Half, divided entrants into 7 corrals with a lineup time, a cone letter and a 10 second spaced start, so it was difficult to know who was there even if they weren’t costumed and masked. I also had difficulty determining the bib codes. Usually we got stuck with unclaimed bibs from the Ft Bragg 10-miler that RD Josh Merlis produces, but no one ever seems to show up for. This day, however, we were issued HG bibs, which all seemed to be different. Mine was black and had a small gorilla skeleton on one side and a squirrel silhouette on the other with the year 2020 markered in. Others were colorful and featured different designs, way more than our two race choices should have warranted. I finally figured it out—Josh was using up extra HG bibs. Score one for sustainability and carbon-offsets!

    At 73 years of age, my main goal was to make the cutoff. Which meant I had to clock 1:17:30 for 5.75 miles. Reasonable, but given the conditions, challenging. The distance wasn’t a problem as I had been logging long training runs at Moreau State Park in preparation for a 14.5 miler there. And that paid off. Who knew? Once we hit the technical, rooty octopus stuff I felt at home, pretended I was snowshoeing and managed to pass five runners! Since I organize the Dion Snowshoe Series, random folks shouted inquires and I regretted not having brought schedules, however iffy at this juncture, to hand out. That would have been an excellent race strategy, burdening folks with paper to stash somewhere (just kidding).

    Anyway, that is the scenario I cling to hopefully in my mind. If we are going for total truth in advertising, the above is most likely a glossy attempt at fake news as timing officially began as the final corral/ letter combo crossed the start line. I probed no farther than that the 5.75 mile volunteer gave me the nod to continue. And truth be told, I really don’t want to know how much of my lead time was due to a possible head start. As I approached the volunteer, I thought that even if I got redirected toward the finish, I would:

    1. Be pleased with my effort
    2. Get first crack at the boxed sandwich lunch.

    Not a shabby tradeoff!

    By now, you probably know where this is going. Exhausted by my effort, I struggled for a few miles, as befitting someone who had left their race in the beginning of the course, wrestling with the happy thought that since I had made the cutoff, I could literally walk to the finish. But that wouldn’t have been fair, either to me or to the volunteers still out there in subfreezing weather.

    This was one of those races where it was tempting to trash both shoes and socks to avoid the cleanup process. But I was good. Up to a point. I had promised a friend to run the virtual FallBack5 with her the following day, so I just waited for the mud on my tights to cake, then brushed it off and no one was the wiser. Except perhaps the Gorilla.

  • 29 Nov 2020 1:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Moreau Half Marathon 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. Photos by Mountain Dog Running.

    At my relaxed age, I no longer worry about every race. I just like to spend a day outdoors with friends and complete the course as best I can. Or so I tell myself. And while I no longer stress over race times, there is still something inside me that longs to set myself apart, to tread a path chosen not by the followers of the herd, but by those more focused on personal achievement. And so I have gravitated towards ultra-running then mountain running. Which is often pretty much the same thing. For a number of years I pursued PEAK Snowshoe Marathon in Pittsfield, Vermont with four rounds of 1,200 elevation gain (and loss) then the Nor’Easter Merck Ultra in Rupert, Vermont with repeated summits of Mt. Antone. The snowshoe hare left me in his powder, but I plodded behind and finished.

    Immediately after this year’s Nor’Easter edition, life as we knew it ground to a halt, thanks to COVID-19. Now that we find ourselves in the valley between the first and second wave, I figured Bill Hoffman’s Mountain Dog Running production of the Moreau Half Marathon might be my last 2020 opportunity to defeat the Grim Reaper. As with the above mentioned events, this would be a reach for me, where simply crossing the finish line would (and did!) justify a chilled bottle of champagne.


    The trails at New York’s Moreau State Park require serious effort. The yellow, orange, pink, purple, green, red, yellow/red, etc. trails intertwine crookedly, making the map resemble a two-year old’s rambling sketch. The colors doggedly skirt three lakes, cross numerous streams and feature two 2.0 mile climbs.

    This is an event not to be undertaken lightly. Although I was familiar with the trails, having run the old 15K course, my rule for that park is to never, ever venture out alone, even though I am normally fine with solo enterprises. The terrain is so rugged that it takes monumental effort to watch for markers with roots and rock gardens awaiting every footfall.

    What made the difference for me, besides a “later” ultimate wakeup call, was that Moreau is close by so our group made several practice runs. Jen Ferriss, Darryl and Mona Caron (Adirondack Sports) and I split the route up into two exploratory weekends while Jessica and Brian Northan powered through in one round. Since Darryl had generously offered to be the sweep and my support, it was imperative that he know the course. He worked his iPhone and Garmin as much as his legs!

    Our original plan was to start early, but the thought of being passed on narrow, treacherous trails by 70 other runners didn’t really appeal. We started off in waves on the sandy beach of Moreau Lake, cheered on by a raucous crowd of barking geese, who also seemed to have their own takeoff flight protocol as they ascended in small groupings to resume their fall migration. It was a heady experience to feel part of something bigger, a finale to the summer season. After a pleasant, blessedly flat tour around the lake, we were treated to a half mile warmup introduction to the terrain, leading to the Staircase of Death. Anchored firmly between miles 1-3, the staircase treated us to 900 feet of elevation gain. It didn’t help that beforehand I Googled the phrase “staircase of death” and learned that staircase falls are responsible for 12,000 deaths per year, being the second leading cause of accidental injury in the United States, right behind automobile accidents. Who knew? In the interest of retaining Darryl’s company, I kept this bit of information to myself.

    The second two-mile climb up the ridge begins at mile 8 with only 600 feet of elevation gain. But mentally it seemed much worse than the first set being in the middle of the race and attempted on less than enthusiastic legs. The day before, unbeknownst to the RD, some park angels cleared parts of the trail. Naturally, the only serious accident, a broken leg, took place on this cleared patch. The 8-10 mile stretch, however, was not cleared, with rocks and root buried under inches of slippery leaves. Navigation was made all the more difficult because the zigzag route required you to look up for markers and down at your feet simultaneously.

    Somewhere just before this section, I turned left on a clearly marked right hand trail and while I was only disoriented for a few minutes, I lost Darryl up ahead. He had the only phone since we decided we would be together and I wouldn’t need one. Bad decision. Luckily, there were quite a few hikers on the yellow trail because of its great views (at that point I didn’t much care) so they relayed a meeting point and Darryl and I eventually reconnected. Poor Darryl said, “I had one job and I messed it up.” But really, it was my fault.

    The final three or four miles were really difficult. I got annoyed at myself because I had been looking forward to them and not just because they were near the end. I was disappointed to discover that they were not nearly as simple as they should have been, given the previous tricky terrain. Some of this may have been mental, too. Advertised as a 14 mile self-supported “half” marathon with 2700 feet of elevation gain over winding technical single track, Bill warned that runners should expect to double their road half marathon time. For me this was a moot point as my last half was on snowshoes. Be that as it may, as Darryl’s Garmin approached the 14 mile mark we were still nowhere near done. My only goal was to finish and I knew I could, but it was that extra unplanned mile that sucked me in. Still, by some quirk of fate my bib number was 33, my late husband Jeff’s old Army Aviation call sign (Bulldog 33), and I felt as if he were there at the end, pushing me on, telling me how proud he was of me. I couldn’t disappoint him.

    Finally, we reached the sandy beach once more and my two training buddies, Matt Miczek and Jen Ferriss, were still there, hours later, to form a cheering finish line. Usually we carpool, but since April we have been traveling in separate, socially distanced vehicles, so there was no compelling reason for them to remain. Other than that they are truly amazing friends. Darryl followed shortly after, good citizen that he was, with a handful of pink flags.

    The geese were landing on the lake, again in waves, for their nighttime rendezvous. I would like to think that these were different geese, a day behind on their journey south. But this being Moreau Park, I wouldn’t discount the possibility that they had gotten lost and were resting up for another attempt the following day.

  • 26 Oct 2020 2:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Amy’s Adventure Race Twists and Turns Through the New World of Virtual Racing

    By Laura Clark     Photos by Matt Miczek


                If you are like me, you have pretty much had it with virtual racing.  What was once an appealing opportunity to at least get out of the house and do something other than hunt for toilet paper has lost its novelty.  I crave more of a community connection and am tired of pretending I am the front runner forging new paths.  Who am I kidding?  But Amy’s Adventure Race succeeded in jolting me out of my ennui.  Race Director Michele Vidarte added a hefty dose of reality with a marked trail on the actual course.  This was a pull I couldn’t resist as I would ordinarily hesitate to run this tricky route without a guide dog.  Plus, Amy’s is my only remaining streak and I was determined to hang onto it.

                Amy’s Park is located in the Adirondack town of Bolton Landing and is part of the Lake George Land Conservancy.  But this area of ponds, marshes and forests has none of the tourist hype.  Despite the COVID-induced back-to-nature call there was plenty of parking.  When Matt Miczek and myself were running, there were perhaps ten adventurers, including one dog, out on the trail, but we only encountered one person—not typical for any mainstream Adirondack area.

                Having gotten spatially disoriented every year, despite markings and folks ahead and behind me, I came forearmed with a course map, not wanting to depend on non-existent cell phone coverage.  In fact, the retro approach was liberating, relying on way-finding rather than technology.  We actually got to think!  Helpful Hack:  I normally trim as much as possible from the trail map and then cover both sides with clear plastic package tape.  In a rock/paper/scissors game, sweat and rain always win out over paper. 

                Since this was a race, the plan was for Matt to run at his faster pace, finish, take some scenic photos and then double back to rescue me.  This worked!  And because I had to pay attention not only to the course route and also the trail colors, I learned that the trail markers were well-placed and frequent.  The bonus is that I will now not hesitate to return and follow some different paths.  The course itself is a mix of twisty turns, narrow rocky steep trails and stretches of riverside grasslands. For the locals, the twisty trail would be roughly comparable to those of Moreau State Park (without the Staircase of Death).

                This COVID year(s) will continue to prove a time of thinking outside the box, and while we would all undoubtedly prefer to return to “the way we were,” along with the trail grime we have acquired a gritty layer of resilience, confidence and creativity that will stand us in good stead once life returns to some semblance of normal.  I see now that virtual events are as much a mental test as anything else, one that should stand us in good stead during those inevitable times during a long race when we are tempted to opt for easy and throw in the towel.


  • 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 ( 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 ( 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. 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 and 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


Copyright Saratoga Stryders, 2021
The Saratoga Stryders, a 501(c)(3) affiliate chapter of the Road Runners Club of America. P.O. Box 1467, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

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