The club for runners in Saratoga Springs, NY

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

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

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

    By laura clark

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

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

        Every runner has the same finish line:  death.

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

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

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

    Churney Gurney & Magic: First 2019 Doubleheader

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

    See you next weekend!
    laura


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

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

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

    Reviewed by laura clark

  • 21 Nov 2018 7:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Racing Heart: A Runner’s Journey of Love, Loss and Perseverance, by Kate Mihevc Edwards.  2018.

        We have all experienced downtime due to injuries and have dreaded the resulting grieving cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventual acceptance.  Six weeks cross-training can seem like six years, when even the sight of someone running in a downpour ignites inordinate envy.  The most telling loss, however, is the loss of community, the feeling of being anchorless with life stuck in a holding pattern.
        Now imagine that this condition unforeseeably becomes permanent.  That is exactly what happened to Kate Mihevc Edwards, who, like us, had used her running to escape from stress and put her life back into perspective.  In high school Kate ran to cope with an alcoholic mother and as a bonus discovered something she was good at.  Running helped her cope with a boring first job and eventually led to her career as a physical therapist.  Whenever she moved, she found a home within a circle of new running friends.  
        Life was good.  Until that very act of running betrayed her as she tired for no apparent reason.  After an agonizing process replete with hope and then further setbacks, she was ultimately diagnosed with ARVC, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy and was confronted with a life-altering choice:  either continue running which defined her and  face an early death or restructure her goals and live to see her son grow to adulthood.
        As Kate articulately documents her ensuing struggle to let go of stress and perfectionism, it is impossible not to put ourselves in her place.  Personally, I wonder how she can continue to work so intensively with athletes, teach college endurances classes and lecture throughout the country, but for her it gives a measure of release and continued access to the running community.  
        This is a painful book to read.  In the back of our minds “what if’s” always lurk.  Personally, I have been brought up short by injury-induced arthritis of the knee and have coped by trading trails for roads.  But I am still running, not permanently relegated to the sidelines.  Nevertheless, lurking in the background for all of us is the looming specter of old age.  I have already jettisoned 50 milers and now find myself working the rear.  Eight years from now, into my eighties, will I still be able to get out there?  If not, I hope I can accept the situation as Kate has, always striving to discover another facet of myself.
        Still, as Kate ultimately comments, “Maybe when I am an old lady, and have lived a full life, I will put a magnet on my ICD, lace up my running shoes one last time, and run out the door.”  Once a runner…..

    Reviewed by laura clark


  • 03 Oct 2018 4:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I first met Jennifer Pharr Davis, her husband, Brew, and baby girl, Charley, when I had the good fortune to host them during their Becoming Odyssa Saratoga Springs book tour, which recounts Jennifer’s first Appalachian Trail thru-hike where she adopted the trail name Odyssa.  She has since written Called Again, an account of her record-breaking FKT (fastest known time), Families on Foot, numerous guide books and now, The Pursuit of Endurance.  One might expect that with all of her adventures, founding her own Blue Ridge Hiking Company and raising two small children, she would be justifiably forgiven for turning out several of those “written by Jennifer Pharr Davis with”…. fill in the name of a well-known author.
        But this is not the case.  Her observations are honestly hers: thoroughly researched, sincere and seamlessly executed.  She comes across as one of us, an everyday person striving to do her best, make sense of her accomplishments, and deal with the “what-ifs” that go hand-in- hand with even the most extraordinary exploits.
        In The Pursuit of Endurance Jennifer probes the psyches of many of the great Appalachian Trail heroes like Warren Doyle, David Horton, Heather Anderson and Scott Jurek.  Throughout, the acronym HYOH, or “Hike Your Own Hike” applies.  Jennifer acknowledges that there are many ways any one individual can enjoy hiking and speed is a goal only if you choose to make it so.  As Owen Allen reflects on his 1960 record hike, “I’m glad I did it, but I don’t ever want to do it that way again!”  And now in this current phase of her life, Jennifer is almost content to focus on her growing family, her hiking company and her writing and speaking commitments.
       She was however, left with a desire to explore “…what it is that allows someone to continue through insufferable pain and push through staggering odds.”  While Jennifer’s husband, Brew, continues to follow all the latest FKT attempts, she claims she is done with that, preferring to follow parallel paths.
        What is truly humbling is how much all the FKT record holders are willing to help their “rivals.”  Warren Doyle and David Horton offered advice and showed up on the trail at crucial points to crew for Jennifer.  And while mentoring is a given in all sports, how many mentors would cheerfully help you break their record?  And for that matter, how many have at one time held FTKs on the Appalachian trail?  This exclusive group is a small band of brothers, always ready for new members.
        I was impressed by how much research went into this project.  Whenever possible, Jennifer not only flew cross country to hike with these record holders, but she also stayed in their homes and explored their towns, all to get a sense of what made each person tick.  She discovered that what drew everyone, including herself, to this sport was the fact that being amateur, underground and somewhat disorganized, it was open to everyone.  The sense that, as Jennifer so aptly puts it, “physical and mental barriers are your greatest adversaries.”
        And so what did Jennifer learn and what can we take away from the experience of these extraordinary athletes?  Jennifer learned that with all the possibilities of defining a record attempt: northbound or southbound, summer or winter, assisted or unassisted, male or female, etc. what truly matters is the effort of each individual participant. As a seventy-one year-old runner this is a lesson I embrace.  While I regret that I am no longer as fast as I once was, I have learned that if I focus on the joy of being in the woods and mentally lighten my body, I can still achieve that glorious feeling that I am skimming over rocks and flying over the terrain—whatever my pace might happen to be.  And that delight is truly all that matters

    Reviewed by laura clark

  • 25 Jul 2018 7:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        Even if you have been hiking for years and have acquired considerable gear and trail savvy, hiking with kids is an entirely different ball game.  Here to guide you through the process with an endless array of tips, tools and techniques are Jennifer Pharr Davis, the former record holder of the fastest thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail and her husband Brew, her crew and a hiker and ultramarathoner in his own right.  Their insights were shaped by their preschooler Charley, photogenically featured throughout, and now their young son Gus.     
        But this is not just a book for parents of the younger set since, as founder of the Blue Ridge Hiking Company, Jennifer has led many school groups and as a high school teacher, Brew is totally familiar with the teen mindset.  Even with such credentials, the couple emphasizes that the mainstay of their game plan is to remain flexible and expect the unexpected, planning your adventure around the youngest hiker.  “Hike your own hike,” emphasizes that the “best” hiker is not necessarily the fastest, but the group who gets the most enjoyment out of their foray.  It is not imperative to reach the top of the mountain, but it is important to have fun on the way.
        To this end, the book is chock full of games to play along the way (remember those car games we played before electronics took over?).  Older kids can sketch, collect materials for an art project and help identify birdsongs, cloud formations, tree bark and leaves, etc.  To lighten your backpack, the book is repleat with iphone apps that not only help with identification but can pinpoint invasive species sightings. 
        For older kids, the authors encourage you to give them ownership of the process by helping choose the route, packing their own pack, helping prepare the food and participating in camp chores along the way.  As my husband and I discovered after several whiney journeys it helps if each kid can bring a special friend along.  I just wish we had this book so it didn’t take us so painfully long to hit upon that solution!  And something we didn’t have back in the dark ages—geocaching and letterboxing---can keep a group enthusiastically moving along.
        The couple also urges families with special needs children to modify their hikes and equipment to take these requirements into account.  Hiking stimulates cognitive function, vocabulary, motor skills and has a calming effect on those with ADHD. 

  • 09 Jul 2018 9:47 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

         Once I finished reading When Running Made History, I immediately wanted to do an about-face and begin the process all over again. It was difficult to say which was more compelling, the story line of each running event described or Robinson’s insights into the resulting historical implications. I felt the need to re-read and re-define.

    Roger Robinson, literary scholar, elite runner, sports commentator and journalist, crisscrossed continents recording sixty years of seminal racing moments that he observed in one or more of these roles.  Leading off as a schoolboy in drab, postwar London, he cheered Emil Zatopek’s 10,000 meter Olympic record victory.  Robinson cautions that all episodes described—the 1960 drama of the stunning emergence of African dominance in the Rome Olympic Marathon, Paula Radcliffe’s London victory, the Boston bombing—do not represent the totality of events during this time period, but rather snapshotted the ones he bore witness to. 
        Still, these are by no means just play-by-play descriptions, but taking off points as Robinson explores how individual events “had a significance beyond the result of who won and who lost.”  Thus, he transcends the act of placing one foot ahead of the other to offer a sense of how running, by its very place as a global phenomenon, has defined and affected history itself.
        Each episode has its own chapter and while it is tempting to skip ahead to events that hold personal significance, Robinson’s exploration of historical details can best be experienced by an initial cover-to-cover read.  For me, as a United States citizen and New York State resident, a military wife who has lived in Europe and the Pacific and a now aging woman, certain events stand out and make me proud to define myself as a runner.
        For example, the Boilermaker 15K weekend struck a personal chord as my brother-in-law has a farm near Utica, New York.  The Boilermaker literally rejuvenated a sagging community, much in the way the Leadville 100 redefined Leadville.  Ownership of this race truly belongs to the residents, who host thousands of elite and everyday runners during Boilermaker week. But that is just the beginning.  Profits are used to fund a gradual revival of city districts along the route and the cadre of volunteers stand ready to accomplish a wide variety of community projects whenever there is an emergency.  As the emphasis on charity increased, the ranks of women runners swelled since they could now feel that training was not “selfish” time taken from their families. 
        Robinson has also noted how mass running celebrations have served as an affirmation in the wake of cataclysmic events.  Witness the Berlin Marathon that breached The Wall, the NYC Marathon after the 9/11 disaster and Meb Keflezighi’s run of redemption after the Boston bombing.  Such occasions furnish a constructive means of demonstrating grief and beginning the healing process, all on a world-wide stage.  Noteworthy, too, is the fact that our Meb is in fact one of the many immigrants who has been welcomed into the running community, fulfilling the American Dream for all of us.  Hopefully, this inclusion will be allowed to continue.
        Many races discover themselves at the forefront of their country’s green initiatives and this is due, no doubt in part, to the fact that runners are eager to spend large chunks of their day outside.  Another area of society in which running has been influential is in the acknowledgement of aging as an opportunity to celebrate potential.  With age group categories now extending into the 80’s and beyond, runners are encouraged to overcome the rocker-on-the- porch stereotype, leading the way for social acceptance in all areas of life.
        So yes, while you will discover much about our recent history by reading Robinson’s book, his account is so much more than that.  It is an opportunity to explore how running continues to shape history and an involved answer to the next time someone queries, “Why do you run?”

    By laura clark

    Postscript:  Embracing Robinson’s line of thinking, a new exhibit has just opened at the National September 11 Memorial Museum detailing the impact of sports, including the NYC Marathon and the 2002 Olympics, after the tragic attacks.  The exhibit runs through the summer of 2019 and is worthy of a visit and at least a partial re-read.


  • 17 Apr 2018 4:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        Folks who set out to hike the 2,189 mile Appalachian Trail are most likely on a quest to discover their inner selves.  If they have no compelling reason to be there, they will be among those hanging up their hiking boots on some forsaken tree.  But after a career spanning twenty years, what would Scott Jurek need to prove?  Arguably one of the top ultrarunners and a larger-than-life character in Christopher McDougall’s epic Born to Run, and himself the author of Eat and Run, Jurek had seemingly done it all.
        But that was the problem.  Before he retired to reinvent himself he wanted to recapture the uncertainty and excitement that comes with laying yourself bare in the face of extreme challenge.  More than that, however, he and his wife Jenny were also mentally and physically drained by her second miscarriage.  They, like many trekkers before them, needed to escape to reconnect with themselves.
        Admittedly, Jurek was woefully underprepared.  Unlike like many previous FKT hopefuls, the Jureks had never hiked any sections of the Appalachian Trail and had never even visited half of the fourteen states it traverses. But, as Jenny writes, “this wasn’t a race or an event, it was more of a multiweek vision quest and much more complicated than anything either of us had done before.”  They came to refer to the trail as a “green tunnel,” crammed with towering tree branches, rocks, and roots, totally lacking the high elevation, and open vistas they were familiar with out West.  It was almost as if they had been dropped off in another country entirely.  But then they would have expected difference; this time they were nearly overcome.
        Reading North is rather like watching the film Titanic. Ultimately, you know the outcome.  Jurek overcomes initial injuries and deprivations, eventually breaking the record. But that is the script line.  What sucks you in is the fact that the Jureks’ daily struggles matter.  Their candid sharing of each day’s minutia places you on the trail alongside them. 
        The sense of immediacy is further heightened by the narrative form itself; each section retraces the same ground, but alternates between Jenny’s and Scott’s point of view.  There are no neatly delineated chapters, with Jenny’s retake of the ground Scott had previously covered, appearing abruptly almost as if she is interrupting him.  While initially confusing, once you learn to expect these turnabouts it is almost as if you are experiencing the trail from two separate points of view: runner and crew.  You picture Scott worrying about his wife, alone and exposed as well as Jenny’s anxiety when Scott is behind schedule. Their takes are completely candid and uncensored. Initially, I was wondering how their marriage would survive as Jenny chafes at Scott’s lack of planning.
        It is enlightening and satisfying to see how their focus shifts from “I” to “Us.” At the end, Scott puts himself completely in the hands of his constantly changing pace team while Jenny abandons her “what ifs” and focuses on the task at hand.  The documentary is enhanced by the accompanying photo sets, helpfully labeled by day and section.  Not only did I enjoy thumbing through, a temptation I succumbed to way before the appropriate placement, but I found myself referring back repeatedly when my reading finally caught up.  It was then I discovered that they were not the usual random photos but key “you-are-there” snapshots.
        When the compass needle finally pointed 10 miles true north toward Katahdin and the record was assured, Jurek told his triumphant team, “I’m going for a birthday hike with my wife and our best friends.”   Jurek rekindled the fire he thought he had lost and best of all he and Jenny were a fulfilled family once more, whatever lay ahead.  It was as if he and his wife had been on a vacation, however arduous, from themselves and their past lives, and had returned newborn, eager to adjust their mindset toward a new set of expectations.

    Reviewed by laura clark

  • 19 Mar 2018 5:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        Recalling those “When I was your age…” legends about blinding snowstorms and waist-high drifts, the 2018 Dion Nationals in Woodford, Vermont lent credibility to what we had assumed were tall tales invented around a roaring fireplace.  Blessed with 44” of snow (and still actively falling), the challenging routes recalled WMAC days of legend with everyone racing in train formation to break the path, taking turns at point. 
        But what a journey to get there!  December brought three feet of promising “base” and in a burst of early season enthusiasm Nationals mastermind Tim Van Orden committed to a race directing ultra—spearheading six separate events over the span of two days:  Saturday’s 5k, 10K and Kids’ Kilo and Sunday’s Team Relay, Half and Full Marathon.  Not to mention course previews, separate awards ceremonies and get togethers.  To heighten the challenge he designed five separate courses.  As the countdown relentlessly continued, he found himself putting in first 40, then 60 and ultimately 100 hour weeks.  And as the snow fell and melted, reconfiguring the trails, he designed multiple courses depending seemingly on the time of day and the weather predictions.  He has enough trail designs in reserve to host a race-of-the week!
        As the February thaw gradually released its hold, winter dominated once more, frosting Prospect Mountain with an incredible amount of powder, enough to last well through April.  To achieve his goal to make “absolutely the most beautiful snowshoe course ever,” he carved narrow, twisty singletrack through the Black Forest-like landscape.  And naturally the majority of the narrow route was inaccessible to motorized devices, leaving Tim tunneling through in fisherman-style waders, achieving lactate threshold with every step.  Through it all, he remained relentlessly smiling despite repeatedly setting multiple SKTs (Slowest Known Times) for his routes.  And then there was the no small matter of making the site approachable.  Visit Tim’s Facebook page and you can view the cavern-like parking area, the porta-potties barricaded by snow and the daunting roof clearing operations.
        Normally in back-to-back events there are two, or at most, three choices.  But here we were confronted with the same dilemma faced by Willy Wonka’s Veruca “I want it all…I want it now.”  Saturday’s options were clear-cut for those pursuing Nationals status, but Sunday’s were murky:  an intense 2.5 mile relay loop or a half or a full.  While the first appears a no-brainer, after trying to get my sore body parts in gear Sunday morning, I was actually looking forward to the more leisurely paced half with no worries about letting teammates down.
        I should, however, have stated my plan more concisely.  I had started many races with twelve year-old Solitaire Niles, now in her first year of serious snowshoeing.  Because she knew I was targeting the half, she assumed I would be, like her, a 5K candidate.  She was on the verge of bagging it, but fortunately managed to hook up with Theresa Apple who finished ahead of her last week.  It was inspiring to see her cross the finish line, smiling from the accomplishment and praising the beauty of the final mile.  She had gained so much confidence from overcoming her doubts and forging ahead. 
        We all should have had those doubts as we lined up for the 10 K Championship, undoubtedly one of the most challenging and scenic 10Ks ever.  While there were some wide XC ski trails, they mostly seemed to be going up. Most memorable was the out of control, arm-flailing ziggurat-style descent from the top of the mountain.  We enjoyed multiple wild rides down the extremely narrow single track, bordered by waist-high snow.  It took some getting used to as your eyes were automatically pulled to either side when they really needed to be focused on foot placement.  I’m not sure if this was an optical illusion because of the tunnel-like path and the extreme whiteness, but it took a while to become acclimated to the different perspective.  At one point I stepped off to the side to allow a faster runner to pass and plunged waist-deep toward a hidden stream.  At another, while careening around a corner, the backs of my snowshoes locked and I was unable to move.  Luckily, after some frantic jiggling, all was well and I avoided having someone else crash into me.  Not sure exactly what happened, but I suspect a partially buried twig was to blame.  By that time all the twisting had begun to take a toll on my back—rather like I had pushed my body into an endless clothes dryer cycle. 
        The following day, I felt less pressure at the half marathon since I had no expectations, especially on such a difficult course.  Mercifully, Tim was not able to completely clear the marathon course, so we were treated to multiple loops of the 5K route.  Everyone breathed an audible sigh of relief. If I had had to attack two loops of the previous day’s 10K I never would have made it. 
        I know some dread multiple loops, feeling it lends itself to a “Where have I come from?  Where am I going?” mentality.  In a taxing event, however, I savor the reassurance that comes from the familiar: recognizing the route, spotting certain landmarks once more, and finally thinking “This is the last time I will have to pass this bridge or tunnel.”  At one open area we were treated to an expansive vista and while pausing to savor it, I spotted a tall white house, way down in the valley below that I knew marked the lowermost trail.  I must admit that was a bit discouraging, but it was still satisfying to focus on where I eventually had to travel.  While I realize that the 10K was way more technical, I wonder if part of that difficulty came from the fact that we had no concrete idea exactly how much more was left.  There is a lot to be said for mental preparedness.
        I know some folks plan special birthday weekends centered around their favorite sport, but I was doubly lucky in that Nationals Sunday fell on my birthday without any preplanning on my part.  I was amazed at how quickly word got around and by my second loop I was serenaded by aid station volunteers and bystanders alike.  I was especially touched that my buddy Solitaire and her Mom and Dad made a special trip out just to cheer me on.  Better than champagne, Jen Ferriss de-iced my frozen water bottle and presented me with a squeezy applesauce to fuel my final loop. 
        And that is the best thing about doing something like this—the warm fuzzies from old and new friends and the “we are all in this together” feeling of belonging and accomplishment.  I hope that next year, free from Nationals requirements, we will have the opportunity to tackle the half or the full without having to compete the day before as well!

        By laura clark
       

copyright Saratoga Stryders, 2016
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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