The club for runners in Saratoga Springs, NY


  • 01 Jun 2021 3:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Good morning. Hopefully you had an enjoyable Memorial Day Weekend despite the rain and cold. Congrats to all the Stryders who ran in the Miles on the Mohawk races in Schenectady. Looking at the results we had several strong performances led by Ginny Lupo in the marathon! Ginny ran 3:37.53 to win the Female 45-49 age division and finish 17th overall among the women. Big congrats.

    There’s plenty to get to this week, including news about the upcoming Adirondack Sports & Fitness Expo and Global Running Day (tomorrow, make a plan and pledge some miles!).

    Here’s the slate:

    • Wednesday Night Workout – 6 p.m. at the Saratoga Spa State Park. Meet at the “Stryders Bench” in the grass across from the Little Theater parking lot. Optional dynamic warmup at 5:50 p.m., otherwise be ready to roll at 6 p.m. sharp. Coach Mary Fenton is on point this week and the Global Running Day workout is below.

    • Saturday Run/Walk – 8:30 a.m. at the Warming Hut at the Saratoga Spa State Park.

    • Sunday Long Run – Noon at Saratoga City Center, part of Adirondack Sports & Fitness Expo. Wear your Stryders gear!

    • Monday Trail Run (June 7, 6 p.m.) – Fort Hardy Park/Hudson Crossings Park. Saratoga Siege Trail.

    • June Business Meeting – 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 8. In-Person Location TBA.

    Have a great week. See you soon!

    Tom Law

    Adirondack Sports & Fitness Expo

    We’re still in need of volunteers to work the Stryders booth at this weekend’s Adirondack Sports & Fitness Expo at the Saratoga City Center. Laura Clark is coordinating volunteer shifts and if you’re interested in any of the slots below let her know. When it says “Need 1” that doesn’t have to be just one, if you want to come with a spouse, family member or friend. The more the merrier. 


    12-2: Need 1

    2-5: Need 1


    10-12: Need 1

    12-2: Need 1

    2-4: Need 1

    If you’re interested let me and/or Laura Clark know. Email us at and Laura at

    The Stryders will host a group run and walk Sunday at Noon, a combination of the regular Sunday Long Run Group and the Expo.

    The route will be simple – meet at the City Center sign on corner of Broadway and Ellsworth Jones Place and depart the City Center heading south toward the Spa Park. Runners and walkers can turn around where they choose and head back to the City Center. Those looking for added distance can roll right into and around the Park if they wish. We encourage members to wear their Stryders gear.

    Global Running Day

    Wednesday marks the annual celebration of Global Running Day and the Stryders will again be involved! Check out the workout below for information about what we have planned for an in-person event. We’ve also pledged to run 250 miles as a club and you can sign up here.

    Here’s a little more background on Global Running Day:

    Global Running Day is a worldwide celebration of running that encourages everyone to get moving. This day plays an important role, reminding us of the positives that running can offer and the power of unification. Its mission seems more important than ever right now, as people everywhere attempt to stay active and healthy. During these challenging times, many people are turning to running as a solution to help release anxiety, gain perspective, cope with cabin fever and keep up wellbeing.


    Workout for the Week of May 31

    From Stryders coach Mary Fenton:

    Wednesday we will celebrate Global Running Day by participating in the sport we love in the park we are fortunate enough to claim as our own! The coached workout will take us on a short tour of the beautiful Saratoga Spa State Park but there is an alternate for those who are unable to join us on that day.

    Pace: This week’s workout will be run at tempo pace which is approximately a pace you could sustain in a race for an hour or about 25-30 seconds slower than 5k race pace.

    Purpose: To improve endurance and to prepare yourself for holding a more demanding pace.

    Workout: The Wednesday night workout at the park will be a Fartlek-style tempo run with a set course.

    If you are running on your own, after completing a 1–2-mile warm-up, do the recommended number of tempo intervals with a one-minute rest after each.

    25 miles or less/week: 4x5 minutes Tempo

    25-35 miles/week: 5x5 minutes Tempo

    35+ miles/week: 6x5 minutes Tempo

    Option B: Run the number of miles you pledged for Global Running Day.

  • 16 Mar 2021 7:39 PM | Anonymous

    Perfect Ending at Garnet Hill 5K

                A perfect ending is the one which leaves you wishing for more…and that is what we got at Garnet Hill 5K. Temps were February cold with an 11 degree send-off, ski trails were perfectly groomed, with just the right amount of give, and the abundant single tract was a fun, challenging ride.    Step off the trails at your own peril and risk sinking into 4 feet of snow.  Makes you wish winter could last forever. 

                Many newer members were there as well as old standbys from Eddie Albiozek’s original group – the Northans, Maureen Roberts, the Sheehans, Jeff Clark the Younger. The only weird thing is that there were twice as many female as male finishers.  Is this a new trend?  Or were the guys simply transitioning to the roads in hopes of a fast St. Patrick’s Day time?

                The trails were once more expertly marked by Bob Underwood of Underdog Race Timing.  Intimately familiar with the over 50K trail system, Bob presents us with a slightly different adventure each year.  This time, he added about 1/3 mile to the single track, utilizing the wider ski trails more as transition areas—at the start for early race distancing, midway through the trails to give our legs a bit of a break, and at the end for a fast finish.  It was an skillfully crafted mix, catering to our various strengths and weaknesses.

                The highlight for me were the skinny twisting trails, perfectly made for Dion snowshoes.  This single track could be compared to a narrow gauge railways, often utilized in mountainous terrain where tighter curves are a necessity.  At times, it did appear that the single track was truly single, with a slim foothold, barely containing one snowshoe at a time.  Lose you balance and you were destined to plunge one-footed into the awaiting deep snow bordering the tenuous path.

                And while it is fun to let yourself go on a downhill plunge, this turned out to be risky behavior and the multiple sharp curves were difficult to handle while balancing on one foot and trying desperately not to sink 12 or more inches into someone else’s misstep.  It was here that the phrase “coming and going took on new meaning…

    laura clark


  • 08 Mar 2021 3:06 PM | Anonymous

    Brookhaven 1 & 2

                With Vermont and Massachusetts virtually shut down this winter and favorite locations such as Mt. Greylock, Readsboro (Hoot, Toot & Whistle), and Vermont’s Prospect Mountain off limits, we have had to confine our Dion Snowshoe Series to New York State, leaving noticeable breaks in our previously crowded weekend schedule.  Enter Bob Underwood of and Rebecca Sewell, Recreation Administrator for the Town of Greenfield, who combined forces to bring us not one, but two snowshoe races to fill in the gaps.

                Reminiscent of Tim Van Orden’s multiple races at Prospect Mountain, Brookhaven is one of those magical Brigadoon areas where snow flies early and lingers well beyond normal expectations.  Schedule a race at Brookhaven and you are pretty much guaranteed that it will be a “go.”  Unlike Prospect, however, Brookhaven is—a golf course.  Yes, I know. While we have all enjoyed skiing or snowshoeing on the wide-open spaces of the typical golf course, it is more a place of convenience and not where you generally head to experience the solitude of the backcountry woods.  The Bookhaven trails, a mix of towering pines and stately hardwoods, reminded me simultaneously of the Black Forest in Germany and the Viking Nordic Center in Londonderry, Vermont.  Granted, there were no big mountains, but there were plenty of typical XC ups and downs.  For beginners, a perfect introduction to the sport and for the more experienced, an opportunity to clock a fast time on trails meticulously groomed by Steve Schreiber, a Town of Greenfield volunteer.

                    Both events offered a 2.5 and 5K option.  The first, coming as it did at the beginning of break week attracted several families as well as our regulars.  It seemed as if the kids and their dogs ran the full mileage just fooling around prior to the start.  Darryl Caron, recovering from ankle surgery, and his puggie (pug/beagle mix) Daisy, hiked Brookhaven #2 and Daisy garnered the award for most steps per minute with a rapid turnover achieved by only highly focused athletes.

    This was one of those races where you are almost at the finish, and can even see it, until the route winds back once more in the opposite direction.  Usually when this happens it is toward the end and fairly easy to deal with, but this time, the turn back occurred perhaps two-thirds into the race, so I spent the final portion of #1 wondering if I had somehow gone wrong.  I was much calmer when this happened during #2 and was even able to deal with that rough final uphill before the finish, which begins before you can even see the finish.  Amazingly enough, my time for #1 was the same as my time for #2, which was run in rougher conditions.  Except that I had run the 15K Frigus in Moreau the day before so that might have had something to do with it.  But perhaps not.

    With few races this year and even fewer handouts, the Town of Greenfield generously provided long-sleeved T-shirts for both events.  It was a caring gesture, appreciative of the athletes who signed up, and are sure to show up again on their own to explore the nine-mile trail system.


  • 22 Feb 2021 9:11 AM | Anonymous

    The Endurance Society Presents: The FRIGUS Challenge          


    The above emblem is probably all you need to know to get the rough idea: a wasted skeleton, still clinging to his sword (or in this case, trekking pole) crawling to the summit of The Staircase of Death.  Speaking of which, I did not make that up.  That is the actual name of one of the climbs we encountered during the Endurance Society’s Frigus expedition at Moreau Lake State Park located in upstate New York, at the edge of the Adirondacks. Doubly scary as these were only the foothills.

                You may well ask, what is a frigus?  The term, derived from the Latin, is exactly what it sounds like: frigid, bone-chilling temperatures that penetrate through your modern wicking layers down to your very bones.  But wait, the translation also implies a threatening cold shudder produced by fear. And rightly so. With a single 15K loop featuring just shy of 2400 feet of elevation gain, the three-loop marathoners had plenty to fuel their apprehension. One would naturally assume that an athlete not opting for the 5K version or the single 15K loop would address such an undertaking with a protective shield forged from hours of training runs.  But there is more to it than that, as Race Director Andy Weinberg points out, “The sword is pointed toward the skeleton as the battle is within.”  One 15K run would get you a finish, but two?  Not so much.  The posted options were 5K, 15K or Marathon.  No middle ground.  Continue forward beyond the 15K and you were up against the sword.


                Mental struggles aside, we had the Polar Vortex to contend with, facing 5-degree temperatures at the start. I briefly toyed with the idea of wearing my parka instead of my jacket and even threw it in the car, until the bright, sunshiny day convinced me otherwise. When training for the event in similar conditions I stuck my handheld inside my fleece jacket with no success, so this time I went with an insulated bottle.  The bottle was fine but the nozzle froze along with my zippered pouch containing most of my snacks.  I did OK until the final few miles when I bonked. I was familiar with this part of the route and knew I could mentally hang in there, although it was painful to be passed with the end in sight.  It didn’t help that I made the same wrong turn I always take, avoiding the sharp right to the exit in favor of the easy out to the road. I have failed to execute this turn in all four seasons, even with winter’s snowshoe prints clearly indicating the correct path.  I have proven myself a slow learner.

                Lately, I have been noticing just how many folks seem to be carrying trekking poles.  Previous to this race, I had dismissed them as being relevant to hikers with heavy packs or perhaps sky mountain runners.  But not anymore. All along, I had been trading places with another 15ker.  He was faster on the ups, but I had the advantage on the downs.  At least until I encountered a butt-slideable portion.  He wielded his poles expertly and flew fearlessly down the hill.  Thinking back on the experience, I should have realized I was in trouble when so many athletes proudly brandished their spears. I stood out with my minimalist approach.                    The day was so beautifully sunny, the mountain views so inspiring and the downhills so much fun that halfway through I deluded myself into thinking that I could perhaps make it through another loop.  But the second major climb convinced me otherwise.  It was so long and so steep that I was forced to assume the stance of the frigus skeleton, crawling stop motion from toe-hold to hand-hold.


             The highlight for me was the trek across the frozen lake, past the brave huddles of ice fishermen.  As a kid, I had skated on frozen ponds and smaller portions of snow-cleared ice, but I had never skied or snowshoed from one edge to the other.  Even though the ice was obviously safe, the few sun-warmed slushy spots took an act of faith.  There, from a distance, I could see the beach house and the finish line folks, but like a mirage in the Arctic desert, they never seemed to get any closer.  Time stood still.  It was so peaceful out there, with no need to pay attention to my feet, that I could simply take in the beauty of the day and the satisfaction that comes from the combination of physical and mental effort.

    By laura clark

    Photos by Mike Seman



  • 15 Feb 2021 4:30 PM | Anonymous

    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

    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



    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

    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

    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

    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.

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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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