The club for runners in Saratoga Springs, NY


  • 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.

  • 29 Nov 2020 1:47 PM | Anonymous

    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

    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

    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

    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


  • 10 Aug 2020 2:24 PM | Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    For further reading:

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

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

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


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

  • 05 Jul 2020 4:47 PM | Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                By laura clark

  • 05 Jul 2020 4:25 PM | Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Reviewed by laura clark

  • 09 Jun 2020 2:34 PM | Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

                Reviewed by laura clark

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