The club for runners in Saratoga Springs, NY


  • 05 Feb 2018 1:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        There is so much more complexity to a race than the act of putting one foot in front of the other.  Just ask the mascot rooster of Cock-A-Doodle-Shoe Snowshoe Race in Saranac, New York.  Winter is generally a slow time of year for him no matter what the circumstances, but this year with the out-of-category Arctic air, his harem was totally uninterested in his personal agenda. So he had a lot of time on his hands to plan and plot, which led to some elaborate logistics for his namesake event.
        Instead of heading directly to Plumadore Road and the smallish trailhead parking lot, we were diverted to the staging area at Dannemora Community Center and bused in waves according to our 5K or 10K start times. Most of us didn’t realize it until the drive to the center, but the town is home to the infamous Dannemora Prison, where in 2015 two dangerous convicts escaped and set off a three-week $80,000 manhunt.  Sensibly, they escaped in June and not in winter.  They wouldn’t have lasted three days in January!  At first glance, the prison which dominated the rather bleak landscape looked more like a turreted castle and a much better residence than the surrounding wooden homes.  But then we were confronted with the prison yard.  Incredibly, it abutted directly onto the road and was ringed by serious guard towers.  I was thinking they were probably leftover vestiges from another era, but no.  Jessica Northan spotted a guard in one of them, hauling something up on a rope—maybe his lunch?  Makes you wonder who is actually the prisoner.

        And speaking of lunchtime, while the 5k went off at 10:30, the 10K was scheduled for High Noon.  OK, so maybe it warmed up a degree or two by then, but really what is the difference between a few subzero degrees?  At our arrival time, the temperature in town hovered at -14 and didn’t “warm up” until the drive home when it smugly checked in at 6 degrees.  We had competed at Gore’s 2PM start a few weeks earlier, and that was doable, allowing for a proper lunch. Granted, Race Director Jeremy Drowne did a remarkable job of supplying the holding tank cafeteria with all the food options one could possibly desire, but the stomach timing just seemed off.  I reasoned that noon isn’t that far away from 11AM, the Winterfest start, but knew I was in trouble when upon arrival at the race site, Jen Ferriss started complaining that she was hungry.  Luckily, I had the foresight to stash a molasses cookie in my backpack before I left the cafeteria, so I was slightly better off.
        We rode to and fro on a sleek, silver-toned Veterans’ transport bus piloted by a driver who must have served in Patton’s Third Army Tank division as he thoroughly enjoyed hitting every bump, some of which sent us flying to the roof.  No one wanted to wait around in the cold so there was standing room only, which spawned a game of Telephone, as Jessica passed word down the line to make sure her husband Brian had made the bus and Ezra Hulbert passed word up to tell his Dad he had made it.
        And that brings ups to other unsung heroes of the day: our steadfast vehicles.  While most autos were enjoying a lazy Sunday in a cozy garage, ours were yet again heroically pushing though miles of sub-zero travel, where wipers froze to dashboards, fluid froze in squirters. Even my car Sir Thomas took a hit to his heating system when the fan refused to work, nearly freezing out the passengers in the back seat.  I am awarding my snowshoe Championship medal to Sir Thomas….
        Matt Miczek and I drove together and since this was his first Cockadoodle I tried to brief him on course highlights.  I remembered to warn him about the steep uphill followed by the treacherous downhill, but other than that I failed miserably.  Despite having run the route multiple times, I commented that the course was mostly flat.  And in a sense it was as it only contained one steep up and down, but the final two miles at least were a relentless gradual uphill –not anything to raise a blip on the elevation graph, but enough, especially at the end, to ensure a struggle.

         Matt and I ran parallel races, despite the fact that we were nowhere near each other.  After a two week bout with the flu he tried to uphold his Adirondack Sports & Fitness cover picture status by finishing ahead of Jen Ferriss, but he finally succumbed.  Meanwhile, farther back I settled in with Kari Sharry behind me.  If she hadn’t been right there I would eventually have slacked off.  Ahead of me, I noticed that Denise Dion had slowed down.  Puzzled, I eventually spotted a water stop off to the left.  I almost didn’t stop, thinking that the last thing I needed was a frozen hunk of ice, but I was pleasantly surprised to taste warm water.  Imagine!  Those heroic volunteers had managed to provide warm drinks!  This was all the more appreciated since it was pointless to carry water as it would have frozen after the first sip.
        When we came to the ribboned intersection near the end, Denise ducked under the ropes, heeding Jeremy’s pre-race instructions to follow the arrows.  But apparently it was the wrong arrow.  My slower group behind her encountered a runner approaching the arrow from the other side and he told us we had to first run a loop to the left.  So we reeled Denise back in and trudged onward.  By this time my toe warmer had scrunched up underneath my foot, making every step feel like I was running uphill on sticks. I reminded myself it wasn’t like I had torn a muscle or pulled a ligament and that the pain would be over shortly, but I had difficulty believing myself. 

        Finally, Matt and I arrived at our destination left with one nagging thought: How would we ever manage at Nationals with a 10K the first day and a half marathon the second?!
        Stay tuned….

        By laura clark

  • 10 Jan 2018 2:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Magic Mountain…The Road Less Traveled

        A sign bearing this iconic line from Robert Frost’s poem greeted us as we turned onto the road leading to Magic Mountain.  And with a -18 degree wake-up call, it certainly did seem as if we were on the road less traveled.  Jen Ferriss, Maureen Roberts, Karen Provencher and I scanned Bromley and Stratton for signs of life and spotted just one skier seemingly stuck somewhere halfway.  And no wonder—it was -26 at the top and that is not counting the self-produced wind chill from the ride downhill. 
        In an effort to simplify and avoid wasting brain cells on unnecessary activity, as urged by Steve Magness in Peak Performance, I have assembled a standard racing kit, one which has proven to be totally irrelevant in our current Arctic situation.  Who would have thought I would have needed three jackets, two pairs of pants, three shirts, two pairs of socks and two pairs of gloves?  And that was just for the car ride.  Granted, my heating fan took this day to protest, but who could blame it as it was 50 degrees colder here than in Juneau, Alaska!  Many of us ladies solved the progressively larger three jacket puzzle by pre-empting those owned by spouses or teenage sons. 
        The reason for the Christmas Story waddling penguin look was that Magic Mountain was only the stopping point.  The real race began in Lowell Lake State Park where we were deposited by shuttle and then instructed to hike in to the race site.  There was some grumbling among the troops, just because of the projected temperatures, but RD Mike Owens’ promise of a heated tent, akin to the confidence ribbons on a long trail race, gave us enough assurance to brave the Arctic.  I think we were all picturing a huge tent with blowers.  What we got was a small heated popup perched on the side of the trail, fittingly belonging to the Eskimo brand of outdoor gear.  But really, it wasn’t needed.  The sun was warm, the wind was silent and all was right with the world.


    While we were waiting for the second group of passengers to appear, we joked that this was like one of the storied WMAC snowshoe races of yore.  Just a fishing shed off in the distance, teasingly resembling an outhouse and a picnic table covered with snow to deposit the precautionary layers we were now shedding.  We joked about the “good old days” when on frigid days Edward Alibozek would conduct registration from his car and the bib you were handed was supposed to last the entire race season, unless of course you brought an old favorite from home.  Those were the days of barrel heaters when Rich Busa got so close he once burned his Dions and then tried to get a free replacement pair claiming they were defective!
        But who knows?  In just a few years, this race might go down in “good old days lore,” with its pristine singletrack through the woods reminiscent of the old Woodford’s turn around the lake.  We began in a South Pond-style conga line, all enjoying the deep snow until we separated into packs.  With the exception of a few newbies, we all knew each other and scrambled to get into proper alignment. And just like the good old days a big part of this race was the low key socializing as we sat around in the ski lodge’s Black Line Tavern drinking our free beer. The beer was so tasty that we stopped off at the local store to bring the experience home.


    Normally after a race I heat up some tomato soup flavored with beer and the last-minute addition of cheddar and toasted pumpernickel bread—easy to prepare and filling to eat.  And the beer I chose to purchase for the occasion?  Farmhouse Ale Bam Biere, named in honor of the crafter’s tenacious Jack Russell, who when hit by a car, got up and persevered.  According to the brewer. “This beer is brewed for those of us who knocked down, have picked up, dusted off and carried on undaunted.”  As we all did today.

    By laura clark

  • 29 Nov 2017 1:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Running the Long Path: A 350-Mile Journey of Discovery in New York’s Hudson Valley, by Kenneth A. Posner.
        "There lies before me a long brown path, leading wherever I choose.”
            Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

        With the recent publicity concerning Karl Meltzer’s successful attempt to surpass Jennifer Pharr Davis’ supported through-hike record on the Appalachian Trail, FTK (Fastest Known Time) adventures have penetrated couch potato consciousness.  But as Kenneth Posner, Shawangunk Ridge Trail and Rock the Ridge race director demonstrates, FTKs do not have to be dramatic, time-consuming events reserved for ultrarunning heroes.  In his journey of discovery along the relatively obscure 350-mile Long Path from NYC to Albany, he proves that such goals are well within the reach of average mortals.
        While there is the predictable emphasis on planning, pacing, nutrition and the myriad  details you would expect from such an account, certain aspects stand out.  While countless explorers label their expedition a “voyage of discovery,” Posner’s truly is.  He is not navigating a well-trodden Appalachian Trail System, but a hit-or-miss, often mischievous, scantily marked route, whose navigation brooks no daydreaming.  Despite the fact he has done his homework, downloaded the requisite maps and consulted with the handful of previous through-hikers, a surprise awaits around almost every bend.                                  And there were a lot of them.  Each chapter, introduced with its own section map accented with start/finish times, represents a day’s travel, and I use that concept loosely as a single day often comes perilously close to the twenty-four hour mark. While Posner encountered few hikers, the trail itself was an odd mix of urban and wild, skirting cornfields, superhighways, cemeteries, abandoned industrial enterprises as well as the notoriously untamed Catskills, home of Manitou’s Revenge and Rip Van Winkle’s twenty year nap.
        Like Posner, I was surprised to learn that I, too, had run sections of the Long Path well before I had even known it existed.  I have survived the Escarpment Trail Race and gazed wistfully at Vroman’s Nose near my husband’s home town of Cobleskill, not even realizing there was a trail to the top.  Most recently, I ran the Thatcher Park Trail Marathon for perhaps the fourth time and was thrilled to discover actual Long Path markers.  Who knew?
        I hate to admit it, with the “So many books, so little time” phrase repeating in my brain, but this is a volume that should be read more than once.  The first, impatiently, to discover how the drama plays out; and the second thoughtfully, for the sheer lyricism of the prose and the complexity of the cultural, historical and philosophical reflections on the region.  Walt Whitman, John Burroughs, General Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, the Hudson River painters, are very much a presence.  At first, I was amazed that Posner should, after putting in at least 12+ hour days, have the mind power left to appreciate not only the physical forms the land presents but also contemplate those who had gone before.  Then I realized that (DUH!) he did not write the book as he was hiking but enhanced his basic homework with some hefty after-the-fact research. 
        In a sense, then, Posner has also structured his journey twice: once to experience it and again to take it in more deeply.  And this is what we should be doing with our outdoor adventures.  The journey does not end at the finish line but continues with lessons learned and appreciation gained.  In that way a single experience can continue to grow as you contemplate your accomplishment.  And so Walt Whitman’s long brown path continues indefinitely, wherever you happen to take it.

    Reviewed by laura clark


  • 20 Sep 2017 10:47 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

         Apparently, the key to Race Director recognition is: speak softly but carry a big clipboard.  Couch Couch, our race results guru, bought into this theory and got mistaken for me at every Camp gathering despite the fact that he obviously looked nothing like me.  But then what do happy-go-lucky campers know?  So to test this theory I checked out the Jailhouse Rock 5K.  There he was again, clipboard in hand, fielding questions that had nothing to do with his job as course marshal coordinator.  Jen Ferriss, the real race director, was dancing to the Elvis beat, having a great time.  So for both of us the decoy worked!  “All” we had to do was organize the pre-race logistics and then we could coast.
        What I really like about Camp, though, is that the Stryders have been doing it for so long that it magically just happens. Not really, but I like to think that at the start of each summer Tom Law and Pete Finley will set up the flags and Dave Peterson and Will pick them back up.  Ann Marie and her contingent of kid groupies record the times and pick the raffle winners, Steve Mastitis is Watermelon Man, Amy Ballesteros cuts the cake, Joe Favatt takes out the garbage and remembers the grout.*
        Except when a vacation interferes.  For Camp #4 neither Dave nor Will showed and we realized after most folks had left that there was no one to take down the flags.  So John took the shorter section and Matt Miczek and I teamed up for the longer half.  But we forgot that the closer to September you get, the darker it becomes.  Especially in the woods away from mall and highway lights.  Blue marking flags don’t exactly stand out in a rapidly darkening woods.  Our hunt and pick system took a lot longer than expected and John became concerned and doubled back on the road to find us.  Another time Joe missed garbage pickup and the rest of us juggled leaky garbage  --  we later learned that he lines his trunk with an easily hosed-off tarp.  Dwight Eisenhower, from his Normandy Invasion vantage point, famously commented, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning indispensable.”  Latterly, a do or die approach.  Give me a clipboard any day.
        Another thing you can never plan for is nature.  While Eisenhower had the “luxury” of delaying his invasion and praying for more favorable conditions we were committed to every other Monday.  This year we dodged the plague of ground bees, most of the geese, potential thunderstorms and our usual hot and humid weather.  But for the first time, Camp Saratoga #2 was visited by a kaleidoscope of Karner Blue butterflies hovering above the sandy area by the finish line.  This was indeed puzzling as they were far removed from the carefully planted field of blue lupines which they are supposed to prefer.  I tried rerouting the finish, only to discover yet more tourists.  Fortunately, as the sun lost its intensity, the sunbathing ceased and the Karners presumably headed back to their roosting spots. 
        Most inspirational runner this year was Peggy McKeown  who, had we double-dipped, would have won both top female and age-graded awards, with her time surpassing Dana Bush’s long-standing age-graded record.  For Continual Improvement we began with a robust 40 which dwindled to 20, then 8, then a last-man standing 2 ultimate survivors.  The hypothetical Spirit Award went to the Ballesteros family who showed up for the final race wearing custom-made tie-died tees, with their dog sporting a dashing bandanna.  What better way to celebrate Eclipse Day than at Camp, with an eclipse-themed cake, IRunLocal gift card prizes, Ben & Jerrys ice cream cone coupons, free local race entries and 9 MilesEast pizza and salads.  Summer went by way too quickly!

    *Camp is famously not hesitant to solicit all manner of free stuff.  The grout was a handout from an original Silks & Satins sponsor who contributed way too much of the stuff.  Like the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which was forced upon the US Armed Services abroad, it worked its way down the path of least resistance and became a staple item in our raffle prize repertoire

        Happy Trails!

  • 01 Aug 2017 6:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        I must admit my initial difficulty in dealing with the title of this book.  Outside of exceptions like Terry Fox, the cancer amputee who ran across Canada to raise money for research, a trek that ultimately cost him his life, I was reluctant to string together the words “brave” and “athlete” in the same sentence.  Admittedly, I was conditioned in this response by my husband, a Distinguished Flying Cross combat veteran who, while he enjoyed his 90 Mile Adirondack Kayak Race every year, insisted that unlike other competitors, he had nothing to prove.  His outlook equated bravery with life threatening risk-taking.
        True confession: I was stumped at how to approach this book review, at least until the Saratoga Springs Public Library (NY) decided to enroll its supervisors in Dr. Brene Brown’s Brave Leadership Curriculum.  Apparently, brave is an up and coming buzzword for courageous innovation, one that makes complete sense now that I have had time for further reflection.  We are no longer called to trek West on a wagon train, to trap enough meat to get us through the winter or to face down a marauding bear.  Instead, our pursuits have gravitated toward the mental frontier, where bravery has less to do with physical risk-taking.  So I get it.  We need to rise above our paperwork and expand our definitions. 
        My only other hang up, no doubt attributed to my Catholic schoolgirl upbringing, had to do with the authors’ use of crude language.  I am not above an occasional well-placed curse word, but as a general practice, it strikes me as an intellectual cop out. At the very least use your online Thesaurus!  But again, Dr. Brown came to the rescue with an occasional bit of colorful language in a business presentation, no less.  So why not?  And to their credit, once they demonstrated they could swear with the best of them, the authors settled down to a well-placed dirty word or two, which actually enhanced the irreverent tone of their prose.
        So who are these authors and why should we pay attention?  Dr. Simon Marshall is a sports psychology expert who trains the brains of elite athletes and Lesley Paterson is his wife and a three-time world triathlete and coach.  Their road to success is not paved with training tables or stop watches but rather with a Braveheart approach that eschews vague “positive self-talk”  and nebulous visualization exercises, approaches that I admit I seldom have the patience for, or if I do guiltily make the attempt, promptly fall asleep.                     
         Taking Dr. Tim Noakes groundbreaking Central Governor theory one step further, the duo divides the brain into three competitive sections.  There is the primitive Chimp brain, a bully concerned only with basic survival instincts, the Professor brain, a pillar of reason and logic and the Computer brain that operates your system—once your Chimp and your Professor stop arguing.  Our task then is not to Peter Pan the issue by thinking happy thoughts but to recognize when your Chimp is overriding your Professor and take the specific practical steps outlined by the authors to gain control.
        How many of these scenarios describe your fuzzy thinking?  I don’t handle pressure well; I feel fat; I don’t like leaving my comfort zone; I don’t cope well with injury…and the list goes on.  Talent and training being equal, these are the factors that hold you back when others seem more badass (There!  I did it!) than you.  And you are not left in the dark merely to speculate at redeeming steps.  Each chapter is balanced with practical worksheets—not the multiple guess variety, but serious, uncomfortable, soul-searching quests to set you on the right path. 
        While I am a fairly rigid person who starts at the prologue and plunges through to the credits, I soon realized that this may not be the most practical approach.  The prologue, yes, but then I suggest surveying the hang-ups and picking one or two primary ones to focus on.  The process demands reading, writing, thinking, competing and then re-reading.  There is that much information to absorb. 
        Luckily, though, the authors’ irreverent style combined with their unique ability to hit the nail on the head, make re-reading a pleasure.  Enjoy these memorable moments:  Reflecting on the Chimp brain “For all it knows, trying to PR at the Turkey Trot 10K is akin to going over the top of a trench in WW1.” Or, on reducing muscle tension:  “Most athletes prefer PMR (progressive muscular relaxation) over other methods because you actually do something rather than just lie there and conjure up swirly-whirly thoughts.”  You get the picture.
        So read, reflect, then go out and run and then come back to evaluate the interaction between your Chimp, your Professor and your Computer.  No more frustration at your seeming inability to suck it up—you will now have the tools to unlock the correct pathways.  Finally, as a librarian and firm believer in Andrew Carnegie free access, I do recommend that you purchase this book as it is one you will return to again and again.  Besides, there are all those worksheets to fill out and you wouldn’t want to deface public property, right?

        Reviewed by laura  clark


  • 27 Jun 2017 10:09 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        Members of the Western Massachusetts Athletic Club always knew Mt. Greylock was magical, with its mist-enshrouded War Memorial crowning the top and its winter-white hump inspiring Herman Melville’s Moby Dick .  But this year provided firm confirmation:  Harry Potter & Company chose Greylock Glen as a rendezvous for their first MAGICon.  Planning had apparently begun after J.K. Rowling announced that Ilvermorny, the North American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was hidden on Mt. Greylock.  According to Rowling’s Pottermore website, “It is concealed from non-magic gaze by a variety of powerful enchantments, which sometimes manifest in a wreath of misty cloud.”
        And most of us had no idea.  We thought we were just making our annual Father’s Day pilgrimage to Lady Greylock to run either 13.5 or 3.5 miles over the historic training ground of World War II’s 10th Mountain Division.  Those guys were tough—a hike up and an arrow straight ski down the Thunderbolt.  We are not so tough.  We used to run down the Thunderbolt but now have opted for a still challenging, but more circuitous route.  Which is fine by me.
        When we arrived at the Glen, there were four people setting up what looked like vendors’ booths.  I was mildly curious, but not really.  Actually, I was more impressed that the town had spruced the place up, added some wheelchair accessible paths and mowed the grass.  Before a long race, one tends to get tunnel vison and mine was narrowly focused on the uphill journey ahead.  And the weather.  Thunderstorms were predicted which shouldn’t have been a big surprise given that out of the thirty-one days in May it had rained twenty-one, turning the Glen into soggy Brigadoon.       
        But magically, it didn’t rain.  The sun appeared and melted the mists to produce a 90 degree/90 percent humidity day.  Clothing choices were hastily readjusted and in the melee my friend Barbara Sorrell realized just as the race had started that she had left her number in the car.  She dashed up to the race officials and they granted her an invisibility bib so she could be legal.  I tried to keep up with her as she had swept 30 miles of the notoriously rocky Manitou’s Revenge course the day before, but was soon left behind.  Apparently, her easy is not my easy.
        The 3.5 mile uphill to the tower took forever.  It was originally beaten down by those who were not concerned with the forgiving nature of switchbacks, and aside from maybe three sharp turns, was relentless.  As always, the brooding mist swirled on top, adding to the otherworldly experience. However, the usual swarm of black flies had vanished.  Perhaps with all the wizards down below, they had let down their guard against Muggles. And it seemed to me that the steep downhill was more forgiving this year, with parts apparently covered in pine chips.  I think this only happened to me as others noted it seemed the same as usual.  But, again, soloing in my own age group, added just for me I might mention, I needed all the help I could get.
        I was also amazed there wasn’t as much mud as there could have been, considering the fact that it had rained yet again the previous evening.  But this was more than made up for by the slippery wooden bridges and the autumn-like cover of browned leaves camouflaging slippery rocks.  Around that time I happened to glance at my race bib, curious as to what number I had drawn.  Despite reading it upside down several times it was unmistakably 311.  My birthday is 3/11 and I must confess that number had served Jeff and I well as a phone code. bike lock combo, or any type of password we might need to share.  SHHH!!  I took it as part of the magic, a sign that Jeff was tuned in and running with me.
                       Soon afterwards, came what I term the Sound of Music section.  The mists parted, the sun shone, the wildflowers bloomed and tall grasses flowed like so much green ocean.  I was running downhill along smooth single track on top of the world, mountain views in the distance, gazing with the wonderment the Israelites must have felt as the Red Sea parted before them.  Except there was no Pharaoh behind me.  In fact, there was no one behind me at all.  I was DFL, but oddly not minding it at all.
        Finally, the Parking Lot 1 Mile Sign.  Which apparently had nothing to do with my parking lot. A mile later I encountered the unmanned water drop, supposedly at 12.2.  Oh well, the rest was pleasant enough and easy trails.  As I crossed the final bridge, I knew I had been out too long.  It was guarded by robed wizards and clearly part of an alternate universe.  I had difficulty locating the exact finish as there was a band playing, giant bubbles and a serious quiddach competition.  But no, there were the WMACER Club members, lounging under the tent, nursing their beers. 
        Once I re-oriented, it was as if I had stumbled into a big-time marathon finish, with refreshments, vendor’s booths, kids’ games…I was really tempted to buy a magic wand for future races, or maybe to induce some snow this winter, but I was too tired to walk back to the car and retrieve my money. I could have used that wand too, as my sneakers smelled strongly of swamp and it took an evening’s downpour before they became acceptable housemates once more.
        I wonder what Melville and Hawthorne (who also wrote about Geylock) would have thought?  Not to mention all those soldierly ghosts?  I am guessing they would have been pleased that Lady Greylock has acquired a 21st century literary connection.  They would have felt right at home.

        By laura clark

  • 27 Jun 2017 10:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, 5Ks to Ultras, by Sarah Lavender Smith.  Falcon, 2017.

        The first thing I do when I approach a book is admire the jacket, glance at the table of contents and read the praise hymns on the back cover.  From this cursory inspection, I gathered that The Trail Runner’s Companion would be a guide to all trail distances, relevant to newbies to elites alike.  Already I was skeptical.  Something that promises to be everything to everybody often falls short of its Herculean task.  There are two methods of fulfilling such a grandiose undertaking:  either produce a 1,000 word tome like Dr. Tim Noakes Lore of Running, or follow a more relaxed path, peppered with telling anecdotes and outlining generalized execution strategies.  Sarah Lavender Smith, a veteran trail runner, coach, Trail Runner feature writer and cohost of, takes the latter approach.
        Sarah makes it easy to pay attention by repeating her most telling trail advice in parable form.  One of her favorites, the Boy Scout “Be prepared,” is illustrated by a fun run in Argentina that nearly proved fatal for her and her husband when they left for a short jaunt cocky and totally unprepared.  We all know not to do that right?  Many years ago a good friend of mine introduced me to the 7Sisters Trail Race in Massachusetts. A veteran of multiple hundred milers he figured this twelve mile jaunt would be a piece of cake.  It was the first hot (90 degree) day in spring over trails barely shaded with baby leaves. I urged him to wear a cap and carry water.  He refused and the results weren’t pretty.  Even old-timers need to be reminded that experience and skill do not grant superhero status.  Anecdotes such as these, interspersed, throughout the book, make the content relevant to all. 
        Each chapter, whether detailing base building, race planning and final execution begins with a telling goal, summing up the essence of the material.  For example, in Chapter 2 on Gear the goal is to Get the trail specific clothing and gear you need, but keep it simple.  I laughed out loud when Sarah mentioned the “euroed-out” approach favored on the continent.  Having lived in Europe for ten years in the late 70’s and early 80’s I was amused to discover the “clothes make the man” approach is still very much in style.  Back then, Americans skied in jeans and Europeans were decked out with the latest bells and whistles.  Guess who won most of the amateur races?
        In the execution portion, Sarah states that,” The most helpful piece of trail running advice I ever got was Take what the trail gives you.”  No grousing about weather that is too wet or too hot, hungry blackflies, shoe-sucking mud or a missed trail marker.  It is all part of the deal, a piece of the adventure.  As a side-companion, Sarah muses that the thing you are most worried about, be it a tricky ankle or crew logistics will, most likely work out fine. It is the things you least expect like a rubbing hydration strap or a broken shoelace that may require all your coping skills.  Acceptance and improvisation become the name of the game.
        Finally, I am not a person who does well with training plans. That is why I like the freedom of the trails and not the lock-step of the roads.  Apparently, Sarah feels the same way.  She recommits three key workouts” a midweek high intensity speed work session sandwiched between a longer uphill workout and the traditional weekend long run.  For a shorter race, work up to the time you estimate it will take you to finish; for a marathon, aim for 75 percent of that time.  No need to count miles. Yet another step to retaining the fun and keeping it simple.
        Sarah’s insights reveal a relaxed, playful attitude that will encourage newbies to enter the woods with anticipation and confidence.  And for you old-timers, how many of us seeking a PR, age group standing, or simply hoping to defeat the cutoffs, know how to construct a pace band focused on trail time?  Or, have you ever judged the runnability of a mountain by the hat-brim trick?  Read this book and learn how!

        Reviewed by laura clark

  • 16 Mar 2017 6:02 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    photo by Tim Van Orden

        Within the space of two weeks we have completed two championship snowshoe races—Worlds in Saranac Lake, NY and the Northeast Snowshoe Championship at Prospect Mountain, VT.  While balmy temperatures at Worlds encouraged shorts and tee shirts, we plunged right back into winter again at Prospect.  Temperatures hovered just above zero, with an aggressive wind chill bringing out the neck gaiters and jackets once more.  While the sketchy snow conditions at Saranac went hand in hand with the warm weather, this prolonged dose of spring pretty much destroyed Prospect Ski Center’s  base layer, leaving us with icy remnants—but at least no mud!
        In truth, the real champions of both events were the race directors who refused to fold but boldly played the cards they were dealt.  For it is one thing to postpone a local event, but not good form to delay a championship where elite athletes put in serious training and travel mileage.
        Prospect Mountain Race Director Tim Van Orden was relentless, facebooking snow-covered trails, pairing himself alongside local celebrities like Bob Dion to add a touch of credibility to his persistent enthusiasm.  Behind the scenes, however, certain sections owed their viability to discrete shoveling, an operation that took place without the help of an entire town as was the case at Saranac.  A toast to Vermont self-reliance!
        Still, despite our faith in New England ingenuity, unease set in when well past Bennington, Karen Provencher and I spotted only occasional snow patches as we ascended the mountain road.  It was truly eerie—no breath-catching icy ascent, no semis jackknifed in front of us.  We pulled into a naked dust-brown parking lot, populated by a mere smattering of cars.  No XC skiers were in competition for prime real estate—they apparently had more sense.  Trust in your RD notwithstanding, we wondered how Tim had managed to pull off those facebook shots.  Coming from someone who not only packs the requisite shovel in his car but also an ax to chop down small trees, you just never know.
        Once inside the lodge, the main topic of conversation was—Big Surprise—“What should I wear?”  Normally, we are pretty good at dressing but the conditions were weird.  It was really cold and really windy and we had no idea if the revised course would position us mostly in or mostly out of the woods.  Then too, the start was something akin to the Antarctic Marathon—thin snow cover whipping across solid ice. It is difficult for common sense to prevail over visual impact.                                                 
    Dave Dunham, having just returned from one of his legendary pre-race excursions said he was sweating out there.  But then how many of us run as fast as Dave?  Jamie Howard who braved ran the Citizen’s 5K before his main event, returned to add more clothes, grumbling that he never really got warm.  My arms could barely keep pace with my mind.  I listened to Dave and subtracted a layer.  Then I quizzed Jamie and added a different layer.  Eventually I compromised by pulling off my long sleeved tee and substituting my thin Dion vest.  That seemed to work fine.  I would like to say that was the result of careful planning but it was just dumb luck.
        The course was well marked with spray painted arrows in two different colors clearly separating the two-way traffic on the wider trails. But really I had no idea where I was going.  To me, the affair was a haphazard maze where folks of different speeds intersected each other in carefully regulated traffic patterns.  It was handled so skillfully that I never got lost, but I never really knew where I was either.  I kept hoping for the zigzag downhill leading to the finish, which of course didn’t happen, as the steep slopes were more suitable to sledding than snowshoeing. 
        As this was our final race, we had a great collection of practical awards and I walked away with an orange Dion hat and a prized bottle of Shagbark Hickory Syrup—maple syrup with a pedigree. 
        As we pulled out of the parking lot, we were caught in the vortex of a dust storm, reminding us that a brown spring, or perhaps a climate-change desert was in store.  Then, two days later, Saratoga was gifted with two feet of snow and Woodford double that amount.  Just like the snow that fell after Worlds, but a lot more.  Is this a pattern?  Should the advertised date of a race be merely a ploy with the real event scheduled a few days later? At any rate it seems like we should somehow take advantage of all this snow with another event.  All we need is an adventurous race director with a real date and an alternative.

    By laura clark

  • 06 Mar 2017 2:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Hidden Life of Trees: They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben.  Greystone Books, 2015.
    Deep into a difficult trail race, I always seem to recall this common quote:  “I ran by the trees as if they were standing still.”  This is, of course, meant to comment on the fact that my death-march legs were at least faster than the steady trees of the forest.  For we all know that trees are stationary beings.  Or are they?
    Read Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees, and you will come to doubt that surface assumption.   In the early 1990’s Dr. Suzanne Simard, a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, discovered the underground web of roots, fungi and electrical impulses that enable family groups of trees to communicate with each other, care for sick members and parent young saplings. 
    In plain, wonder-filled language Peter Wohlleben, a manager for primeval German forests, also explains how trees warn their neighbors of an impending insect attack so they can be ready with the proper defense secretion to kill the invaders.  Not only that, but the health of a community depends on compatible tree species that will fill in when the weather is less than idea for a particular family group.
    And trees do move in a sense as they send their seedlings out on the wind to create the next generation.  With our miniscule lifespan we hardly notice.  But trees, who live for thousands of year, have plenty of time.
    Although not mentioned in this work, it is but a short jump to wonder about cauliflower.  Does a cauliflower communicate with its garden mates?  And what would this mean for those who choose vegetarianism as a way of preserving life?  Food for thought.
    At any rate, read this book and the next time you are running alone in the forest and imagine a tree speaking to you, pause to reconsider.  Perhaps the fairy tales were more reality than myth.
        Reviewed by laura clark

  • 06 Mar 2017 2:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Way of the Runner: A Journey into the Fabled World of Japanese Running, by Adharanand Finn.  Pegasus Books,  2015.

        Upon his return from Kenya (Running with the Kenyans), A. Finn posted an impressive series of PRs in a variety of distances. But two years later and pushing forty, he has stalled.  Was that to be it then?  Unlike the rest of us who might turn to yoga, an online coach or a vegan diet, Finn naturally turned to another country (and another book!), setting his sights on Japan where elite half marathon times would be considered world-class anywhere else.
        Japan’s national obsession is not the Super Bowl or the World Series but the ekiden race --- the focus of high school, collegiate and corporate teams and a valid excuse for a spectating holiday for anyone else.  With ekidens ranging from a few hours to several days, living in Japan would be like being plopped down into an intense Ragnar experience, but without the lighthearted fun.  These runners are focused and serious, with nary a painted van to be found.  The pressure on Japanese teammates and coaches is intense, so much so that athletes burn out well before the age of twenty-five, felled by hard pounding on the roads mental staleness, thus curtailing their showing on the international stage.
        It is into this closed world that Finn goes to seek running redemption.  What he gets is mental training in persistence and ingenuity as he seeks to join a Japanese team, battling the isolationist, rigid mores of that society.  He learns that ekiden rarely gives you the rush of competing against the hordes.  Instead, everyone is handed a front-runner experience , excellent for developing mental toughness but difficult to maintain over long isolated stretches of road. 
        And it is in just such a focused, narrow environment that Finn “discovers” flow, first detailed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his landmark book , Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He learns that when he runs at a deliberate pace, he connects to his environment, like the legendary Japanese marathon monks.  But when he moves into fourth gear, tunnel vision narrows his focus away from scenery, aches and pains and random thoughts.  “Then running changes from an exploration of your environment, a chance to drift like a leaf on the wind, to an exploration of the depths of your soul.”  And you don’t have to be a champion to do so, just the best that you can be.

        Reviewed by laura clark

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