The club for runners in Saratoga Springs, NY


  • 09 Jun 2020 2:29 PM | Anonymous

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

                Took the one less traveled by,

                And that has made all the difference.

                            Robert Frost


                Although Marshall Ulrich has embarked on over 130 ultramarathons, including the obligatory Western States and Leadville, what remains his chief motivator is self-discovery, keying into running guru George Sheehan’s “experiment of one” philosophy.  He truly does place both feet on the ground in his quest to determine what genuinely matters to his choose-your-own-adventure lifestyle.

                Growing up on a dairy farm, Ulrich lived a life of hard work and inventive play in the outdoors.  His favorite book, and the one that continues to inspire him to this day, is Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, which sparked his love of adventure. Today he laments the fact that children and adults suffer from Richard Louv’s nature deficit disorder and are more afraid of nature than at peace with it, labeling certain foods and behaviors as “bad” and others as “good”—afraid to break away from rigid rules and choose the path that beckons.

                And that is the essence of Ulrich’s story, his ability to strive for the seemingly impossible, to rise to the challenge of Robert Frost’s beckoning road, and to still recognize that for the majority of folks a Badwater Quad through Death Valley, the 100 mile Iditafoot snowshoe race in Alaska, or a summit of Denali might not be on their radar.  And while all of these feats make fascinating stories, it is Ulrich’s revelation of failures and near-misses that brings him to the human level.  After a near-fatal bout of altitude sickness in a Raid Gauloises Trans-Himalaya race, he despaired of ever achieving his particular call of the wild—a summit of Mt. Everest.  But with typical persistence, he did conquer the altitude and was glad he had achieved his dream.  But at what price?  Even in 2004 his sensibilities were shocked by the complete environmental disregard summiteers had shown this majestic mountain.  Trophy-bagging had taken the place of awe and respect. 

                So, after you partake in this armchair-style adventure, what’s in it for you?  Ulrich simply hopes that, in your own way, you increase your risk potential.  For the risk avoiders he suggests that you unsettle your status quo—take to the trails instead of the roads, walk instead of drive. If you prefer to reduce risk, find something that scares you a bit, get a coach, develop a plan and go for it! If you are already the “Look Ma, no hands!” type of person, you are primed for further adventures along the road less traveled by.

                But whatever you do, expect to be changed by your experiences and be prepared for a difficult re-entry into your former world.  This is especially valid with the “new normal” challenges we will face in the coming year.  But as Marshall Ulrich inscribed on the flyleaf of my copy of his book, “It’s important to get outside during these tough times!”  For now, that may be all the challenge you will need.

                Reviewed by laura clark

    [This review was also published in Ultrarunning Magazine.

  • 18 Mar 2020 1:44 PM | Anonymous

    You Are Invited to a Snowshoe Party!

                Bet that header got your attention.  Unfortunately, you are too late. The final event in the Dion Snowshoe Series, Nor’easter’s March 7 Punxsutaweny Phil 5K at the Viking Nordic Center in Londonderry, Vermont included a pop-up birthday bash.  The Catch 22, of course, is that Phil’s birthday was the previous Sunday and not the following Saturday.  But that only gave Phil more opportunity to solidify his prediction of an early spring….                                                                     The route was indeed spring-like, with frozen granular and a few aspiring puddles peeking through, but excellent for a fast 5K tour through the woods.  Occurring as it did after the Spring Ahead mandate, headlamps were required but really not necessary as the fortuitous placement of the full moon, assorted trail lights and kerosene lanterns provide plenty of illumination.  I have come to a greater appreciation of the cast iron stomachs colonials must have possessed to eat their supper while breathing in the fumes.  Running was another matter altogether, but in my mind it was a small price to pay for the atmosphere.

                For me, the most difficult thing to deal with was the timing of the event.  While I love the concept of running in the dark, where it always feels as if you are motoring faster than you really are, it is more difficult to wait around on the weekends.  The Tuesday evening Gore Mountain race series was easier to approach.  You go to work and then drive to the mountain.  Here, on a weekend, when I am accustomed to waking up and going for a long run, things played out a bit differently.  While I did get my errands done while other folks were still watching their Saturday morning cartoons, I then had to figure how to spend the rest of my day.  Did I tire myself out with housecleaning? And when and what to eat for lunch?

                Clearly, the nutritional aspect was already bothering our car mate, Maureen Roberts, who kept chatting about finding a convenience store to score some sustenance afterwards.  Matt Miczek and myself, who had been to Viking before, looked at each other incredulously and wondered where she would find a store open at night in the middle of true Vermont countryside, even if it was Saturday.

    I have been listening to Ben Thompson’s irreverent Guts and Glory series ( nonfiction accounts of various pivotal moments of world history.  Coincidently, my current download is titled: The Vikings.  So I was able to distract Maureen with trivial pursuit-type facts.  For example, did you know the legend of the Tooth Fairy was created by Viking mothers who rewarded loose teeth with sweets?  Apparently that was before the advent of dentists.  How about this one: Vikings discovered and then forgot about Iceland a total of three times before they finally broke out their snowshoes and settled it on the fourth try. If you are into history or have kids you want to entertain, these are humorous, lively and totally non-boring accounts. (End of infomercial).

    Moving right along…The Viking  Nordic Center also has cabins to rent and one of these was occupied by a huge group celebrating two birthdays with two kegs of beer, Sloppy Joes and lots of desserts whether or not you  had recently lost a tooth.  And they urged all the racers to stop by after we had sampled mulled cider, pie and fudge in the race cabin.  What a deal!  A race, a party and a dinner solution!  And it was even better than that – trails can seem lonely at night, so the whole crew came out to cheer us on.  Feeling somewhat obligated, we hiked over (groan) to their cabin, Maureen all the while insisting it was “for the story” and not the beer. Weirdly, one of the families hailed from Cambridge, NY, a town near Saratoga, and Dr. Maureen had interned with the local doctor!

    While we arrived home very late and still had to officially Spring Ahead, (think New Year’s Eve), Matt had still another party to attend. The rest of us hung up our snowshoes and went to bed…. a wonderful end to the 2020 Snowshoe Season!

    By laura clark


  • 08 Mar 2020 7:34 PM | Anonymous

    Merck Forest Snowshoe Ultra

    Ain’t about how fast I get there

    Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side

    It’s the climb

                THIS IS A SERIOUSLY BAD LIFE CHOICE, cautions the  website. But what the heck?  We are all accustomed to races that try to outdo each other in pointing out the hazards of their events, figuring accurately that most of us will be attracted by bragging rights potential. But a quick glance at the course profile might just indicate that the race directors of Nor’east Trail Runs are not exaggerating.  With the 50K Ultra offering four up and down rounds of Mt. Antone, for a total of 8,500’ of climbing, the difficulty is more fact than fiction.  Thankfully, there is also the option of a 25K “fun run.”

                This is the alternative that Mattt Miczek and I chose. We should have known better as we both completed the 25K last year.  But there is such a thing as selective memory loss, where folks choose to focus on the highs and ignore the pain.  Worse yet, we dragged two unsuspecting friends along with us for the ride…The day after, as I write this, rubbing aching quads, it is tough to believe how I got taken in again.  They say that you will experience maximum soreness day two after a momentous event.  I can only look forward to tomorrow…

                I almost think, though, that year two was tougher than year one.  I knew when I started out that the initial carriage road up the mountain was more suited to Clydesdales hauling beer carts than horse and buggy modes of transportation. I immediately recognized certain sections and remembered how tough they would be.  On the other hand, the final steep hug-a-tree quarter mile to the false top seemed to be pleasantly shorter than I recollected.  And it was comforting to confidently shake my fist at the pretend summit, anticipating the climb to the hole puncher at the real turnaround.  The hole puncher was a new addition –a star for your bib at the top of the mountain and a heart at the bottom of the “baby loop.”  Rather reminded me of a geocache prize and gave me something to look forward to.  Little things matter when, as the website states, “Finishing should be the goal as much as racing.”


    Top of the World—Jen Ferriss and Matt Miczek.

    Photo by Jen Ferriss.

                The first year I looked forward to the baby loop to mark my progress; this year I knew better.  First-timers expect a pleasant pat-on-the-back victory lap, but what they get is a runnable downhill and an about-face plod to the aid table, an opportunity to refuel and then tackle the mountain again.  For me, this is the insult-to-injury part.

                But the day was gorgeous, not to mention starkly cold.  Last year, despite the snow storm, there were few things I would have changed about my race strategy.  This year I should have replaced my hand warmers before the second round and bought one of those fancy vests that hug water bottles close to your body.  I did OK because I could always unscrew my handheld cap to drink the icy water, and realistically, that was a nice excuse to pause and look at the view.  Weirdly, although this was a more intimate event, I never felt really abandoned, as folks occasionally ran by as they looped the course. 

    One such person was blue jacket guy who materialized beside me as I was contemplating the lengthy uphill section stuck in the middle of an exciting downward tumble.  He echoed my thoughts when he commented, “This is my least favorite section.”  Just having someone acknowledge that I wasn’t a crybaby after I had just shouted, “I’m 73 years old.  Why am I still doing this stuff?” seemed to help immensely.

                Kim Lengyel, a friend we had convinced to join us, encountered a similar moment of truth.  Within sight of the barn (literally, as there was a bona fide barn) she had only the 1.5 mile baby loop to negotiate.  But doing so seemed unimaginable.  Adam Schalit, co-race director, in his alternate role as coach and cheering squad, poised a simple question with only one possible answer: “How will you feel a half hour from now if you take the easy way out?”  It was just what Kim needed and she navigated the remainder of her first 25K snowshoe.          

                As Garrett Graubins muses in his article, “Everesting” in the 2020 Trail Runner Dirt Annual, “On a long adventure, how often do we dream of the finish line?...But the true reward and occasional answers are found out on the course.”  The encounters, brief exchanges, insights and glimpses of a nature bigger than us all, are the true objective.  And at this epic event where that was the acknowledged goal, everyone walked away satisfied and fulfilled.

    The End. Photo by Jen Ferriss.            

    By laura clark

  • 18 Feb 2020 8:51 PM | Anonymous

    Winterfest/Camp:  A Study in Contrasts

                Once more, Winterfest in Saratoga Spa State Park seemingly justified Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring, leaving us to contend with treacherous ice melted layers.  Yet only a week later Wilton Wildlife Preserve’s Camp Saratoga featured a magnificent landscape pulled directly from a scene out of Frozen.  But then, in his role as weather prognosticator, Phil, like his human counterparts, is only expected to produce a 50% accuracy rate.  So I guess he hit it right on the nose.  Or maybe he felt sorry for us.

                Another weird fact:  While Winterfest, a traction-only race, attracted 36 snowshoers, Camp, which required actual snowshoes, garnered 30 participants.  A number of possibilities present themselves.  Are folks attracted to shorter races?  Were road/trail runners simply thrilled to find a winter race that did not involve snow?  Or, in the spirit of Turkey Trots everywhere, were folks just interested in earning those extra Super Bowl calories?  Of course, the horrific weather the day before Camp might have had something to do with it…

                For Winterfest, co-race director Matt Miczek and I advised, “This is not a race.”  An odd statement for two race directors to make.  But because of the thick ice on the trail, we advised folks to stick to the sides or even venture off into the woods if they were uncomfortable.  Once more, Jamie Howard brought his screw set and set up shop for anyone without traction.  Especially for our RPI College students who understandably did not bring tons of gear with them to decorate their dorms.  Amazingly, although there were a few tumbles, there were no serious umfalls (German for fall—that term seems so much more expressive to me!).  Once more, our thirty year-old chronoprinters limped along, prompting the Stryders who wrestled with them to vote for new models for Camp. 

                Camp featured every brand of weather Groundhog could throw at us.  Friday morning as I was loading supplies into the Lodge I was greeted by rain, sleet, hail and the occasional errant snowflake.  In a move that made perfect sense at the time, I elected to wear a thick hoodie over my waterproof gear so the gear would stay cozy for our afternoon foray to check trail markings. What was I thinking??!!  This necessitated another trip home to change outfits.  Fortunately, I shoved a few Cliff bars and a drug store flashlight into my pockets “just in case.”  Soon after our 1PM start, Matt and I were heartened to discover that the precipitation had switch to a fast-falling snow, rapidly covering all the previous day’s brown stretches.  We were in business…or so we thought.

                We soon realized, however, that the aftermath of the ice storm turned our route into a version of Albany Running Exchange’s famed December Adventure Race, a Dodge the Debris experience.  So we set to work.  At first it was rather fun, in an Arctic explorer sort of way.  Except for the part about the falling pine tree branches.  Initially, we looked upwards every time we heard a crash, but after ten minutes or so we ignored the carnage and soldiered on.  We were on a mission, after all – foolhardy or not.  Hours later…it grew dark, and as gloves and hand warmers played out, it began to be not so much fun anymore.  We’d no sooner clear a section, walk a few feet and round a curve only to discover more carnage ahead.  Our standards began to sink lower and lower.  At first, we diligently cleared each scrap, then we left branches that could be easily run over, then we finally decided climbing over tree trunks in snowshoes was a good idea.  One neat thing were the spider web curtains of flexible tree branches that had to be parted as you would glass beads hanging in the doorframe of a Turkish restaurant. When we slogged through the Opdahl Farm section, the sun miraculously made a brief appearance, casting pastel pink and purplish light over the glittering trees.  It was almost worth it.    


                As darkness became reality and we still had “miles to go before we sleep” and one drug store flashlight between us, we learned that it is not a good thing to hang flagging onto pine trees the day before a major ice storm.  If we couldn’t find the trail, how could we expect others to?  By the time we reached the road crossing, with an average pace of one mile per two hours, we were thinking folks could just head down the side of the road and call it a race.  Then we noticed there a live wire and figured the mighty boom we had heard earlier was the power grid giving up.  So we had to bushwhack around the wire to make it back to the parking lot, only to discover our escape route to Route 50 was blocked on one side by the downed line and on the other by a National Grid truck blocking traffic under a one-way bridge!  I was grateful I had filled my gas tank earlier when I had picked up the drinks from Stewarts.

                Eventually, we made it back to our respective homes, only to discover there was no power.  I spooned supper from a jar of peanut butter, layered on dry clothes and went to bed.  Matt was still hopeful we could do a modified course, but with the power line still down and more trees blocking the portions we had cleared, there simply wasn’t enough discretionary time left in our pre-race budget.  Part of me thought an adventure race would be rather neat, but that would not exactly be truth-in-advertising, and this was, after all, a Nationals Qualifier.  Everyone seemed to have a good time circling around the loop we managed to clear that morning and the snow was wonderful.  Afterwards we traded “Did you lose power?” stories while consuming cold chili and lentil soup.

                 Folks later commended us for carrying through despite the conditions, but since it is well-known I rarely cancel, I figured it was a case of “If you build it they will come.”  And really, with all communication lines down for several days, there was no way to get the word out anyway to a bunch of athletes anxious to get in their daily run.

    Happy Shoeing!


  • 04 Nov 2019 6:08 PM | Anonymous

    Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero, by Christopher McDougall.  Knopf, 2019

                Most of us have run on a team -- whether on a high school XC team, a Ragnar team, an adventure race or a club endeavor.  This is so much more than a solo configuration where our performance affects not just ourselves, but our teammates as well.  As such, it is dimensionally more difficult to blow off workouts and definitely adds to race day stress despite the fact that your brain is telling you there is safety in numbers. So why bother? For the simple reason that together we can achieve more than we can individually.  But what if your teammate has four legs and a different understanding of the concept of racing?  What if he doesn’t even speak the same language?

                Taking it one step further, what if your teammate is a donkey, an animal legendary for his swift, punishing kicks and mule-headed stubbornness?  That is the dilemma facing Christopher McDougall, of Born to Run and Natural Born Heroes fame, when he adopts a rescue donkey in need of a confidence-building purpose in life.  As his local donkey whisperer, Tanya, succinctly states, “Anything you want a donkey to do, you’ve got to make him think it was his idea.”  Those of you who have adopted rescue animals are already shaking your heads.  You know not only is there physical damage to contend with, but also post-traumatic stress issues, the causes of which can only be guessed at.

                Toppling the curve is the fact that donkeys are extremely intelligent animals. Like cats, they were the last of their equine species to be “civilized” (a fact that is open to heated debate) and as such are frustratingly free of the fawning characteristics of other long-time domestic companions. As McDougall discovered, “Donkeys don’t react, they reason.” And after a few thousand years of experimentation, donkeys are the clear winners. At any time, they could amble off and make a decent living.  And they know it. Sort of like your standard house cat.

                If you are one of the ten people who have not heard of McDougall’s other books, know that he relishes research and digs into his Sherman project with laser focus, consulting training experts, his Amish farmer neighbors and Curtis Imrie, the legendary hero of the Fairplay Mule Race, the event Chris, if not Sherman, was targeting. As Curtis unhesitatingly puts it, “If you want to explore your capacity for murder, try a burro race.”  After roughly four decades of racing, Curtis rates his own proficiency as just slightly above passable.  A donkey’s primary goal is survival and he is not about to let any humans get in the way of that basic instinct.

                As you may have gathered, this book is not just a heartwarming story of donkey/human bonding or animal rehabilitation, but a quest to heal Sherman and coincidentally in the process unite a small Pennsylvania town towards a single purpose.  For just like the goat, Lawrence, who sensed Sherman’s initial distress and became his barnyard protector, donkeys are supremely capable of bonding with autistic, epileptic and mentally upset humans, despite all the mayhem they might cause their owners along the way.

                Taking off from the writing style initially explored by Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible, where each chapter carries the story along from the perspective of one of the characters, McDougall relishes jumping from topic to topic as he bonds with Sherman.  In just the first few chapters he hurdles from trimming Sherman’s hooves, to his own barnyard menagerie, to his stint as a war correspondent in the Rwanda massacre, to purchasing a farm in Amish country and learning about Amish behind-the-barn cash-only stores.  Whew!  But his story is told so skillfully that you are never confused by the convoluted journey.  And what’s more, it is impossible to skip ahead to glimpse what happens as what you might encounter is not another plot twist but an expose on Amish reading habits.  A readable William Faulkner.

                Just like any runner, McDougall figures that more is better and points his 3 donkey/3 human teammates toward the 71 year-old World Championship in Fairplay, Colorado. Notably, way before Kathrine Switzer shook the world as the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant, women were welcomed and even encouraged at Fairplay. Young teens, were also encouraged in an atmosphere where runners and burros were expected to stop their race for those in distress.  It was always about acceptance and teamwork.                                                                   Along the way, McDougall’s team is beset with the usual obstacles: injuries, training glitches and bad weather as well as unique challenges like honing in on donkey psychology and locating an animal van. The humans realized that they needed to look at things through Sherman’s eyes rather than trying to mold him to their mindset, the foundation of a true partnership on any level.  They discovered like Emilie Forsberg and other lasting runners that the key to any successful endeavor is the sheer joy of a playful attitude.  And like any team, they learned to rely on each other’s strengths.  In the end it was McDougall’s wife Mika who carried them through.  Unlike the others, she had no need of healing and nothing to prove, just a desire to help everyone else and a joyful acceptance of each moment.  And that is really the key to all endeavors.

                So what now?  Sherman has settled in nicely with his girlfriends Flower and Matilda and they and their human partners enjoy running together.  Chris McDougall has another book in the works, but no hints yet as to what it will be about.  However, unlike Sherman’s story, which began as a birthday present for his daughter and evolved into a book idea, his next offering hints at being more of a planned affair.  Stay tuned for the next blue and yellow cover jacket!

    Reviewed by laura clark



  • 06 Sep 2019 1:40 PM | Anonymous

    The Tail of a Lost Cat

                Having less commitment to civilization, feline pets are more like boarders than dependent pets; unlike dogs or goldfish, they can strike out on their own, fully capable of making a living.  They can enjoy an unleashed pleasant afternoon under a birdfeeder, a walkabout lasting several days or a much longer adventure.  Such was the case with Ari, one of the race director’s childhood pets who launched himself into the woods of Dorset, Vermont and remained stubbornly AWOL for several years, until presumably memories of kibble, snuggles and a well-placed scratch on the chin inevitably drew him back. 

                And so, the Lost Cat half and full marathon and 50K retraces the scene of his adventures as we wandered up and down mountains, over highways and on the omnipresent Vermont dirt roads.  There are few events that can claim an appeal to everyone: mountain climbers, trail runners, road aficionados and even adventure racers, but this is one of them. 

                While adventure athletes typically run in teams and are expected to be competent in a variety of sports, we were all singletons equipped with only our packs and our running shoes.  Normally, adventure competitors receive their maps at check in, but we never did.  Try preparing for a long-distance event with no clue about terrain, elevation changes, aid station locations, etc.  Granted, we did know the precise distance we hoped to travel, but to safeguard landowners’ privacy, no maps were posted.  Anywhere.  There were no friendly “You’re almost there” signs, let alone distance indications to upcoming aid stations.  We were truly lost cats, seeming wandering aimlessly on a loopy course, retracing the steps of the fabled lost cat.  It was at once scary and liberating.

                I missed one turnoff, but it was totally my fault; others were not as lucky despite the course being well-marked.  I chalk it up to the dizziness of disorientation, of not having a true sense of where I was and where I should be heading.  Usually when I run a trail event, I may miss a marker or two, but still have a pretty good sense of where I should be heading.  Not here.  On my travels I encountered three fellow lost cats—two of whom regained their bearings and the other who passed me twice, going and coming.  He asked me if he were following the trail.  Baffled, I indicated the many markers, and thanking me profusely, he scurried on his way, never to be seen by me again.

                My downfall came from the assumption that the folks at Nor’east Trail Runs would present a mostly trail race with a few pavement stretches mainly to get to other sections of trail.  So basically, I trained for a trail marathon when I should have been including a lot more road work.  Ouch!  After roughly ten miles or so (who knew?) my feet in their relatively stiff Innovs felt as if a mountain lion had been smashing down on them.  We were warned about the two-mile highway section near the beginning and, while it seemed endless, made me think that “Hey, I could capture a fairly fast (for me) time.”  I forgot about the fact that we were also cautioned to expect “real Vermont hills.”  And while I totally relish the challenge of riding a roller coaster, it does not exactly sync well with cutoffs. 

                The trail sections reminded me somewhat of Merck Forest, Vermont where my friend Matt Miczek joined Nor’easter for a 25K snowshoe adventure trudging up Mt. Antone not once, but twice, hanging on to friendly trees to prevent falling backwards.  And that was with snowshoe crampons!  But in the end, what got to me was the final eight miles or so road section.  The hills were fun, and it was entertaining and, I admit somewhat discouraging, to view the beautiful country houses and awesome gardens, but the flat maze in the middle section seemed to continue indefinitely, with little plan as to where it was headed.  At one point I thought I had it figured out, but then the road took yet another discouraging turn. 

                How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s all downhill from here!”  How many times have you actually believed it?  Well, this time it was true.  The final downhill mile began hopefully on pavement, soon converted to typical Vermont dirt road and then degenerated into Ferngully construction.  At one point we had to climb over a five-foot pile of stones to navigate a section that was more riverbed than actual jeep-friendly passageway.  What a great ending! 

                Next time I might consider hybrid sneakers and an Osprey (backpack, not pet) as a few times I found myself rationing the contents of my water bottle.  While it worked out fine, had it been a hot day I would have been in trouble.  The neat thing about the Lost Cat is that it delivers for every type of runner and while your adventure does not have you shifting from running to kayak to belay, you do get to alternate between different forms and styles.  Neither the pure trail runner or the pure road racer is favored, but rather a competent mixture between the two.  And then there are those real cats from 2nd Chance Animal Shelter waiting at the finish to provide emotional support after Sunday’s 5 and 10K, should you decide to stay in town, explore Dorset and either double or volunteer.

    Do check out www.netrailruns.comfor their winter schedule of snowshoe races!

    By laura clark

  • 06 Sep 2019 1:36 PM | Anonymous

    Advanced Marathoning, 3rd edition, by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas.  Human Kinetics, 2019.

                I have come to accept the fact that I have a rigid personality. Children’s toys must be returned to their correct receptacles, regardless of the fact that for kids play is a freewheeling jumble of imaginative possibilities.  Books are meant to be read cover-to-cover, no furtive peeking allowed.  And I approach magazines, which beg to be flipped through, in a similar fashion, starting with the editor’s notes and all the way to parting shots.  Sad, but true.  Little did I suspect that when I opened Pete Pfitzinger’s 3rd edition of Advanced Marathoning, I was about to experience a major breakthrough. 

                Yes, I did dutifully read the forward, but that was a given being that it was penned by Molly Huddle.  Although we have never met face-to-face, Molly and I are connected by our mutual friend Diane Sherrer, a Finger Lakes coach and sportswriter, who tragically died of cancer.  Diane encouraged Molly to carry on, when as a high schooler, she felt she could never measure up.  Diane was there in the rain, sick and all, to present me with a dollar store princess crown after my first 50 miler. 

                So, with this awesome beginning, did I continue reading in my customary die-hard pattern?  Nope.  A quick scan of the chapter listings indicated a few departures from the first two editions.  I had done my homework, checking out coffee-stained and dog-eared previous editions from the library.  Expectedly, profiled athletes had changed over time and the training tables were less rigid to account for modern lifestyles, but I was surprised to discover that entire chapters had been added.  The mailman delivered my copy two weeks before my first marathon of the season, The Lost Cat in Dorset, Vermont.  A bit too late to provide training advice, but handy with the tapering suggestions.  Whenever I was tempted to overreach, I consulted that section.  Sometimes I obeyed; sometimes not, but at least I had a rough plan.

                Then it dawned on me.  My next marathon was four weeks away, Nipmuck Trail Marathon in Ashford, Connecticut.  I located the new section on “Multiple Marathoning,” with suggestions on what to do if your next event is 12, 10, 8, 6 and foolishly 4 weeks away.  Apparently, all I had to do was recover and taper with a few medium-long runs thrown in to assuage guilt.  So a week after Lost Cat I found myself at the Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts 8 Mile Uphill Road Race, with an off-the-books downhill return to my car.  Ouch!  Not exactly sure if that is what the authors had in mind. 

                Now that I am in serious taper mode, I turned to the new section on the “Older (And Wiser) Marathoner” to see where I had gone wrong.  I may be older, but the preceding scenario leaves my wisdom in doubt.  One takeaway is the realization that although I still go long, it is more difficult to make myself go fast.  Sort of like the last three-fourths of a race where you figured you have suffered enough.  Except this is my life and not a race.  My other realization? I have signed up for a strength training class.  After work and after the days get dark. My summertime vacation from resistance work, while granting me a few more hours of scarce northeast outdoor daylight, did nothing to nudge my body into race shape.

                And yes, I did read the rest of the book, but thoroughly enjoyed the liberating experience of extracting the advice I needed immediately.  If you own the first or second edition, do consider updating with the third.  As a librarian, I recognize that often there is little reason for yet another edition of a book except to boost a repeat round of income, but this is not the case here.  While the structure of the basics is the same, there is so much new material that you will essentially be perusing a familiar format with more relevant and expanded information.

    Reviewed by laura clark

  • 06 Sep 2019 1:33 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, we 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.

  • 25 Jun 2019 3:36 PM | Anonymous

    Sports Nutrition Handbook: Eat Smart. Be Healthy. Get on Top of Your Game, by Justyna and Krzysztof Mizera.  Velo Press, 2019.


                Athletes searching for a workout edge that does not involve possible overtraining are often drawn to investigate nutritional science.  And then, like me, they find themselves bewildered and in over their heads.  What is the optimal combination of protein, carbs and fat pre- and post-workout?  And where on that scale does The Wall reside? What supplements are beneficial and which are ineffective or downright harmful?  It seems like the more you read the more confusing things become.

                Enter the Mizeras, nutritionists and trainers, who have worked with both elite and everyday athletes in disciplines such as running, cycling and bodybuilding.  By focusing separately on carbohydrates, proteins and fats, they attempt to isolate the various components of an effective diet.  To their credit, they manage to do this in simplified layman’s language without lapsing into scientific jargon.  Taken individually, the chapters make sense.  But there is so much information, by the time I worked my way through mentally eating and drinking, my brain had hit overload.   

                While numerous case studies furnish real-life examples, what really made a difference was reviewing each chapter, relying this time on the plentiful charts, tables and green-highlighted asides to provide a clarifying roadmap.  And the sample recipes feature readily identifiable ingredients, making me believe I might be able to handle creating their salmon burgers from scratch. Perusing the sample snack and meal plans for various sports was where I really got into trouble, however.  Calculated to the .1 of caloric, carb, fat and protein intake, the optimal combinations are more math than I am willing to undertake, and since I am by no means a sponsored athlete, beyond my job description.  Still, if you are looking for that extra edge to help you crush your Boston qualifier, it would all be worth it.

                And while the authors seem fully aware of the dehydration/hyponatremia debate, it appears that while they stress the importance of electrolytes, they favor a sloshing stomach approach.  Having just finished re-reading Good To Go, Christie Aschwanden’s critique of recovery products, I am inclined to believe the studies she cites that mention most elite marathoners cross the finish line marginally dehydrated.  And they are still alive! According to Samuel Cheuvront, of the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, while dehydration certainly contributes to heat-related illnesses, it is not generally the cause of heatstroke.  I am even more inclined to trust in my Dad’s saying, “The truth lies somewhere in between.”  Witness Usain Bolt’s McDonald’s chicken nugget Olympic fueling strategy, where he opted for formula food rather than unfamiliar offerings.

      And so, while I have learned much about sports nutrition from this book, I still tend to assume a somewhat lax stance toward filing a detailed flight plan.  This probably has more to do with my mindset—I have never been known to follow a marathon training plan, a lapse I sometimes regret.  Sometimes on the surface it works, as in this past weekend’s trail race when I won the age group honey jar, but only because the first place groupie neglected to claim the prize!  Ultimately is a matter of personal choice and what you fervently believe works best for your body.

     Reviewed by laura clark

  • 19 May 2019 7:31 PM | Anonymous

    Sport Smoothies:  More than 65 Recipes to Boost Your Workouts & Recovery, by Fern Green.  Velo Press, 2019.

    I must admit I have been a hit or miss (mostly miss) smoothie drinker.  I know they are quick and easy to blend and provide, at the very least, an encouragement to drink more liquid pre-and post-workout.  Pre-, I am just in a hurry to get out there and as for post-, I do sip water on my runs and figured I had it covered.  For me, smoothies are rather like stretching, a debatable ritual, reserved for rare moments of free time.

                Fern Green, a chef, food stylist and author, seems to understand exactly where I am coming from, making implementation as pain-free as possible.  Individual sections: Pre-Workout, Post-Workout & Recovery, Muscle Building, and Carb-Loading are preceded by a tan two-page chart detailing calories, protein, fat, carbs, fiber and sodium for each recipe, enabling you to pinpoint location by merely flipping through a sea of white paper.  There is a supplemental Table of Contents on the front cover flap, facilitating easy access to appealing recipes.

                I shared the volume with a friend, Alex Raftery, who is a Culinary Institute of America chef and she was impressed by the eye and texture appeal.  Pages are sturdy and would stand up to frequent use without tearing. (I did spill a bit and discovered that, if attacked instantly, most evidence can be wiped clean with a paper towel!)  She was particularly impressed by the layout: a picture of the 4 to 6 ingredients needed on the left side and the resulting shake on the right, accompanied by concise directions and nutritional benefits.  A food stylist’s delight!  The only drawback to the format was that the book had a bouncy binding.  The pages would not lie flat, a disadvantage when you need both hands to measure and slice.

                Many of the ingredients are those you might have on hand already: bananas, strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, spinach.  Others might take some shopping: coconut or almond milk, chia seeds, Medjool dates, almond butter.  But none are so exotic as to necessitate searching out specialty stores. For my first batch, I selected smoothies which relied on basics like bananas, strawberries and yogurt and for liquids, chose coconut milk and water. In this way, I was able to blend a variety of drinks without excess shopping. For my next round, I plan to sample a few unfamiliar ingredients, easily getting an introduction to various new foods combined with old favorites.

    I brought the first batch, Yo Strawberries and Pink Basil to our Saratoga Stryders Mix-It-Up-Mondays casual trail runs.  Yo Strawberries was a big hit, with a familiar pink milkshake color.  Since folks were rushing to the trailhead directly from work, they appreciated the fact that I was able to whip up the concoction that morning, seal it in a thermos and have a sip-and-drive snack.  The recovery drink was less successful.  I am not quite sure why, but perhaps the combination of basil and strawberries is an acquired taste or else folks were in too much of a hurry to get home.

    While I had occasionally blended a random selection of smoothie ingredients, I was never really certain if what I had concocted would enhance my workout.  Now I can confidently match my nutrition to my training plan, increasing my liquid intake beyond plain water as well as painlessly adding more fruits and veggies to my diet.


    Reviewed by laura clark








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