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  • 20 Jan 2016 6:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    In typical Star Wars fashion, Racing the Rain is the prequel to John Parker’s 1970’s cult classic, Once a Runner and his much later follow-up, Again to Carthage.  All trace the fortunes of a fictional Quenton Cassidy one of the south Florida running heroes of the Frank Shorter era.  Having lived there myself for a brief period of time, it is a mystery to me how such great runners could emerge from the sticky, humid swamps, but then I guess if you could deal with those conditions, you could deal with almost anything.
        Once a Runner leaves you almost as breathless as Cassidy as you experience the beyond-arduous workouts he endured in his quest for the Olympics.  As a miler, he covers as much weekly distance as today’s typical ultra runner.  The follow-up, Again to Carthage, discovers a considerably older, corporate version of Cassidy as he attempts a “what-if" comeback bid for another Olympics.  Disappointingly, the sequel, while true to form in its race sequences, seems to lack the spirit of the original.
        Not so for the prequel which profiles Cassidy and his friends growing up wild and independent, exploring their South Florida landscape---the way kids used to be allowed to do before today’s current helicopter parents arrived on the scene.  Cassidy is fortunate in his friendship with his mentor Trapper Nelson, a real-life character who made his living off the land.  Trapper not only taught young Cassidy survival skills and values but reached back through his past to hook his young friend up with some top-level coaches.  Cassidy, in turn, must decide whether to attend the all-important state meet or support his friend when things get tough.  
        Once more, Parker is back on track, capturing the intensity of training and racing as well as illustrating the mental toughness and personal fortitude that complement the true hero in this coming-of-age novel.
    Reviewed by laura clark
  • 15 Jan 2016 7:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Snowshoeing 101
        What makes snowshoeing so appealing is that there are no special skill sets or expensive lessons involved.  If you can walk on land, you can hike on snowshoes.  If you can run, then you can certainly run on snowshoes.  Just be aware you will expend considerably more energy (and calories!) than you would on dry land, and that would be in proportion to how deep the snow happens to be.
        Getting down to the basics:
    What to Wear on Your Body:
        If you are active outdoors in the winter you already have most of your gear.  Even if it is not snowing, you’re going to fall down and get wet.  This means really good wicking stuff.  And wear less of it.  After that first plunge into the woods, which I liken to jumping into Jones Beach waves in early June, you will get really hot really fast and it is no fun getting overheated.  On the coldest sub-zero days I will wear a tight-fitting race tee, a thick polar tech long-sleeved shirt from Target, a windbreaker, lined tights, a neck gaiters and a beanie. Arm warmers are handy as they can be pulled down for ventilation and leg warmers will provide extra protection when your tights get wet.  Some folks will wear a pair of tights under waterproof pants but personally I feel like the proverbial roly-poly kid in a snowsuit when I dress like that.  My hands are treated to hand warmers, gloves and a lightweight mitten shell, but that’s just me as I have poor circulation.  But even if you don’t, hand warmers provide a nice glowy feeling while hanging around at the start line giving you the confidence to dress lightly.

    What to Wear on Your Feet:
        As far as footwear goes, boots are OK for hikers but awkward for runners.  “Ye Good Olde Days” were truly laughable, as we experimented with plastic bag booties over sneakers and argued over which store produced a more durable product.  Tinkering led to the sleeker duct tape approach which is still in use today.  Finally, figuring we could always learn something new, we took a hint from mountain biker Maureen Roberts and bought bike booties to fit over our sneakers, establishing a new gold standard for toasty piggies.   Now, of course, shoe companies have all manner of winterized models complete with gaiters. If your feet are always cold, the first line of defense is the Toe Warmer, followed by thick smart wools and neoprene socks.  In a light bulb moment, I finally realized that a larger winter-dedicated sneaker size would be appropriate.  On the cheap, you can re-purpose a sneaker with worn-down tread as your snowshoes will be providing the traction.

    What to Wear on Your Sneakers:
        If you intend to race, according to United States Snowshoe guidelines, snowshoes must display a minimum of 120 square inches of functional surface area.  Whatever that means.  Before you unearth your slide rule, know that all snowshoes meet that requirement.  The main purpose is to prevent folks from insisting that yaktrax are really snowshoes in disguise.  Starting out, you need one versatile model, so I suggest a pair of Dion racers, even if you do not intend to race.  (www.dionsnowshoes.com) They are nimble, lightweight and come with interchangeable small and large cleats for a variety of conditions.  Designed by the “Father of New England Trail Running,” they are made for athletes by a seasoned athlete.  Back to “Ye Good Olde Days,” before Bob came along we wrapped our shins with surgical tape hoping to offset the banging from poorly secured, overly wide offerings.  Even if you have no desire to run, I would suggest visiting www.runwmac.com for a listing of local races supported by Dion.  Hikers are welcome and most longer races have shorter options to accommodate beginners.  Sign yourself up for a pair of $5 rentals and in the bargain you will get expert advice.  Also, plan on arriving early to check out what folks are wearing.

    What to Take:
        Bring a complete set of dry clothes and change immediately after you finish.  By the time you find your car and get your snowshoes off you will be chilled.  Most likely, you will be changing in your car whether you are at a race or hiking at a trailhead.  Water is problematic since it ends up getting frozen.  To supplement occasional sno-cone snatches, snowshoer and hiker Jen Ferriss suggests eschewing water and using an electrolyte mix to lower freezing temperature.  Secure your bottle underneath your clothes and turn it upside down so that the bottom, which now has the spout, will freeze last and sip often to keep up the flow. Similarly, if I am racing and know I will need a lift halfway through, I hide a few shot bloks in my gloves.  No need to stop and fumble with clothes and they are already warm enough to chew without breaking a tooth.

    What to Do:
        Relax and have fun!  If you are racing, toss any miles/minute preconceptions.  Do not feel embarrassed to walk.  Unlike road races, snowshoe events have a way of evening out the odds. Only the winners run the whole thing; most conserve energy by hiking the hills.  If you opt to go with the first pack, you will often find yourself struggling along in train formation, helping to break trail  Many middle-of-the-packers actually end up doing their race at a seemingly faster pace than the leaders struggling through snow drifts.  Even if you do not care about your place, don’t assume that since you are new you should start at the very back.  Passing on a narrow trail involves plowing into sometimes knee-deep snow and overtaking the person ahead who is on an easier path.  I’ve discovered that passing on a downhill stretch where the curve follows the direction of the trail is the easiest route.  But think carefully about energy expenditure.  If you are patient, the pack will loosen and then folks will readily move aside for you.

    To Trail or Not to Trail:
        Snowshoeing also offers an unparalleled opportunity to step off the beaten trail and explore the woods.  Landscape that would be difficult to negotiate in the fall is now smoothed out and frozen.  You will be surprised at many hidden places, formerly accessible only to animals, are waiting for you.  And best of all, you can explore without fear of getting lost as all you have to do is trace your snowprints back.

        Most of all, you will discover a sport where everyone from National Class racer to  mid-packer to hiker is encouraging and friendly, just happy to be outdoors enjoying a Winter Wonderland.

    By laura clark

  • 30 Dec 2015 11:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

     by Tom Foreman. Penguin Random House, 2015.

    One would think that after three decades as a Johnny-on-the Spot Emmy award winning journalist, current CNN reporter Tom Foreman would be immune to fear.  After all, he has covered 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, interviewed serial killers and reported from scores of war zones.  But what truly struck fear into his heart was when his college-aged daughter begged him to run a marathon with her.  The last one he had run was thirty years ago.  This would be her first.  You know the drill; it is difficult to refuse an opportunity for closeness with an almost- adult daughter.  How many more opportunities would there be?

    Credible coaches would say the danger part came not from the initial marathon, but from what followed in that same year—four half marathons, three marathons, and one trail ultra, initially billed as a 50 miler but with course alterations, upgraded to 55 miles.  Foreman was headed for a fall.  Or was he?  Miraculously, while growing closer to his daughter, and managing not to totally alienate his boss, his wife, and his younger daughter, he emerged relatively unscathed and oh, so much wiser.  He has since run other ultras, not letting them take over his life as they did that initial year.  And, he got paid to do it—producing this insightful and humorous chronicle of his journey.

    Foreman experiences typical rookie mistakes and insights and you will see yourself here as he trains through his first snowy winter, discovers the power of a headlamp and learns his local trail system.  He realizes that the real magic of the trail is the fact that the runners are all in
    this together, as a team, matching yourselves against the trail and not some ruthless competitor.

    Summing it all up he offers the best explanation I have ever read about why a fifty year-old should reinvent himself through a far-reaching quest for fitness. As his life became more complicated and adult-like, Foreman realizes, “I stopped playing---games, jokes and music. I
    was hustling to work, dodging raindrops, and skirting the puddles I should have stomped in….So when I started this, it felt like something woke up inside me. I stopped getting through my days, and I started getting into them…Running puts me in touch with the moment, and reminds me how each one is rare and precious.”

  • 29 Nov 2015 8:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    On the surface, the title seems a tad redundant.  All trail races are accompanied by falls, some dramatic, some merely an annoying interruption to progressive forward motion.  But those that take place this time of year when the leaves are falling often have the word “fall” in their very title both to indicate the season and what can be expected.

     

    Fall Back 5 adds an additional layer as the “fall back” refers to the day after the clocks have been turned back.  Those who remember gain an extra hour of sleep; those who forget are recruited to help with early set up.  A win-win for astute runners as well as for race directors in need of last minute recruits.

    This year the Saratoga Spa State Park fell back also, turning operations over to the Stryders.  At first Frank Lombardo assembled the usual crowd and we were thinking we would have a race by committee.  Never a good idea, so Frank by default, emerged as the Race Director upon whom ultimate responsibility lies.  The rest of us breathed an audible sigh of relief.  But we had so many volunteers that the event became a true Stryder effort.

    We had roughly a month to pull things together, which is a good thing and a bad thing.  Good in the sense that whatever gets done is done and folks are just grateful to have a race. Bad in the sense that we were working even faster than the leaves were falling!  Still, there was no dithering, just a bunch of Stryders on a time-crunched mission.

    After Nipmuck Dave offered a course map bandana for the Goodwin Forest trail race, the idea being that runners could take the bandana with them on the trail, with no further complaints about getting lost, I suggested the same.  At least we would know where to fall back to on the trail.  Originally designed by John Orsini as a spring Mudslinger race, the original map was totally incomprehensible, even with colored lines crossing every which way, looking more like a subway map than a romp through the woods.  Each year, the course was tweaked a bit, and just to add to the confusion the time was eventually changed from spring to fall.  Anyone attempting to run the course on their own was confronted with layered memories of past years, rather like tangled synapses.

    So our major goal was to insure that everyone paid attention instead of veering off into memory lane.  I did my part.  Figuring that I would be one of the most likely candidates for getting lost, I spent the week before experimenting with different trail options.  Of course, I did not bring a map, figuring I am pretty useless at reading one anyway, so I spent two days trying to figure out where we actually entered the woods.  On the second day I met Hannah Davidson.  She was also running the trail, albeit a lot faster than I was.  But since she would be the winner, what most concerned me was the fact that she was running in the opposite direction.  At this point I realized that the trail was marked from both directions—so if you tried to retrace your steps as you are told to do in most races should you fail to see markers, you might actually fall back to the start instead of leap ahead to the finish.

    On race day, I discovered that the sweeps began their job well before gun time, actually sweeping the course instead lagging behind collecting dead bodies, lost souls and marking flags.  At first I was disappointed, figuring it was a lot more fun to trip over roots hidden by leaves, but I soon discovered how neat it was to power through, contending with only the occasional renegade leaf.  I realize that many are testing the trails for the first time, so we did cut down on potential injury rates.

    I think the autumn sprites were disappointed though, as the following week when I returned just to see if I could still find the course, leaves covered the trail once more and our footprints had vanished underneath.  Only we know that we had been there.

     

    After the Leaves Have Fallen Half Marathon

        This race has a lot going for it.  By November 8th, most of the leaves have already fallen and with the exception of a few miles of gnarly lake front path, the route utilized wide carriage roads. Escarpment views were spectacular and did not have to be accessed by the hand-over-hand climbs in Dick Vincent’s July Escarpment Trail Race. Old-style and forgiving in nature, those who feared the cutoff or simply those who were tired of finishing theoretically on target but after much of the food had been eaten, were permitted a self-timed early start.

    However the hosting Catskill club, the Shawangunk Runners, were blatantly unpronounceable, as well as the site, the Minnewaska State Park Preserve.  Try spelling any one of these when you are searching for race information!  And since the Shawangunk Runners claim the town of New Paltz as their stomping grounds, they were totally unconcerned that their chosen date overlaps that of Schenectady’s storied Stockadeathon.  It is for this reason that, despite having delighted in their Summer Solstice Run on these same trails, my feet had previously voted in favor of Stockadeathon.Which basically doesn’t make sense as I am a trail runner, not a road runner.  But I am a traditionalist, and I guess that explains it.

    Basic rookie mistake:  It never occurred to me to glance at the online map.  I figured I knew what to expect from the Solstice course and anticipated wide carriage road uphills and glorious unimpeded free-falls. This is what I got.  However, had I checked I would have learned that due to road construction the topmost section was off-limits.  For some reason, this gave us more uphills that we deserved and not as many steep downhill rewards.

    Perhaps it was the end of an autumn stint of racing every weekend, but when the guy behind me (Yes, Virginia, there were even folks behind me!) announced that the mileage was 5.42 (note the careful decimals indicating concern) I inquired, “5.42 miles left?”  You know the answer.  An hour into the race and we had covered only 5.42 relentless uphill miles.  Outside of my Stone Cat 50 Miler, this was the only instance where I entertained serious completion doubts. I had of course suffered other DNFs but that was due to pregnancy, sprained ankles, hypothermia and the like, never to sheer despair.

    Around this time I found a running buddy and that saved me.  We passed and re-passed each other, with me finishing slightly ahead, but with both of us turning in better results with our tandem effort.  Later I learned that we had a lot in common.  He was a former harness horse driver; Jeff’s grandfather, Johnny Porter won the first race on the Saratoga Harness Track and his Dad also supplemented a retirement career racing and training.  Small world!

    Thus rescued from a mental, rather than a figurative fall, I finished fourth (out of six) in my age group, in itself rather remarkable in that so many of these last age group leaves were still left upon the tree.

     

    Turkey Raffle Run

    Where were the turkeys when you really need them?  Stryders at this year’s Turkey Raffle Run were unable to corner any live turkeys or pause in their journey to marvel at the flight paths of wild geese overhead.  It is always a mystery to me how the geese seem determined to pursue all but a southerly direction.  But I guess they get there somehow.  The only turkeys to make an appearance were of the plucked and frozen variety, albeit all Butterballs, the aristocrats of the roasting pan.  Still, that might not be a bad thing entirely as there are documented cases of demented turkeys chasing down runners, determined to turn the table so to speak.

    Instead we had…1 scared yearling deer who was having a very bad day.  Halfway up Ferndell he tried to show us how it was done by plummeting down the steep embankment, finding himself no more successful than the Horse Whisperer equine.  Although the youngster couldn’t brake fast enough, fortunately the Long Island tween he was aiming for was quicker on her feet and so we were left with a near miss instead of roadkill.  Deciding the best course of action would be to exit the crime scene as quickly as possible, said deer used his considerable forward momentum to bound up the other side, only to be greeted by a serious chorus of barking dogs.  From the frying pan into the fire.  And since he didn’t technically complete the course, he didn’t even earn a raffle ticket or a frozen turkey to hurl at the dogs.

    Speaking of raffle tickets, I learned this year that the best way to ensure lots is to volunteer!  Pete Finley was unable to perform his customary flour arrow duties, so I walked in his stead.  I learned that I would make a perfect directionally challenged goose (not that this is a big secret) since shortly after completing marking duties someone asked me where the start was and I had to refer to Jim.  Over the years there has been much controversy about earning tickets from begging, limping, crossing the line twice, wearing black socks… and some complaints about not everyone winning a baked good.  A few civic-minded Stryders remedied that situation by purchasing a few extra supplies.  As Coach Couch commented, “Everyone likes to get a prize.”

    And everyone did!  Most scoped out the feast ahead of time to ensure that when it was their turn to approach the table they didn’t dither before Toastmaster Tom Montelone called out yet another eager, perhaps faster, winner.  And surprise of surprises!  The fruitcake was not the last item to be picked!  It was second to last.  Usually the cake is reserved for Peter Finley, but in his absence Jim Carlson picked it up to share with his buddy in the true spirit of Thanksgiving.  We were all grateful we didn’t have to eat it.

    By laura clark

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