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