Camp Saratoga 8K - 15 Feb 2015
Today's race was a shock. First, and foremost, it was cold. Normally when you start any winter activity, a hike, a run, whatever, you want to start off a bit cold, because your body will warm up. Today, through, I found myself wishing I had worn my balaclava, and a thicker pair of socks. My toes were so cold as we waited around for the race to start that I was clenching and releasing them just to keep blood circulating. I was punching my fists together, too, for the same reason. (Sometimes being an armchair mountaineer pays off.)
The race HQ, set up inside the old International Paper Winter Lodge, was toasty, but I had already checked in and gotten my bib, and I was eager to race. So, I wandered around outside, clenching toes, punching fists, chatting a bit here and there. I ran into one of the guys I had talked with at the Coles Woods races last year, and said hello, and that I needed to keep moving to stay warm. Then the crowd started to move down the trail, and I figured I should follow. The starting line at these smaller events isn't always obvious, so it's good to wander when the crowd does. We all wandered back to a piece of tape stretched across the trail, turned around, and danced a bit as 100-200 of our closest running buddies (by proximity) filled in the trail ahead of us. I think the race director said something, but I honestly couldn't hear anything over the people talking nearby. Then we were off.
Despite my decision to keep it slow, I found myself penned in after a few hundred yards, and started pushing and maneuvering for position. Eventually I found myself with other runners who were keeping a similar pace, and I settled in. The first leg of the run kept fairly close to the Stryder's 5K course (aside from our makeshift starting corral), so within the first mile we had two steep fins to climb up and then drop down off of. (They feel like eskers but they're not; they're probably remnants from the lake that once sat here.) They aren't particularly high, maybe 30', but they're high enough that everyone in my cluster of runners switched to hiking on the climb.
After that I slowly lost position as we continued along the 5K course. When we got to the turnoff for the Opdahl Farm, we took it, and immediately plunged into unsteady singletrack snow. At least a hundred pairs of snowshoes had gone through ahead of me, but every step had some lateral rock in it. Normally, after a few people have broken a trail, it's solid, but here it was like it was overbroken, if such a thing is even possible. Out on the 5K course, we were on woods roads that had been groomed for XC skiing, so I could move to the side a few inches and avoid the sloppy mess. Here, the snow on either side was deep, and would have been too taxing to break at a running pace. I kept moving as best I could. It reminded me of running in snowshoes over boot-broken ground. Clearly, it pays to be up front.
We looped through the Opdahl Farm, past the church and eventually made our way back towards the trails of Camp Saratoga. We cut through a small, pretty, open area, one of my favorites along the 5K course, which I think used to be an open sandy area back in the Scout camp days. Instead of the normal 5K route, though, we took a different turn, and plunged into what looked like a trail cut by a snowblower: the walls were fairly straight, and about 18" tall. This lead up and up to what appears to be the high point of the course, at 342', right around the 5K mark.
I was an hour in by this point, and had just been passed by a guy who appeared to only be walking. I knew that I was going to be moving slowly due to the fact that I was still recovering from a stomach bug, but this was ridiculous. On top of all of that, my knee started acting up. It's an old injury, but I tread gently around it, since it has the ability to ruin many successive days of training.
I decided to just walk.
We (that is: I, and a few of the other back-of-the-packers,) worked our way back over to the 5K course just in time to cross Scout Road. I found myself getting cold, and ran a few times to warm up, but couldn't muster enough energy to keep it up for very long. So onward I crept. The hills on this side are steeper, and on a few I found myself sliding down, despite the crampons on my snowshoes. I did my best to go with it, and to keep a hand out in case a tree rose up to meet me.
Finally, eventually, I found myself running along the edge of the marshy area, and then across the bridge over Delegan Pond. Alas, this was not the end of the course. To ensure that we got our money's worth, we got to trudge past the finish line, past where the snack hut used to be, past the barbeque pits, past the old mess hall, then climb up a hill, cut through what was clearly a bushwhack, and then, finally, drop back down the hill and cross the finish line.
It was a bit anticlimactic, but all in all, it was a fun race. I crossed the old parade ground, stopping at my car to take off my snowshoes, then headed over to the old IP Lodge again to get something hot to eat, drink, bathe in, whatever. It didn't really matter. I warmed up, chatted with the two people whom I knew, and then headed out. I didn't stick around for the raffle because I had, once again, mysteriously, lost my raffle ticket. This time I hadn't bothered to memorize the number, so there was no point in lingering. I had promised to take my kids out after the race, and I needed to get home to fulfill that promise.
Saratoga Spa State Park 5K - 1 Feb 2015
Two weeks earlier, I had wandered across the mall (large, open area) of Saratoga Spa State Park, attempting to locate the starting line for a race that was about to start. I found a banner that clearly stated it was the Start / Finish for the race, and figured that I had found it.
I was wrong.
Another runner, who had done the race in a previous year, directed us to the actual, unmarked starting line, which was along the carriage path in front of the unnamed building that sits across the mall from the Roosevelt Baths. We lined up, the race director said a few words, and we were off. We ran around the perimeter of the mall, then crossed the road and ducked in to the woods, not far from where I had seen the finish line. We followed this path through the woods and then ran down to the Geyser picnic area along a gravel road. There wasn't much snow on the ground, but it was enough that I didn't hear my crampons scraping very much on the gravel.
Once down in the picnic area, we cut across the first pedestrian bridge over Geyser Creek, and then ran through the woods back over to the gravel road, making our way up, over to, and then around the Peerless Pool, before plunging back down the way we had come. This time, though, we followed the creek along the old carriage road, crossed the creek again, crossed the picnic area road again, and then climbed up a rather steep climb toward Columbia Pavillion. Here I expected us to link up with the Five Mile Trail, but wisely the route avoided it, since the FMT in this section dances along a cliff. Instead we cut straight through the woods and then linked up with the FMT once it was past the potentially dangerous section. We found North South Road, ran along it for a minute, past the ticket booths, and then ducked back in to the woods near Ferndell Pavillion. We were on the final kilometer of trail, so I started pushing hard. From here, it was all carriage roads to the finish line, and mostly level. I managed to hold the pace for most of the last stretch, enough so that when I crossed the finish line I was ready to hurl.
We warmed up in a room inside the Administration Building, enjoying a spread as wonderful as the one shared at the race today. The Stryders definitely know how to warm up after a snowshoe run. I look forward to running in future snowshoe races.