by Laura Clark
Hudson Mohawk runners might be interested to know that their Tawasthentha Race Series and the Saratoga Stryders’ Camp Saratoga Trail Race Series have a lot in common. In fact, Camp was modeled on Tawasentha when I got tired of taking off from work early so I could drive my daughter and her teammates an hour each way for yearly cross-country rehearsals. As with most light bulb moments, there were glitches. While Camp was a no-brainer for Saratoga locals, as race director, I simply replaced a long drive with race preparation tasks! Still, I was happy to give my friends the opportunity for a similar experience closer to home.
Both events are now on Mondays in August, which is a conflict only for those for whom rush hour driving is a hobby. While there are some retired folks, like Ray Lee, with a foot in both directions, most of us appreciate the dual options. Unashamedly, I copied Tawasentha’s Dollar Store raffle concept, but instead of the last-picked booby trap prize of toilet paper, Saratoga features grout, mostly because that always seemed to be a leftover giveaway from the Silks & Satins Race. Plus, grout lasts forever and is stockpiled happily in my garage. I remember at Tawasthentha the most popular prizes were the food items. I get it, as our crew of high schoolers always earmarked a junk food recharging stop at the nearby gas station. Remembering this, Camp offers watermelon and squeeze ices. The final day at Tawasentha meant a huge celebration cake. I tried this for a while at Camp, but switched to BJ’s cookie platters during COVID. I will never go back, as cookies are self-contained and not prone to melting. Plus, there is no need for a volunteer to fetch said cake and no need to cut down a tree for the requisite paper plates. Our Saratoga store, IRun Local also solicits a variety of shoe and equipment reps who bring shoes and gear for us to try out for size while we race. Real-life testing sure beats a hurried run around the store.
The most memorable feature of the Tawasentha course was the stream, which could at times be fairly deep and swift, necessitating a Western States-style rope crossing. This appeared the year after Vinny Reda (who can’t swim) nearly got swept downstream. My favorite part was the muddy climb up the other side of the bank, where again ropes were the order of the day. Alas, Camp has no stream crossings, but we do have a sizeable swamp, which on rainy years, has to be circumnavigated. And we do have a series of plank bridges—think “slippery when wet.” We also have bees. I remember once at Tawasentha I apparently stepped on a ground bee nest and couldn’t figure out why everyone behind me was shouting. Subsequent races featured a brave (foolhardy?) volunteer posted nearby to warn runners! At Camp I learned that toothpaste is an effective salve for beestings. I wonder who originally discovered that?
As far as timing goes, Tawasentha featured self-timing and index cards where you recorded your time and age. Camp has progressed to chronoprinters and numbered popsicle sticks. I still cringe when I remember the year a young runner burst into tears at the finish because she thought she was going to get a frozen popsicle treat. While there are no formal awards at either, at Camp overall winners and age-graded winners get first pick at the upgraded final raffle which features gift cards from IRun Local as well as free entries to upcoming area races. We have a family award for the family with the most members (including aunts, cousins, etc.) over the span of the five races. In my mind, the most difficult is the Continual Improvement award for those who run faster during each consecutive race. I achieved that once, and it is the most stressful thing I have ever done as the momentum builds relentlessly over the five weeks.
Most notably, both events are series format, meaning you race with pretty much the same folks every week, allowing for friendly rivalries. And the weeknight format doesn’t interfere with summertime weekend mini-vacations. Entry fees are ridiculously low, which encourages family participation and a low-stress feel. What could be better than running in the woods on a summer evening with a group of new and old friends whether in Albany or Saratoga?
Laura is an avid mountain, trail, snowshoe runner and ultramarathoner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.
Click on Laura’s picture to explore her writing