by Laura Clark
Only when Christine Bishop asked me to describe my five favorite races of 2022 did I realize that 2022 was already half over and now we are halfway to 2023! As you might anticipate, my favorite races would probably not be your choices, as I tend to opt for unusual and challenging events. But even if this is not you, it could be you. Next year you might want to consider something more outside of the box.
My first two choices are pretty much a tie: Frigus 15K Snowshoe Race at Moreau State Park and the USATF 6.4 Mile Mountain Championship at Whiteface Mountain. Both these competitions were my designated stretch events for the season: Frigus for snowshoe and Whiteface for mountain trail. Frigus also featured a 5K, Marathon, Kids’ Mile…and a 36 hour ultra. So… I could have been even more extreme had I chosen. If you have ever raced at Moreau, you can appreciate that whatever route you undertake will be tough and demanding, with plenty of steep ups and downs. Not to mention that the 15K loop boasted 2300 feet of elevation. This year I got smart and brought along newly purchased hiking poles, which helped especially on icy downhills. As a slower runner, I always appreciate events where I encounter fellow human beings and the multiple race format ensured that I did. I also liked the fact that with a 10-hour marathon cutoff on the same loop course, I was pretty much guaranteed a finish. Best of all though, is the dramatic finale across frozen Moreau Lake. This is one instance where spotting the finish from way at the other end of a seemingly endless lake is a good thing as it prolongs the picture postcard effect. https://www.endurancesociety.org/frigus
The USATF Mountain Championship, featuring 3700 feet of elevation gain and loss, was so far beyond a stretch event for me that even elastic would have been no help. Our route up Whiteface was both on rocky or muddy access roads and bushwhacked, suicidal black diamond ski trails that were evidently enjoying a vacation from a frenetic winter tourist season. Grass was high and lent a false sense of security to occasional narrow precipices. It was exciting to meet all the local and National class runners, and the lollipop route afforded us average folks an amazing glimpse of fearless elities with their feet flying over impossible terrain, barely making surface contact. Which was probably the best way to approach something this difficult. This initial foray was a learning experience for me. There were many things I could have done better, but still I am grateful for the eye-opening experience. https://trailrunner.com/trail-news/tabor-hemming-andy-wacker-win-usatf-mountain-running-championships
I tend to like series events, the type where folks come together every week and really get to know each other. It is a great way to form more in-depth friendships and there is nothing like knowing who is going to show up. If it is pretty much the same group and trail every week, you have already eliminated a significant source of pre-race jitters and are freed to just enjoy. My winter favorite is the Gore Mountain Ski and Snowshoe Series at the Gore Ski Bowl. I begins at 6PM on either a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday (stay tuned for next year’s chosen day). Extremely low-key, participants can skate or Nordic ski or snowshoe a series of loops up to almost 3 miles. As this is a ski course, expect fun ups and downs. https://goremountain.com/the-mountain/about-the-ski-bowl My other favorite isn’t always technically a race (figure that one out) -- the Saratoga Stryders Monday Night Trail Runs. We meet at a different trailhead each Monday evening, with information posted on Facebook a few days before. We have a variety of options for those who want to run longer or shorter and those who are more interested in hiking. We try to keep together in our groups with a leader who knows the trail. This is a great way to safely explore areas that may not be familiar to you. We culminate with August Mondays at the casual Camp Saratoga Trail Race 5K series, with actual timing, making it as real as you want it to be. www.saratogastryders.org
Lastly, I have always enjoyed the Garnet Hill 5K Snowshoe Race, timed and designed by Bob Underwood. Each year he adds on more twisty, wooded portions, making the route sort of the same but sort of different. This year stood out for me. Having just been released from COVID quarantine, I was way too eager to resume my life as I had previously known it and was reduced to hiking and gasping up all the hills. Still, it was great to be outdoors and enjoy the final snowshoe race of the season. Fittingly, Matt Miczek and I got stuck on the icy drive up to the Lodge, but on the way back, that same road hosted numerous small rivulets of ice melt. Made it just in time! https://www.garnet-hill.com .
Truth be told, I could have mentioned every single race I did so far this year, as I have enjoyed them all for their uniqueness and camaraderie. But that is the way it should be.
Laura is an avid mountain, trail, snowshoe runner and ultramarathoner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.
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