ARE Adventure race report written by ATRA contributor Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian. Photos courtesy of Josh Merlis.
Forty-eight of us signed up for Josh Merlis’ latest Adventure Running Exchange (ARE) challenge scheduled for December 6th in Upstate New York and the adventure began even before race day. Typically held at the University of Albany’s Warrensburg Dippikill Camp, the venue was relocated at the last minute when the SUNY (State University of New York) administration decided to close the facility because of COVID-19 concerns. Luckily, the Albany Running Exchange has plenty of members who happen to be farmers, so this time we got to explore another farm site in nearby Altamont, New York.
So what makes this an adventure? Isn’t every trail race an adventure? Yes, but not to such an extent. Because we are all good citizens and respect private property rights, we had no idea what awaited us. We knew the distance would range between 4 and 8 miles with no friendly mileage markers. We expected bushwhacking and wet shoes and rutted fields and we got all that and more.
Even our vehicles shared in the adventure, as they had to jockey for a parking spot along rutted and muddied fields. Fortunately, my Sir Thomas was equipped with studs so he handled himself well. It was the driver who had difficulty as I was forced to back into my slot, a maneuver I rarely attempt even in a smooth parking lot, but with the help of Grody, resident farm dog, I finally succeeded.
While we had a brief respite from the Ft. Bragg bibs at Josh’s Hairy Gorilla Half, sustainability was again in force with yet more leftovers. The mission typically starts with a challenge to separate and disorient the runners. This time, I felt like a military recruit in basic training when we were told to spread out in the rice paddy (wheat field) and await the starting gun. Crouching down, I had troubling visions of Viet Cong sharpshooters. It didn’t help that, as the largest military base in the world, Ft. Bragg deployed the most soldiers to Vietnam.
Once started, I began to congratulate myself on selecting the right running kit. That lasted approximately 5 seconds as an icy cold water and mud mixture began to penetrate my shoes. I began cursing myself for ignoring Josh’s directions about wearing hiking footwear and longed for my neoprene socks. At least I had worn my spikes. The terrain was beyond swampy with a growth of tall, spikey reeds and twisty briars. A machete would have been useful.
Remembering that running is 90% mental, I tried to convince myself that my feet would warm up once I emerged from the swamp and got into a rhythm. Neither of which ever happened. Josh also advised safety glasses. The only person who took him up on that was Matt Miczek, who was best-dressed for the occasion, sporting cargo explorer pants and an old windbreaker. His glasses were an early casualty, however, as they kept fogging up due to masking requirements.
It takes a special person to run this type of adventure race, and I’m not sure if it is type of “special” the majority would aspire to. Either that or we were just tired of being virtual cutouts of ourselves and wanted to be real once more. I encountered Jeff Clark (2nd oldest entrant) before the start and he gave me a left-handed compliment when he said, “I thought I was getting too old for this, but then I see you are here, too.” Marcus, Andy and Tim Portuese, ages 8, 9 and 11 represented the opposite end of the spectrum. They were ahead of me and their laughs and shrieks forewarned me about upcoming obstacles.
First dog was Grody who broke trail for his person (was that even fair?), overall winner and farmer, Brian White. Brian drove his cool Bountiful Bread 4-wheel drive vehicle to the event, well-equipped for any race errands. This time, instead of sponsoring the ARE adventure race with sandwiches, he provided the venue, a win/win situation for him because he now has an Indiana Jones-style running trail. I was just trying to survive when I felt a polite nudge on my hip. Fully expecting an elephant’s trunk, I glanced back to see Grody, as polite as can be, asking to pass “on your left,” but not willing to startle me. His person was not far behind. This is when I first began to suspect that the adventure would not end at the finish line, but rather with another full course loop. Thankfully, as I clambered stiffly up the final log embankment, Josh hinted that it would be just fine if I ended my adventure with one loop. My frozen feet were especially grateful.
While this was not the Adirondack experience we were normally accustomed to, it was challenging in its own way and turned out to be an adventure we never could have imagined.
Complete race results can be found on the Albany Running Exchange website.