Slippery Slope at Soapstone

This article originally appeared in ATRA’s Summer 2015 Trail Times newsletter.

Slippery Slope at Soapstone – story by Laura Clark (pictured right)

Ever have a disappointing race? Silly question. They are out there just waiting to get you. But one benefit which can’t be immediately appreciated is that the following year you are almost guaranteed a dramatic improvement. Which means that pretty much every race I run this year will be an upgrade. I slashed a whopping eight minutes off last year’s Prospect Mountain Uphill 5.67 miler and this year at Soapstone I sliced an exact hour off 2014’s finish. Which is roughly a half hour and change slower than my average finishing time years ago, during mud years. The change part accounts for the time I lost recovering from a double header—and not the Red Sox kind.

The day began ominously enough as I gradually discarded clothing layers—and Jen Ferriss and I were not driving with the heat on as a 5 AM start might have warranted. On the I-90 rest stop I tried, but failed, to follow the brick trail through the picnic area. This did not bode well. The rest of the journey went well, if you can call driving through a cloud fun, and the flashing light, our warning system to turn right onto Gulf Road, was once more flashing, having taken a vacation last year when we sped blithely through.

Annie settled in nicely at the picnic area with the other vehicles and caught up on all the gossip since snowshoe season. Nipmuck Dave was there with his 50s era hand lettered billboard advertising his Blue Blaze Trilogy—Soapstone, Goodwin Forest and Nipmuck 14 miler. Start was a trifle delayed as the primitive outhouses were roped off, which normally take off the slack from the rental johns. At one point, Scott Livingston strode by, informing me Disneyland-style that from where I was standing, the wait time was approximately one hour. Oh well, what are the woods for after all?

As I cruised the first downhill, I reminded myself not to push it as this was the longest race I had done in quite some time. Actually, I was worried, wondering if last year’s dismal performance was a trend or simply a fluke. While there wasn’t that much mud to slow us, the dry leaves still covering the trail more than made up for it. The route reminded me of Stone Cat where fall foliage disguises rocks and roots. But this was May, with new growth greenery, and not November. The contrast between baby leaves above and paper thin, slippery brown leaves below was disconcerting, out of alignment. I still find it puzzling how dry leaves could behave like a waterslide world attraction.

The journey was impeccably marked with white dots and Shenipsit Strider running pine tree flags for additional inspiration. The only thing that truly puzzled me were three Strider flags standing stiffly at attention with no tricky intersections in sight, but I quickly discovered they were proudly heralding the approach to a most welcome oasis station.

The section that gave me the most difficulty was the stream bed. Granted, it was barely muddy, but simply endless and straight-on boring. Once I got that over with, I revived and started having fun again. But this was a different breed of fun. I felt somehow invincible, like my feet were barely skimming the ground and I was somewhere up above, oblivious to pain, watching my body cover the miles. AHA! My first out-of-body experience! As a neophyte, I had read about Sister Marion Irvine, who at age 54 was the then-oldest woman to participate in the 1984 Olympic Trials, and her out-of-body communes with God and nature. I had figured it was only a matter of time for my turn. Maybe you have to be old…At any rate, thirty years later and I had finally gotten my wish. And it was everything I had hoped it would be. I felt as Super Womanish as Mary Lou White in her magic tee shirt and powerful cape. Running in the heat, but barely noticing, and low on electrolytes, I had finally discovered the magic formula…

When I woke up I was flat on the ground with no idea how I had gotten there. I had tripped while running recklessly down the only smooth stretch of trail on the entire course! I suspect that my umfall was provoked by my new aggressive Mizunos which had a wider edge flare than I was used to. Mary Lou nicely put me back together again and jogged slowly ahead while I recovered. This was the only time I have ever appreciated the final insult uphill—a good excuse to walk. It took me a while to figure out that my right hand was no longer functional and I would have to switch my water bottle grip. But once over the top, I revived and hammered on, probably still in shock.

After Scott Livingston took the obligatory finish line photo, he urged me to sit down so he could practice his first aid. That was a mistake as what I really needed to do was to transition from Super Woman to ordinary mortal. On the drive home, Annie, not being a vegetarian, insisted on refueling, so I headed to the gas station restroom to wash up. I got so dizzy I had to lie down on the floor. But Jen had the perfect solution: instead of using my cold can of coke to ice my hand, I drank it instead. Later, practical scientist that she is, she explained that the floating sensation was caused by the heat that we weren’t acclimated to yet. Logical, but I never really felt uncomfortably hot. I prefer Sister Marion’s more metaphysical approach.

So what did I learn here? When driving three or more hours to a race, it is important to have a buddy to get you back home.  It’s not a bad idea to run near somebody either Jen and I are best friends. I am as old as her mother and my oldest daughter is her age. That says something about the longevity of the running body Out-of-body is fun when you are floating, but no so fun when you are lying on the ground and your mind has wandered off somewhere. My hand is not broken, but feels like it. Naproxen is also my friend.

To learn more about the Shenipsit Stryder events, visit

Photo by Frank A Lombardo