Cock-a-Doodle-Shoe snowshoe 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 by Jen Ferriss.
Now into its ninth year, the Cock-a-Doodle-Shoe Snowshoe Race at the New Land Trust in Saranac, NY is not for the faint-hearted. In just this short span of time, it has easily garnered a reputation for being the coldest, snowiest race the Dion snowshoe series. It would be difficult to beat the 2018 North American Snowshoe Championship, when my car temperature gauge read -17 Fahrenheit in town, before we even made it to the trailhead. Or 2019, when the battery-operated timer froze as soon as the first 5K finisher crossed the line. Or last year, when a drive through a blizzard served as the warmup activity.
In a weather sense, then, this year was rather a disappointment. Temperatures hovered around 30 degrees F, although the fierce wind did make it seem much colder. On the plus side, it had snowed the day before, giving us perhaps eight inches of fresh snow along with a mixed bag of day-of sleet, snow and sun.
Sir Thomas proudly shepherded me, Maureen Roberts and Karen Costello to the race, being the vehicle of choice due to his studly accessories. We made it down the Interstate 87 Northway just fine, and into the local gas station for some liquid refreshment – Sir Thomas has a small, dainty tank. But then, overconfident, we got lost. Too late, I plugged in my Nuvi (navigation) and she took us on a grand tour of Saranac’s backwoods, turning us onto roads that eluded Google Maps.
But what could we do? We had no idea where we were and my Nuvi is an older, unforgiving model. Meaning she was not prone to the soft purr of the modern-day Alexa. If you screwed up and failed to take her advice, you would be subjected to wrathful disdain. And at this point we couldn’t afford to cross her. So we soldiered on. Karen and I were concerned about making it to the race on time, but Maureen, in the driver’s seat is known to take optimism and enthusiasm to competitive levels. She was thrilled to be viewing snowy Adirondack scenery seldom seen by folks pursuing their regular Garmin routes.
One of the charms of Saranac, New York is that it is a steadfast supporter of the concept of kids’ snowshoe racing. Not only that, but Race Director Jeremy Drowne places his kids’ event on an equal level of importance to the 5K and 10K to follow. Youngsters line up at 10am and the 5K and 10K are advertised to start whenever the kids’ event is completed. So FOMO (fear of missing out) compels everyone to stand around and cheer the kids. This year, there were nine finishers in this family affair and among the onlookers were a Dad packing a two-month-old and a lady who intended to hike the 5K at eight months pregnant.
Thus inspired, we began the half-mile warmup to our start and dutifully positioned ourselves amid orange flags placed at socially distant intervals. I glanced admiringly at Jeremy’s flags with their longer-than-usual metal staffs. Definitely not the standard Tractor Supply variety, but made for serious snow. And then we were off, heading into an Adirondack forest whose paths were tunneled by snow-laden branches. Runners quickly found their own pace and it was not long until most of us were totally alone in a winter landscape painting. I thought I knew the course pretty well. I remembered the steep, narrow downhill where one icy year I unashamedly slid on my butt. But surprisingly, totally forgot about the steep uphill that preceded it and figured they had changed the course. Sort of like childbirth—you forget all the really tough parts.
But for me, the worst (read boring) section was circling the fence around the orchard. It is totally exposed and wind-whipped, with just enough upward slant to make you feel guilty for hiking it. I did anyway, rationalizing that it was time for an energy gel. My favorite section is oddly as it is the mile-long Zen Trail loop. This comes at the almost-end, just when you sense that the barn is near and the last thing you desire is a detour. But the beautiful, remote single track is totally worth it. If you are hunting for a negative split, this would be a good race to select as the first 5K is considerably tougher than the last.
Because of COVID protocols, the warming hut was shuttered and the wood stove was merely ornamental, but as the day was mild, this did not matter. Next year, we look forward to that warm fire as well as the Darn Tough Vermont sock giveaways for which this challenging race is famous.
Complete results from the 2021 Cock-a-Doodle-Shoe Snowshoe Race can be found on the race website.