Trifecta Finish to 2019 Snowshoe Season

The following snowshoe race report was written by Laura Clark. Laura is an avid mountain, trail and snowshoe runner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.

As I was finishing my loop, I glanced up and noted that Emily Stanton, the Gore Mountain Snowshoe Race Director was just taking off for her 3K. In typical fashion I thought, “I could double up and join her for a slightly warmer cool down.” Fortunately, I remembered Sunday’s commitment and reigned in my enthusiasm. But next year our Stryder group has already planned to bring our skis and take full advantage of our race day trail pass.

On Sunday Matt and I gave my car, Sir Thomas, a break and piled a superabundance of gear into his vehicle. In retrospect we should have taken Sir Thomas, with his serious studs, as we encountered unexpected snow squalls during the final haul up to the Merck Forest & Farmland Center outside of Dorset, VT. Mentally, I revised my clothing options, glad I had not packed frugally. We arrived at the Sap House in time to see the 50Kers complete either their first long pull up Mt. Antone or the tagalong “baby” loop which we would soon learn was anything but babyish.

We were greeted warmly by Nor’East Trail Runs event organizers Eliza and Adam, who issued us a mandatory survival kit: hand warmers, laminated map and a space blanket. While I should have felt reassured that I had these items on my person, this fact did little to alleviate my pre-race nerves. Normally, I mostly worry about selecting an optimum clothes combination, but this brought home the fact that tackling a 3.5 mile ascent into the Taconic Mountains, with some grades at 45% and over 4,000 feet of total elevation gain was serious business.

I have completed PEAK Snowshoe Marathon three times, with a net elevation gain of approximately 8,000 feet, but that was in the beginning of the decade. PEAK no longer exists and has been replaced by FRIGUS in the same Killington, Vermont area. Still, with the promise of similar elevation, I was hoping for a comparable format at Merck. PEAK consisted of four 10K loops, half up, half down. For me, this made it an “easy” marathon because at the beginning of each new round I knew I had only to trudge upward three miles and then enjoy a mostly runnable descent. The tricks you mind plays to get you through this stuff!

At first glance upward at Old Town Road, it appeared as if I might expect a similar journey. We soon turned onto beautiful woodsy single track for a doable ascent. Except then we started to head downwards…Had I reached the top and failed to stop and enjoy the view? Not likely. After a bit the trail steeped upward once more, this time into deep snow where the trick was to mimic your neighbor’s footsteps. Those climbers lucky enough to discover a match were more fortunate than I who found myself struggling in the wake of different-sized paces. At the steepest point (natch) Matt and I ran into each other as he was cautiously descending and I was posting upward. We met at the same savior tree and gave it a grateful hug. As Matt watched me go, I demonstrated the climbing technique I had invented at PEAK: Keep your free hand ready to latch onto any and all puller trees and dig your water bottle into the snow to provide an extra point of contact. It worked great for balance, meaning for all intents and purposes I was crawling rather than running upright. Oh well, at least I didn’t fall down backwards…

Like many Adirondack Mountains, the Mt Antone Taconic version features a false summit. From a nearly prone position I glanced up (something you are not supposed to do when “running” up a mountain as it is very discouraging). I saw: A Summit! All too soon, I discovered it wasn’t the correct summit but it did speed me up a bit. After a much easier, but still considerably slanty journey through frosted trees from the screen set of Frozen, I did pause to enjoy the view and eat some of my peanut butter and cheese crackers, which contained so much fat and salt and other bad-for-you artificial ingredients there was no way they could possibly freeze. Currently, I am reading Running Beyond, by Ian Corless with otherworldly photography and scary course descriptions of the world’s iconic Skyrunning races. While Mount Antone was not a mountain with attitude, I truly felt as Skyrunners must: suspended between earth and sky, floating somewhere in the clouds encased inside a private adventure bubble.

Coming back down to earth, I descended the Old Town Road once more, providing a source of entertainment for puffy cloud-like formations of bleating sheep. At this point I felt like latching onto one and using it as a pillow, but with the thought of the baby loop to come, I refrained. Matt and I shared a dropbox at this juncture and I gleefully jettisoned my water bottle for an unencumbered few kilometers. I helped myself to his applesauce pouches, another product that does not freeze under duress and threaten a huge dental bill. On the way out, I met Blue Jacket Lady, who was looking pretty discouraged. This puzzled me as she had just completed the baby loop. Then I started downward and still downward on a nice woodsy trail and I got it. What goes down must go up. Mentally that was more difficult than climbing the mountain which I had fully expected to be there.

Round 2: As I ticked off each milestone, I kept on telling myself, “Done! I won’t have to do that one again.” On the way back as I traversed the ridge-line, I approached a time warp where the tree-lined precipice and huts below looked exactly like those seen at PEAK during a similar juncture in the race. At what point do all races start to look the same? This happens to me a lot and I would be curious to know if it does to others also, or if it is simply my mind’s way of dealing with stress. Then, another applesauce, another not so babyish baby loop and another stretch across bare Arctic farmhouse tundra populated by draft horses and warm birds cheerfully chirping in the barns, and I was DONE! Usually at the end of races, you get a warm afterglow feeling that enables you to stay out and cheer on new arrivals, but not here. The tundra did me in and I headed directly towards the Sap House and parked myself in front of the heat blower.

When I came to, I was surprised to discover that not only did I earn a vial of finisher’s maple syrup, but a larger carafe for women’s winner of the 25K. I was actually the last woman standing as others had dropped. I may not be fast but at least I proved I can stick it out. Not only that, in the raffle that I was not present to win due to the fact that I was still running, Adam and Eliza were gracious enough to set aside my free entry to their August Lost Cat half, full or 50K. I am so excited to return for a Nor’easter summer event!

A day later, at Gore Mountain, Matt and I finally got to do our cool down. After all, who wants to cool down after running for hours? We were both surprised that post-event euphoria carried us through, with Matt pulling off his fastest time of the series. So much for the cautionary tale about resting days, months, years, after major efforts. By the next day, however, reality caught up and it was all I could do to make it through a workday. But by stringing together a stage race like this one, we topped off 2019 with a trio of events we will long remember and feel proud of.