by Laura Clark
As the ARE’s Brave the Blizzard update puts it, “We have been trying to put on a snowshoe race in a blizzard for 14 years now. We’re 0% on that. 50% on having snow. 100% on fun.” And so it goes….
But if you have to run a snowshoe race on mud, this is the place to do it, offering a mix of terrain every bit as challenging as on snowshoes. In fact, two years ago when BTB was also a non-snowshoe event in Tawesentha Park, I ran the 5.5 miler in 1:05. This year I clocked in at 1:18, with the intervening snowshoe year a solid 1:34. This year at Camp Saratoga, in an 8K (4.97 miles), in 15” of snow, I managed 1:21.What do all these statistics mean? I wish I knew. Perhaps it means either that in the course of two years I lost 13 minutes of speed or that the first Tawesentha was significantly easier than the third. It also might mean that snowshoes make things considerably easier, at least for me. I would appreciate any and all interpretations you have to offer.
At any rate, this year’s BTB might go down in history as the only trail race that was actually tougher than a snowshoe race in deep snow. In 2016 I smugly wore my faithful Ice Spikes and proceeded slippage-free. This year was the first time ever that my Ice Spikes came up short, and not in length. The unavoidable remnants of snow were slushy and sticky and clumped to my soles like snowballs, which, of course, they were. Around me, others were reaching similar conclusions. Jamie Howard jettisoned his microspikes early on and after his first fall (of several) wished he had gone with his screw shoes. He felt much better afterwards (mentally, not physically) when I enlightened him with my experience.
About the only person satisfied with his choice of footwear was Matt Miczek, who wore his brand-new Asics Gel Fuji Runnegade 2. (Disclaimer: This is by no means a product endorsement, but notice how I went to such great pains to get the spelling correct). He wore these sneakers stark naked (the sneakers, not him) with no traction devices whatsoever. Matt ran ahead of me throughout the race and while I couldn’t see him, the Asics’ geometrically laid-out triangle pattern was clearly visible, crisp and not listing from side to side like my feet seemed to be doing. Eventually, I gave up thinking and just followed in his unfaltering footsteps.
The 2018 trail was also different from the 2016 trail in that instead of ice sheets which perform well with traction, the course was basically some snow with soggy grass plastered with mud. Think of those greasy, slicked-down Elvis hair styles. Except for the very steep climbs, where the terrain quit fooling around and dished out pure mud. Either way, mud or snow, there is literally no way to train properly for this race unless you set your treadmill at a 70 degree angle sloping to the left. And who runs like that? This sloping occurs twice on the golf course area. Going out it is merely amusing, but on the downhill return it is a different matter entirely. As I write this I am icing (brrr!) my ankle, sore from twisting my right foot inward.
The only consolation was that we weren’t the only ones having difficulty. After the award pies and cookies were distributed and all the pancakes were consumed, the ambulance decided it was time to make a retreat. Except it couldn’t . Mired in mud, it threatened to become a permanent part of the landscape. Fueled by all those pancakes, some macho runners managed to push it back on the road, only to find themselves wishing for yet another pair of clean clothes. Lucky thing there were no actual emergencies.
And so the curtain closes on yet another Brave the Mud. Tune in next year for a possible blizzard—one can only hope!
— Laura Clark is an avid snowshoer, trail runner, XC skier, race director, and 2017 World Snowshoe Federation Championship 70-99 Female Age Group winner.