by Laura Clark
Four of us –Jessica and Brian Northan, Matt Miczek and I regarded this doubleheader weekend (3/3-3/4) as a prime opportunity to test how we would persevere on back-to-back shifts of Nationals snowshoe races. Rather like those Regents practice exams your teachers would throw at you in June in anticipation of school glory. While that didn’t always work, sparking more anxiety than deep-seated confidence, the four of us were still willing to take a practice run. Jessica and Brian impressively tagged a few extra hours of low-impact cross training by utilizing the free Garnet Hill ski pass all registrants got with their entry fee. The rest of us were simply too tired.
Saturday’s race at Garnet Hill presented the 10kers with a three loop challenge and others with a 3.5K or 7K option. Since this was possibly Garnet’s first time on the snowshoe circuit most of us had no idea what to expect and indeed many of us had never visited this cross-country ski area. I say possibly because I have vague memories of Tony Mangano organizing a race there in the mid-90’s utilizing newly opened wooded trails, but I could be mistaken. That’s one of the shortfalls of having been at this for so long, way before internet documentation.
At any rate, we were presented with the usual advantages/disadvantages of any loop course. First, you could only get lost once. Which in this case wouldn’t have happened anyway as the course was that well-marked. This format also enables you to regard the first go-through as a test case, scouting out places to speed up and sections that would require a more judicious approach. So, theoretically, the final round could be your fastest. I had a less ambitious goal: not to get lapped by the mid-packers. And, to complete my victory I only got lapped once by Brian and Tim Van Orden. Truthfully, Tim lapped me twice, once going and once after winning, when he ran the route backwards. But that doesn’t count, at least not in my personal rule book.
The course, a wide corduroyed groomed trail, furnished a scenic view of the Adirondack Forest, freshly dressed in newly fallen snow. As with most cross-country venues, there were plenty of ups and downs to keep the skiers happy, as well as a deceptive uphill near the end of the loop that never seemed to end. But after the first go-round, you almost looked forward to tackling it as a hopeful sign that yet another loop would soon be completed.
It was touch and go with snow cover up until the big storm the day before. But this is March after all and the next day mild temperatures prevailed, softening some spring-runoff sections and causing some of us to post hole. I found that rather odd, as even the haphazard collection of trails out my back door has homemade admonitions warning those without skis or snowshoes to stick to the non-groomed sections to avoid this very factor. I had never seen snowshoes post holing before! The folks at Garnet Hill were gracious and most enthusiastic about hosting more races in the future. It will be exciting to have more opportunities to venture farther into those tempting woods!
On Sunday, we traveled to Capital Hills Golf Course, the new venue of the Capital Region Northern Alliance (CRNA) whose mission it is to promote the Nordic sports of cross country skiing, biathlon, orienteering and snowshoeing. Previously, they had hosted snowshoeing events for us at Hilltop Orchards and Pine Ridge XC. What you may not know about this group is that they have also dedicated themselves to training Paralympic athletes, including many veterans who sacrificed their health in defense of their country. Some of these very same athletes are be competing in the Paralympics in Korea. Active in their group is our own Curt Schreiner, Olympic Biathlete, who participates every year in our Camp Saratoga Trail Race series along with his family members.
Despite the recent snow, just two days later, much had melted, leaving us with sloppy conditions that still managed to hold up nicely. We traced a challenging circle up, over, around and through the golf course’s hills with views of happy kids on sleds to cheer us on. Afterwards, we enjoyed hot chocolate and shared stories.
And what about our intrepid future half marathoners? The Northans won first place beers and a large dose of future Nationals confidence. As for Matt and I, while we initially felt pretty good, we struggled during the final mile and as a result hatched a workable half marathon plan: we would hike all inclines and save our energy for the flats and downhills. Hope that works!
— Laura Clark is an avid snowshoer, trail runner, XC skier, race director, and 2017 World Snowshoe Federation Championship 70-99 Female Age Group winner. And since Nationals were last weekend she now has the answer to the question of just how much more difficult the Nationals half marathon could be. Stay tuned…