Brave the Mud

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.


Brave the Blizzard Race Results & Photos

On Saturday 2/24,  37 runners toed the starting line at the AREEP’s annual Brave the Blizzard races in Guilderland’s Tawasentha Park. Both the 5k and 5.5mi courses featured an abundance of slush, slop, mud, and cold puddles. Fred Brooks & Megan Boyak were the first 5k finishers, and Tim Van Orden & Madeleine Fischer took the top places in the 5.5mi. As always, runners were treated to a post-race pancake feast.

Thanks goes out as always to the ever upbeat ARE Event Productions staff and their small army of volunteers for a fun event despite the treacherous, messy conditions.

Race results can be found here.

Race photos can be found on the Albany Running Exchange Facebook page.

And once again, Laura Clark has given us a report on her experience slipping, sliding, and sloshing though the mud and slush.

Definitely EXTREME!

by Laura Clark

This weekend I learned that I am not as tuff as I thought I was. I also learned that cavemen are much stronger than their already brawny appearance might suggest.  Last year I handily survived the Caveman 6K and figured this year I should up the ante to the 15K,   especially with the Nationals Half-Marathon looming ever closer on the horizon.

Make no mistake; I am not new to extreme events, having survived the Peak Snowshoe Marathon ( three times. Peak is nothing to take lightly.  It is home to the 100 mile Winter Snowshoe Ultra not to mention the Winter Death Race.  Located near Killington, the course consists of 6.5 mile loops with 1200 feet of elevation gain per loop.  Nothing to sneer at, but still I found it mentally “easy”  as half of each loop was an uphill slog, topped off with a steep, but totally runnable descent.  I convinced myself that I was only really putting my nose to the grindstone for half of each loop.  It worked.

It does not, however, work for the Stone Bridge Caveman Extreme 15K Snowshoe Race, which features seven major climbs, each punctuated by a fast downhill drop.  At Peak, I was at no time tempted to utter Raven’s Nevermore. Upon stumbling down the final descent at Stone Bridge, I was more than eager to join forces with said Raven.  Shortly afterward, I adjusted my attitude and waffled, “Well, if there is a foot of snow, why not?”  As with childbirth, the pain is quickly forgotten in the glow of accomplishment.  Just so you know, I have three children.

Stone Bridge is a traditional family-owned business that centers around the Stone Bridge Cave, the largest natural cave in the Northeast.  Summer-use cabins, hiking/skiing/snowshoeing trails and guided cave excursions complete the picture.  Owner Greg Beckler is proud to show off his site, telling us all, “Welcome to my backyard.”  Despite the warm spell, all the main trails boasted ideal snow conditions.  Still, I was a trifle worried at registration when I received my own personalized copy of the green 15K trail map.  The same thing happened to me at the first Moreau Trail Race where I spent considerable time investigation alternate routes.

And sure enough, at the first intersection, I chose to head straight ahead instead of turning left as the blue bib (6K) folks were doing.  I even paused, considering, but then spotted a green ribbon just ahead that I assumed justified my choice.  But not for long.  I soon discovered I was ahead of most of the Green Team.  Lance spotted me, gave me a penalty lap and said I was good to go after that.  I figure that I maybe lost a few hundred meters in the process, but as I wasn’t a winner, what did it matter?  Besides, I could just see Lance calculating how much longer the finish line would have to stay open…

The course was a series of intersections, rather like the Camp Saratoga route, but with the added complexity of interweaving blue and green paths.  Despite my mishap, it was extremely well marked with blue and green arrows, ribbon and spray paint.  Another helpful feature was that each participant sported either a bright green or bright blue bib.  So if you saw someone twisting ahead, you could take a mental snapshot of what lay in store.  This happened to me a few times. At one point, Karen Provencher hailed me and I was cheered, projecting I wasn’t that far behind her.  A clear example of muddled thinking at its best.  Try as I might I never did figure out where she was when our paths crossed.  At another point, I spotted a lady far ahead climbing a ledge and wondered where she had come from.  Not anywhere nearby, I soon learned.  It was a dizzying kaleidoscope of runners, all following green and blue trails from highly individual angles.  Next year I intend to study the map, matching the trail names to their sections so that I will have a better idea of where I am in the grand scheme of intersecting lines.  That is, if I can bear to view the section from 10-13K which more closely resembles mapped elevation lines rather than a real trail.

It seemed as if I were the only 15Ker toting water, unless there were some hidden fanny packs.  I was glad I did, but with three blue coolers placed at key intersections, there was plenty of refreshment both coming and going. But with the monochromatic color scheme, it was again dizzying trying to figure out if the current cooler was a new one or an old friend viewed from a different perspective.  Fortunately, there were kilometer markers to help you keep track.  If you had just passed 5K and all of a sudden discovered yourself at 11K you knew something was wrong, or else perhaps you had just blanked out from the stress of climbing.

And speaking about climbs, the final ascent/descent was totally insane. With little snow cover to speak of, I found myself grateful that I had chosen not to wear my Nationals-earmarked racing Dions.  But still, about halfway up I had cause to worry when I spotted a serious sign that proclaimed: “Experts only.  Do not ascend after 2PM. Headlamps mandatory. Far from lodge.” There I was, exhausted, minus the required headlamp.  I knew this should have been the final climb as I had passed the 13K marker.  Still, if I was far from the lodge, was I embarking on a time-warped 13K?

Then, summit at last, and a glorious downhill to look forward to. Except it was more of a downhill slog if that is possible, with little snow cover and twigs weaving in and out of my Dions threatening to trip me up.  More like one of those Hug a Tree trail descents where I was tempted more than once to simply remove my snowshoes for safety’s sake.  The only things holding me back were that (a) I was not coordinated enough at this point to risk bending down and (b) I didn’t want to invalidate my snowshoe race standing.  Greg met me at the bottom, obviously concerned, and provided me with a thoughtful snowmobile escort.  I, for my part, tried not to throw up from the gas fumes.

Knowing what to expect, I know next year I can acquit myself better…or perhaps just run two 6K loops.  Anything to avoid that final descent.  On the plus side, I feel totally ready for the Nationals Half Marathon.  How much more difficult could that be?

—  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 yes, she did just ask how much more difficult the Nationals half marathon can be. Stay tuned for the answer…


On Saturday Feb. 17, 40 sensible snowshoers tackled the challenging 6k course at Natural Stone Bridge & Caves Park in Pottersville, NY, with Christopher O’Sullivan and Karen McGlade capturing the 1st place finishes. At the same time, 21 brave (or foolish!) snowshoers took on the challenge of the 15k EXTREME (caps courtesy of the RD, not me!) course – and survived, with Sam Peckham and Jamie Woolsey claiming the top spots. Having run the tough 6k course last year, I have no doubt that the EXTREME finishers more than earned their bragging rights.

Many thanks to Greg Beckler and his crew of helpers for another great event, and especially for the trail passes provided to all pre-registered runners. This private park is a little-known gem of the southern Adirondacks that deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

Race results can be found here.

The folks at Natural Stone Bridge and Caves Park have made photos and videos available – check out our photos page or following the links below.

prerace photos
start photos
finish photos
start video
trail cam video

And finally, we have Laura Clark’s Stone Bridge Caveman story to complete the coverage of the race.