Thursday, March 28, 2013

Race Report: Through the Mist at Moby Dick

Story by Laura Clark - originally published in ATRA's Trail Times Newsletter - Volume 18, Number 63 - Spring 2013

Photo from

Since it was first published in 1851, Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick has come to symbolize everyman’s quest for something beyond day-to-day trivia, a reach outside the box toward a larger justification. And while it seems ridiculous to tagline such a quest onto a mere race, on February 23, 2013, the branding was entirely appropriate.

The Moby Dick Snowshoe race is based out of the Lanesboro Visitor’s Center on Mount Greylock, the largest mountain in Massachusetts. The sheer girth of this mountain is so vast that there are entrances and trailheads shooting off from various surrounding towns. It is said that while sitting in his house in
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Herman Melville gazed upward at Greylock’s snow-covered profile and imagined the great white whale breaking the sea foam in the misty ocean swells. Hence, the name for this particular Western Mass Athletic Club/Dion Snowshoe Series 7.5-mile race.

Those of you who have snowshoed recognize that 7.5 miles is a long way to run up and down a mountain. A lot can happen. And as with any mountain race, there were many surprises along the way. Some of us were old hands; others were attempting their first snowshoe race. We won’t go into questioning why anyone would pick such a challenging event for a first: it is all part of the quest mentality. Others had the usual time/distance race goals. One had more a complex cumulative goal.

Those on the most telling quest weren’t even there. As we all know, the most significant aspect of any trail event is the weather. This is even more so over an expansive space like Greylock, which lumbers through multiple ecosystems. Last year, we braved below-zero blizzard conditions and furious snow squalls which kept even our faithful greeter, the white lab Aspen, anchored closely to the Visitor’s Center. This year was a balmy thirty degrees without a trace of the usual wind chill. So our main concern was not overdressing after enduring weeks of negative degrees. But once again, Lady Greylock foiled our expectations.

At the three-quarter-mile mark we turned off the snowmobile trail and Into the Woods. There we encountered foggy mist, a Greylock trademark. Those who figured going up meant getting colder despite the strenuous climb had properly guessed the clothes/energy ratio. Others, like Jess Dockendorff and her friend the Mystery Runner bib #375, pursuing their first snowshoe race, hit widely varying spokes on the pilot’s helm. Mystery Runner — dressed in shorts — remained firmly optimistic and in fact finished in the top third. Dockendorff, however, while dressed sensibly, neglected to carry any fuel, figuring she was fast enough to finish well beyond the depletion zone. She was not so fortunate in her lottery attempt. After summiting second woman overall, she gradually bonked on the supposedly fun downhill. When I encountered her, she was weaving back and forth, grabbing trees for support. Not a good sign. Luckily, I had some extra Clif Shot Bloks to share and I knew Joanne Lynch, who was just behind me, had water. I knew this because she had previously shared some with me. Yes, I know, I should have carried water, but figured I could always eat snow.

We all regrouped at the Visitor’s Center sopping wet and shivering—more so than on any of the minus-degree days. Go figure. Must have been something about the Lady’s misty aspect, or her insistence on elevating even ordinary requests to extraordinary undertakings. The beauty of her frost-whiskered trees did not come without a price. While Dockendorff was shivering on the verge of hypothermia, those treating her in their own wet clothing were not much better off. Dr. Maureen Roberts’s lips slowly turned blue and she had to hurriedly change before she became the next victim. It is a definite asset to have a doctor on call and Dr. Roberts has served us well during several races this season.

Despite this close call, the Lady also revealed a trickster sense of humor. Jeff Clark, on his quest to complete his 100th snowshoe race before winter vanished, embarked wearing a monkey on his back. This was not a spur-of-the moment goal or monkey, but one Clark and I revisited every night at the dinner table as we totaled past races, factored in snow probability and did all sorts of scary math equations. Originally, he had thought it would be special to celebrate with his half marathon at the Peak Snowshoe races in Pittsfield, Vermont, but in light of this winter’s erratic weather patterns, decided to steer determinately toward the great white whale. And he was not disappointed. At registration Sweep Voll presented him with a sweet pink-and-white sock monkey affixed on his back, guaranteeing him safe passage.

I swear Lady Greylock laughed, so hard in fact that she got into his mind. Jeff, who had started out early, envisioned +Tim VanOrden passing him as he did his best Brer Rabbit imitation falling into the brambles. The catch was that Jeff had no idea there was a briar patch on the course or that TiVo would be passing him at that exact second. But there was, and he did. Shocked to see his dream world become reality, Clark pitched forward into the underbrush, eager wires entwining themselves around his snowshoes and anchoring him to the spot. Served him right for not initially targeting Moby. This year Edward Alibozek, a history buff who likes to design trails with tales, changed the route slightly to circle Rounds Rock and come close to the remains of a 1948 plane wreck and the monument to the pilot who lost his life. The aviator was John Newcomb, a World War II Army Air Corps radioman who crashed his twin-engine Cessna while on a mail run to Albany, NY.

Now here is the backstory. Recently, when one of our Saratoga Stryders members, Lisa Ippolito, was sorting through her deceased mother’s belongings on the day before her funeral, she happened upon a packet of love letters and newspaper articles. They were from John Newcomb, her mother’s fiancĂ©. Completing the love story, her mother was to be buried the following day on Newcomb’s birthday. Immediately after the race, we texted  ppolito to tell her we had located her mother’s fiancĂ©’s memorial and now knew the exact route to get there! Apparently, Lisa and her sister had no idea of her mother’s romance before she became Mrs. Ippolito. I would like to think that even when she realized she was dying of cancer she preferred to keep this part of her life private, leaving a legacy for Ippolito and her sister Tina to explore further. Ippolito and her sister will make their own Moby Dick quest this spring, confronting an astute Lady who knows how to keep a secret and cherish the past.

Results, video and photos from the Moby Dick Snowshoe Race can be found on the Western Mass Athletic Club website:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Trail running: How to get started

Photo by Dave Thomason (Bend, Oregon)

You’ve read a few things about trail running and even had a few friends tell you a thing or two about the sport, but you are still apprehensive about giving it a try. A few tips and suggestions (in no particular order) may be just what you need to get you to the closest trail head for your first adventure on the trails.

Tip: Identify a trail
Consult your local city, municipal, or county parks and recreation department, the U.S. Forest Service, a specialty running store, or the Internet for trails in your area. Look for trail race calendars and select a trail race in your area, visit the website, and download the map. Trail races are excellent courses to consider for runs on your own, plus you may like the course so much that you enter the race.

Tip: Think time not mileage
Running three miles on the roads may take you 24 minutes while three miles on trails could take you twice as long depending on the elevation changes and the terrain. It is best to plan your run in terms of time, not distance, so that you don’t head out for a run that is beyond your capabilities.

Tip: Keep your eyes on the trail underfoot
Most trail running injuries occur when a runner glances upward for a split second and immediately is on the ground with a sprained ankle, twisted knee, or bruised hand. To enjoy the view…stop running and look around you. Unless you are stopped, or the trail is completely void of rocks, gravel, tree roots, leaves, ice, or cactus, watch where you are going. Know what the terrain is like under your footfalls. Pay attention to the trail.

Tip: Dress appropriately
Always be prepared for what the conditions are, or what they might become. If you are heading out for a 20 minute run, chances are the conditions will remain similar to those at the start of the run throughout the run. However, if you are venturing out for a run of more than one hour consider what the conditions might become. You may start in the sunshine only to experience a dramatic change in weather 90 minutes into the run. What was once bright sunshine is now a sky covered in clouds with thunder rolling in the distance. Hopefully you have carried a wind jacket, tights, or a cap to keep you warm for the run back to your start point.

Tip: Know the route
Either take a map with you on an unfamiliar route, or run with someone who knows the area (a great idea for your first trail run is to run with someone and get tips about technique). Getting lost is certainly a possibility especially if you are in a new area, on a new trail, or trying a different route you’ve never tried before. If you are by yourself, let someone know where you plan to run, or leave a note in your car at the trail head that describes the route you intend to run. Safety in numbers is something to consider and running with a friend not only gives you company, but also provides support should you get injured on a run.

Tip: Consider the terrain
For your first trail run, start out with a relatively flat to rolling course. Don’t attempt to run up a 14,000-foot peak your first time out the door! Gradually add more elevation, more distance, and more challenge to your run. Challenge can come in terms of footing, steepness of the trail (either ascending or descending), or greater altitude. When you are running uphill be sure to use your entire foot as opposed to running on your toes. Roll through the ball of your foot. Toe runners often have screaming calves at the summit of an ascent. On downhill sections avoid using your breaking muscles and slow down in order to save your quadriceps. You can also you a “traversing” technique on very steep downhill sections similar to a novice skier weaving from right to left across the width of the trail.

Tip: Think hydration and nutrition
Drink and eat before your run, during your run, and after your run. The amount you eat and drink will vary based on the duration of your run. If you are going out for a run under 90 minutes, a single water bottle may be all you need. However if it is extremely warm, you may need to consider some electrolyte replacement. Anything beyond two hours and you should supplement with some nutrition as well.

Tip: Invest in a good pair of trail running shoes
Your seven ounce racing flats may be the perfect shoe for your 5km road race, but won’t be a good choice for the trails. A shoe with good support, stability, gripping potential, and comfort is essential for the trails. There are numerous trail shoes on the market ranging from light and quick (those that are appropriate for short uphill runs), to midweight and reinforced (appropriate for longer runs with more gnarly terrain), to heavy and extremely stable (appropriate for short, rocky, ever-changing terrain). A good all-purpose trail shoe is one that is a good transition shoe, one that will perform well on short sections of road as well as the trails. There are few people who live right next to a trail head so it is helpful to select a shoe based on where you will be doing most of your trail runs.

Enjoy yourself and set achievable goals. For more about trail running visit

Article originally published July 2010 by Nancy Hobbs - Executive Director - American Trail Running Association

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Defining our sport - mountain running

Trail and mountain running have been categorized using several elements to include terrain/surface, elevation (gain or loss), and distance.

Trail running the Grand Canyon - Photo by Jared Scott

In the United States, mountain running and trail running are often used interchangeably and in most cases, refer to the same type of running in terms of terrain, elevation changes, and running surface. Since mountain runs are often contested on trails – either single track or double track – the trail running term fits quite well.

2012 World Mountain Running Championships - Photo by Richard Bolt

Some mountain runs are staged on paved, or semi-paved surfaces, but must still have significant (uphill) elevation gains to be considered mountain runs – this is one element of mountain running that distinguishes the sport from trail running. The Mt. Washington Road Race is a perfect example.

Joe Gray at Mt. Washington - Photo by Richard Bolt

From an historical perspective, trail running dates back to the 11th century when the first recorded hill races were contested in Scotland. Conducted on unpaved paths, trail running – like hill running – challenges participants with elevation changes, variable terrain, natural obstacles, and environmental conditions such as weather and erosion. Other types of off-road running include fell running which is the British equivalent of trail running; Skyrunning, which encompasses races held at or above 6,000 feet with significant climbs over rocks, grass, dirt, and sometimes snow and ice; and cross-country running. Each share common traits with the niche sport of mountain running.

2003 World Mountain Running Championships - Photo by Richard Bolt

For those interested in competing in trail or mountain races, the American Trail Running Association posts a comprehensive calendar of events on their website, both national and international in scope.

USA Track&Field will host six trail championships in 2013 and one mountain running championship.

Article originally published July 2010 by Nancy Hobbs - Executive Director - American Trail Running Association

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Inaugural trail running conference announced

For the first time, trail runners will have a conference dedicated to their “sport.” The Inaugural Estes Trail Ascent will be held June 20-22, 2013, in Estes Park, Colorado, at the world-renowned Stanley Hotel.

The conference will include break-out sessions and seminars led by experts in their respective fields. Topics to be covered range from trail shoe and gear development, training advice, nutrition and hydration to the future of the sport. Developing trail running in communities as well as stewardship of the trails will be discussed.

Running camp fun in Estes Park - Photo credit: Terry Chiplin

According to Conference Director Terry Chiplin, “Trail runners have been attracted to the Estes Park area for many years by the incredible natural beauty, temperate climate, and clean air of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Many come to challenge or establish new records on the mountain trails. One of the most respected is the Longs Peak Trail, rising to 14,255 feet from the trail head below. Longs Peak dominates the Front Range skyline, and has been a test trail for local and visiting athletes for decades with many incredible records being set. Colorado-based trail runners like Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Nick Clark and current FKT holder Andy Anderson, often come and run the mountain trails in the area.

“The Estes Park trail running community is especially excited to host the conference in June, as this is an opportunity to showcase our beautiful environment and to share it with many others who have yet to experience the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains. We know that everyone who comes will leave a part of their soul behind when they depart. Of course a return trip to Estes Park will recharge the spirit and visitors will again be inspired by the beauty of trail running and nature at its very best.”

The conference culminates in a trail race on Pole Hill, Estes Park, on Saturday, June 22 2013, starting at 9:00 a.m. The 2nd annual Estes Trail Ascent Trail Race is a 5.8-mile course over challenging mountain terrain with more than 1,800 feet of elevation gain. Participants will enjoy majestic mountain views, and clean, crisp air. The race is followed by a cookout at Ravencrest Chalet. Registration is limited so enter early to secure your spot in the race. Registration is open at this link.

For details on the conference and to register visit this link.

Story by Nancy Hobbs - Executive Director - American Trail Running Association