June 2016 - RUNNING & WALKING
By Laura Clark
If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.
-Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
Dorothy has the right idea: vacations do not always live up to expectations. July is an opportune time to ditch the hassle, and trade a destination race for one in your vicinity, since the upstate New York is hosting premier events that have become weekend visitor getaways. And while you are “buying local,” enhance your day by becoming a visitor in your own backyard. Visit that restaurant, swim in that lake, and take a playground excursion with the kids. Don’t be like the city slickers who are too busy cruising to the Bahamas to visit their own Empire State Building!
If you are seeking the three ring circus atmosphere of a major happening, look no further than downtown Saratoga’s Firecracker 4 four-mile race, celebrating its 10th anniversary on Monday, July 4. Under the relentless direction of Peter Goutos and Bob Vanderminden, this event is expected to crest the 4,000 runner mark. Starting from the Saratoga Springs City Center, athletes take a window shopping tour of Broadway and then travel the historic streets on the East Side, encouraged along the route by more than 20 curbside entertainment groups – as well as local residents armed with garden hoses.
Ever mindful of the patriotic aspect of the day, this year the Veteran’s Business Council (of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce) has organized, as Peter puts it, “an event within an event,” with a joint-service military formation starting front and center, singing cadence, and running in step for the first half-mile down Broadway. All will finish their Independence Day tribute under the furls of a giant American flag hoisted by the Saratoga Springs and Greenfield fire departments. Afterwards, be sure to stick around to cheer the future at the new “Firecracker Sparkler” kids’ half-mile fun run, and then enjoy the town-wide parade, barbeque, music and fireworks at this all-day affair.
Not sure you are up to the challenge? Then join Fleet Feet Sports for five Wednesday evening training sessions to set your race day strategy and master the final killer hill. Afterwards, cement new friendships at Peabody’s Sports Bar to earn Asics swag, a chance at head-to-toe Asics gear, or a weekend getaway at The Sagamore Resort on Lake George. And if you have no chance of snagging a top monetary race prize, you can recruit runners for the “Run Your Colors” Team Competition. Teams with the most registered runners earn money for their favorite charity. Visit: firecracker4.com.
At the next Saratoga Staycation stop, you can leave the urban setting at the Saratoga Springs “Strong to Serve” Half Marathon, Relay and 5K, held entirely within the boundaries of the Saratoga Spa State Park on Sunday, July 10. The route is relatively flat, fast, mercifully shaded, and limited to snail’s pace vehicular traffic. The race bookends The Saratoga Palio half marathon on Sept. 18, which travels partially in the park, so Saratoga now boasts two premier halfs! If you don’t feel ready for the “whole” half, there is a 6.6-mile and 6.5-mile two-person relay option, providing a nice progression from Firecracker’s four miles. And with the accompanying 5K run/walk, family and friends are not relegated to the sidelines.
Beforehand, enjoy the unique pack-your-own goodie bag station and afterwards take a well-deserved soak in one of the state park’s two pools. Bring along a picnic lunch, take a nap, and then try your hand at the free disc golf course (see May 2016 issue). Go to: saratogaspringshm.com.
On Saturday, July 23, take inspiration from the thoroughbreds and assemble at Fastig Tipton Pavilion to test your own mettle on a flat and fast route. The 20th anniversary Jeff Clark Memorial Silks & Satins 5K, commemorating my husband Jeff who worked so tirelessly on its behalf, honors the extraordinary efforts of all our Special Olympians who have gained in poise and confidence through this sports program.
The Special Olympics New York logo, which at first glance appears to be a circle of friends, is layered with meaning, as I learned from athlete ambassador, Nate Gerharz. The stick figure’s three sets of arms – lowered, horizontal and raised – symbolize the downward pull of prejudice, the equality of sport, and the rush of accomplishment. This is a figure that could be anyone of us, challenged or not. For major local sponsor, Fleet Feet Sports, and for the first-time, the major international sponsor, Brooks Running, this community of athletes is the real deal.
My favorite part of the event is not the actual race itself, but greeting all the folks who return year after year, to make this a true celebration of the human spirit. I like to imagine myself joined with the horses sprinting through their morning workout on the adjacent Oklahoma Training Track. Afterwards, forget your sense of propriety and become a wide-eyed visitor. Stroll down Broadway, then head to the Saratoga Race Course. Let loose, place a few dollar bets, and cheer on your favorites! And don’t forget to show your appreciation to the backstretch workers who care for these equine athletes by donating your gently used running tees at the registration area. Learn more: silksandsatins5k.com.
After you have enjoyed the local bands at the Firecracker 4, what better way than to ensure the music tradition continues than by supporting the Luzerne Music Center’s sixth annual Move it for the Music 5K Run/Walk on Saturday, July 9 in Lake Luzerne – located just 10 miles southwest of Lake George (Northway Exit 21). Families and runners will enjoy a gently sloping, paved road around picturesque Lake Luzerne, serenaded all the while by performances by LMC’s passionate classical musician campers!
A light breakfast will be served immediately following the race. All proceeds go directly to the Luzerne Music Center scholarship fund, making it possible for talented students to attend camp each summer. Check out: luzernemusic.org.
Join the visitors who flock to the northern Catskills each summer, and test yourself at the Viking Obstacle Race at Sunny Hill Resort in Greenville on Sunday, July 10. As this is an Obstacle Course Racing World Qualifier, plan on arriving early and seeing the elites in action. Not for the faint-hearted, expect at least 35 obstacles carved into the 5.5-mile course. Registration includes Viking T-shirt, finisher medal, lunch, beer/beverage, digital photo downloads, and an after-party.
Everyday athletes can choose team or open competition, and all can expect a 25 burpee penalty for not completing an obstacle – true Vikings can double. This is your opportunity to take a mini-vacation by overnighting at the resort and strolling to your event. Or take a day trip to test out the lay of the land beforehand since most obstacles are permanently set up – in fact, you can train on the course before the race or anytime! Visit: sunnyhill.com.
Journey back in time along the Helderberg Escarpment, the site of HMRRC’s 22nd annual Indian Ladder Trail Runs, with 15K and 3.5-Mile trail races on Sunday, July 31. Located in the John Boyd Thacher State Park, 15 miles southwest of Albany near Voorheesville. The trail follows the route Native Americans traced from their Schoharie Valley homes to the Albany trading post. Indian ladders were built to summit the cliffs viewed at the start of the race, where on a clear day you can see the Adirondacks, Taconics and Green Mountains. But do this viewing before or after you run as the course has its fair share of hills, rocks and roots.
The courses have water/aid stations and are mostly run on a natural surface loop with a few challenging hills. There’s also a One-Mile Kids’ Run, held post-race. Afterwards take the time for a picnic in the Haile’s Cave Picnic Area pavilion, and then explore at a slower pace the multitude of trails that beckon hikers, mountain bikers and rock climbers. If you are lucky, you might find a cave or a fossil embedded in the ancient rock. Go to: hmrrc.com.
With these events, there is no pressure – you can have your race and relaxation all at the same venue!
Laura Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Saratoga Springs is an avid trail runner and ultramarathoner, snowshoer and cross-country skier. She is a children’s librarian at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.