Twelve miles in, at the foot of Poke-o-Moonshine, I still felt good. The finish of the Patch Sprint was on the summit. A mile and a quarter, with 1280 feet of elevation gain, meant 35 percent grade in places. Time to dig in.
The trail up Poko, as it’s sometimes nicknamed, had been re-routed here and there but I still remembered it. I picked off some runners who’d barreled past me descending Sugarloaf. My goal was to break four hours, and I still had a chance.
Somewhere below the summit, I took a wrong turn and ran out towards a viewpoint, then I had to pick my way back to the trail. That final few hundred meters was where I hit maximum heart rate before bursting out of the trees. There was the fire tower and the finish. But the detour cost me: I missed four hours by two minutes.
The Patch Sprint began in 1996 as a weekend reunion for alumni / alumnae of Camp Pok-o-MacCready, a summer camp in the northern Adirondacks in Willsboro, NY. The eponymous trail half marathon raises money for the Adirondack Scholarship Fund, with which the camp offers scholarships to families of children who can’t pay the full tuition. I never camped there, but friends had camped and/or been counselors there. For the registration fee and an additional donation to the scholarship, non-campers can apply. Wait, can I not only race but also raise money for a good cause? I’m in!
Race morning was partly cloudy with comfortable temperatures. The race was a staggered start: runners going for the overall win had to start at 9 AM; those not going for the overall had to start at 8. I was in the latter group.
In Don’t Look Back, two-time Olympian John Morton discusses how setting multiple goals for an event can help you stay positive and achieve great results. For this race, my multiple goals were to finish ahead of one particular runner; to finish in less than three and a half hours; to finish under four hours; and finally, simply to beat the time the organizers had predicted for me – 4:12.
My race plan was simple: start conservatively, run a steady pace, and have energy to attack on Poko. Poko is the last of four climbs that break up the course. From the camp gate, you run into the woods, up and down Bare Mountain. A bit of road and singletrack takes you across the 1812 Homestead, to Rattlesnake Mountain. Happy to have not seen any rattlesnakes, thank you very much.
Coming off Rattlesnake, we had the first chance to see runners who started at 9 AM and were contending for the overall. Ryan Atkins, an elite obstacle course racer, lead from second place by about 30 seconds. A few miles later, Atkins passed me as we headed towards Sugarloaf Mountain. He’d increased his lead to a solid three minutes.
From the summit of Sugarloaf, it’s a long bushwhack down treacherously steep terrain, marked only with surveyor’s tape. A culvert takes you underneath Interstate 87 to the foot of Poke-o-Moonshine.
To prepare, I used a combination of different workouts. I did distance workouts at an easy heart rate both running and on roller skis – the May weather wasn’t good enough to get out on the bike. Even the long days cross-country skiing during winter contributed to my aerobic base. Once or twice a week, I mixed in shorter workouts where I ratchet up my heart rate to race pace. And once or twice a week, I hit the gym for weightlifting. Running may look like a leg-dominant sport, but it also requires core strength and upper body strength. And don’t forget the all-important rest day.
In the end, I achieved two of my goals. I beat the finishing time the organizers had predicted, and I was really strong on the brutal last mile. And, I finished second in my age group! Although I had some self doubt leading up to the race, it was one of the best I’ve had in my career.
Questions about how to prepare for your next marathon, triathlon, 5k? Don’t hesitate to contact me, I’d love to help!