ARE Adventure Race; or, really real trail running.

by nomeatbarefeet

Dippikill Pond

Over the river (bogs and streams)
And through the woods (not to mention up and over that boulder covered hill)
To grandmothers house we go (but why is her house on the other side of that ravine?)

If you are wondering what the ARE Adventure Race consists of here is a good metaphor: walk outside your house, look for the most heavily wooded area you can find, now run through it. In 27 degree weather. In the snow. Now do it uphill. Now do it with wet feet. Now do it for an hour.

That’s basically what Katie and I found when we showed up at the Dippikill Wilderness retreat Saturday afternoon (which, I just found out, is owned by SUNY Albany; that means Katie and I can rent a cabin up there!). An hour and a halfish drive north of Albany, the surroundings are gorgeous. On an 800 acre area, you are in the Adirondacks no doubt about it. The registration was inside one of the main retreat buildings, The Farmhouse. Used bibs from previous races were handed out for our numbers (great idea); we used the bathrooms and then jogged around a bit until the race was to start.

One other point of note: we decided to run this in our Bikilas and not our Merrells. Katie was actually the one who was set on this. I had been thinking all week about running in my Trail Gloves, but the morning of the race she mentioned that she was going to run in the Bikilas, and the more we talked about it I thought, “Why not? Why do I think that I cannot do this?” No good response came to mind, so we went ahead with it. That’s my wife, always one step ahead:)

The Start Two things about this race: (1) No one has prior knowledge of the actual distance. Its usually 4-8 miles in length, but none of the volunteers know exactly how far it is. (2) This race is known for its unusual starts. One year everyone started in the bathrooms; another year everyone started in their cars and had to wait for an air horn. This year we were told to sit on the ground with our feet out straight…then we had to all take our shoes off.

The Race In actuality, the instructions are quite simple: follow the pink ribbons wherever they go until you end up back at the start. Katie and I had agreed that we would run this together—it would be more about the experience of running and finishing than of trying to achieve a certain time (why bother??). So after we got our Bikilas back on we headed around to the back of the white building to the start of the race. Most of the run (I’d say the first half or so) was run single lane, single file, as there really was no place to go. If you really wanted to have a good time then you made sure you got to the front of the pack at the beginning, or else you were pretty much stuck.

Don’t let the below pictures deceive you: these were really steep sections with very treacherous footing: lots of mud, rocks, roots and leaves. And yes, that is Shrek in front of us. Surprisingly quick, we never passed him. Who would have thought?

I tried to hand the camera off to Katie every once in a while, though that did prove a bit tricky. The terrain really varied: we descended into ravines and climbed up boulder strewn hills; but then we would hit flat patches of actual groomed trails! It was blissful to find yourself on 100 yards of root free running. We also hit a couple bogs that lead to ankle deep water. Mostly, though, we were quite warm. The problem came when we had to stop and walk for long sections. That dropped our body temps, and left our hands and feet aching. Also, towards the end of the race the winds picked up, dropping the temperature and making things a bit more challenging.

Of course we also hit some beautiful areas around Dippikill Pond. I had to stop and take a few shots. Despite the craziness of the conditions it was one of the most amazing runs we have ever done. The Adirondacks are truly a special place, and to get to run through sections that are largely untouched and fully grown with wildlife is a rare treat.

The last quarter of the race found us getting off track a number of times. The course would take a sharp turn, or go up a tree and over a giant rock, and we would be looking at our feet and miss the flags. We were running in a small pack of runners, and this forced all of us to backtrack a number of times. Then, this is funny, we hit a hill. Ok, it was more than a hill. The slope had to be more than a 45 degree angle; it was, by now, solid mud, with very little places to latch onto. This was the perfect time to snap a picture!

I think the narrative goes like this: I am saying to myself, “Don’t drop the camera.” Katie is saying, “Cuss this hill!” Our priorities are a bit off.

Well we finished in about 1:38:30. And the distance? About 5.5 miles! That leaves our pace at almost 18 minutes per mile! What?! Even the leader finished in 56 minutes or so, which means he wasn’t running less than a 10 minute mile. Crazy to think about. After the race we warmed up in one of the lodges, next to a roaring fire; ate some veggie burgers and cussed ourselves for not bringing a beer.

We had to have a post-race photo shoot, as well.

Final Thoughts This was probably the most fun we have had running. It was cold; wet; we were sore and tired; but we did this together, and we finished. It was a blast. No doubt we will do this again next year, and for $10 its a steal of a race. The only thing I might do different is bring our own food and drink, so that we can have a few more options. ARE was great in preparing some veg-options, but we can help by bringing more. Other than that this was a super race and lots of fun. If you want to challenge yourself and do a race just for the joy of running and the experience of nature running, run this race!

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