If you want to run like a berserker, you need to run with a berserker. That’s my strategy for setting a PR at this year’s Muddy Sneaker.

Muddy Sneaker is a 20K trail race through Hi Tor Wildlife Management Area in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate NY. Lots of  hills and water and, yes, mud. Some years more than others. You never know what sort of conditions you’ll encounter Upstate in mid-April. As the Muddy Sneaker web page promises, “The weather is guaranteed to be a mystery on race day.”

Could be snow, freezing rain, hot and humid. I’ve had opportunities to blame them all for my performance. But the greater mystery is usually…am I in any kind of shape to run the race? Some years I am, others not. Muddy is typically the first race of the season that really tests my conditioning. It tells me, with painful clarity, how much I’ve slacked off during the winter.

This year will be different. Because I’m training with a guy in my age group who consistently bests me whenever we race together. I figure, if I match him pace for pace, mile for mile, in the months leading up to the Muddy, I should be able to hang with him all the way to the final brutal hill – The Demoralizer – and then, perhaps, have a shot.

I acknowledge that there’s a flaw in this strategy. If I trained twice as hard as Joe (which would be impossible, but hypothetically speaking), I would never BE Joe. Behind Joe’s mild-mannered facade lurks the spirit of a berserker. He can ignore pain. He runs every hill. His discipline is iron-clad. He’s followed the same training regimen, on the same course, three days a week, FOR THIRTY-FIVE YEARS. He swims in Lake Ontario at least once a month year-round – unless the ice is too thick to break through or two jagged to walk on. He fasts for two weeks every February, subsisting on a secret concoction of maple sap and lemon juice, and loses 15 pounds in the process.

I can’t do any of those things. But if I run with him, maybe some small shred of the berserker will rub off on me – enough for me to keep him in sight during the first 11 miles of the Muddy and perhaps on his heels up the Demoralizer. Maybe I’ll learn how to flip that berserker switch at the right moment and become something else, something wild and unthinking and impervious to pain. A berserker for an hour or a minute. Isn’t that something we all want to experience? I figure it’s worth running around Cobbs Hill reservoir three nights a week all winter. To see if it’s possible.

And maybe to set a Muddy Sneaker PR.


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