Saturday, February 21, 2015

Embracing Winter

Deep in the woods on a cold, snowy night in south-central Massachusetts, a cluster of colorful lights quietly bobs in anxious anticipation. Most face forward, but occasional roving wayward beams pierce through the fuzzy darkness to the side, suggesting the moody atmosphere of a spooky X-files investigation. Amidst the static of the falling snow, the faint illumination reveals glimpses of last-minute lace tying, scarf adjustment, and binding checks. Then, the time comes. After a brief countdown and that familiar "Go!" they all surge ahead in a furious burst of snow spray.

racers ready to go 

When the last of the fading lights disappears around a bend in the distance, the race director starts to make his way back to the registration area where the finish line is located. "Gotta go stoke the barrels," he says cheerfully, referring to the several metal BUMDRUMs with roaring fires at which the returned racers will later be able to warm themselves. 

The event is the annual Wallum Lake Twilight Tour trail race hosted by the MRA Multisport club as part of their diverse, all-season DurtyFeets trail series. Held about an hour after sunset in Douglas State Forest, the event attracts a wide variety of participants, from competitive runners to local outdoors enthusiasts just looking for another fun way to enjoy the long New England winter. A common trait to all of them is a lively spirit of adventure, along with an obvious determination to get the best of winter rather than the other way around. 

The only gear that's mandatory is some kind of headlamp. Beyond that, runners get to choose whatever type of footwear they want to race in, from regular snowshoes to running snowshoes to Yaktrax to microspikes, or even just running shoes if that's what they prefer. 

The region received several feet of snow a week before, and the trails are still completely covered in it. Snowmobiles packed it down somewhat beforehand, but it never really hardened and running on the surface feels like running in sand on a beach. In such soft conditions, the snowshoe-clad runners clearly had an advantage. 

Out on the course, all turns at intersection are well-marked with glow sticks placed inside see-through water bottles. No one takes a wrong turn or gets lost, though at some point nearly everyone experiences that adrenaline-raising sense of dread that maybe they might have. 

a runner returning at the end of the race

By the time the racers return from their four-mile trek, the falling snow has stopped and the orange glow of a nearby town brightens the eastern sky. One by one, headlamp lights bound back across a small open field to the finish line. Hearts race, sweat pours, and smiles flourish in the flickering light of the barrel fires. For these exuberant athletes, there's no better way to warm up on a frosty early February night, or feel like you've earned that hearty bowl of hot chili later. And to everyone else, they exhibit an excellent, all-in example of the full spirit of embracing winter. 

full photo gallery by Northeast Race Photo

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