QUEENSBURY -- We should have listened to the woman in the West Mountain parking lot.
“It was worse than childbirth,” she said with a straight face.
After finishing an earlier wave of the Warrior Run 5K race up the mountain on Saturday, she knew what it was like up there, more than 1,000 vertical feet above the start. Just awful.
She pointed toward the long incline up the grassy face. See that? There were six more of those, she said.
I wasn’t counting, but the woman’s warnings turned out to be warranted. The 3.1-mile Warrior Run was quite a physical test in its inaugural year at West and not because of its obstacles. Heck, my fun-seeking friends and I would have traded a few more of those in exchange for the torturous climb.
Nearly 1,600 competitors participated in the ski area’s first extreme trail race, which was organized independently by race director Steven Conklin and modeled off larger franchise events, such as the Warrior Dash at Windham Mountain.
As a few hundred runners waited for the start of the second of four waves, I stood back to watch. I had expected a flat start. They started up a hill. After passing through the first of eight obstacles — a muddy section — the racers pushed onward up the face of the mountain.
After the wind tunnel, created by three inward-facing snowguns shooting water, the course continued uphill and didn’t ease up until the summit.
I knew this because I suffered every step of it. On an 85-degree day up ski trails, shade was hard to come by.
“It was definitely a test of will,” said Mike Arpey of Lake George, who chose the Warrior Run for his first running race. “I’ll never forget seeing the peak of that mountain, that’s for sure.”
The downhill wasn’t much easier. The slopes were steeper and the legs that screamed on the way up were close to tears on the descent. I barreled through, trudging over three 4-foot wooden barricades and tripping over rubber tires and pile of hay.
By the final flat stretch, my enthusiasm was nearly dead. Funny comments from other racers and a finish-line crowd by the final hurdle — the fire pit — cheered me up.
Upon finishing, I was awed by how difficult the race was, yet humbled by the people that finished it.
One man, Jim Eaton, ran the fastest time in 28 minutes, 24 seconds. Others wanted to break an hour and did so. Many were thrilled they finished.
Some, like me, considered it the hardest race of their life.
“I had to design a course that satisfied a guy that ran it in 28 minutes and a guy that ran it in two hours and 27 minutes,” Conklin said. “Some people said it was too easy, you should have had ropes and more obstacles. ... There were some people that have never run a race in their life and I said, we can’t tax these people for three hours on the mountain.”
After having a few people test run the course, Conklin decided to remove some of the 11 advertised obstacles. That led to criticism, which added to the complaints about his lack of water, free food and medical staff.
Some felt the race was unsafe on an especially humid day. Marty Baker, a West Glens Falls Emergency volunteer, raced and stayed late to help with four others from the squad. According to Baker, they were the only EMTs on site. Conklin said there were nine paramedics.
“My biggest things are safety, water, and (the organizers) by no means promised what all the hype was about,” Baker said. “They were missing obstacles, they promised you two helicopters, there were supposed to be showers. Nobody really knew who was staffing this because nobody was really identified.”
“Part of the reason so many people did (the race) was the appeal,” said Barbara Cearley, a registered nurse at Glens Falls Hospital who ran in the first wave.
“It was supposed to be a fun, different activity and because the obstacles were lacking it took away from it a little bit. The fact that safety was an issue took away from it more.”
Both Baker and Cearley said the event was good for the community and they would do it again.
While Conklin said he wasn’t satisfied on race day, a fun run at West on Sunday with his children and more than 200 others helped him plan for the future.
“There were a whole bunch of people that were patting me on the back, saying, ‘Hey, we know it’s your first year, but we know it can be better,’ ” Conklin said. “One of the nicest parts of hearing constructive criticism is it means they want to do it again. That’s great. I love to hear that.”
Sportswriter Alex Matthews can be reached at email@example.com.