October 25, 2021

Fabius trail runners shrug off winter’s bite

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Mike O’Connor, of Syracuse, heads out with friends Saturday while braving the Last Chance Trail Run in shorts at Highland Forest in Fabius.

Snow fell in inches, but the boisterous wind made it seem like feet.

The trails of Highland Forest County Park were treacherous with ankle deep snow, frigid streams of water and patches of ice.

None of that fazed Kamal Jabbour of Pompey, who has participated in the Last Chance Trail Run at the park every year for the past 20 years and is recovering from a stress fracture. He could not resist the urge to run.

“It didn’t bother me,” he said about running through the face-numbing wind and falling snow. “It’s beautiful. I never felt closer to God than on the trail.”

Almost 40 other people shared Jabbour’s passion and participated in the trail run, which has been held in December for about 30 years, according to Mark Driscoll, a coordinator for the event.

The event usually attracts about 120 runners, but Driscoll said the unfavorable weather played a part in this year’s decline. And this year was the first in 10 years that it was recommended that runners run on the plowed park roads — about 5 miles in length — rather than the 10-mile park trail.

Since the run is more of a “fun run” than a timed race, runners are able to choose where they would like to run and how far they wanted to go. Some runners, like David Vickers of Fayetteville, decided to try both.

He said he ran about 4 1/2 miles, starting off on the road and then ran the trail on his way back to the Highland Forest lodge. He said his “run” on the trail was more of a sprinted walk because it was “nasty.”

“I didn’t think it was going to be this bad. But you have to embrace the snow living in upstate New York,” Vickers said as he hugged his steaming cup of coffee with both hands.

Peter McClure of Preble was the first person to try to run the trail, so he had the task of breaking through the snow and said not much actual “running” occurred. But like everyone else who participated, it did not diminish his joy.

“It was a great time. I love running in the snow,” McClure said. “The event is not about winning, it is about enjoying the weather.”

Driscoll said there has yet to be a year when the run in December had to be canceled. There is about a 2-mile uphill climb, with trees towering along both sides of the narrow road and tight turns cars must maneuver to reach the main lodge. Driscoll said as long as cars can make it up the hill, the run will go on.

For those who made the brave trek over snow-covered roads, a full breakfast awaited their arrival. Multiple iterations of pancakes — regular, blueberry, chocolate chip — sausages, potatoes, bananas, coffee and more were available for all who ran. And also to those who came just to spend time at the lodge.

There are people who come to run. Some want to walk. Others were just visiting the park and saw the event was going on and decided to join. And there are some who just come for the breakfast, according to Driscoll.

The run and breakfast do come with a single entry fee with all proceeds going to purchasing food, to the Syracuse Chargers Track Club that runs the event, and to programs and the park ski patrol, Driscoll said.

He said the main purpose of the event is to provide runners with a final chance for a relaxing trail run before the end of the year.

Jay Harris, and his wife, Cindy, of Syracuse, decided to take advantage of that for the first time this year. Although the two had varying opinions on how it went.

“It was cold,” Jay Harris said.

“It was beautiful,” his wife said.

“It was wet,” he said.

“It was awesome,” she said.

“It was windy,” he said.

“It was the perfect winter wonderland,” Cindy Harris said, with finality.

They both have been running for about 30 years, so a small snowstorm did not make it a hard decision for whether they would come back.

“If she does it, I am,” Jay Harris said.

“Yes. We’ll be back,” Cindy Harris said.