Running Willisboro’s Patch Sprint
The skies were blue when the 2022 Patch Sprint start gun went off. But soon after, clouds rolled in and unleashed a deluge onto runners racing to link up the four craggy summits of Bare, Rattlesnake, Sugarloaf and Poke-O-Moonshine. Michael Brockway, desperately wiping at his fogging glasses, was out in the lead charging up his third summit.
Brockway, a SUNY Plattsburgh cross-country and track athlete, is no stranger to personal off-road endurance efforts in the Adirondacks. He has completed unofficial “in-a-day” mountain linkups, like the Bob Marshall Traverse, a grueling 31 mile route with over 15,000 feet of elevation gain, summiting 14 mountains. The Patch Sprint, however, is a timed competition. Brockway had never before competed in a formal trail-running event.
“I heard about it from a friend,” Brockway recalled. “He said, ‘There’s a sick trail race you guys should try,’ and we said, ‘Let’s do it, we’ll give it a shot, can’t be that bad, right?’”
It was his first race, and he was winning. After a long uphill through a hallway of oak and brush, he poked onto the ledgy summit of Sugarloaf Mountain where volunteers in ponchos stood in the rain to record each runner’s bib number and time. Wasting no time Brockway started the steep descent and headed towards Poke-O-Moonshine, the final mountain.
The Patch Sprint, hosted by Camp Pok-O MacCready, differs from most formal trail races: There is no set racecourse. All runners start at Camp Pok-O MacCready’s Homestead, and the first person to summit all mountains is the winner, with the final time recorded on the top of the last summit.
“The goal is to hit four summits and you can kinda do them any way you want,” Brockway said. “There are some shortcuts, but you kinda need to know about them.”
Although there is no set course, years of races and racers have developed a route strategy for the quickest times. From the Homestead, most opt to do Bare first, the closest summit from Pok-O MacCready. Rattlesnake is usually next, the furthest summit to the east. Then, a long section on asphalt leads to a dirt road and eventual trail up to the summit of Sugarloaf. A steep descent down loose pine duff and pebbles spills runners onto a dirt logging road that leads to a culvert draining a marsh under I-87. From here, runners crawl through the culvert and make their way to the Ranger Trail on Poke-O-Moonshine, the final climb to the finish line.
After completing the quick descent off of Sugarloaf, and after crawling through the culvert, Brockway was now heading up the steep stone staircases of Poke-O-Moonshine. With the finish line in sight, the pressure was on.
“I was getting nervous, I had no idea if there were people right on my tail,” Brockway said.
With the firetower on the summit of Poke-O-Moonshine in clear view, he made the final strides to the summit, where a group of volunteers and a small crowd congratulated him and recorded his finishing time of 2:03:50.
The race originated as a competition among counselors and campers at Camp Pok-O MacCready to hike the four main peaks surrounding the camp. Those who succeeded to hike them all received a patch. Eventually, campers sought to hike all four mountains in a day. Then, it only took a few hours. Soon, a formal race was developed.
The race, originally, was exclusive to campers and guests. In the year 2000, the race was formally opened to the public and has been hosted on Memorial Day weekend every year since.
Since his win of the Patch Sprint on that wet weekend in May 2022, Brockway has competed in other trail races. What sets Patch apart from the others, he says, is the community.
“This was such a family environment,” he said. “It had the perfect homey vibe to it.”
In addition to its sense of family, Brockway added that those participating in the race feel no obligation to push themselves.
“You can make it whatever you want. You don’t feel the pressure to give it your all or get super gritty and into it, you can just have fun.”
Perched on the corner of his dorm room desk is the Patch Sprint trophy. It is passed on to each winner every year going back to the first race in 2000. When asked if he’ll return to defend the trophy, he was definitive:
“Oh, one hundred percent.”