Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2014 SRT Run/Hike Race Report (32 Miles)

Last night I tossed and turned as I tried to fall asleep. My mind kept flipping back and forth between recent runs and my performance. And I admit it, I’m well past due on updating the blog, so I hope to expel some of my demons and put up a few updates. The first of which will be The Shawungunk Ridge Trail Run/Hike.

As the event website states, “The Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) is a 74-mile hiking trail that crosses High Point State Park in New Jersey, where the SRT intersects the Appalachian Trail, all the way to the town of Rosendale, New York, where the trail ends at a restored railroad trestle high above the Rondout Creek.

The run/hike event featured a weekend of three different distances all ending in Rosendale. The first event that started on Friday (September 19th) was a 74 mile event traversing the entire length of the trail. I think there were only six hearty soles/registrants, only one of which successfully completed the distance. The Saturday (September 20th) event was the one I registered for which was slated as a 32 mile unsupported run/hike from Sam’s Point Nature Preserve to Rosendale. And the Sunday (September 21st) event was a 20 mile version that I volunteered for starting at Peters Kill in Minnewaska State Park Preserve and again finishing in Rosendale.

I arrived at the Binnewater parking area in Rosendale,  to catch a shuttle-bus to Sam's Point Preserve.  Binnewater was the finish line so having my car at the finish was the idea, rather than shuttling back to the start after running the 32 miles. I got out of my car and was greeted by Todd Jennings one of the co-race directors and a running friend. We made small talk as my friend and co-founder of Trail Whipass (the 1st running club I ever joined), Dylan Armajani and other runners began to arrive; many had obviously far more experience running ultras than I did.

For some reason, I started to get a bit nervous and I felt like I couldn’t control the way I was feeling. I hid it as much as possible as we finally boarded the yellow school bus bound for Sam’s Pont. After what seemed like an endless bus ride through Ellenville and up to the Sam’s Point parking area we departed the bus to temperatures that felt like some 20 degrees cooler than the lower elevation Binnewater parking area, it was now about 8:00am, It was cloudy, cool, and the air was damp with a foggy mist, the temperature was now in the low 50s.

The Race didn’t start till 9:00 so we shuffled into the Sam’s Point Conservation Center to stay warm and get to know each other. My nerves were starting to get the best of me. I made numerous trips to the bathroom and started to feel weak, I could feel the energy leaving my body with each visit to the bathroom. I couldn’t wait to get going, hopefully I could run through this and it was just nerves about a 32 mile unsupported run on some of the toughest single-track trail running in the area.

Photo Credit: Tom Bushey
Ken Posner (co-race director) finally called us out for some final instructions and a playing of the National Anthem. Soon after, we lined up in two waves of 15 runners. Feeling the way I did, I decided to sit back in the second group. Before long we were off and running. Within 100 yards we’re climbing about 200 feet to Lake Maratanza at 2,245 feet above sea level.

Passing through the fog and watching the footing we enter into the vast fields of blueberry bushes of the Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail.  The bushes glowing in the haze were beautiful, but only the foolish would look too long. This trail is pocked with rocks securely lodged and point out of the middle of the trail. A stumble here could certainly break and arm or severely bruise a knee or shin.

The pace was brisk as the group ran single-file and burned off the nervous energy of race day. We emerged from the blueberries and dwarf pitch pines into the deciduous forest that crosses over the Verkeerder Kill Falls and on to Mud Pond.

The trail to Mud Pond features a rocky scramble and levels out on the backbone of the ridge and reminiscent of a western movie with the expanses of white rock and emerging vistas of the Hudson Valley.

At this point, glad to still be moving, I’m thinking I might need to stop pushing so hard, so early, but I was looking to find a comfortable cushion between runners I could hear behind me and the runners I could see ahead of me. I didn't want to get dropped – which happened soon enough.

From Mud Pond, we head traversed the ridge to Castle Point within the fabulous Minnewaska State Park.  Another climb and a very brief stint on a carriage trail and we entered the woods and climbed up to Castle Point.

There was a squeeze which I chose to go around and a hand over hand scramble that challenged my still fluttering stomach.

Emerging at the top of the scramble the view is stellar. Looking to the South we could see Sam's Point (where we started), and to the south-west the beautiful Lake Awosting lays out before you like a mirror in a mossy thicket.

I stopped to soak it in knowing that this was the first milestone of the day at only 7.5 miles.

Departing Castle Point is a mix of carriage trail, rock face and single track that meanders throughout the cliffs of Minnewaska. After what feels like endless weaving across the top of the ridge we started to descend into a set of Pine Barrens with some much needed softer ground.

Eventually crossing Upper Awosting carriage road I swiftly shot down a set of stairs and continued through the shaded woods. At just about 10 miles I reached Rainbow Falls. Pretty much the first sign of water, but I wasn’t yet in need – but it was definitely on my mind!

A grueling climb to the top of the falls and a moment to check the maps to be sure I was on the right track to the next milestone, Jenny Lane. The Jenny Lane trail is fairly flat but can’t be underestimated.

Similar to the Verkeerder Kill Falls Trail, Jenny Lane is littered with tripping hazards. At a moment’s notice and fortunately where it was most convenient to go down, I did, and a stick jabbed my knee drawing some blood. Hey, it’s trail run isn't it?

After assessing that it wasn't serious, I got up shook it off and carried on. Within a  few hundred yards off my fall, I came come across another set of runners (the ones who dropped me earlier), one of which tripped over one rock and fell into the next.

The fall split open her knee cap and sprained her ankle, injuries bad enough to require her to drop out after walking the .6 miles to the Jenny Lane-Route 44/55 checkpoint (just about 13 miles).

At this point, It’s getting warmer and I’m starting to need to drink more and feel like need to be very conservative since I haven’t seen any water since Rainbow Falls. I tried to eat but I made the mistake of trying to eat a peanut chip Mojo bar. My throat collapsed around it, the moisture left my mouth and it was completely impossible for me to swallow. I was beginning to struggle with nutrition as well as hydration. I was headed to the bad place.

It was pretty warm heading over to the Peter's Kill area of Minnewaska State Park. The trail is very challenging with lots of cliffs with picturesque views.  

The trail is full of ups and down and tricky footing – not a good place when you’re starting to feel weak.

Finally getting to Peter's Kill, the first sign of water, I pulled my remaining bottle (I had saved for so long) and sucked it down in virtually one gulp.  We went down to the rocks and straddled the flowing water to fill our bottles and bladders. The cold spring water in the bladder felt great on my back.  Knowing I was able to refill, one less worry (for now).

Climbing out of here was a bitch, my weakness was showing it’s true colors, the rock crown was in the sun and my body temperature skyrocketed as soon as I started the climb. I could feel the sweat streaming down my back and I felt fluttery. I slowed way down trying to control my body temperature while trying to keep moving and struggled to the top.

The cool  descent was strewn with  some nasty rocks. It was very tough to keep it together as I tried to collect myself on the descent to the Coxing Kill Check Point (17.5 miles) -- I would later volunteer at this checkpoint on the following day.

After crossing Clove Road, I cross the wooden bridge over the Coxing Creek to the Old Minnewaska Carriage trail.  Soon, too soon, the trail turns to an eroded path that looks like a dry riverbed. I pretty much mix this with slow trotted running and power hiking. At one point I decided it would probably be a good idea to just sit down and work on my nutrition.

I found a rock and took off my backpack and squeezed down a couple of fruit/veggie baby food packets and fig bars. As bad as I felt, the views from here were stunning, looking northwest to the Catskills.

Knowing I had a bit of nutrient in my body I was hoping I could push through this thing. Turning into the woods, I thought I might be heading downhill to Chapel Hill but alas that was not to be (yet).

Instead I found myself at the base of yet another rock scramble. I couldn't believe this insult… I’m trying to do this and I can’t believe this climb. Suck it up and get over it. -- Once at the top, running was possible again,  the  slight downhill helped me run all the way to Old Clove Road and to the Chapel Trail (at just over 22.5 miles).

This was an important place for me to get to. I know this part of Mohonk from my Rock the Ridge training runs. Although I wasn't feeling very strong I was much more confident knowing that I knew where I was.

I knew I was going to have to climb my way up to the Mohonk Golf Course and that if the rest of the day was an indicator, the SRT was n't taking any prisoners and I’d be single-tracking it up and over the ridge.

The power walking mixed with slow shuffling trots up and over the ridge began. Once again I was struggling to manage my body temperature as best I could. I pushed on and continued the mantra of Relentless Forward Progress (RFP) – never stopping always moving, no matter how badly I felt.

Eventually topping the ridge and crossing the golf course I started the long awaited descent from the ridge. A few frustrating climbs and an earlier missed turn and I eventually made it to the Route 6 check point at just about 25.7 miles in just less than 8 hours.

The descent on the Route 6 was steep and brutal, the Saturday car traffic was humming up the sharply-curved road and hugging the inside of every turn. I felt like a speeding performance car was on the cusp of every turn just as I got there. The relentless downhill was battering my tired legs and yet, after what seemed like a maddening amount of time on the road a final left-hand turn (at 30 miles) and I was at the bottom and turning onto the Walkill Valley Rail Trail.

The rail trail is pancake flat which after 8 hours of climbs and descents, rocks and roots it made for some brutally mind-numbing miles to finish out this run.

Problem was… I've run and ridden my bike here before. I’m pretty damn sure that from the intersection of Springtown Road and The rail trail is more than 2 miles. The question was, how much more?

I had no choice but to find out for myself. I was running on the soft packed trail, granted not very fast, but I was able to move faster than a walk. Eventually It was starting to get darker, the sun hadn't set yet and it seemed like I could see a mile ahead of me and a mile behind me and there was nobody to be seen.

Occasionally, like a ghost a mountain biker would emerge from the distance and pass me without saying a word. I wonder if he could see my pain or knew what we were doing out here. I wanted to know how much further. In time and I came upon The Rail Trail Café folks cheered me on and said only 2 more miles to go!

I was stunned. My GPS was telling me I had already run 33 miles. I asked them again “How far”? Two miles, they shouted back.

Ufff… OK, keep going and then I could see the familiar rock outcropping and I knew I would soon cross the trestle to the finish. As I finally crossed the trestle, just as the streetlights were coming on, I could hear music from a street festival in Rosendale. It inspired me to push through and finish just as it was getting dark I was back at Binnewater parking lot.

As difficult a time as I had, I did it! And I enjoyed IT!...

The SRT is a tough run and I finished it and now have a time to beat

I vow to redeem myself – watch out SRT! I will be back!

Distance: 35.1 Miles
Time: 9:55:17
Elevation Gain: 4,354 ft 

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