I recently took part in my first running trail race in just over a year and prior to that one it has been a couple of years. It also happened to be my first since arriving in the USA.
The race was along the Shawangunk ridge in the state of New York. It's a beautiful part of the state as well as being a tree covered ridge line with enough hills to add to the difficulty. The event had 4 choices of race lengths; 70, 50, 30 miles and half marathon distances. Each followed the same route you just jumped onto the course at different stages along the way. The beauty of it being point to point is the added interest along the trail. When looking out for races I managed to find a large number of them in the northeast of the US that did laps of a trail circuit. Both options have different benefits. But for my first one back in a while a point to point was perfect. You can check out the race details on the link below
I had opted for the half marathon, having not had a suitable amount of time to train up for some longer I was thinking of using it to get me used to races run in the US as well as a good stepping stone to some longer events later in the year.
Turning up to the event early on a cloudy and cool Saturday morning I had estimated my finishing time. Not on many hard facts for this one just rough estimates based on the distance. As I got chatting to people at the start line it transpired that my estimation was probably off, a quick time for the half marathon and winning time the previous year was just over the 2 hour mark. Along with this a number of people mentioned various points in the course where it was difficult finding the route. There are route markers but they are intermittent and are just the normal Shawangunk ridge trail markers, rather than any additional ones being used other than at the end where some occasional additional red strings of tape had been used. I picked up the map which being for the full length of the course (70 miles long) didn't provide great detail on a side of A4 to really navigate by. With the route on my gps I thought this would suffice. But after speaking to the fellow runners I decided to try to download the route map onto my phone as a back up. Being out in the middle of nowhere with limited reception this took until part the way through the race to download fully. Better late than never.
Boarding a couple of yellow school buses at the finish line we headed to where the half marathon started. It was my first time on one of these American icons. Boarding the buses made me realise the vast array of runners from whippets at the front to experienced runners right through to those who fancied the challenge for a weekend. Arriving at the start line we all bundled out and did our final preparations before the race started. This along with the race briefing where getting lost was mentioned again. I hoped this would not be me...
We were set off in waves according to our running numbers and I quickly got into a rhythm following behind a few people. We were making good progress along the trail and had made the transition from the little tributary of a trail the half marathon started on to the main trail. It followed beneath pine trees on a hard packed trail as the day began to heat up. Well above the temperatures I was expecting. Rather than being in the mid teens (60F range as I get into the US metric) it was well into the high 20's ( high 70F low 80's).
All was going well till we passed another runner but he was heading in the other direction. It turned out the girl who I was following was his wife. They had a brief chat and she carried on. Now I assumed that he had come out to meet his wife on the trail and as she had continued on we must be heading on the right direction. Turned out this wasn't the case he was doing the 70 miler and we were going the wrong way. About 15 to 20 of us spread out along this part of the trail. Checking and re-checking the maps we turned around and headed promptly back in the reverse direction. We had travelled about 30 mins round trip in the wrong direction. Not ideal on a race that was already due to be a tough half marathon.
Turning around and it was back the way we had come. Sweat already soaking through my top. I met up with a runner who it turned out spent a lot of time of the years running in the area and knew some of the tougher sections of the course. It was great way of passing the time chatting away as well as getting some local insight on the course or at least pointing out some cool looking areas which I may have otherwise just run past without looking up. Despite being hard packed trail we had already passed one guy limping the other way having gone over on his ankle on one of a number of roots, which I had almost slipped on as well. The trail meandered along a spectacular ridge line with views up into the Catskills. The odd tree hinted at the transition to autumn or fall with the colours beginning to change but there was still a way to go for the real show to begin.
Making it to the second a final check point marked the start of a long ish up hill section. As well as a short scramble through a boulder field to reach the top. A definite possibility for some scrambling or potentially some bouldering at a later date. I had heard the area was famous for roped up climbing as well.
Making it to the top and my legs still felt pretty good I bid farewell to my running buddy for the morning and headed off. The trail flattened out and was beginning to descend towards the finish I passed by one of the 70 mile racers who was running in sandals although he was doing incredibly time wise looked to be struggling a bit. Think I would have looked distinctly worst at that stage of a 70 mile run! The heat of the day had clearly had an impact on me as I could feel the odd twinge of cramp setting in. I just hoped a random movement wouldn't set it off. Easing up on the pace for a bit I was trying to minimise the risk of it happening before picking up again. The course by this stage was a gentle descent through cool and damp under growth. With old pine needles littering the floor making for a soft cushioning feeling for the body.
I came across a few more runners not really knowing which course they were on I greeted them as I passed them by on route to the finish. Coming round the corner and I was greeted to the bridge I had driven under earlier in the day. By now the day had well and truely cleared from the initial clouds of the early morning to reveal the view across the valley. I quickly stopped to admire the view before the final few hundred metres to the finish line.
Crossing the finish line and being welcomed to cold drinks, a toast with a very small beer and a slice of pizza was a perfect finish for the race. Before making a rather sweaty journey back south again.
16th place in 3hrs 10mins. Shouldn't have got lost for 30 mins! 1st place was completed in 2hrs 8mins. I think i will be back for one of these events next year.
Got any race recommendations? Or have any questions about trail run racing?