Cayuga Trail Marathon

After much anticipation it was time for the Cayuga trail marathon. Since early on in the year I have been slowly increasing my mileage for this event and despite having to drop from the 50 miler to a marathon so I could make a return journey for a bachelor (stag) party I was very much looking forward to the race. 

The race felt like I went from having weeks and weeks to go to nothing. Booking some last minute accommodation and it was suddenly the day before the event. It was Friday and after finishing up work, the evening quickly switched to travel mode with a decent drive to up state New York. In our haste to get on the road we completely neglected thinking of food. Realising our error within a very short period of leaving the house that we were both pretty hungry and had only just started the drive. This was within 20 mins of starting the journey as we hit the first traffic jam. Not wanting to detour too far from the road we opted for the first available standard burger joint. Possible not be best pre-race nutrition nor did it turn out to be that close to the main highway.

Full now of chips, burger and a small milkshake we made good progress up towards Ithaca. The final part of the journey meandering amongst the mountains. Unfortunately we were not able to take in the beauty of the local area with the sun already set. We finally reached the accommodation for the night. Sitting right next Robert H. Treman state park where the race began. It was a perfectly comfortable pre-race spot and despite being a motel had an almost ski chalet type vibe to the place. The car park filled with trucks a few piled high with BMX bikes. 

I had prepared most of my gear and snacks for the race prior to the drive. The next morning was a strong start, trying to make a coffee the filter broke spilling coffee grinds all over my mug. Half a sleep and not wanting a repeat I gave up at this point and instead loaded up on locally made bread and jam. 

Heading over to the start line before 8am and the temperature was already beginning to soar with runners seeking a bit of pre-race shade, topping up with fluids and having a bit of a warm up before the race began. The 50 miler was a qualifier for the US team, so with that came a number of serious athletes to both it and the marathon. Some had opted to go shirtless right from the start, armed only with a water bottle for the entirety of the event. Finally the time had come as all of us huddled together at the start line. With the blow of a ram’s horn the race began. We started the initial trot. Like many races this initial period is always a bit slow off the mark as runners finally get over the actual start line. It was time to get in front of some of the pack before sections of single track prevented it. It turned out as the race progressed that there were more than enough places to over take or be overtaken. 

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The course itself was a gorgeous meandering track through the state park, through Lucifer falls and up towards Buttermilk falls. The route had incredible views especially as the course headed up gorges, past glistening cold water falls and along wooded single track. You certainly couldn’t ask for much more. 

As the day heated up each pool I ran passed became more and more tempting to dive into. Especially as we saw more people out through the day swimming about in these crystal clear blue coloured pools. It was a hard task to run past them. The aid stops came as a perfect treat and distraction from the heat with an array of trays of cut orange, melon and a few other goodies. I have found it pretty interesting over the years how I seem to crave specific foods depending on the event, the weather, terrain and how many miles I have done or am doing. One of the most memorable being a canal race where I gave into my slight sweet tooth. Munching down a whole load of gummy bears at each stop, I later spent the night curled up in a ball with terrible stomach pain. The second day and stage of this event was less than pleasant, the lesson learnt not to always give in to those immediate cravings! Anyway coming out of one of the check points and rounding the corner there was a river to cross. Perfect!!! Despite briefly thinking of the damage that could happen with wet feet I jumped in and dosed my body in some much needed cold stream water. It was invigorating. My feet were going to get wet regardless so why not enjoy the experience. Cooling station down and it was time to jog on, slightly soggy with squelching feet. Back in the UK this would normally mean wet feet for the remainder of the day. However 20 mins or so later and my feet felt bone dry and ready to roll.

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With all race you often end up chatting to some of the runners as your paths cross. I was given some insight into the course that was to come up. I hadn’t realised that the course had a large number of steps. I gave up counting not long after starting when i saw them meandering up the hill side and knowing i was doing a loop to come back down them. We crossed paths with some of the 50 mile runners who were leading the pack and had started earlier in the morning as the out and return loop criss crossed and joined at different sections. I was amazed at their speed and at how little some of them carried. Having got used to everyone using a little body vest with pockets for anything and everything you might need, these guys quite often just had a water bottle strapped round their wrist. Maybe i wasn’t taking enough of a risk and carrying too much on a relatively short course given the number of aid stations. 

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I ended up with a few runners who seemed to be at a steady pace to myself. We tended to split up a bit on the hills between the up and downs but as soon as it flattened out we bunched back together again. It always helps pass the time chatting to someone new, hearing about their stories of past events, adventures and life in general. The girl in the group worked on a vineyard in the area. So we got a crash course in wine making and how the season was going for the grapes given the unusually wet summer. 

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The group dissipated and feeling like i had regained some strength in my legs I sped up. I had a brief spell feeling like i was about to get cramp in my calfs. Particularly after tripping on a couple too many roots, but after munching down some salty nuts I was picking up again. 

Towards the end of the race I came across a few guys who were going at a good speed to finish off the final few miles. I thought this was probably how the race would finish up for us. Chatting all the way to the finish line. This was almost the case until the final mile or so. Slowly but surely i felt like i was dropping off the back of the group. Initially I put this down to beginning to get tired. I put in a burst of effort to catch back up with them and I realised this was not the case. The chat had stopped and instead the pace was slowly being cranked up. Again naively i thought it was good to have a strong finish but at least the three of us would be crossing the line together. I come to this thinking because we were ahead of the mid pack but still a long old way from the leaders. Maybe this is where I go wrong in races as I like to do well but the difference between say 30th and 31st or 32nd is still a long way off top 3, 10 or even top 15. Any way it is safe to say we looked awesome sprinting into the finish. I crossed the finish line just on the tail of one and slightly a head of the other. Elated, incredibly hot but still feeling like i had more than enough in the tank to keep going. Maybe i should have sprinted harder. 

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Overall i finished 31st out of 153. 10th in my age group  or 1st scot (I am assuming there were no other recent expats from Scotland at the race!)

Until the next race, it would be great to hear whether you compete against others in races or purely against yourself and the clock. 

An introduction to Snow Shoeing

We decided that it was time to give snow shoeing a go. The conditions were looking windy but hiding amongst the pine trees of New York state we would be fine, especially with the recent snow fall making for a soft and powdery walk amongst the woodland. We headed over to XC Cascade up in Lake Placid to experience some of their trails. It looked chilly outside with the wind swirling the snow around. 

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If you have all the equipment you don’t have to be limited to laid out trails but can head up and into the backcountry trails. This season we hadn’t got all the equipment together needed for this and we were total rookies, so maybe next year!

After getting kitted out we opened the door of the warm, cozy hut. We were blasted by the wind as the door crashed closed behind us. Despite the lure of the cozy hut, we took our first incredibly large, cumbersome and awkward steps. Trying to make a quick dash across the cross country ski trails, dodging the speedy and more agile skiers, was probably quite a site but we made it onto the start of the quieter snowshoe trail. Soon enough the towering pine trees swallowed us up and blocked out any trace of a raging wind behind us.

Walking between the trees and over the soft powdery snow felt like walking into Narnia. A magical quiet world with hardly a disturbance. A wave of feeling completely at peace came over us as we began meandering along the trail with the snow sparkling on the drooping trees. Not long after starting we got into the stride of things. My large feet now felt like ginormous platforms flopping around the place. Yet despite the speed at which we became accustomed to our new oversized flip flops taking pictures was a new challenge what with the poles swinging about the place, a camera in hand and padding about through the winding trail.

Further a long the trail we came to the first of a few obstacles in the form of a tree blocking the path. Carefully and gingerly we stepped over forgetting that the snowshoes would flop almost completely open catching and scraping over the tree. I am not sure smooth or seamless would have been used to describe the transition over the obstacle but it was successful if the benchmark was not to fall over.

After being out for a few hours we meandered back to the hut for a warm drink by the fire. Coming out of the protection of the trees we were reminded that all was not so tranquil. As we flung ourselves through the doorway with little grace but huge grins and red cheeks from the cold breeze and great conditions.

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Very quickly we commandeered some seats near to the fire with hot chocolates and some soup on order.

All in all a great experience and one that will definitely be repeated once the snow comes again. 

 

Returning to Skimo

It had been a year since my last (and first) skimo competition. Last season I had grand ambitions of filling my weekends with skimo competitions, possibly slightly ambitious given I had only just moved over to the US. Last year’s competition fell on my very first weekend in the US. I ranked it higher priority than, you know, trivial things like finding my nearest supermarket or studying for my US driving license. 

 

A year on and with slightly more of an idea of what to expect, I made the drive north to Berkshire east to kick off the season. Despite all my best intentions of arriving fresh to the start line the snooze button at 4am was too tempting. In a bid to speed up the morning I had packed the car and prepared breakfast and coffee the night before…The evening prep took much longer than expected. When I finally jumped into bed it felt like only a couple of hours before I was up again and rubbing my eyes awake as we drove north. 

The sunrise revealed an overcast day and as we reached the mountains the wind picked up, trees swaying and snow drifts forming and flowing at the sides of the road. Despite a heavy right foot we still hadn’t made up for the heavy use of the snooze button. Wife’s are useful for times like these for any extra pair of legs to help run around sorting the pre-race entry and parking the car.

Entry complete and caffeine level replenished we all stood together on the start line - a mixture of either Lycra clad, carbon covered racers to those with the intentions of maximising the workout with heavier telemark skis or setups designed more for a short hike from a nearby lift ideally. I was one of the latter, the additional weight of my skis were clearly going to make a significant difference to my time and general efficiencies over the mountain. After a year of hunting for the best American BBQ, burning off as much energy as possible fitted the bill perfectly. This year I opted for the short course rather than the full. Mainly due to preferring not to be spend as much time boot packing (hiking uphill with skis on my back) on this occasion. 

As the starter went, the group made a dash up the hill. Everyone letting the more competent and quicker competitors to go first. Soon a line was spread out up the mountain with our skis sliding beneath us. Compared to last year the cooler conditions felt much more enjoyable. Making it to the top of the first hill and I got tempted by the longer course for a lap. The shorter course is much more about taking part aspect so doing a hybrid certainly when I wasn't in a competitive position wasn't going to affect anyone. Skins off and tucked into my already sweaty top I skied back down the mountain before applying my skins and heading back up the mountain. The next stage included a couple of boot packing sections. Hidden amongst the trees and what felt at times like I was hiking up a small frozen stream with ski boots on I slipped, slide and scrambled my way up hill. At times trying to perch on anything I could. Trees, rocks and anything poking out from the snow became a possible hand hold. I am sure there is a better techniques for this but on this occasion it wasn't coming to me. I wasn't helped by my poor attempt at strapping my skis to my bag - resulting in my skis smacking off my helmet with every other step. Good thing it wasn’t my head. A final skin up and it was time to ski all the way back to the base of the mountain for round 2 of 3.

For the next 2 rounds I went back to my original plan of not boot packing and purely skinning and skiing. As the field spread out working out who was on what loop and which course became increasingly hard. Nonetheless I mostly ended up skiing along with someone for at least part of the lap,  which provided some distraction from my now burning legs as we headed up hill again. The second lap went by without any hiccups, my transitions seemed to be improving between skinning up and getting them off as quickly as possible before skiing back down the mountain. 

The third lap and my energy levels were beginning to dip a bit. I munched down some food and finished the last few remaining drips off water in my water platypus pack. As I was eating and drinking though I knew I had missed timed it. At this stage it would not give me much of benefit compared to if I had started slightly earlier. A learning for the next one.

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A tough race, but brilliant! The thing I really enjoy with skimo is how it uses so many different muscles and the satisfaction (smug feeling) you get from self-powering your way up the mountain. It certainly makes me appreciate the ski down much more than if I just jump on a lift. 

 

Its all about earning your turns.

In terms of top tips that I have learnt so far from doing skimo

1) know the course as best you can. It can be difficult converting a not to scale map of a resort with the various sections so ideally visit the area. 

2) practise taking your skins on and off your skis as well as how to pack them away.

3) most importantly enjoy the experience and hopefully you will end up doing it a few times. 

Mount Jo - New york

The plans for a weekend packed from start to finish with skiing were soon dashed by a wave of warm weather hitting the region. After a month of decent low temperatures everything was melting.

Having spent Saturday mostly cross country skiing, the day was finished when the rain began to fall. I don’t mind skiing in most conditions from hot weather to bitterly cold. But skiing in the rain is less enjoyable!

After an early finish we were all set for the next day. Rising early we found the car park to be a mini ice rink covered in a sheet of ice It turned out it was much the same as the nearby cross country course we intended to visit. 

Instead we opted for a slow start to work out some new plans as we visited an outdoor equipment shop called High Peak Cyclery. After having a look round and a chat with the team they recommended heading to Mount Jo. A nearby spot which would provide a short hike to its summit. 

 

Armed with a map of the area, various bits of winter kit and some micro spikes we drove up to the starting point of the route. The sun was making the occasional glimpse and as soon as we stepped out the car the spikes were on. We made our way towards the trail head wondering past frozen streams, lakes and the entire path being one frozen slab of ice. Soon the path veered from the lakeside up towards the summit. Admittedly still a fair bit below it. 

Micro spikes on and ready

Micro spikes on and ready

Despite the relatively warm temperatures that had hit the area the path was still coated in a huge layer of ice. And in some cases large steps of solid ice. We passed huge icicles dripping and in some areas collapsing with the sudden warm spell.

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Bit by bit we made our way towards the summit before the final steps, arriving at the plateau with views over the valley beneath. As we sat down absorbing the winter beauty we could feel the difference in wind chill as we were now exposed to the elements with no protection from the wind. Below we could hear people playing on a nearby frozen lake as the sound travelled clearly through the cold crisp air. Compared to hiking in the summer where the trees and undergrowth cover and conceal the area the winter provided this opportunity to see all around us. Through the leaf less woodland bar the odd evergreen. Having spent much more time hiking in the UK where heading up the summit is often a treeless and open expanse I still find it strange despite being far more natural to have these woodland covered summits. 

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After a quick drink it was time to head back down the mountain. Very quickly we were reminded that it is often easier hiking and climbing up compared to going down. We scrambled down the steps and over some icy rocks to make it back to the initial path. I don't normally walk with poles, so it was an experience heading down with all this additional stuff! We soon came across the split in the path between the long path we had come up and the short path on the way down. 

Although not much in it we chose the shorter path for a different view and way down. The short path as the name suggests takes a much more direct way down the mountain. We clambered down the icy structure that was a head of us. In many ways it was much easier than during the summer with all the rocks and rubble covered, it felt like we didn’t have to take quite so much care of tripping over the undergrowth. Which wasn’t entirely true as instead it was more about where we will get the most purchase from the tiny little metal spikes beneath our feet. 

The final crux came through a little ravine, with trees to one side and a short cliff face with large icicles hanging down onto the path we meandered through this slightly steeper section. After picking our way down and passing another couple we finally reached the bottom. Our first winter ascent together. 

Arriving at the bottom we headed back to the car. It had clearly been a warm day, by this stage rather than completely jacketed up i was hiking with just a thin merino wool top and the car park that was an ice rink had become a slushy and in some places stream flowing area.  Now just time for some lunch!

Tesla Hertz 50km Ultra Run

After building the training up bit by bit and a half marathon as a warm up the next stage was a 50km ultra marathon out on Long Island. Its called the Tesla Hertz ultra race. Making it sounded like an exceptionally well sponsored event!!

Unlike the last race, being point to point, this was a steady 10mile loop with barely a hill to match. As bizarre as it sounds having some hills makes for a nice change on the body along the route. However with it still being hot and this being one of my first ultra's back in a while not having to carry a huge amount round due to it being laps was definitely going to be a big advantage. 

Friday night and with everything finally packed for the weekend I headed out first to get some last minute supplies and then onwards to Long Island. One of the key things after almost getting cramps at the last race was some electrolytes. Back in the UK I had found the cheapest and best solution to be dioralyte, designed for dodgy stomachs it seemed to hit the spot every time. Searching for something similar in the US I have come across something called pedialyte. Pretty much exactly the same thing with a different name. It's also rumoured to be an excellent hang over cure. I don't think it beats irnbru on that front though.

Arriving at a massive campsite for the night I setup camp for the night with the occasional bug bite in the process before jumping into my sleeping bag. It was incredibly humid and my sleeping bag designed for Scottish summer meant I was roasting. In the process of this restful night's sleep I jumped out mid way through the night for a bathroom break and in the process stubbing my toe on the only curb around. Back into my hot and sweaty sleeping bag with a throbbing toe it felt like no time at all before my alarm was going off in my ear. A slightly unique alarm sound to wake up to. If your interested check it out below.

Getting out I was greeted to a thick blanket of fog wrapped over the forest. Taking the tent down whilst trying not to wake the rest of the campsite. A quick bite to eat and I was ready to  head to the start of the race. I made the short trip to the start of the race, bumping into a few fellow competitors before a quick sign in. As we signed in people who had started in the early hours of the morning doing 50 miles, 100kms or 100 miles crossed over the start line for another lap on route to the finish. Greeted to a round of applause it was inspiring to see. 

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The tesla hertz race had a attracted a wide variety of people from all over North America to compete in. Located near the historic site of tesla tower a radio mast that was originally aimed at sending messages back to the UK it was a very fitting event. 

A quick photo from the start and brief before we made a start. Bizarrely I found myself near the front of the race. I say bizarre as I've normally sat around the top third to top half. I was happy enough though and was making good ground. The blanket of fog slowly lifting from the trees and replacing it with an ever increasing amount of humidity. It still felt like pretty ideal conditions. Running through the cushioned hard pack trails past trees starting to show glimmers of fall. The ground littered in a variety of fungi. My knowledge in this areas is low to none (basically don't eat the red ones...) but I'm sure for the experienced picker this could have looked like a natural feast. 

Making to the first check point I was excited to see whiskey and an array of treats. Including Swedish fish and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This is not an early American conversion but something that had been growing on me for quite a while. Fortunately this is considered a perfectly reasonable lunch request or sandwich/ bagel deli request. For those used to running events particularly road running events these aid stations might seem strange but for longer races the prospect of being sustained on energy gels is not particularly appetising! I made a fairly quick transition through this not wanting to loose much time before heading back the way I came. It was a cool feature of the race being able to see how far behind the next competitors is. The answer was not much. 

Running further along and we started coming across more people out on their morning cycle or run. The day was definitely heating up bit by bit. Coming up the brow of the one and only hill was a perfect little break from the constant flat gradient. Crossing lap one I and they had water melon! I may have ended up eating too much this race but watermelon on a hot day was seriously refreshing! 

 

Lap two and I could feel I was slowing a little bit. The competitors in front I would briefly see running the opposite way just before the aid station and check point on the lap. But apart from that it felt like I was alone in the woods running round the trails. It was at this stage that the sun had finally broken through at it was hitting the high 70's low 80's (high 20's/ low 30s). My water consumption had suddenly gone through the roof and my top was soaking. It was time for my top to come off. I've generally not had the need to do this back in the UK but the heat was pretty intense. Once it was off I immediately felt cooler.

The one and only hill came and went by slower than the first. Before lining up for lap 3. It was at this point and I am not sure what triggered it maybe the fact I hadn't been passed by anyone but I wondered if a lap was 10km not 10 miles. Checking out my watch and asking a couple of people I pasted about what distance they were doing and I was pretty sure I was on track with it being 10 miles. I grabbed some more electrolyte at the start line for lap 3 and a bit more food and water before the making a start on the next one. Despite not doing an ultra for a while the idea of constantly fuelling the body is something I haven't forgotten. I knew that especially on a hot day like it was missing the opportunity to eat and drink could catch up with me quickly. 

The final lap was by far my slowest, admittedly it was what I was expecting to average for all the laps it just worked out that my first two were much quicker. Being out in front though kept my mind thinking that if I could just keep a steady pace I should finish in a good position and ideally hold where I was. I hadn't seen the guy up a head for quite a while and as I made my way up towards the aid station I wasn't expecting to see him as for the entirety of the race he had been up a head by an ever increasing amount. Just as I reached the station though I reached him. Not only that but I was surprised by my wife, Laura, who had after a red eye flight driven out to Long Island to see me running. The final chunks of watermelon and pb & j sandwiches consumed before heading back out onto the course for the final 5 miles ish. On my way back out I passed a few people who had made ground on me but I was confident I could maintain the gap  for the moment at least. Not long after I came across the guy who had been a head race. We ended up running most of this final stretch together passing the time chatting about various races. Towards the end he managed to pull away, my legs no longer feeling fresh and not much left in the tank I didn't manage to close the gap as we headed up towards the finish line. Finally crossing in 5 hours 27 min.

I was elated about finishing and even more so for being in 2nd place. As we walked back to the car for a celebratory chocolate milkshake I cramped up crossing the road whilst stepping up the curb. Almost falling back in could have been a bit of a disaster but fortunately Laura was there with a helping hand. 

The drive back was long but pain and cramp free!! 

Trail Run Racing North East USA

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

https://www.longpathraces.com/shawangunk-ridge-trail-run

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. 

My first yellow bus journey

My first yellow bus journey

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.

Views from a clearing

Views from a clearing

 

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. 

Warm conditions out on the course

Warm conditions out on the course

 

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. 

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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.

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Blinded by the sun a great shot...

Got any race recommendations? Or have any questions about trail run racing? 

Catskills 3500

Not long after moving to the US I came across the Appalachian mountain club in my search for some backcountry skiing. After chatting with some fellow skiers they introduced me to the Catskills 3500 club. It's a group who wish to climb the highest 35 peaks in the state of New York. To "officially complete" the 35 peaks you have to repeat 4 specific ones in winter as well. Since spending more time with the guys  and girls in the group many have finished their first round and are now well into multiple rounds. More on that later.

the 35 peaks within the Catskills

the 35 peaks within the Catskills

 

Every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year they have a selection of hikes. One free weekend earlier I got in touch with the groups leader. Not long later we got a reply saying we were all good to join them. These guys volunteer their personal time to take other folk up the mountains. There are of course safety briefings and waivers to be signed but none the less a cool experience just being able to rock up and meet someone who knows the mountains, surrounding areas and of course where to get some great food and drink afterwards. 

First up was a couple of mountains called Vly and Bearpen. It was described as a bush wack. Sounding much more like an exploration through the Australian outback than some mountains in the north east of the USA. Which a bit like "mountains in Scotland" are not quite the alps but some brilliant playgrounds nonetheless.

Waking at the crack of dawn we made our way up north on what has become a standard weekend route. Coming across an ideally placed Starbucks on route for a coffee boost before the walk. This was also to become part of our Catskills hiking routine as long as we hadn't overslept the 5 or 5.30 am alarm on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  

Rocking up we met up with a whole variety of people who had travelled from near and relatively far to hike these mountains. Unlike the vast majority of the UK version of 3000+ ft's these mountains turned out to be coated in a landscape of trees. Making it difficult to see or in some cases know when you have reached the summit. 

We made our way up a muddy track past some go kart like off road vehicles making our way steadily up the mountain. The canopy of trees above us shading us from the increase heat of the sun as it began to rise above us. We soon reached the point where the "bushwack" began. A cross road and the saddle between the two peaks. Turning off the main path we wondered along what looked like a sheep track heading in a meandering fashion upwards. The odd tree marked with a blue splosh which turned out to indicate the boundary of a local land owner. The false summits came across even more bizarre as with all the trees in the way it was seriously challenging to work out whether the peak had been reached with no visual clues to go by. We passed a sign marking the crossing of 3500ft and the start of the no camping zone. Rounding the corner we came to a clearing with a can suspended high up on one of the trees. It turned out this small area marked the summit. Opening the can up we signed our names to show we had completed the hike to the top before turning back round and heading down to the saddle of the mountain. It was still mid morning as we reached the saddle. Being out in the hills in a new environment felt like an incredible experience and with it still being mid morning by the time we reached the saddle where we had cut off the main track very satisfying to think we had seized the day to get up here so early. 

Vly down and on wards and up wards to Bear pen.

One of the cool aspects of these mountains is how visible the changes in flora are as the altitude and direction of the slope change. From dark and damp corners with lush vegetation dripping with droplets of water to the upper slopes covered in pines which look stunted in growth. We also witnessed areas on a number of summits showing what happens when the trees are cleared. Although revealing gorgeous views over the valley the irony is the scar left on this lookout point of a treeless, dry, bare patch of soil and rock on what otherwise from above looks like a pristine environment.

We meandered our way past a closed up cottage which made me think of the books I read on cabins in the far flung reaches of Canada and Alaska such as in call of the wild. 

Heading up the hill we soon made it to the top. I was thinking it would be more like the alps with treeless summits and potentially the chance for some paragliding. Instead the narrow passages back down the mountain between trees Im sure would make for a daunting if not virtually impossible take off point. We came across another group who had a 70 and 80 year old in their group. I very much hope I'm still hiking up mountains at that age!! As we got chatting to the group it transpires one of them had once owned a now long gone ski slope that was once situated on the mountain. Some remnants of the lift we still evident on the hill side. 

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A quick bite to eat we headed back down the way we had come and out to the cars at the base of the hill. Our first two US 3500 footers. The day was still pretty early so we opted for searching out a good place to eat. We came across a place called the gunk house. Recommended in an awesome wee book called 36 hrs in New York and the east coast. Serving up wholesome German inspired food food overlooking mountains and apple orchards. 

 

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Now just 33 summits to complete....

Since then we have knocked off a few more and are almost half way at 23 to go.

If you are in the north east of the US check out:

http://catskill-3500-club.org/ - for the catskills 3500 club

http://www.outdoors.org/ - for the Appalachian mountain club

And for those in the UK why not set the challenge of the munros, corbetts or wainwrights 

https://www.themountainguide.co.uk/highest/