The 2nd edition of the SRT Run/Hike took place along the Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) in New York’s Hudson Valley commencing Friday, September 18 at 6:35 PM and ending Saturday September 19, 2015 at 11:30 PM. The event attracted participants from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and California. 82 racers started out in four divisions ranging from 20 to 74 miles, ready to experience the beauty, ruggedness, and diversity of the Shawangunk Mountains. 73 made it to the finish line for an overall completion rate of 89%. A new record of 22 hours 2 minutes was set for the full 74-mile SRT. There were no reported injuries.
For the organizers, the event started many months ago. For 2015 we changed the format, increasing the number of divisions from three to four and holding them all on the same day. We also moved the last five miles of the course off paved roads and onto an unmaintained trail in the Mohonk Preserve. We spent the months leading up to the event obtaining six different permits, developing detailed safety plans, recruiting volunteers, and hoping people would sign up for an event that provides adventure but not support.
Earlier in the year, 2,000 acres of forest in the Shawangunks were scorched by wildfire. Fortunately for the race, volunteers from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference were quick to reblaze the trail, and they returned throughout the summer to trim back the vegetation that had aggressively resprouted from the ashes.
Organizers created this event to celebrate the preservation of the Shawangunk Mountains, or the “Gunks” as they are called, and to encourage people to experience an environment which the Nature Conservancy calls “one of Earth’s last great places.” By promoting awareness of the SRT, we hope to build local support for further conservation efforts and to defend the integrity of the ridge from commercial projects.
This is a minimalist format race. Runners pass through six checkpoints to ensure accountability, but these are not aid stations and do not provide food or water. Further, while the trail is blazed, we don’t put supplemental markings on the course. Runners must attend to their own needs and pay attention to where they’re going. The minimalist format is designed to promote basic wilderness travel skills and encourage the values of self-reliance and mindfulness. First place male and female finishers in each division receive a ceremonial tomahawk as a symbol of fitness and connection to the land, and as a tribute to the explorers, hunters, scouts, Rangers, and Native Americans who moved through the wilderness without aid or support in times gone by.
The 74-mile division started Friday evening in High Point State Park, New Jersey, at the junction between the southern terminus of the SRT and the Appalachian Trail. 13 runners toed the line, of whom 9 would make it all the way to the finish in Rosendale, New York — a significant increase from 2014’s single finisher.
The first place finisher was Jason Berry, who completed the the 74-mile distance in a time of 22:02. He beat my time of 24:09 which I had set in July 2015 and as such became the new unsupported FKT (fastest known time) record holder.
In my congratulatory message to Jason, I commented that he now owned the record for one of the northeast’s most beautiful and rugged trails. His performance truly embodied the values of this event: all who saw him were impressed by his steadiness and self-confidence.
Race organizers declared Anna Pettersson the female winner of the 74-mile division. Anna demonstrated consistent strength and high spirits and was within all official cut-offs when I made the difficult decision to pull her from the course at checkpoint #5 (mile 58) when she arrived after dark. I apologized to Anna for this, as the decision didn’t reflect on her, but rather on the need to manage safety for all race participants at a point when the field had spread out further than expected and beyond what our resources could support. We will add resources to next year’s event to ensure we can manage a larger field.
I’d like to recognize Paul Fost as the most improved participant year-over-year. In 2014, Paul dropped out at checkpoint #3 (39 miles in) when the rough trail and rugged terrain turned out to be more than he had bargained for. This year he shaved 3 hours off his split at checkpoint #3 and went on to complete the entire 74-mile course in 27:58.
For all the participants in the 74-mile division, I hope you had an intense and memorable experience.
It was the most challenging,difficult thing I’ve ever done. I wanted to stop many times. But I am elated I persisted, and went on. Thank you for this opportunity at a unique and profound life experience.
— Nick, 74-mile finisher
Aaron Stredny was the first place male finisher in the 50-mile division completing the course in 10:38. He was reportedly “stoked” to receive the ceremonial tomahawk; you may judge for yourself. Lauren Skonieczny and Melanie Mueller finished together in 17:17 and shared the honors for first place female.
Henry Pratt won the male 32-mile division in 5:18. Hatira Ekber won the female 32-mile division, completing the course in 13:29. Remarkably, this was Hatira’s first ultra, and she deserves special recognition for her persistence. (In the official results, there are three female participants with faster times, but they had taken an early start and were thus ineligible for first place).
Last year, Adam Meier won the 32-mile division. This year he took on and won the 20-mile division in a time of 2:08, adding a second tomahawk to his collection. Alison Smythe was first place female in 2:47. And a special shout-out to Brooke Artesi, an athlete with prosthetic leg, who completed the 20-mile division for the 2nd year in a row.
This event would not be possible without the support of a large number of organizations and people. Thank you to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference for creating and maintaining the SRT and also for providing maps. Thank you to Minnewaska State Park Preserve and especially Marc Cathcart and Eric Humphrey for overseeing this event and for their hard work managing one of New York State’s most popular parks. I’d also like to thank Joe Alfano of the Mohonk Preserve for working with us to develop a new route through the northern Preserve that avoids the roads. And thank you to 50-mile finisher Ian Erne who first suggested the new route. We appreciate the assistance of the Towns of Rosendale and Wurtsboro, the New York Department of Conservation, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust, and High Point State Park.
For unsupported events with unmarked courses, keeping runners safe is a huge focus. We are deeply grateful to the members of the New Jersey Search & Rescue under the leadership of David Clarke, who worked throughout the first night of the race, and to Sam’s Point Search & Rescue team members under the leadership of John Shumaci, who covered the race on Saturday. Thanks to the training, professionalism, and mission focus of these two volunteer organizations, we had the resources to locate and extract participants should that have been necessary, but fortunately it was not.
We were delighted to get great volunteers to help us as course marshals and at the finish line. Thank you Sterling Lanken, Pat and Kathy Mahady, Sara Fitzgerald, Melissa McKutcheon, Ginn White, Emily Hickey, Myriam Loor, Susan Eby, and a special thank you to 2014 SRT participants George Grzyb who hiked to Castle Point as a roving marshal and Philip Whitten who swept the last five miles of the course.
Finally, I’d like to recognize co-race director Todd Jennings and event manager Deanna Culbreath, who worked tirelessly for thirty hours straight to make this event a success.
The SRT is part of the Long Path Race Series, and we hope to see you at upcoming events!