The third edition of the SRT Run/Hike took place September 16-17, 2016 with 102 starters across all divisions, up from 82 the year before. A remarkable 92% of starters successfully completed the course this year — a surprising statistic for a minimalist format event which provides little or no aid or course markings. Excluding the dauntingly difficult 70-mile division, the success rate for the other divisions was almost 97%. Besides the inevitable scrapes and bruises, there were no injuries during the event, and no-one got lost. The runners deserve credit for showing up prepared to navigate on their own and manage their hydration and nutritional needs — exactly the spirit of mindfulness and self-reliance we sought to promote in creating this event. And perhaps it’s the case that the magical beauty of the Shawangunk Mountains imparts extra energy to those who move through the wilderness…
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 (this year, we made water available at certain checkpoints due to drought watch conditions). Further, while the trail is blazed, we don’t put out supplemental markings. 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.
70 Mile Division
At 6:00 PM on Friday, September 16, the class of 2016 paused for a moment in the shadow of the Veterans Monument, a 200-foot tall tower on the summit of New Jersey’s High Point State Park, and smiled into the lens. Behind them, the Shawangunk Mountains could be seen spiraling off to the northeast, where the race would end some 70 miles later. The start is the southern terminus of the Shawangunk Ridge Trail, where it joins the Appalachian Trail, about a half a mile south of the monument. At precisely 6:30 PM, I gave the command “go!” An hour later, it was dark. This is a challenging race: of the sixteen starters, only ten would make it the full distance.
Running through the night isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The cone of light thrown off by the headlamp produces a kind of tunnel vision, and some people struggle with the bobbing sensation that comes from constantly looking down for obstacles and then up for blazes. Tonight the harvest moon lit up the sky, but deep in the woods, it was very dark. As I waited at checkpoint #2, a coyote howled in the distance. We lost our first runner at around midnight.
Zack Price, Jason Berry, and Marcin Mrowka arrived at checkpoint #3 just before first light, locked in a fierce battle for first place. Yet that rivalry didn’t stop Zack and Jason from pausing a couple hours later to take a picture together high in the mountains of Sams Point Preserve.
In the end, Zack prevailed, winning the male division in a time of 21 hours and 5 minutes. The female division was won by Melanie Mueller, 29, of New York City in 23:15. In 2015, Melanie completed the 50-mile race in 17:17.
These were courageous people who showed up to do something that they knew was going to hurt, that was going to challenge them both physically and mentally with no guarantee of finishing, doing it for the simple fact of loving to be out on the trails pushing the limits. We might have all come from entirely different backgrounds, be different sizes and ages with different past experiences, but the fact that everyone out there was doing it for the pure love of trails seemed very universal to me, and that carried through to everyone from the racers to the volunteers … I’d say the spirit of adventure was definitely captured and I think there are far more success stories than a simple finish rate can express.
— Melanie Mueller, 70-mile female winner
Hot on Zack’s heels, was Marcin Mrowka, 46, of New York City, finishing in 21 hours and 32 minutes — a huge improvement from his time of 24:14 in 2015, especially considering the course was lengthened by two miles this year due to recent wildfires. Last year’s winner, Jason Berry, 36, of Bushkill, PA came in third in 21:40, an improved time from his 2015 performance, despite the longer course. Undoubtedly he was disappointed not to repeat his first-place finish. However, his time of 22:02 from 2015 still stands as the official male 70-mile course record. The SRT Run/Hike is intended to be a minimalist format event, which means no support is offered participants. This year, due to drought watch conditions, we provided water at checkpoints #4, #5, and #6 which was clearly the right call for participant safety. But it means Zack’s performance, no matter how impressive, does not count as an unsupported run, as the photographic documentation below makes clear.
Among the other 70-mile finishers, Alan Davidson, 31, of New York City completed the race in 23:15, a noteworthy accomplishment because 5 miles into the race, he developed stomach issues and was unable to eat or drink. By the time he reached checkpoint #3, he looked so weak, I offered to drive him back to the start. But he declined my offer and persevered.
I headed up South Gully as the sun rose. This was energizing. I love how a long climb tests me and there is nothing more fun than looking straight up for the next blaze….When I saw the Catskills outlining the sky from the Scenic Trail, I felt a bit better about my chances for finishing. But until I arrived at Lake Awosting, I didn’t eat anything besides those small bites you may have seen me force down at CP3… I went to refill my water at the lake and sat there to regroup for about 20-30 minutes….I sat by Lake Awosting and let the surroundings energize me. That sounds somewhat spiritual but whatever it was, I guess it worked.
— Alan Davidson, 70-mile finisher
I’d like to recognize Anna Petterson, female winner of the 2015 SRT 70-mile race and overall female master winner of the 2015 Long Path Race Series. This year she withdrew from the race at check point #4, but the wonderful thing about Anna is her indomitable spirit and clarity of mind, and for any of us, making the right decision is always the best course of action and as such worthy of celebration. Also, a special congratulations to Joey Rollins and Malin Barton who joined us from North Carolina. They completed 56 miles of a very difficult course in great spirits and with much enthusiasm, and we warmly invite them back to the ‘Gunks in 2017.
50 mile Divison
The 50-mile division started at 6:00 AM sharp in the Bashakill, southern New York’s largest wetlands, under the Harvest Moon.
Congratulations to Adam Meier, 27, of Harvard, MA, the first male finisher in 12:29 (pictured below with Colleen Yout), and to Gabriela Stephens, 36, of Westchester, PA, the first female finisher, in 15:19. In 2014, Adam won the 32-miler. In 2015, he won the 1/2 marathon. He now has three tomahawks. I wonder if next year he’ll try the 70-mile division, in order to complete his collection!
Thirty mile division
The thirty-mile division started at 9:00 AM, after runners completed an unusual activity: everyone cleaned their shoes with scrub brushes and soapy water to ensure they weren’t tracking in seeds of invasive species. Sams Point and the Minnewaska State Park Preserve are relatively pristine when it comes to non-native species, but earlier this year about 2,000 acres were scorched in a wildfire, leaving the ground more vulnerable to invasive species until the native vegetation reestablishes itself. Hence the precaution.
The female winner of the 30-mile division was Catherine Zarnofsky, 24, of Glenville, NY in 6:41. The male winner was Matthew Jordan, 23, of New York City in 6:05. Remarkably, there were no “DNFs” in the thirty-mile division: all 39 starters successfully completed the race.
1/2 marathon division
40 racers in the 1/2 marathon division left the High Peterskill park entrance of Minnewaska State Park Preserve in four waves starting at 10:33. The first place male finisher was Daichi Inoue, 35, of New York City, in 2:10. The first place female finisher was Amanda Pasciolla, 28, of Park Ridge, NJ, in 3:03 (unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of her).
During the afternoon, I paid a visit to checkpoint #6 and had the chance to catch up with half-marathoner Patty Lee Parmalee, 76, of Wallkill, New York. Despite the warm afternoon, she was carrying and sipping from a dainty 4 oz bottle of water, and she didn’t even bother to refill from the water we’d stockpiled at the checkpoint. Before you dismiss her as rash, you should know that Patty Lee is a very experienced runner, having completed the New York Marathon fourteen times and also ran in the Western States 100-mile endurance run, among many other events. During a conference call we held the week before the race to brief runners on conditions, she made the observation that at the SRT Run/Hike, “they don’t coddle the runners.” Well said, Patty, and good luck at your upcoming 15th New York City marathon.
The SRT Run/Hike represents the efforts of a large number of people and organizations. Without their assistance, it would be impossible to organize a challenging but safe event over 70 miles of rugged mountainous terrain.
NY-NJ Trail Conference
The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference created the Shawangunk Ridge Trail, and its volunteers and staff spend countless hours improving and maintaining this trail, as well as 2,000 miles of other trails in the region. A special thank you to Ed Goodell, executive director, who helped us with scoring at the finish line (in the purple shirt), Sona Mason, who organized two volunteer work trips to clean up overgrown sections of the trail, and senior volunteer Dave Webber who oversees all of the volunteer trail work in Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
NJSAR and SPSAR
Because we provide little or no aid and no supplemental course markings, participant safety is a special concern. Bill Winterbottom, Stu Mavros, and K-9 partner Exepnathos from New Jersey Search and Rescue spent Friday night with us monitoring the runners during the hours of darkness. Two teams from Sams Point Search and Rescue supported the race on Saturday from 6:00 AM until midnight, including Allison Owczarczak, Jim Spoor, Joeanne Bierschenk, Dick Bierschenk, Matt Pozorski, Mark Lewis, Kristian Lewis, and Dan Kelly. As Race Director, I was extremely grateful to have these highly-trained, committed, and professional volunteers standing by in case a participant were to get lost or injured.
We are very appreciative of the volunteers who helped at the finish line and manned the checkpoints, where they helped us keep accountability of runners to ensure no-one went missing — a critical safety role. Thank you Evelyn Heinbach, Doug Hauser, Heidi Derven, Lorraine Anderson, Brian Cavanagh, Aaron Paul, Jim & Janine Bixler, Erin McNally, Kat Bermudez, Jim Porter, Lisa Zucker Glick, and Kathy Mahady.
Wallkill Valley Federal Savings made a contribution to the NY-NJ Trail Conference in recognition of the event. We were proud to place their sign at the finish line, and if you have financial needs, please give them a call at 845-895-2051! We also a very appreciative of the marketing grant provided by Ulster County Tourism, which was instrumental in getting the word out about this event to potential participants.
The Shawangunk Ridge Trail runs through numerous jurisdictions, including public and private agencies, all of which are charged with preserving natural wilderness areas. Thank you to Matt Paul at New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Sam Mance, Hank Alicandri, and Eric Humphrey of Sams Point and Minnewaska State Park Preserves, Joe Alfano of the Mohonk Preserve, and representatives of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and the towns of Wurtsboro and Rosendale. We also thank private landowners who permitted the event to proceed where the Shawangunk Ridge Trail crosses their land.
Shawangunk Adventures LLC
The SRT Run/Hike is a production of Shawangunk Adventures LLC, a Hudson Valley race management company which manages Rock The Ridge, the Catskill Mountain Road Race, Ellenville Mountain Running Festival, Great Schunemunk Traverse, and the Long Path Race Series. A special thank you to Todd Jennings, co-director, Deanna Culbreath, race operations manager, and Matt Hill and Lisa and Donovan Lounsbury.
The 2017 SRT Run/Hike is tentatively scheduled for September 15-16, 2017.
Running the Long Path is now available on Amazon! (Click on the image to take a look)