(published with permission of the author)
Shawangunk Ridge Trail 50 mile Race
September 17, 2016
Moonlight on the Bashakill
The shuttle bus from Rosendale (where the race finishes) bumped across a narrow bridge to a small parking lot, illuminated by a single light. The 8 of us (that was it!) trotted out into the misty darkness. The race director gave us waterproof maps and our race numbers and a few navigational tips before the 6 AM start.
The SRT is a “minimalist” race – no goodie bag with junk you don’t need; no trail markings (hence the map!); no aid stations, just check points; no pacers; no water. Just you and the trail. But with 1 modern twist – a .gpx file of the course and app to run on your phone.
There were others already on the course – the real hardcore, started 12 hours earlier and another 20 miles south at High Point State Park in NJ and running over night hoping to cover the entire 72 miles of the SRT. And others starting later going for 30 and 13 miles. We would all hopefully converge on Rosendale later in the day.
Headlamps on, we were underway.
As almost never happens to me, I ended up finding 2 racers who wanted to run my pace. Bill and Tim were a few meters ahead of me, and illuminated in my headlamp beam I could see they were both wearing sandals. I’m not talking Nike, Teva, fancy almost-look-like-shoe sandals – these were kind of dainty- simple leather straps, thin bottom. Wow, I hope they know where they are headed. Turns out that Bill had just done the Machu Pichu marathon so gave me some confidence that he might make it. We ran along the old D&H canal path until daylight and then in to Wurtsburo for the only paved section of the course (which we complained about – ha). By mile 6 we were on the trails again, and I marveled at how the two of them could dance around the rocks and roots without tripping. And they even had all their toe nails! After about 10-12 miles, including a few missed turns, I needed to get into my own rhythm – my back, ankle and hips wet all tight and I thought if I pushed a bit more it would help, so I waved bye to the Sandal Bro’s and headed out along the first of many Ridge line traverses.
Fires and Foot Baths
In the spring of 2016, 8000 acres of forest in the Minewaska State Park burned in one of the largest NY wild fires in recent history. The section of the park that contains the SRT (Sam’s Point) is officially closed but since we were few and apparently deserving special treatment were were allowed in – with conditions. Namely a shoe wash prior to entering at mile 20. A volunteer throughly scrubbed the bottoms to rid them of potential invasives, before sending us up the biggest climb of the day – South Gully Trail, 1400′ up. She also noted that is was 10:15, so I had been at this for 4 hours plus and the fun hadn’t really begun. She also said the lead guy was there at 9:30!
The forest was oddly quiet and the trail looked like early spring with lots of leaves, sticks and deadfall. As in most ultras this was a “walk a bit/ run a bit” proposition and plenty hard. Part 2 of our special treatment was a “reroute” off the top of South Gully sparing us a few hundred feet of vert but adding 2+ miles to the route and net gain in the climbing department as well. The detour, however, took us to the high point (2295’) of the Gunks via the aptly named, High Point Trail which was a highlight of the day. It did though introduce a new sort of navigating experience (to be repeated many times as the day went on): following hieroglyphic paint splotches over huge limestone slabs which lay amongst a vast plateau of laurel and scrub oak thickets.
This frequently required jumps down or scrambles up – more like gymnastics than running. About 1/2 way around High Point I came upon Anna, a 70 mile racer. She was sitting on one of the slabs resting. We chatted, then I moved on, made a wrong turn and circled back to her! After that I slowed down so i could scout more carefully. The sun was now fully out and directly over head and the 2.5 liters of water I started with was nearly gone. At mile 26, the detour rejoined the SRT.
Food and Water for 12+ Hours
Due to the recent drought, most steam beds we crossed were dry, leading the race organizers to allow water at the last 3 check points. The only problem is that they occurred in the last 15 miles of the course which I wouldn’t reach until 8 hours into the run. I can’t say why, but when I stopped at lake Maratanza I splashed off but did not fill my hydration pack. I could see Mud Pond and Lake Awosting were not that far away and by the time I reached them (mile 28) I was really needing a drink. I bush whacked through brambles to try and reach the edge of Mud Pond, but turned back. Then detoured to Awosting (mile 29) and encountered a 20′ ledge and again was thwarted. I sucked a few gels for the liquid and ran on. I was moving comfortably but getting frustrated as the Scenic Trail and the orange blazed Rainbow trail involved more crazy scrambles and paint blazes on rock.
Just past the Castle Point Carriage Rd (mile 32) I started hearing voices coming from above – wait, those really are voices! I had just pulled a rock climbing move to swing around an outcrop and I nearly bumped into 2 hikers, who asked me if I was in a race. I eyed the water bottle bulging from his pack- “could I have a sip?” About a 1/2 a liter later I was finished drinking. Maybe they really were angels? About this time I met my next 70 miler. He was cursing that he had missed the orange blaze and did a complete loop around Castle Point, back to where he started! I descended to Rainbow Falls, dripped a few mouthfuls from the pathetic trickle and climbed hard, then meeting my second set of angel/ hikers with water. I guess I looked like I needed help, but then again enjoying the vista from a rock in the Gunks must make people happy and generous. The Rainbow Trail ends with a crossing of Peters Kill- looking pretty brackish and slow, I almost ran on but did I find a bit of a pool and finally filled my pack! I had inserted a lightweight Sawyer brand water filter into the drinking tube.
In most ultras you can supplement the food you carry with a drop bag or choose from a table full of goodies, both sweet and savory, eagerly assisted by volunteers. At Laurel Highlands you could have a grilled cheese, made right on the spot! For the SRT, I carried it all: gels, blocks, pretzels, a bagel with peanut butter, Oreos, trail mix, sweet n salty bars – not knowing exactly what would taste good at the time, or how long I would be out there. I ate virtually all 3500 calories worth, everything but the bagel really, which supposed to be lunch, but due to the water shortage (see above) couldn’t manage.
Jenny and the Undivided Lot
After the water stop the route takes you on the delightfully straight(ish) and smooth(ish) blue blazed Jenny Lane Trail (mile 34.5). Ahh, I could actually stretch out and make some time. Then I finally reached that checkpoint with the water!! – CP#4 at Minnewaska SP (mile 37.5), and also caught my first 30 miler. Of course the smooth sailing didn’t last and after the euphoric moment at the check point my energy level was already low when I hit the brutally steep and rocky High Peters Kill trail – a climb that takes you to a gap between 2 high knobs – Whale’s Head and Dickie Barre. It finally did that level out for some nice ridge running in a pretty forest, and eventually got me to CP#5 (mile 41.5).
As I’m sure you have gathered the SRT is not really a trail but a collection of trails stitched together, many with delightful names – Warwarsing Turnpike, Old Minewaska, and my favorite, the Undivided Lot Trail! The light was fading by the time I got on Undivided, so roughly 12 hours in, but it was another mostly straight bit and I was running smoothly, knowing that at its end was the final check point at Spring Farm trailhead meaning only 6 miles to Rosendale! I nearly gave up my headlamp to a volunteer at CP#5, who asked if she could bring anything back to the start. Wow, was not giving into that impulse a bit of good luck, as somewhere after the last grueling last climb up Chapel Hill (Lord have mercy), it was dark. Running in the dark is sort of fun, but also creepy- it was still very warm and even more humid with bugs in the headlamp beam and animal noises coming from the woods. I knew we eventually joined a straight flat bit of rail trail just outside Rosendale but it never seem to come. I was also thinking of my daughter who had been waiting since before my poorly predicted 6:00 PM (at the latest!) arrival.
Trestle and the Finish
The Rosendale Trestle is a cool relic from days past when the canals and railways dominated the Hudson River area and also is 1/2 mile from the finish. I picked up the pace some as I hit the planks of the bridge and just on the other side, caught sight of a girl with a dog! Maddy and Andy ran with me to the finish at the Binnewater Kilns. 13 hours and 55 minutes and 53.5 miles later, the Shawangunk traverse was complete! The finish line scene was kind of like the start – a parking area with one corner illuminated but this time with music and a tent. Race director Todd, who probably had less sleep than any of the runners was trying to get more pizza delivered from town, handing out water and IPA’s and occasionally playing air guitar. About 10 runners and volunteers remained mostly sprawled in lawn chairs, some soaking their feet, but all looking pretty content. Cheers went up when a headlamp beam bobbed across the road to the finish.
Some stats: Adam the 50 mile winner was in at 12:29; Bill and Tim stayed together and finished at 16:12. There were 2 other finishers. 10 out of 16 finished the 70 with times ranging from 21 to 28 hours. Last spring, in the same mountains but on carriage roads, my time for the Rock the Ridge 50 miler was 7:32! The SRT was a different sort of race for sure.
Gear: New Balance Vazee Summit’s were great all day- good for rock climbing and running, and lightweight. Osprey Rev 1.5 was probably bigger than I needed, but fit well even with 8-10 pounds of water and and food; and the ”digiflip” pocket for the phone saved time all day. The All Trails GPS app for iPhone was also lifesaver – crystal clear maps and controls. Sawyer carbon water filter took care of the nasty stuff in the Peters Kill, and weighs next to nothing. Lulu Surge shorts and t-shirt (now worn on at least 20 adventures) are perfect.
Thanks for reading and get out there!