Shawn won the 1/2 marathon division in 2:08, tying the course record set by Adam Meier in 2015. Since the SRT race is a minimalist event (no course markings or aid stations), quick thinking on your feet and deft management of hydration and nutrition can often be more important than pure speed — as Shawn’s report clearly illustrates.
Since getting into trail running a few years ago, the SRT run/hike has become one of my favorite races of the year. The trail itself is beautiful offering scenic views as well as remarkable diversity of surroundings and trail surface. In my opinion, the SRT and surrounding area offers some of the best trail running (if not the best) I’ve seen in the state. Some may balk at the self-supported nature of the run, but it’s the most environmentally friendly way of racing (and respecting the natural surroundings that we enjoy) given there’s minimal waste in the form of cups, bottles, and plastic jugs. And I like that it places greater importance on the thought, experience, and wisdom to plan and adjust.
When I arrived to get my bib, Todd Jennings, one of the RD’s, recognized me from previous SRT races I’ve done and instantly had my bib ready and welcomed me back. I was looking forward to running this year with a couple of good friends Dusty and Brandon. Driving up to the Peters Kill, we were talking about our plans for nutrition when we saw a red fox dart across the road. We were also sharing our apprehensiveness about the weather. The forecast was looking hot and humid with temperatures predicted to exceed 80 deg with humidity levels over 80%. To be sure, there would be suffering as runners pushed themselves across the mountainous terrain and carrying the water they would need or stopping to filter water to stay hydrated.
This year’s half marathon entrant list on Ultrasignup.com topped out at 100 entries and was looking competitive. Runners with the three fastest course times (2:08, 2:10, 2:12) were registered. This included Adam Meier who has run the SRT three times at three different distances, never lost, and still held the course record for the 50-mile and 1/2 marathon divisions. The holder of the second fastest time, Daichi Inoue, won the half marathon distance last year and has a recent string of 2nd place finishes at competitive races including at the Dirty Dozen 50k, Vermont 100k, TNF Endurance Challenge Massachusetts 50 miler, and the TNF Endurance Challenge New York marathon. Tsukasa Kawarai finished the half marathon last year in second place last with the third fastest time on the course. Tsukasa was having a busy racing year including a finish at the Run Rabbit Run 50 miler in September, Vermont 100k in July, and Cruel Jewel 100 miler in May. Also registered were Blake Haase and Ludovic Pillard, both with course times in the top ten.
Around 10:15, runners gathered at the start as the co-RD Ken Posner offered guidance on navigating the course and a reminder about the self-supported nature of the run including the absence of aid stations. Runners laughed as Ken joked about the one-of-a-kind cut-off times due to the longer distance races. I recognized Adam Meier at the start from a previous SRT run we were both in and he was clearly just there to cheer on others who were running. I guessed he had suffered an injury and was unable to run.
Usually, I’m feeling pretty intimidated at this point in the race and getting ready to be left in the dust by the “real” runners. But, this time I was feeling a bit more confident in part because I have been training hard for a marathon including consistent speed workouts with the goal of qualifying for Boston. I was also ready to put in a max effort after dealing with the frustration of rehabbing a piriformis injury from January to June. Still, I wasn’t sure how I’d stack up with the other runners, but I was excited for the opportunity to find out. My plan was to try to follow the faster guys as long as I could and see how I felt.
At 10:30, runners started going off in waves. I was in wave four with Dusty and Brandon (who were running the SRT for the first time) along with Daichi Inoue. After a quick countdown, we were off. Daichi zipped out front with a fast pace. Sticking to my plan, I was putting in significant effort to keep up. Climbing up the Bull Wheel trail, I was feeling the full weight of my hydration pack. I also couldn’t help but notice how smoothly Daichi was moving and how light his pack looked. Figuring I was outmatched I quickly abandoned my initial plan and decided to run my own race. As I slowed my pace, Daichi pulled away. A few minutes later at an intersection, I saw him again as he zipped by from my left (after an apparent wrong turn) and was quickly out of sight again.
Fifteen minutes into the race, I was already wiping sweat off my face and I’m usually not someone who sweats excessively. From past experiences of running in similar weather, I knew I’d be sweating way more than usual. The night before the race, I was wrestling with the decision of how much water to carry. More water would mean more weight. More weight would mean moving slower. I decided on carrying more water and filled up my 2-liter bladder. I also decided on using electrolyte tablets along with plenty of gels and Cliff blocks to make up for the loss of electrolytes and energy of my body trying to cool itself.
On the Old Minnewaska trail I was running alone and moving well up the gentle climbs. As I was enjoying the surrounding forest and glimpses of the Catskills to the North I had to remind myself I was in a race and not on a leisurely trail run. I made a quick transition to the Undivided Lot trail where in a previous year I had missed this turn and ran all the way to the intersection with Laurel Ledge and then had no idea where I was. After that incident and then going off course twice last year during the 30 miler, I was determined to stay on course this year. A couple weeks before the race, I ran the entire course to refresh my memory of the course with Brandon (and managed to get lost near Bonticou crag). Even though the course is well marked by SRT blazes and then with flags on the non-SRT sections at the end, there are a number of turns that are easy to miss if you’re not paying attention or familiar with the course.
Along the Undivided Lot, I caught up to Blake Haase who left in the previous wave. We chatted a bit and he said one of his Altra Olympus shoes completely blew out on the side leaving his foot exposed. As he as talking about the letter he was going to write to Altra, Tsukasa Kawarai quickly came up from behind and passed us. I was still feeling pretty strong at that point, so I decided to see if I could keep up with Tsukasa. I followed him down the rest of Divided Lot across the road and onto the climb up Chapel. We were hiking and running our way up the long climb at a steady pace. At one point, Tsukasa made a wrong turn at an intersection and I passed and yelled out to him. I then began putting in a little more effort and gradually pulled away. By the time I reached the top of the Crag trail section, I looked back and didn’t see Tsukasa. I hung a left towards the Northeastern trail and was moving faster as the trail flattened out. I looked back again wondering if Tsukasa would navigate the turns in this section. Mentally and physically, I was feeling great. I knew the rest of the course was downhill. My legs were recovering better than expected after the climb. They were feeling better and better as I moved on the downhill and flatter sections. I ate my last Cliff block and decided to use my last gel for the last 2 to 3 miles. I gauged my water supply and figured I had at least a half liter left. Not only were my legs feeling good but the weight in my pack now felt minimal. Feeling light and moving fast, I began thinking about the possibility of catching Daichi.
At the beginning of the race, when I saw how light his pack looked, I wondered how long his water supply would last. Given that I had gone through most of my 2 liters, I couldn’t help but wonder how he was doing on hydration. Imagining Daichi was in front of me and slowing down, I was pushing the pace and saving a little for a hard push on the rail trail. When I hit the rail trail, I was moving as fast I could, but still no sight of Daichi. It then crossed my mind that Tsukasa was still behind me (along with a number of runners), so I looked over my shoulder on a long straight section and felt a wave of relief not seeing anyone coming up from behind. I was breathing heavy and feeling really good about my effort and whatever place and time I got.
I pulled into the finish area and was cheered on by volunteers at the final checkpoint. I was warmly congratulated by co-directors Todd and Ken. I had been monitoring my heart-rate all along, but not my time. I stopped my watch and saw I had finished in 2:08 (tieing the course record). Looking around, I did not seek Daichi and realized he must have went off-course. A few minutes passed before Tsukasa came through the finish. We shook hands and he shared that he had in fact missed a turn around Bonticou. After confirming at the checkpoint the times of our runs, it began sinking in that I had managed to win.
I enjoyed meeting other runners as well as seeing my buddies Dusty and Brandon come through. Watching the winner of the 70 miler come in after 18 hours and talking with a previous finisher of the 70 miler was inspiring. A day later I’m still processing the experience of the race and winning. It felt like a once in a lifetime kind of day of achieving something that, up until very recently, I didn’t think was possible. I am filled with gratitude for the experience and to everyone involved. The co-directors of the race couldn’t be more friendly and helpful. They seemed omnipresent throughout the race and were both at the finish congratulating runners, making sure runners were getting the cold beverages they needed including some tasty Six Point beer, and on the phone giving directions to a runner who had gotten lost. Thank you guys and all the volunteers for everything. I hope to be back next year, when I’ll be turning forty, and am starting to think it might be a good year to take on the 70 miler.