This is a guest post by Russ Dresher, winner of the 2022 SRT Run 70-mile division, and course record-holder (he won the race in 2021)
Thanks to all the volunteers that made this event possible. A special thanks to all the firefighters who battled the fires in Minnewaska State Park leading up to the event. For your work, you certainly earned a seat at the SRT family table. Of course, an extra special thanks to Ken and Todd for all that you do. You organize and put on one heck of an event. Your welcoming attitude is one of the main reasons I decided to run this race for the second year in a row. Congrats as well to all the runners. This course is no joke. Feel proud for however far you went or what your finishing time was. Welcome to the SRT family!
The week or so leading up to the race was quite stressful for me. I had been nursing a cranky knee throughout August and as a result entered the dreaded taper way earlier than usual, a whole 4 weeks. The morning of the race, I was still not sure I should even give it a go. Would my knee act up or would the lack of training catch up to me? Come 10AM, however, I made the decision to at least try. With that, packing ensued and the 4+ hour drive to the start commenced.
For those following along with the various SRT reports from 70 mile winners, you already know that seeing a porcupine (alive or dead) seems to be good luck. Last year, for me, it was a dead porcupine sighting on the drive down. This year, no porcupines, but I did have a rare bald eagle sighting during the drive. I wondered what that would mean?
I opted for the 8PM start and arrived at High Point after the 6:30PM wave already left. I was shocked to find out that I might be the only late wave starter for the year. Coincidentally, on the drive to the start I mentioned to my wife that I would prefer if no one else started with me so I could ease into the run, give my knee some time to loosen up and not have to worry about getting caught up in someone else’s race pace. At 7:45PM, the realization of starting alone was locked in, and I felt both a sense of relief and loneliness.
Sunset from High Point State Park. Photo credit Niki Dresher (Insta: fallingangel406)
For my race report last year, I focused a fair amount on how the race panned out with respect to other runners and how I was feeling physically. This year, I ran the entirety of the race alone, aside from those few minutes passing the first wave of starters and being passed by the half marathoners. So, for this year’s race report I thought I would focus on the course itself (it truly is magical) and some of the memories that I made.
The course starts at the intersection of the SRT and the AT. The AT holds a special place in my heart. My wife and I completed it 6 years and 2 days ago from the date of this writing. I always feel at home when on it so the start of this race is comforting for me. The course also starts with a tiny dip down and then a climb up to the High Point monument. This year, Ken remarked to me how he felt like the start might be the rockiest section of the course. Regardless of if it is or isn’t, this short rocky section sets the stage for a fair portion of the course. Expect rocks of all varieties along your journey. Sharp pointy rocks. Loose golf ball-sized rock. Large flat or slanted rock. You get the picture. There are some respites from the rock throughout, but be prepared to spend most of your time on technical terrain that requires focus.
Leaving the monument, the course crosses a parking lot and enters the woods. Darkness had already fallen by the time I crossed the parking lot. I was alone with nothing to distract me from my negative thoughts. At what mile will I feel something pull in my knee? When will that DNF come? The parking lot is so easy. Surely, my body is going to revolt once I reach the woods on the other side. Although similar thoughts crept into my mind throughout the race, I am relieved to say no major issues actually came to fruition.
The course descends, makes a hard left, then a hard right to cross a long boardwalk. I always enjoy my time here. Listening to the pitter-patter of my shoes as they strike the wood is calming, almost a form a meditation. Additional rhythmic sounds were created by 2 barred owls, one on each side of the boardwalk. I named them Barry and Bobby after the 2 that frequent my backyard at home.
Reaching the Greenville Turnpike at 4.5 miles has always been a bit of challenge for me whether during the race or during a training run. I always seem to miss the slight jog of the trail to the left before it reaches the road. For the first time ever, I actually stayed on trail. Yippie! This year, I was also happy to see the volunteers at the end of the road section. Their friendly voices washed away the loneliness.
During the next section, the trail crosses some power lines right above I-84. At night, the views are not spectacular, but like the start, I feel at home here. I grew up in Pennsylvania and for a time was driving I-84 between PA and MA quite regularly. Seeing the interstate below me from the course always brings back memories of those drives. Usually I would be eating my favorite hometown pizza as I made my way along that section of the interstate, unbeknownst to me that there was an amazing trail just a stone’s throw away.
At mile 7.4, the trail turns left onto Slate Hill Rd. Let me just say it. I hate this road. The cars fly on it and could care less there is some weirdo with a headlamp on the side of the road. Last year, I walked the up to conserve energy. This year, I ran it just so I would not have to deal with as many cars.
In years past, the SRT made its way to an active rail line. This year, the trail was rerouted into the woods, running parallel to the tracks. I liked the tracks because although rocky, the terrain was flat and fast. The reroute definitely helps preserve the feeling of being one with nature, but does add a bit more of a challenge to the course. Either old or new, both portions of trail eventually lead to the creepy hunting cabin in the woods. I can never run by it without thinking of my favorite horror series, Friday the 13th. This year, I could hear the generator churning, hear a dog barking and see a man grilling as I ran past. I like to think my unease here is met with a similar unease by the occupants as they wonder why there are a bunch of weirdos with headlamps running through the woods in the middle of the night.
Just after the cabin, I started to see the 6:30PM starters. Throughout the night, I would try to offer words of encouragement and exchange names. Sorry to anyone who I did not get to do this with!
After crossing Shin Hollow RD, the SRT follows an old woods road to highway 211. On paper, this section seems like a cake walk. Flat and fast is was it seems like, but in reality there are many sections with loose rock that twist and turn your ankles. Don’t get annoyed here. Everyone else is dealing with the same frustrating footing.
Next is a short climb up Gobbler’s Knob. I enjoy ascents and for the SRT, this is the first real climb. I take advantage of the slower pace by consuming calories. What ultrarunner doesn’t love to eat? This year, there was a new reroute leading down to Bashakill. I had a very hard time navigating this section at night. I missed the blazes and started heading down the old trail. Finding my way back to the reroute I struggle to spot blazes ahead of me. Sometimes, it felt like the blazes were painted on the sides of the trees perpendicular to the trail. Should I go straight, left or right? It all depended on which angle I approached the blaze from. Slowly, I found my way to the Bashakill.
Bashakill time. Flat, runnable terrain. Some memories of the Bashakill this year. A deer that stood in the trail and would not move until I was almost within arm’s reach. A gigantic frog also in the trail. It was the biggest frog I have ever seen in nature. A set of glowing eyes perched in a tree alongside the trail. I have no clue what it was, but I like to think it was whispering to its nearby friends, “Hey, get a load of this idiot.”
In Wurtsboro, the course makes a right onto a grassy path a block before the main street. At this point, I was alongside another runner, and I let him know of the turn when we arrived. Boy was I surprised to find that the other end of the path adjacent to the main street was under construction with orange plastic fencing blocking the way to the street. Luckily, the fence was easy enough to get over, but I’m sure the other runner thought I led him the wrong way. Sorry dude!
The Wurstboro Ridge & Shawangunk Ridge section tends to be a slog for most runners. There are numerous ups and downs and things just seem to meld into each other with limited landmarks to identify progress. For me, the first landmark doesn’t come until the climb up to the fire tower. This year, it just so happened that I ran into 1st and 2nd place at basically the start of this climb. After a quick conversation with Roland and Willis, I made my way up the first steep section. Just when you don’t think it can get any steeper, the trail crosses a road and then BAM! an even steeper, rockier section. It certainly gets your calves and quads burning. Shortly after, the trail ascends more moderately to the fire tower.
Checkpoint 3, mile 38. I arrive this year only 13 minutes before 5:00 AM (editor’s note: 70-mile runners are held up until 5:00 AM, under the conditions of our permit with Minnewaska State Park Preserve). I barely have time to reorganize my vest, eat some food and call my wife. On the bright side, I wasn’t sitting long enough to catch a chill.
Leaving checkpoint 3, you will encounter the biggest climb of the race. At the top you are greeted by amazing views. I’ve been fortunate enough the last 2 years to reach these views just as the sun begins to rise. This year, the sun was an amazing red ball in the sky that filled me with renewed energy. It rivaled the views of a spectacular undercast I was treated to on the Wurtsboro Ridge just a few short hours ago.
For many, the next section of the race tends to be the slowest and most technical. For me, I get another sense of home when the SRT departs from the Long Path just after the falls. I have run this portion of the SRT out to Jenny Lane many times. For my wife’s first 50k, I created a course that included this entire portion of the SRT. Yes, I know, what a terrible husband I am for putting such a challenging section into her first 50k J She is still with me so it couldn’t have been that bad for her and the course is kind of an annual tradition for us. For me, I can’t help but navigate this section and think of all the memories I made following right behind her during that first 50k. Those memories feel like home and like many other sections of the SRT, hold a very special place in my heart.
Leaving Jenny Lane, there is a mere 16 miles left of the race. My memory tends to get fuzzy for these remaining miles. There are basically 4 landmarks, of which 3 I never look forward to. The first 2 are the final major climbs of the race. The first ascending after crossing Coxing Kill and the second ascending after crossing Mohonk Rd. The last climb can be brutal on hot days as a portion of it crosses an exposed field. The 3rd landmark isn’t as much of a landmark as it a test of perseverance. After the initial steep descent of the last climb, the course tends to be a never-ending series of rolling hills until reaching the final landmark of this section (and the race), the rail trail. The rail trail marks only 0.7 miles to go. Almost over! This year, I would finish the race 1 hour and 3 minutes slower than last year but I couldn’t be any less proud of myself and thankful for another year of making lifelong memories.
All smiles at the finish. Photo credit Niki Dresher (Insta: fallingangel406)
I had a good time chatting with the half marathon finishers as I let my body wind down. I was also happy to chat with Willis, who I had met earlier the night before on the Wurtsboro Ridge. I wasn’t so happy to hear that he dropped, but I found it he was trying to do the course in sandals. Kudos to trying that and kudos for setting a solid pace for those first 30+ miles!
After receiving the awesome first place award, a handcrafted tomahawk, I sat back down to eat and drink. A Gatorade and a slice of pepperoni pizza was all I could stomach before having to call it quits, hop (or should I say crawl) into the vehicle and make the drive home. As usual, I couldn’t really sleep on the way home so I filled my wife in on the highlights that would pop into my mind in a somewhat random fashion.
Race Director Ken Posner, myself and NY-NJ Trail Conference senior volunteer leader Andy Garrison with my tomahawk. Photo credit Niki Dresher (Insta: fallingangel406)
As for porcupine vs. bald eagle sightings, I guess I have my answer. Bald eagles may be good luck, but only enough good luck for a win. A porcupine on the other hand provides enough good luck for both a win and a course record. Now the question remains…what would a porcupine AND bald eagle sighting mean?
You can hear Russ Dresher and other 70-mile winners discuss tips for unsupported trail racing in this YouTube interview: