This is a guest post by 2022 SRT 70-mile finisher Mike Valentino
It’s been 3 weeks since the race. As I look back on my experience all I can say is, WOW! First of all, I can’t believe I finished. It was the hardest race I’ve ever participated in – between the distance, terrain and having a minimalist format.
At the start, I really had no idea if I could complete the task at hand. When I signed up for the SRT, my wife said “you’re crazy!” and “why didn’t you sign up for the 30 mile event?”. I knew I could go 30… but 70 miles?
Anyway, I started the race with my friend Gabe and his buddy Mike. We went the whole way together. These are two great guys to spend a lot of time with. We left High Point State Park, and the dark seemed to arrive pretty fast. As the night went on I was unsure of how I would deal with the night. I’m not used to being awake past 10 pm. This turned out to not be an issue.
One of my big worries was navigation. I know the trail has plenty of blazes but they can still be hard to follow. We definitely took a couple of wrong turns but we would realize pretty quickly that we were going the wrong way.
As we worked our way towards check point one we picked up a hitchhiker. Another runner could not find the trail. He joined up for a very large part of the journey. We were surprised by a Metro North Train as we were getting close to the tracks. As we jogged down the long straight rocky road, Russ passed us like we were not moving. We arrived at check point one feeling pretty good. I was happy to be off of that flat rocky stretch. I think that what I consider our first real climb came right as we entered Gobblers Knob State Forest. It was pretty smooth sailing between there and Wurstboro. I did enjoy the graffiti as we went under route 17. We found water at the little league fields before Checkpoint 2.
I knew the race was really going to get tougher from that point. I had done a little trail research during my training and I knew the climbs that were ahead of us. I started to use my trekking poles at this time. We were moving along at a pretty good pace, jogging anything that was jogable. It was a beautiful night. The harvest moon was shining and we could see the fog in the valley below.
We got to the firetower and took a minute.
So far I was sticking to the plan of eating every hour and staying on top of my hydration, plus taking some salt every hour to prevent cramping. It worked as I did not cramp at all. I was eating fig bars, stroopwafels and cliff bars.
As the sun began to rise somewhere before Checkpoint 3, it felt really good to make it through the night. As we entered The South Gully I got mentally ready for the climbs that were going to take us up to Sams Point. I had toured them during training and they were as tough as advertised: Long and steep. We were feeling pretty good as we arrived at Sams Point Visitor Center. We refilled our water and took a short break. Looking up at the rocks, it reminded me of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. We moved along up the road and onto the rocky trail. I could feel some blisters starting to form on both of my feet. I did not want to take off my shoes, so I chose to ignore them. I think it was a good idea as I had more blisters form on my feet as the race went on. In addition to the blisters, I started to get cracks in the bottom of my feet.
I could not believe the amount of scrabbles in the park. A couple of them were tricky. As we climbed up to Castle Point a couple asked us if they were at Castle Point. We had no idea, but we soon found out that it was. It was a beautiful day in the park. The heat did not seem to bother me, as the temperatures were in the 80s. We reached the detour which seemed longer than what we were told. This was most likely our fatigue. Before we had reached the detour our hitch hiker had moved on ahead of us. We later found him at Checkpoint 4. He had tapped out. We tried to talk him into continuing but he was not having it. We refilled out water and went on our way.
At this point I was planning on making it to the finish. Mentally I felt strong at this point even though my body was tiring and my feet were in constant pain. As we were pushing towards Check point 5 I took a spill at about mile 60. I went down pretty hard, got up and brushed myself ott. I said to my pals “let’s go”. I joked that it took me 60 miles to fall. I usually fall a bit when I trail run.
We made it to Checkpoint 5 in good shape to finish. We thought we would finish by 8 or 9 pm. I don’t know what happened but the wheels started to fall off the bus. We were slowing down physically and mentally. At this point I started having some hallucinations. I thought I saw a man raking leaves on a concrete platform. As I got closer, I realized I was seeing things. Trees started looking different, they started to look like buildings. The sleep deprivation was definitely affecting me.
We missed a turn, and it took a few minutes to realize that we needed to back track. We found the turn and were back to heading in the right direction. We were hoping to make it to the last checkpoint without using our headlamps but that was not to be.
As we came out of the woods to the road, we couldn’t figure out which way to go. Time slipped away as we went back and forth before we found Chapel Trail. As we approached the last checkpoint it was very much dark and all of a sudden we heard cheering. We only made it with about 20-25 minutes to spare. Everyone was happy it seemed except for the Race Director. He asked how the sweepers got to the checkpoint before we did. It turns out they must have passed us when we couldn’t figure out which way to go. The Race Director did a wellness check on us. My one traveling companion, Mike, said that he was finished and did not want to go on. The sweepers were trying to tell him that he would regret it if he quit now. Thankfully Gabe was able to talk him off of the ledge.
After we left the checkpoint and started up the hill, my brain started telling me: you should have quit when you had the chance, why don’t you walk back down the hill. I didn’t listen and pressed on. We could see the lights from the sweepers after a while. We kept on moving and made some wrong turns. I was extremely exhausted. I had been up since 6am Friday, We finally found our way out of the woods and onto the road. The finish line still seemed far away even though we knew we were close. It was a slow go to the rail trail and then across the trestle. We could hear the cheering at the finish line. It felt really amazing to finish this race. Like I said at the beginning, I had no idea if I could even complete this journey. Big shout outs to all the volunteers, and Ken and Todd. Truly, an incredible event.