On May 6, 2017 I participated for the third time in the Rock the Ridge 50 miler. This event is a fundraiser for the Mohonk Preserve. It has a generous cutoff of 24 hours. The event is designed for the average runner/ hiker to be able to complete the entire distance. There is a registration fee as well as a fundraising minimum. I chose not to fundraise and pay the amount myself. These are my trails in my backyard. I know the importance of protecting and caring for this great gift of the Mohonk Preserve.
As co-director of Rock The Ridge it’s a great thrill for me to see the participants moving through the mountains and especially the expressions on their faces when they reach the finish. Even more remarkable is their good work raising funds for the Mohonk Preserve (New York’s largest not-for-profit nature preserve and host for the event), the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the NY-NJ Trail Conference, and other causes. With close to $250,000 raised in 2017 alone, the event is now approaching a cumulative five-year total of one million dollars, an outcome which brings a mix of joy and astonishment to the organizers.
As co-director it is also my job to run in the event, so that organizers have a clear understanding of the participant experience. In past years, this has been great fun, for example, in 2015 when I won the master’s division and set a personal record. But as one gets a little older, fifty miles gets a little tougher, and in 2016 my time was quite a bit slower.
As I stepped up to the starting line this year, the only goal was to finish. This would be my first ultramarathon since Rock The Ridge the year before, thanks to a long series of injuries. Two weeks before the race, I was feeling good, but then with one week to go the posterior tibialis tendon (which runs underneath the ankle on the inner side of the foot) flared up once again.
But even if my strategy was to take it easy, there might still be ways to make this an interesting and challenging event. I could run the fifty miles without taking any calories, and I’d see how far I could get without drinking.
Saturday, April 23, 2016, I was running with friends in the Sam’s Point section of Minnewaska State Park, descending from High Point toward the Verkeerderkill Falls, when we spotted a distant plume of smoke. We paused and watched as the smoke billowed up from a small patch of ground and then caught the wind, blowing away to the south, then shifting back towards us. Was the trail blocked? We couldn’t tell, but thought it best to turn back.
Two days later, what had started as a pin-prick was now threatening 2,000 acres, and Rock The Ridge race director Todd Jennings and I were forced to consider an emergency re-route of the course — with only five days until the start. The problem wasn’t that the flames would threaten the runners, but rather that Minnewaska State Park was closed while the staff worked around the clock with 300 firefighters, rangers, and volunteers to contain the blaze. Hosting a race at the same time didn’t seem possible. But with two days to go, we got word that Minnewaska had approved us to proceed with the original course, even if the park was still closed. And then it rained, and the fire went out. Todd and I salute the staff for protecting thousands of acres of beautiful land and managing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It’s an incredibly important job, and there’s nothing easy about it.
Rock The Ridge is a 50-mile race with a 24-hour time limit, which makes it possible for a wide range of people to participate, from elite trail runners to walkers and hikers.
No matter who you are, there’s something special about covering 50 miles, especially when you’re running in the Shawangunk mountains.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are some of the participants’ experiences in their own words:
I enlisted a group of family and friends to do the 2014 relay division with me, and it was an amazing experience. As soon as I finished, I was ready to sign up for 2015. As I thought about it, I told myself that I might as well do the whole thing and thought, “to hell with it! I’m doing 50 miles!”
I was so excited at the start that I ended up going too fast on the first leg, which was a big mistake, and I definitely paid for it around mile 22. That was where I hit the wall, and questioned whether or not I could finish.
I came into the Lyons Road aid station pretty exhausted, and was considering stopping. Then I saw my friends and all the volunteers. I decided to take a 15 minute break and ate some food, including a baked potato, which I am convinced saved my life!
About a mile out, I started up the “big hill,” and that’s when something amazing happened – I started feeling great and pushed through the mental and physical wall. Once I reached the top, I had a revelation – I was going to finish this damn thing! My months of training and hard work were going to pay off.
I never dreamed that I would do something like this.
Walt Disney was a dreamer and visionary who had that “can do” spirit. It was only fitting that I wore my Mickey Mouse t-shirt during the race. Mickey Mouse is a state of mind. It’s about staying positive in the face of challenge, keeping your eye on the goal, and pushing through when the going gets tough and not giving up. And that was Rock the Ridge for me.
In 2012 I was diagnosed with a swallowing disorder called Achalasia. Over the last few years I have had many failed procedures to “fix” it. In January I was feeling VERY depressed after the last attempt and cried for three days straight, and then decided to “throw” my life into something positive, and that happen to be running Rock the Ridge.
Just driving in, I was amazed with the beauty of the area. Any doubts I had that I could do this were shot down. I knew I could run there, so serene and peaceful. Along my run I met some great people…together we were a great team!
I learned…DON’T EVER DOUBT YOURSELF
I do not let this disease control my life…I control my life. I can do what I put my mind and heart into, no matter how impossible the challenge sounds to others.
The Mohonk Preserve and its many programs are treasures to the Hudson Valley and New York. Beyond the personal benefits I receive from having the Preserve in my back yard, I valued the opportunity this race gave to raise funds to help those who might never have the opportunity to experience the beauty of the outdoors.
Rock the Ridge was an amazing personal experience. Although not without its difficulty, I found that I could continue to run for over 8 hours and actually have some fun in the process!
You will not find anywhere such a combination of enthusiastic volunteers, beautiful setting, supportive fellow runners, and outstanding race organizers….all for a fantastic cause.
Why did I sign up? To test my limits. To prove to myself that I am stronger than I give myself credit for. To conquer what seems an impossibility.
What happened? I felt empowered! I treasured the spectacular views and the awesome friends I was surrounded by. And toward the end, I learned that fighting for something is hard, really hard, but the end result is SO worth it.
What did this mean? EVERYTHING! I can do absolutely anything I set my heart and mind to!
Mike and Lisa Kristofik
I dialed up my daughter, asked if she wanted to join me. No hesitation whatsoever. “Sure,” she said, “if you carry the food!” Seems she was waiting for the invite, and was ready.
We trained through the autumn,trying to cover the Mohonk trails in 10 mile segments..
Winter forced us out onto local roads, where we logged a 20-22 miler each weekend.
Spring found us saying “forget the miles, let’s run/walk for 6 hours or so.”
Then it was May 2 and we followed our plan…run/walk the first half…survive /tough out the second half. Our plan worked pretty well…mile 42 thru 50 found us with pretty sore feet (no blisters, just sore)
At mile 26.2 we celebrated my daughter’s first marathon, at mile fifty, her first ultra. She had never ran more than a half marathon in an event or more than 22 as a training run..
Insanity is a prerequisite it seems, or is it?
We limped our way in quite slowly, under headlight power, to the finish. Great volunteers, great rest stops, great weather….a great experience.
I have a congenital heart defect called a bicuspid aortic valve. The valve has always had a mild amount of leakage. Three years ago. I was informed that my valve had led to a slight aneurysm and the valve now has a mild amount of narrowing (stenosis). I spent a year feeling scared and depressed. I finally dealt with my condition during a solo swim on a cloudy day in Lake Awosting. I decided to do everything I could to fight this disease I have been born with and prevent or delay the day when I will need surgery both through diet and exercise.
I truly feel at home when I’m exercising in the woods surrounded by nature.
The course was special, passing some places I’ve really enjoyed in the past like Sky Top, Castle Point, and Lake Awosting. I also enjoyed seeing some new places like Awosting Falls and seeing climbers above on the Trapps.
I battled leg cramps and knee pain twice, and I could no longer run after about mile 38. I’m proudest that I stretched out and managed to run the last 5 miles to the finish. I was also pleased to experience a faster recovery from this race than after my first marathon.
My doc says the aneurysm in my ascending aorta has stabilized. He told me to come back in a year instead of every 6 months. I am lucky because many others with my condition have faced serious side effects and/ or surgery at a much younger age than me, because I have no symptoms, and I have no restrictions on endurance events.
Reaching my goals has helped me to be happier, healthier, and have more confidence in other areas of my life.
I’m turning 50 next month and it seemed only natural to walk a “50 @ 50.” I signed up for Rock The Ridge to challenge myself…
My experience was really good. It was a hard thing to accomplish because of the distance, and the biggest discomfort I had was due to blisters (the blisters were more annoying than anything else).
This event made me realize how strong I actually am
After walking 50 miles, my perspective of what’s difficult has changed. This event marked a milestone for me mentally and physically. There was never a question in my mind if I was going to complete the course: I was concerned about the condition I would be in when I crossed the finish line.
I fared pretty well, and now I know “what I’m made of.”
Turns out, I’m pretty hardy!
Rock the Ridge means a lot to me. This is the event where I actually completed a 50 mile Ultra run. The fact that it’s held on the Shawungunk Ridge only makes it that much more special by being surrounded by the stunning contours of this special place.
This year’s event was one of those special days where everything goes your way. I truly felt like a part of the community, having team members, family, friends and other local runners all at the start. I barely had time for any anxiety to creep in. I set out to better my time from last year (while having a great experience).
Crossing that finish line was an incredible experience that I don’t expect to ever forget.
I beat last year’s time by an hour and forty minutes and came in under ten hours.
I half heard something on the radio about “Rock the Ridge” while I was driving. When I got home I checked it out. It seemed like something I might be able to complete; on the other hand it was not something I was sure I could do. I liked that uncertainty. So I started to train, adding more and more time onto the treadmill each week and setting the incline to as high as it went.
My goal was to fully walk it, at about 3MPH, but mostly just to finish within the time allowed. I completed it a bit slower (19:15 instead of my goal of 17:00 hours), but I did finish. As best I can tell I was nearly the oldest person to do the full 50 Miles (I am 64)
The most meaningful thing to me was my coming to understand that while I wanted to quit, often, I never “had” to quit. I always asked myself if I really had to stop and I never did – I only needed to keep putting one foot in front of the next (and not trip).
I plan to remember that distinction between “have to” and “would like to” when I feel like quitting at something.
Rock The Ridge was something I felt drawn to do since I heard about it the first year. It took me several years to get up the nerve to actually do it. ( I am turning 60 in a few weeks so this year was like now or never.)
I had a great time during the event the event interacting with the other participants and the volunteers. I hike every Wednesday with the Bob Babb Wednesday walkers and some of the people from that group were volunteering at Spring Farm. It was great to see them and get some encouragement from them.
I tried to anticipate problems that I might encounter along the way, but two things that I didn’t foresee were getting blisters on top of my toes, and having no appetite at all which made it difficult to keep up my energy. I started fading fast around mile 25.
Even though I didn’t complete the entire 50 miles I have a sense of accomplishment for going for 35 miles. Some of my friends want me to be a poster child for baby boomer fitness. I am hoping to participate next year as part of a relay team.
I signed up because I was at a time in my life when I needed to go on a journey.
I went into myself and came out 11 some odd hours later a different person. I needed a little metamorphosis and sometimes pushing myself like that is what brings it about. Prior to this the farthest I had gone was 30 miles. This opened a lot of personal doors for me.
During the event…amid IT band agony, smiling faces, boiled potatoes, and incredible views, I realized why I love to run, I got over a horrendous breakup, and decided the direction I want to go with my career…better than any therapist!
What it means to me? It means I can do anything I set my mind too
Three years ago I smoked a pack a day and could barely run a half mile. Now, I can say I completed an Ultra. It changed everything.