North Face Endurance Challenge New York: 50k Bear Mountain Course Recon
I headed north to Bear Mountain State Park yesterday to scout the trails that will be used in the North Face Endurance Challenge New York 50k scheduled for May 9, 2009. I’ve run some of the trails at Bear Mountain/Harriman over the years, but not quite in the direction/combination that they are using for the race.
I began the day at the starting line of the race and headed out to cover the first 7ish miles of the course. At that point, I cut across due east on the AT (up and over a couple of peaks), and picked up the race course again for about the final 8 miles. I’m hoping to head back in the next few weeks to run the rest of the course (miles 7-23).
Most of the parts I ran were “runnable”, with plenty of wider trails and a sprinkling of technical single track. In addition, the saw-tooth profile is accurate: this thing is never flat, you are either going up or going down nearly all the time. The course descriptions in the North Face Endurance Challenge handbook are fairly accurate, although the navigational directions lack distances, which made for a few head-scratching moments yesterday (e.g. “turn left on ski trail” … um, which one?). In all, I think I made three wrong turns, and only the first one was really significant (and a stupid move on my part, I missed an obvious blaze). One thing I've noticed at Harriman over the years: there are plenty of unmarked trails shooting off in many directions. I suppose that comes with the many years that the main trails have been open, and the fact that the park is criss-crossed with automobile roadways that hikers want to connect to by cutting their own paths. At any rate, you need to keep your eyes open and make sure you follow the right blazes, or you can get off-course in a hurry.
I haven’t done this North Face event before, so I don’t know how well the organizers will mark the course beforehand. There are a couple of tricky nav spots in the first five miles, but only the second one is missing any kind of signage (it’s the turn off of Seven Lakes Drive onto Silvermine Ski Road). I missed that one completely, but I knew I was supposed to be crossing the creek that was about 100 meters from the road … so when I spotted the footbridge off to my left, I just bush-whacked over and was back on course.
Over the final 8 miles, there are three sections that are going to cause me some problems. The first is a short section of technical and narrow single-track on the Bear Mountain trail (yellow blazes) heading uphill, followed immediately by the second: a toenail-blackening descent on the same trail (did these people never hear of switchbacks?). The final tricky section is the descent off Timp Pass on the old woods road, which has been eroded over time and is now just a path strewn with fist-sized, sharp, loose rocks. I was slipping and skidding down that thing and nearly fell twice … that’s going to be fun during the race when it comes around the 26 mile mark.
On the final mile back to the finish, there are a couple of angled cross-trails that can throw off navigation, too. Keep your head up.
My assessment: Despite several sections of fairly easy trails, this race is going to be pretty tough overall. I’m looking forward to it while at the same time a bit nervous, which is probably appropriate. I find that the hardest thing for me to do in these longer trail races is hold back over the middle third of the race. I do pretty well being patient and eating/drinking for the first third, but I tend to get into a kind of rhythm in the middle third, run too hard, not take in enough calories, then pay for it over the final third of the race. I hope to practice a little more patience on May 9. We’ll see.