With the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k Trail Race coming up on May 9, I have been making time to get to Bear Mountain/Harriman State Park to traverse the entire route as preparation. In previous postings, I described some of the challenges of the first 7 miles and last 9 miles of the course. That left the middle 14 miles as unexplored (at least for me). My chance to cover those miles came last Sunday afternoon, following the short trail race I ran that morning.
It’s somewhat hard to decide how objective I can be about this latest recon mission. First of all, I was a bit tired from running all-out in mud that morning. Second of all, it was a cool, breezy, misty day, which left the course a bit sloppy and the rocks quite slick; I didn’t fall, but I came close a couple of times, very close. Still, even taking all of that into account, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the middle 14 miles of this race course include the most technical and difficult (and in two cases actually a bit dangerous) portions of the course.
I actually ran 17 miles of the course, from the 3.9 mile mark to the 20.9 mile mark, according to the race booklet. Having run a race earlier in the day, I think I took on a little too much in the afternoon, because I ended up running out of fuel and bonking at about 14 miles. That made for some slow slogging and uphill walking during the last 3 miles, but I suppose I should be glad that it was my energy level and not my legs that gave out on me. Even my sore right hamstring, which had really bothered me in the race, seemed to hang in there just fine at the slower pace of this trail run.
As far as the course, it’s pretty easy from the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area for about 3 miles until you pick up the Ramapo-Dunderberg/AT trail. This is technical singletrack folks, with typical east coast rocks and roots and the need for you to choose carefully your every foot fall. You ascend, then descend, and the last hundred meters down to the shelter at the next trail intersection is very treacherous: on this wet day, it was downright dangerous. You basically hop down some boulders, but they are scattered at odd angles and there are no good hand holds anywhere … be very careful here, a fall is possible and injury likely if that happens!
The next couple of miles, ending up at Silvermine Lake, are nice, and especially a short section just after the lake along soft pine needles. After you cross Seven Lakes Drive, it’s a long slow climb on a fire road to hook up with the Long Path, which puts you back into technical singletrack and several significant climbs and descents for a few miles. The danger zone comes right after passing the Stockbridge Shelter (on your left at the top of a large rock outcropping), where you once again have to hop down and around a few boulders … on this day those rocks were wet and slippery, and the hikers who were holed up in the shelter shook their heads at me as I slipped and skidded down. Eventually, you hook up with the AT again via a short unmarked trail, and emerge on Arden Valley Road. You plunge downhill on the road (ugh!) to Tiorati Circle, then head right back uphill on the road straight across. Navigation got weird at that point, as a completely unmarked and unmapped trail is supposed to take you into the woods to hook up with Ramapo-Dunderberg again … I don’t know if I took the right trail, but I managed to get there. You aren’t long on the RD before you turn off on another unmarked trail, and this one is a bit of an adventure. It’s completely overgrown with underbrush (looks like blueberry bushes and other low bushes), and there must be at least 20 trees that have fallen down across the trail that you have to jump over (update: ran that section of trail again on 4/5/09, and simply counted the downed trees that I had to step over ... 74. No kidding). Luckily, it trends almost entirely downhill. Lucky also that the race will be taking place in the spring, because by summer that trail is going to be so overgrown you won’t be able to see it (although snacking on the blueberries would be nice).
The remainder of this part of the course is actually quite nice and very runnable … of course, as I mentioned earlier I simply hadn’t eaten enough pre-run so I ended up speed-hiking parts. What I’ll need to remember is to stay relaxed and on pace through this area during the race. As I’ve written before, my common mistake in longer trail races is that I tend to pick up the pace mid-race, not because I’m trying to do so, but because I’m just enjoying myself so much and I get into a sort of rhythm that is just a little too fast. Because this section of the course, which will be from about 17 to about 21 miles on race day, is fairly easy I will have to be careful to hold back.
So, at this point I’ve seen the entire 50k course, and I am both impressed and a little nervous about the race. There are a few really difficult spots, and certainly a half-dozen places where a navigational error would be very easy. Hopefully, the course will be marked well enough for that not to be a real problem, but only race day experience will answer that. If you are running one of the races on May 9, best of luck to you. I hope we all have decent weather and great races.