by Bill Hoffman
Happy new year to all! May you find new adventures and connect with trail in 2019! It is the time of the year to start thinking about which races to run. I wanted to share my favorite trail races and a few routes that I hope will be races someday. If you have never run a trail race, I of course would highly recommend it. Most of them are much smaller than road races and each of them has a unique personality coming from a combination of the runners and the trail itself.
7 Sisters is a rugged trail race held in early May in Holyoke Mass. It is usually the first trail race of the year for me. The description from the web site reads:
“12 miles of technical, singletrack trail on an out-and-back course with over 3,500 ft. elevation gain, following the ridgecrest of the Holyoke Range. It’s widely considered the most challenging trail race in the Northeast… and in our humble opinion… it has the most beautiful views.”
This is a 12 mile race that will register 10.3 miles on your GPS watch but take about as long as it takes you to race 20 miles on the road. It is a fantastic event that draws a huge crowd for a trail race with almost 500 racers finishing from a bit under 2 hours to a bit under 6 hours. My GPS shows the course to have 4,000 ft of vertical gain. The race starts with a quick flat 100 meters or so, and then it goes up up and away climbing the first peak with about 500 feet gain in the first .4 miles. You then go down 100 feet only to climb right back up, followed by some more down, then up, then down, you get the idea. The elevation profile is a good way to see the ups and downs of the race:
Of course with a trail race that only tells half the picture. If this were smooth switch backs on a nicely graded trail, the times would be much faster. However, these trails mostly go straight up and straight back down again over incredibly rocky terrain. The race directors like to brag that they have all the basalt you can eat...
Those are the facts, it is steep, rocky and difficult. However, it is also incredibly fun! If you want to forget your problems in life, this is the place to go. You are either climbing a near vertical slope or jumping off one on the way down, and this will require all of your attention and focus. It is also an eco friendly bring your own cup race.
The patch goes up and over one mountain, then up and back down another, then up and over another, then ends at the top of Poke-O-Moonshine. This is kind of a unique twist to a race because it ends at the top of a mountain. You of course have to get back down. The race is a mix of technical mountain running, and a few good miles of Adirondack rolling roads. The course is about 13 miles.
The Great Adirondack Trail Race (GATR) is hosted by the Mountaineer in Keene valley. From the web page:
“This charity event supports the Ausable and Boquet River Associations, provides an educational opportunity for children and adults about our sensitive river ecosystems and gives our guests and locals alike a chance to enjoy the mountains, get some exercise and celebrate the spring and black fly season before the summer arrives and the trails get busy.”
This race is a perfect introduction to trail running. In fact NPR did a story on it complete with a embedded trail runner:
There are two runs: an 11.5 mile strenuous run (2900′ of vertical gain and 3100′ of loss) up the backside of Hopkins Mountain and down to Keene Valley, and a 3.5 mile fun run from Baxter Mountain Tavern to Keene Valley.
The hardest part of running the GATR is getting registered for the race! It is an 80s style radio show call in style sign up. You have to call in at 8am in the morning and keep calling until you get past the busy signal. Once you get through if you are in the first 60, you get a spot! Then you will forget about the race until race day.
On race day you show up at the appointed time at the Mountaineer and hop on a good old school bus (many trail races start in a school bus…). The bus takes you to the start of the race. Jan Wellford, the race director, then starts everyone about two minutes apart with the faster runners going last. This means you will have very little idea of how well you are doing except when you get passed by faster runners. The race climbs for about the first 7 miles, then it is a crazy downhill blitz to the finish with some amazing views along the way.
This is a 54 mile race that is close to the feel of a 100 mile race. The race includes both the Escarpment trail and the Devil's Path in the Catskills. This is not a good first trail race. It is great practice for a 100 mile race if that is your thing. The trail is incredibly rough with the Escarpment part being the easier part of the race. Parts of Devil’s Path involve full on Golem climbing for maybe a mile. I have yet to finish this race with daylight left.
The race is incredibly well run with stocked aid stations and a very well marked trail. To get in you have to create a trail running resume and submit it to the race director for review. If he deems you worthy/crazy/able to finish, he lets you in. The race is run around the longest day of the year to give maximum daylight. However, only the top 20% will finish in the daylight with many tackling some of the harder climbs in the dark. If you want to see what it is all about but are not ready to run 54 crazy hard miles, then volunteer at one of the aid stations and help some amazing folks have a fantastic time.
This is another favorite of mine as I have a place in Wilmington only a few miles from the race that makes a perfect starting point for the race. This is part of the USA Sky running series. The format is a race up a mountain on Saturday, and a longer race on Sunday. At Whiteface, the vertical K (VK), starts at the base lodge and goes right up the slope to the highest lift chair. It is 3,000 feet of climbing in 2.4 miles.
The next day is the sky race which is about 15 miles and starts the same as the VK, but you have to run down the mountain this time. Then it goes out into the flume trail system for another climb in the woods. It loops back to the ski slope and then repeats the VK with the additional downhill ending at the base lodge.
VK Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1672016843
Sky race Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1075511069
Wakely Dam Ultra
OK, this has to be my favorite race. This is a 54K trail race through the wilds of the Adirondacks along the Northville Placid trail. The race starts at Wakely Dam (hence the name), and ends at the Piseco airport. There is absolutely no support at this race except for the single aid station at the finish line. The aid station is stocked with beer and a barbeque grill.
Thatcher Park Running Festival
This is a great beginner trail event run by ARE. There are distances for everyone from 5K to 50K. The trails are smooth and easy to run, and the views are fantastic. The race has great aid stations and a post race BBQ.
OK, this is also one of my favorite races. I guess it is tied with Wakely for how great it is. The race director is Ken Posner the author of “Running the Long Path: A 350-mile Journey of Discovery in New York's Hudson Valley”. He does an excellent job of giving the race the feel of a self supported FKT attempt. The race is unsupported, but has “checkpoints” where they are not allowed to give you anything but two thumbs up or a ride home if you want to DNF. There is a half, 30 mile, 50 mile, and a 70 mile race. They are all along the SRT trail, a 70-mile hiking trail that traverses the entire length of the Shawangunk Mountains, from High Point State Park in New Jersey, where the SRT intersects the Appalachian Trail, all the way to the town of Rosendale, New York, where the trail ends just beyond a restored railroad trestle 140 feet above the Rondout Creek.
The Shawangunks are a truly unique mountain range with amazing rock formations.
The 70 mile race starts on Friday evening and you run through the night and if you are lucky finish before the sunsets the next day. The other races have staggered starts so that you will likely see racers from various races along your journey. Like Wakely you have to carry all your own food and water. Unlike Wakely, you can quit this race and get a ride home as it crosses several roads along the way.
Moreau Lake 15K
This was once a must run race for me, but it conflicts with the SRT races. This is a tough 15K course that has a course record around 1 hour 20 minutes by folks that run a road 15K under 60 minutes.
The next couple of races are not yet really races, but I am looking for a race director if you are interested!
The Buck 50 is 50K course up and over several Lake George mountains: Buck, Sleeping Beauty, Black, and Erebus. It has over 8600 feet of vertical gain and a wonderful variety of trails from steep rocky ones, to leafy steep ones, and even some flat trail along the lake.
Pharaoh mountain marathon
This course has become a standard part of my Wakely training each year. The course has 4800 feet of vertical gain and is a full marathon including a climb over Pharaoh Mountain. The Pharaoh wilderness has an amazing system of trails.
There are no shortage of interesting trail races in the area for 2019, I am looking forward to meeting some of you at the start line in 2019!