T he goes back a long way. I first did it in the early 1990s at the suggestion of a fellow Flyer (Anthony) when it was a 15 mile run on the carriage roads and single track of Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, New York. One of the folks who run the race now (Jason) remembered when it was a 15 miler (until the late 1990s), and I also managed to find it in an old running log book of mine. It was September 25th, 1994 and, according to my log book, it was actually 15.2 miles — don't ask me how I knew that. Trail races then (and now, for that matter) were always approximate distances, and since each one was so unique, no one really worried about it. My time was 1:58:48 (7:49 pace) and I was 10 pounds heavier! Wow, those 18 year old numbers are hard to believe, especially the pace. It was a really special race then, and it still is near the top of my list. Anyone else remember keeping a running log (on paper)?

As of last week, it didn't look good for me to run this race. I had asked around and just could not find a ride to New Paltz. Busses did go there, but there were none that got there early enough for the 9:00 AM start. Then on Wednesday evening at a get-together for the trail running group I belong to, I happened to be sitting next to James, an avid trail runner I had not met before. Well, he just happened to be going to the race and lived on the East Side and was driving (his wife and young son were coming). Wow, was that fate or was it not? It was an early schedule (we would leave Manhattan before 6:30 AM) so I was up before 5:00 AM, did my stretching, had coffee and a bite to eat, was at the subway station by 5:45, met James and picked up the ZipCar, picked up his wife and son and we were off. After about an hour and a half of early-Sunday-morning traffic-free driving, we arrived at New Paltz, made a pit stop and arrived at the starting location by about 8:30 to pick up our stuff and get ready. I bumped into Flyers David and Robert and some friends from the VCTC and we all warmed up and hung loose.

It was colder than Manhattan by 5° or 10°, but it was sunny and beautiful. We could not have asked for a better running day or a more fantastic locale. Registration was capped at 350 runners and the race sold out about a week prior to the race date. Of these there were 313 finishers, so this was truly a small town race. The area is part of the Mohonk Preserve, a large forested area open to the public which is literally covered with trails and carriage roads, many of them over 100 years old. The race itself traversed meadows, fields, and forest and was about 70% on grassy or gravel carriage roads and 30% on single track trails. It's a non-techinical race, ideal for beginner trail runners, but with plenty of hills which would provide a challenge to trail runners of all stripes from beginner to old hand. One of the great things about this race is that all the proceeds go to improving the land and infrastructure of the Mohonk Preserve, which, in part, is how the carriage roads got to be resurfaced.

The race started near a covered pavilion with just about enough parking nearby. The runners were spread out over the crest of a gentle hill and the route started down along a grassy road which alternated between single track and two track. After about a half mile we got onto a trail through a wooded area with some moderate ups and downs. We hit another stretch of carriage road and more trails till around mile 3 where we got onto a series of carriage roads which led up and up inexorably for almost 4 miles, crossing a golf course and circling up around the first major hill which we crested around mile 5. The carriage roads were in great shape, having been resurfaced over the last year, and if you had good hill legs, you could really cruise on this section.

Meanwhile, I was carrying my camera and taking pictures — lots of them. These are the pictures you see above (supplemented by a few taken by the race photographers). If you have sharp eyes, you can spot the camera in my right hand in the pictures above (I'm in three of them). I ended up with 50 shots taken during the race which, assuming I stopped for a minimum of 10 seconds each, added up to a substantial amount of time. No wonder my pace was slower than in 1994!

We then had about a mile and a half of gentle down hill on the carriage roads till we hit a long, mostly up hill trail between about mile 6.5+ to about mile 7.8. Under ordinary circumstances this moderate slope would not have been too bad, but at this point it was tough. Let's just say a lot of us in my part of the pack did a fair amound of walking.

But then came the best part of the race. The last 2+ miles of the race were on carriage roads in excellent condition and it was all down hill, between a gentle and a moderate to steep slope. If your legs had some life left in them, you could really fly in this section. But caution is in order — this was just the sort of running, late in a race, where falls happen. Take my word for it: two years ago, a good friend of mine did a face plant in the last half mile and needed 4 stitches on her chin. But she still won her age group! As for me, there was no age group award this year, but no stitches either!

Now that we had paid the price, came the reward: a truly scrumptious lunch of fresh baked corn bread and home made chili (both vegetarian and meat). We then spent the better part of a hour hanging out in the sun. Good race, good food and good folks, what's not to like? Even the dogs seemed more relaxed and happier than New York City dogs.

I'll be back next year, you come too!