ast Sunday I ran in a 10K trail race in the Bronx. Yes, the Bronx, just at the end of the No. 1 subway line. I have been coming back from some problems in my calves over the winter, so I was pretty far off my pace, but the experience was a tonic for both body and soul. The early spring forest, the weather, the (very modest) crowds and the sheer beauty of the experience — just wonderful!

Interested? Here's a few pointers for making the transition from the crowded roads to the decidedly uncrowded trails.

First the Whys and Hows

  guess everyone knows the difference between a road and a trail. A road is something (probably) built for cars, it has a hard surface, but a uniform one (except for the odd pot hole in New York City), and although we hate to admit it, the uphill grades are rather mild. Trails were built (or often just "happened") for foot traffic, they're usually soft — but watch out for rocks, and the uphill grades can be pretty severe.

The differences affect our running and training. Think of road running as being like a weight machine in a Gym. Say the "curl" machine. You sit straight, you rest your upper arm on the support, grab the lever and do your reps "just so". The lever will only go in a nice smooth arc. The machine is designed to excercise just those muscles for which the machine is designed. Running on roads is a bit like that.

Trails are more like free weights. With free weights you get no help in posture or specificity. Your arms can move every which-a-way. The peripheral muscles that control lateral movement and balance are suddenly engaged, and you might even injure yourself if you're not careful. Running on trails is more like that.

But the flip side is you'll develop stronger calves from the effort of taking off from soft ground, stronger ankles and foot muscles and generally much better balance. And that's to say nothing of how much easier it is on your joints without the pounding your knees and ankles get from the roads.

It's somewhat like comparing a good runner with a good basketball or volleyball player. You may be fitter on the roads than you college buddies, but if you join them for a pick-up game in the gym you will be very, very sore that night! Not so, if you're a trail runner.

Now the simple ABCs

The Local Scene

he local running club at Van Cortlandt Park puts on the summer cross country series, every other Thursday evening in the summer (the "B" of the ABCs), and the Urban Environmental Challenge (the "C"), a trail race in April. These are possibly the best introduction to trail running, and they're just a subway ride away. You are not likely to see more that 150 runners in any of these. They’re all hand timed and scored. The carrot cake and carrot muffin are the prized awards, and it’s all a volunteer effort. This is the Real Deal!

I've run all of these over the last 3 or 4 years and I'm not looking back.

I asked the race directors of these races (actually, 1 races and a race series) — whom I've gotten to know well — to give us a glimpse of the inside story of putting on these races. The Trail 10 K was last weekend — sorry you missed it — but the cross country series doesn't start till May 26, so get training and some Thursday evening, come on up to the Bronx and enjoy your introduction to cross country — the "B" of the ABCs of trail running..

by Fred Daly, Race Director

The VCTC Summer 5K Cross Country Series

 think the first year for the x-c series was 1999, but it might have been 1998. It was the brainchild of Bob Velez, who since moved to Puerto Rico, though he still shows up once in a while for the race. I took over ten years ago or so.

All those years, Otis Matthews and I teamed at the registration table, and Bill Smith handled everything else — water, course marshals, etc. I have always thought that Otis was the guiding spirit of the series — his calm, low-key manner embodied the atmosphere we wanted. I love the series because there's a kind of community feel to it. Somehow the muffins are a symbol of the ethos of the thing. They were Bob's idea. I think it's neat that we hand out muffins instead of medals or trophies, and that we charge only $5.00.

A couple of times in the past folks in the club have wanted to make a bigger deal of the 5K series, and I've resisted. We don't need or want 400 runners, and we don't need it to be a cash cow for the club. Scoring by hand is a little stressful, especially on a wet or windy day, but I prefer it to spending tons of money on an electronic system.

In the first years we'd have maybe 40 runners at the start of the summer and build to about 80. For a long time, 100 was basically our max. In recent years it's gotten bigger; the first two this year were about 140, which makes me a little nervous because it might mean we'll have huge fields at the end. The most we ever had was about 210.

What else is interesting? One of the best features has been the participation of younger runners, especially the Rabbits Club from East Harlem. They missed last year (transportation was not available), but we got them back for the first race this year.

Link for the 5K Cross Country Summer Series:

Some Easy Trail Training Routes

Van Cortlandt Park

he trails in Van Cortlandt park are the easiest you'll find. Some of them are not much tougher than a good cross country course, and for the most part they're flatter. There is such variety in the park, that a simple starter loop (virtually flat) will help:

Old Putnam Line and Old Croton Aqueduct Loop — about 6 miles

This loop goes through some of the parts of Van Cortlandt Park and Westchester that you will likely never see. Marshes, woods, old aqueduct structures built in the 1840s, and the lovely Tibbets Brook Park, not a destination for the average New York City runner. The route starts at the south end of VanCortlandt Park on Broadway, a couple of blocks north of the 242nd Street subway stop.

It's much easier than it sounds — here's a map of the route:

Riverdale Park

his a a great little park in the Bronx, and is a largely undiscovered gem. It goes along the Hudson River from a little north of Spuyten Duyvil, up to the Riverdale Train station at 254th Street. It's rolling, but not really hilly, and is very scenic, with views across the Hudson seen through the trees.

Link for Riverdale Park:

Here's a brief description:

The route starts at 225th Street and Broadway on the Bronx side of the Broadway bridge, underneath the 225th Street No. 1 subway stop, aka Marble Hill. You can walk the first part, on streets, but hey! why not run.

The trail route starts at the south end of Riverdale Park, on Palisade Avenue and 232nd Street.

The Palisades

alisades Park has a trail anong the top of the cliff, which is actually part of the Long Path, a trail that goes from New York City north to Albany. The Palisades portion goes along the top all the way to the State line, nearly 12 miles. Another trail called the Shore Path follows along the river far below. At intervals along the route, there are trails or roads connecting the top to the bottom, so lots of nice loops are possible. You can run over the GWB or take the bus to Fort Lee. From there you can do an out-and-back, a loop, or do a one way run and take the bus back. The trail is steeper and rockier than the others I've mentioned, but it is absolutely great training for trail racing or running in general.

Link for Palisades Park:
Link for Palisades Park Maps:
Link for bus along 9W (which stops near points on the Palisades):

The slide show depicts a loop I ran with a friend last year. After crossing the GWB, we followed the Long Path (along the top) to just past the road to Greenbrook Sactuary (A wildlife sanctuary run by a non-profit). We then took the Huyler's Landing Trail (marked by red paint blazes) which takes you down to the shore, where you can head back to the GWB either on the road or on the Shore Path. It's about 15 miles total including about 3 miles on the bridge.

Distances given are from the start of the path on the Jersey side and are approximate. Add about 1.5 miles (each way) for the bridge.

The Best Starter Trail Race Around

by Jill Statts, Race Director

The VCTC Urban Environmental Challenge 10K Trail Race

his race, as with the summer cross country series, is an easy race to put on. We do not need permits as you do to run the roads nor police to help direct traffic. I start in October and decide on a date early in April and apply for a parks permit. In January I get the application together, post it on the website and get it printed so we can hand them out. I start to work on the “give away” in February. In the past we have done bags and this year we did a great T-shirt. By the end of March the bibs are done, ambulance ordered, portable potties ordered and we are ready for the race. Our club is fabulous when race day comes. People just show up and the work gets done, there is no need for any anxiety. You could not ask for a better group of people to team with.

Over the years we have had different sponsors for this race. Last year it was the clothing company, Eileen Fisher and this year it was Capital One Bank. We either break even or make a little money on this race. The “give away” items are usually the biggest cost. Lloyd’s Carrot Cake has sponsored this race since the beginning. We get 16 small cakes and 21 muffins as our awards to the age group categories.

The first year I directed this race, it was the year of the nor’easter. I came close to canceling it, but because the high winds had died down, I decided to go on with it. I had 100 pre registered and 20 of those showed up. There were 40 people that came the day of the race and registered. I got the most emails that year from people telling me how much they loved the race. I think people that run this race almost like the weather to be bad. It was certainly challenging for a newbie race director. It didn’t stop me; I have done it now for 4 more years. I have loved doing it and my favorite part is the day of the race and everyone coming together to make it happen. That is the great part of being a member of the Van Cortlandt Track Club.

Link for the UEC 10K trail race: