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Trailing Ahead: Five Spring Trail Races

After too many months of minimal mileage, I’ve restarted running and racing, but with short distances at reduced paces. This spring, I took on five trail races—two I’d run more than once before, and three brand-new to me. —Chris Jaworski

Photograph by Ciorsdan Conran.

Photo by Ciorsdan Conran.

Leatherman’s Loop 10K 1:15:46
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Cross River, NY, April 26

My ninth Loop, and a return to the scene of last year’s foot injury, which had left me limping at the halfway mark but hadn’t deterred me from finishing. Must complete Loop! Keep tradition alive! Not the brightest decision. And that day seemed to mark the beginning of one nagging issue after another. This year, remembering the hurt and racing for the first time in four months, I approached the Loop feeling a bit trail-shy. So, I set simple goals: to finish, and to finish intact. Check and check. Crossing the line in 1:15:46 was a bounce back from last year’s slowest time ever (1:33:07), but still out of my usual range (1:00-1:10) and a far cry from my 2008 PR (57:28). Yikes!

A Mild Sprain 4.25-Mile 59:17
Sprain Ridge Park, Yonkers, NY, May 17

Part of the Trail Mix series ( in Westchester County, NY and Fairfield County, CT. This series grew from four different trail races in 2014 (first year) to six in 2015. A Mild Sprain had been on my to-run list since its 2012 inaugural, but it wasn’t until this year that the stars aligned: I’d just done the Loop, race 1 on the calendar, and learned that the Sprain, new to the series, was coming up next. Well-organized event, good cause (funding type 1 diabetes research), nice setting, unusual distance. I had fun hanging with a bunch of Leatherman Harriers in Sprain Ridge Park before and after the race. Hey, I did not sprain a thing, despite the rooty, rocky, twisting, single-track trails. However, the hills had me sucking wind, start to finish. Wish I’d read this tidbit before the race: “Feels more like a tough 10K.”

Race director Mare Galeos (center) and friends.

RD Mare Galeos (c) & friends

Summer Solstice 5-Mile 1:00:09.6
Kittatinny Valley State Park, Newton, NJ, June 19

In February, I started a new job, with Solstice HealthCommunications. Each year, on a day close to when the summer solstice falls (about June 21), the company takes a group field trip. We went to the Museum of Modern Art on June 16. Fun day. In the same spirit of doing something special to mark the solstice and the official start of summer, I decided to run two trail races named Summer Solstice. The first, this New Jersey 5-miler, is put on by the same folks who host the Hot Chili Challenge (8M, 10K, 5K) in October and Alexa’s Thunder Run (13.1 M, 10K) in November. These three events use many of the same lovely Kittatinny trails.

On race day (Friday, June 19), I got out of work early and took a leisurely drive to the park, arriving about two hours before the 6:30 p.m. start. Talked with the race director and others I hadn’t seen in ages, took photographs, and sat on the grass in the shade, people-watching. Then it was time to run.

Crowded start on a sliver of trail, then more curlicue turns than you can shake a fractal at, then a long out and a long back, and then, in the last mile, a good amount of steepidity. But soon the home stretch, and I pushed it. With my watch finally reading 5.0 miles, I was done! Then I ran another humid, exhausted 0.37 mile to the actual, anticlimactic finish. Lots of quick turns and climbs and tree cover can do that to GPS. But who knows, maybe the course was indeed long. And maybe the course in 2006 and 2007 was indeed short. Together, these fantasies explain my running 1:00:09 in 2015 versus 42:03 both those previous years. Ayup.

Always glad to run any of the Kittatinny races. The trails are good, the people great, and proceeds go toward free mammograms for women in need.

Summer Solstice 14K (8.1 M official) … 1:19:35
Minnewaska State Park Preserve, Kerhonkson, NY, June 24

The following Wednesday (June 24), I took off from work partly so I could easily make it to this early-evening race in Ulster County, NY, 90 minutes from home.

Leatherman Harriers

Leatherman Harriers

This event, which topped off my Summer Solstice Week, has been around for years. It used to be a 15K. And its course shares the dirt-and-gravel carriage roads of those used in November’s After the Leaves Have Fallen Half-Marathon, formerly a 20K. Both races start and end at gorgeous Lake Minnewaska. Both hug the sides of cliffs. Both have awesome views of the Shawangunk Mountains. After the Leaves adds a loop around Lake Awosting, another glacial lake. Summer Solstice offsets that extra shoreline scenery with blooming mountain laurel. Another difference: ATL goes counterclockwise (or at least the 20K edition did in 2007 and 2008, the years I ran it), and Solstice does the reverse.

This was my first time lining up for the June event, but a strange return in time as well. In 2010, I’d registered for the 15K. Early in the morning of the day of that race, my father died, and I canceled. Essex Running Club friends Steve, Laura, Ellen, Greg, John, and Jane had to carpool to Minnewaska without me. This year I felt I’d finally rejoined the crew, made something incomplete complete. I also felt that, in taking the trip and running the race, I was memorializing my dear old dad. Sometimes you go counterclockwise before moving forward.

Before the start, I once again chatted with the race director, once again fell in with Leatherman Harrier friends, once again took photos. Relaxing rituals are much better than prerace jitters, though I did have those too. Eight miles was more than I had raced in a while. But off we went.

The first half of this 8-miler was a climb. I ran steady so I’d get to the midway point in good shape—then I could cruise the downhill second half to the finish. For a change, I had easy footing and a nontortuous, no-brainer of a route to follow. Just run. And I ran well on that gradual descent, even threw in a few surges, and received surprising news flashes from my legs that they had hidden, untapped reserves of strength and endurance. Good news reminding me of golden, go-forever running states, good news for the future.

Goat Butt 10-Mile (10.3 M official) … 2:14:00
Patriots’ Path, Mendham, NJ, June 28

Four days later, I entered this fun, free, runner-organized inaugural race. The Goat Butt, which also featured a 50K, was billed as a “half-ass” or D.I.Y. event, meaning its one and only aid station, set up at the start/end of a 10.3-mile loop, was a potluck affair. I arrived just in time, dropped off a tray of PB&J quarters and three gallons of water, and quickly got ready to run the Patriots’ Path trail.

It was cool, overcast, drizzling only lightly at the start. I fell into the single file of runners and stayed put the first couple of miles. Following the path was easy with others directly ahead. Just past the 3-mile mark, I found myself solo, so I started paying more attention to blazes. Where the route went wonky, I consulted a map and written instructions. Glad I had those items. They helped me, and they helped me help other runners who hadn’t come prepared. There were a few troublemaking offshoots to this nice trail network.

The course had a variety of terrain that called for a mix of running styles … easygoing single-track, quick and shallow water crossings, twists and turns on a rushing stream’s gnarly bank, an easy-to-miss hard right and rock-hop across the current, technical switchbacks, grassy uphill, a street dead-ending where the Path resumes, smooth double-wide trail, a wet and wildly overgrown uphill–downhill power-line route, and a breezy paved mile or so downhill to the finish/start.

I stopped after one loop (vs three for the 50K), finishing in no hurry and glad to get in a longer distance on a trail.

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NYC Marathon Bus

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Photos on flickr

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