“Did you know It was going to be as difficult of a race as it was?”
“No, definitely not.”
“Would you have done it if you had known it was this tough?”
The SRT 30.
The majesty of the Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) cannot be accurately portrayed in a race report, nor even shown in pictures. The scenery was amazing, volunteers were awesome, and the race directors were fantastic. All around exactly what you want for a perfect ultra race.
This was a minimalist format race, meaning there were no aid stations, no crews, and no pacers. Each runner had to carry their own water and filtration system for refills, as well as their own snacks. The race was setup as a point to point, and there were 6 checkpoints on the entire 70-mile course, but the 30-milers would only need to pass Checkpoints 4, 5 and 6. The checkpoints were meant to serve as a way for the race personnel to keep track of all the runners. In addition to these volunteers all runners were given maps, both paper and GPX, and there was a Search and Rescue crew on stand-by should anyone require it.
I opted to do the 30 miler, and I am glad that I didn’t choose a longer race, as I would have dropped out. The day before, Friday, I didn’t want to leave home. I wanted to stay at home, and hang out with my wife and our friends. I didn’t want to be far away, in a place that I didn’t know anyone. Thus I wasn’t in the best mindset to begin with, but I had committed to it and I wanted to see it through.
We started at Sam’s Point, and ran north on the SRT to Rosendale. The entire course was on the SRT, except for the last 6 miles which followed some unmarked trails. Each runner had to follow the appropriate color of blaze—occasionally seeing an SRT disk at intersections, and the last 6 miles were marked with reflective tape.
My race started with 30-ish 30-milers. There was one other person in sandals, and myself being barefoot, everyone else had some type of shoes. While at the start I was also able to chat with a guy by the name of Jake Brown—who had done a barefoot Trans Con (walking across the US).
The initial few miles was ravaged by a wildfire some number of years ago. The carcasses of leaf-less trees was set against a backdrop of white clouds, and a bright colorful understory that had regrown.
But even after this area, the scenery did not disappoint. Many crags dotted the landscape, and the trees were becoming bold fall colours. As the day turned warm, white rocks of the many crags reflected the sun’s heat—baking runners to the core.
After 6 or 7 miles of sightseeing and picture taking, I really needed to focus on the checkpoints, Checkpoint 4 was 12 miles from the start, then 4, 6, and 8 miles to the end. While my GPS recorded a final distance of 28 miles, GPS’s aren’t always in sync, and can show different distances.
For most of this race I was alone. Soon after the start most of the 30-milers ran out in front of me, except for one older guy that I was leap-frogging once in awhile.
Around the Checkpoint 4, I was ready to be done. My feet and toes were sore, and I had grown tired of not seeing any other racers. But upon reaching the volunteers, they stated it was only 3 miles to the next checkpoint. I figured I can do that, and then reevaluate how I feel. Three miles might take me another hour or so.
I talked to myself a lot, I talked out loud, just to hear a voice. Had long conversations with myself about things that I wanted to do with the rest of the year. It was a way of passing the time, and keeping my mind focused on the task in front of me.
Somewhere between checkpoint 5 and 6, a 50-miler came running up to me. He said he had heard that there was a barefoot runner out on the course. We chatted a little while about this race, other races we’ve both done. He took a walking break while I shuffled along beside him. But soon we parted ways, and he took off again.
Coming into Checkpoint 6, one of the volunteers yelled out, “Hey, this is the barefoot guy!” I think they could tell that I was having a hard day. They offered me one of their chairs, marveled at my barefoot attempt, and reassured me that there wasn’t much left.
I sat, found some food, plugged in my phone to my external battery, and texted my wife. I would have sat there and chatted for a long time, but I knew the daylight was fading. Soon I would be on unknown trails, in the dark. Had to keep pushing forward.
The daylight faded out as I hit the marked trail, off of the SRT. The humidity of the day was still present, but it had turned cold. The woods were black, and the sounds of the forest could be heard all around me. I hoped to myself that I wouldn’t see or hear anything that I wasn’t familiar with. I just wanted to be done, and out of the woods. I wanted to go home. I couldn’t understand what made me come out here—alone in this place that I had never been before. Knowing that at the end the only thing I would see that was familiar was my truck.
Every few feet I found myself becoming more aware of the sounds emanating from the forest.
Pitch black except for the white circle cast on the ground by my headlamp. Peering into the woods I see the lit faces of silent trees, and blackness behind. A cold misty blackness that seems to be forever deep, as if I could reach into it as easily as reaching into the refrigerator.
In this silent forest, I feel that I am the only bit of life for miles. But soon I can hear:
thump, thump, thump.
I stop, and focus my headlamp to peer into the woods. Fearful of seeing predatory wildlife, but hopeful of finding the cause of the noises.
I look but see nothing.
Reset the lamp and keep moving.
A few steps later:
thump, thump, thump. As loud as before!
Is it tracking me? Something is out there, I can hear it but not see it. It can see me, and is following me.
What is it?
Where is it?
What does it want?
Frightened, I looked behind and called out, “Hello?” Hoping that it was a person, a fellow runner. Perhaps as scared of me as I was of them. But there was no sound.
Suddenly in front of me another set of thumps, right in my path. I swiveled around ready to face my aggressor.
But there was nothing, but darkness.
Confused, I looked down—acorns. Three of them had hit the ground and were rolling down the incline. I looked up into the canopy, and could see branches rustling—the sign of squirrels rummaging to find acorns.
Enough! Acorns had stalked me, and the sound played into my frayed emotional state. Time to call someone. I called my wife, and talked with her about everything that had gone on in my day. Even so many miles away she was an excellent crew chief. She listed to my voice, and the Sit-Rep I provided her. She suggested I eat something, as I was getting very emotional. Simple enough bit of reasoning, that had eluded me. I was very emotional, I was sad, upset, and anxious.
I talked with her for an hour, about the day, her day, and random things, and eventually made it to the Rosendale Trestle, and soon after the finish line.
While I was the last 30-miler in, I did set the course record for doing the race barefoot.
Distance is secondary, ability is in the Mind.by