Although it had only been 3 days since my race up Whiteface Mtn., When Josh Merlis of the Albany Running Exchange invited me check out a trail race in the Catskill Mountains of New York I couldn’t say no. Growing up in Southern Vermont, the Catskills had always held a magical lure for me. It was the place of legends. The headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle, The Mohawk Indians and many others. This area is only an hour and a half from my childhood home, but I had never spent any time there.
It was also an opportunity to meet ultra running legend Dick Vincent, who was hosting the race at his house atop a cliff overlooking the Hudson River Valley. Dick is also the director of the infamous Escarpment Trail Run which is reputed to be one of the most dangerous and challenging races in the U.S.
As we all stood there bouncing around at the start receiving our directions, the race director informed us that this was black bear habitat and that we should be on the lookout to avoid close encounters. The racer to my left informed me that they had seen two bears at the very start of the race last year.
I decided to bring a camera along in the race to document the challenging nature of the course, and perhaps catch a bear in action. When the starter yelled “go” I took a mid-pack position and filmed the racers around me as we got underway. After a few minutes I picked up the pace. Josh had informed me that the course climbed over 1,300 feet in 2.25 miles, but the first 3/4 of a mile was relatively flat, meaning that the bulk of the climb would take place in 1.5 miles – a much steeper climb than I had anticipated.
The trail was a narrow single track over slippery rocks and wet leaves. Every step was treacherous. Fallen logs across the trail made the going even more dangerous. I was pushing the pace hard, using this race as a hard effort in attempt to peak for Mt. Washington in a few weeks time.
As I neared the summit I could see someone moving on the trail ahead of me. I thought they must be trying to beat me to the finish to take pictures. I was surprised at how quickly they were moving as my best effort could not catch them. It wasn’t until I burst onto the summit finding myself all alone that I realized that the person dressed in black, was no person at all, but a black bear that I had been chasing for two hundred meters.
I caught my breath standing on a cliff overlooking the valley below. The view of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley were breathtaking. It had been quite some time that I had been standing there and yet no one else had come to the finish yet. For a moment I thought I must have taken a wrong turn and was now lost. Eventually, the next runner came in, and then another and another. We all sat around sharing trail stories and taking turns sitting in the giant stone chairs that someone had carefully made near the cliff’s edge many years ago.
Upon returning to Dick Vincent’s house for post race refreshments and awards I was informed that I had broken the course record. Next year I’ll have to take the start more seriously and leave the camera behind.
Dick’s announcement of my course record, and my Running Raw jacket brought an onslaught of questions. I was more than happy to share my experience with raw foods. As it turned out, a few people in attendance had tried a raw diet, and there were a few vegans on hand as well. Overall, the crowd was quite receptive to my sharing. Even Josh Merlis became a little curious on the ride home.
When the van arrived back in Albany, I took Josh shopping for an evening snack. He told me that he had never shopped in the produce aisle before. Well, it wasn’t long before I had him eating guacamole and carrot sticks, chased down by some grapes and nectarines… baby steps, baby steps.