Escarpment Trail Run
Last Sunday in July
30 km (~ 19 miles)
10,000 ft up & down
West to East
Start on Rt. 23, Windham High Peak (~4 miles), Blackhead (~10 miles), Stoppel Point (~15 miles) & Finish at North Lake
The Escarpment Trail Run is THE classic Northeast trail race. I ran this race a few years back and had a blast.
The Adirondacks and the Whites get all of the attention, but the forgotten Catskills, in some ways, are a better deal. First of all, the place is empty, especially in the winter. Even though these mountains are only about 2.5 hours north of NYC, there is much wilderness to be had if one is up for a little exploration. Also, the Catskills have great ice to climb. Not much rock, but the Gunks are just down the road – so no problem there. And one last thing, most of the trails in the Catskills tend to go straight up, no western switchbacks here. So, these small peaks are a great cardio-training ground. The Slide Mt. Loop (~ 19 miles or so) is my favorite training route.
Here’s the scoop on the Escarpment Trail Run. The race starts on Rt. 23 and goes west to east. The first major peak is Windham at ~ 4 miles, no big deal. This is an easy cruise to the top. Next at ~ 10 miles is Blackhead. It takes a stout effort to reach the top here. Dropping down on the backside is a bit rough on the knees. The last big peak is Stoppel Point (~ 15 miles). After that, it’s a downhill cruise to North Lake.
The question that every Escarpment virgin asks, “Is it hard?”
The application paints a grim picture and the qualifications are a bit steep in order to run the race, but I personally thought that the race wasn’t too difficult.
Sure, if you’re coming strictly from a road running background, you’ll suffer. But if you have spent much time in hiking boots, you’ll be fine. For me, the Escarpment was only my second long distance trail run, but for the last 30 years or so, I’ve been roaming the mountains of the Northeast. And when I hike, it’s usually at a fast pace. I come from a family of fast walkers. When I was in 6th grade, my brothers and I did the March of Dimes Walk-a-thon in 5 hours flat (that's 20 miles). I was speed hiking before speed hiking was hip. Trail running, at least on very technical trails, is just speed hiking.
So, I approached the Escarpment Trail Run as just another speed hike. I carried a small pack with 100 oz water (heat is always the X-factor for this race), some P&Js and corn chips (great for salt replacement). Throughout the race, I drank and pissed like a racehorse. I crossed the finish line just under 5 hours and felt great at the end. My time was about 1 hour below the 6-hour cut-off mark. The winning times are about 3 hours, but considering that the only training I did was walking my dog, riding my bike and some long day hikes, my time of less than 5 hours was not too shabby. And plus, I took my time on the down hills to preserve my knees (why wreak your knees when you’re a middle-of-the-packer?).
Yes, the Escarpment has a well-deserved reputation as a tough race, but if you spend lots of time hiking in the mountains and approach race day as just another speed hike adventure, you’ll do fine.
Sign up and run it. And watch for the bees.