|Debbie and I at check-in|
Fast forward through months of training and anticipation to race day. Doug, who came up from Philadelphia, had an entourage of family and friends to support him, and I had wife Debbie. Debbie would spend the day with the Rafalski clan, and that would make things easier, especially if Doug and I would be running fairly close to one another.
By the time you’ve finally caught your breath from the climb up Lenape Lane, you’ll meet with another one – this time up and over Guyot Hill … the route steers toward (and then past) the remarkable Bonticou Crag, a rock formation that is perhaps the most noted in the Preserve, and a veritable treat for the eyes.
As you leave Spring Farm, you will climb yet again, first somewhat steeply, and then more gradually. … you’re now heading south toward the lands of the Mohonk Mountain House, where you’ll ascend to the Skytop Tower, the highest point in the first half of the course, and arguably the most scenic viewpoint of anywhere along the Shawangunk Ridge.
As you stop to experience the beauty of the most scenic waterfall in the ‘Gunks, take a few deep breaths, as it is time to begin the most difficult climb of the entire Rock The Ridge course. From the base of the falls you will climb over 400 feet in less than one mile to the shoreline of Lake Minnewaska. Just smile and remind yourself how much you love hills.
And with that climb accomplished, suffice it to say that the best is yet to come, as you will spend the next four miles ascending another 500 vertical feet to Castle Point. Along the way, you will drink in another brief view of Lake Minnewaska before gradually seeing more and more of the eye-popping views of the Palmaghatt Ravine, Gertrude’s Nose, Hamilton Point, and the Lower Hudson Valley 30 miles in the distance.
|Gatehouse before the start Greg Rafalski photo|
The start from the historic Gatehouse was great, as was the initial tree-lines lane. Soon the climb began. After a couple uphill miles, I began to walk the steeper sections, trying to conserve energy, as Doug ran up ahead. I knew he’d trained hard, but I didn’t know whether running hard up these initial hills would take too much out of him. And even though I was slowing, I wasn’t so sure about my own ability to continue with this much vertacality.
I continued up the “carriage roads”, which are surfaced with crushed stone and are narrow for roads but wide for trails. They’re fairly soft and not technical, so they make a really great running surface. And the weather could not have been better: it was partly to mostly cloudy and seasonably cool for late April.
|Awosting Falls Greg Rafalski photo|
After famous Awosting Falls, there was more serious climbing. I saw Debbie and the Rafalski crew at about mile 27. That was a sight for very sore eyes. They would stay here to see us after we looped around Minnewaska and were heading back. Debbie told me that Doug looked great. I, by implication, I said, looked like crap! This thing is uphill the whole way, was all I could say.
|Just after some aid Debbie Horvath photo|
There was more climbing yet to be done. This entire ascent, begun around the 22-mile mark, continued past mile 30, where I reached Castle Point. Like the Skytop Tower climb, this one was also beautiful the entire way up, but the panoramic scenery at the top was about as spectacular. And at about 2,600 feet above sea level, this was the highest point on the course. It occurred to me that I would now descend about 2,300 feet in these final 19 miles. Except, that is, for one more smaller ascent at mile 45 and the uphill final mile. No worries, thought I. The tough part is done.
My pace improved a great deal, now that I was back back down and around this nine-mile loop. I saw Doug ahead of me for a couple miles, and we wound up at the 36-mile aid station at about the same time. There we were able to see, and get assistance from, our joint crew, for the second and final time. Debbie informed me that I looked better now.