There is always a week in September that feels like the middle of summer. After a relatively benign and at times even chilly end of summer and beginning of autumn (see my previous post about Labor Day weekend), the warmth and humidity struck down upon New York. Everything felt like summer except for the noticeably earlier sunsets and tints of orange and reds beginning to creep their way into the foliage.
Amidst the heat, Maddie and I set out to check off an event that has been on our calendars for a while by now: the first leg of the Steep Rock Trail Series, a 10k trail race held at the Macricostas Preserve just over the Connecticut boarder from Pawling. The last race in which we both participated was the Middlebury Maple Run in the spring – a road race with over a thousand runners. The race on Sunday was the polar opposite. The field was no more than sixty people, the start of the race was in a large field a good ten-minute walk from the parking lot, and the course was about as technical as it gets. The brainchild of a local ultra-runner and running coach, the Steep Rock series has three legs spread throughout the fall, each at a different nature preserve near Washington, CT.
I cannot speak for the other two venues yet, but so far, “steep rock” is by no means an exaggeration. The trails at Macricostas turned up a mountain after the first mile, reached the pinnacle after 550 feet of elevation gain, and plummeted down the backside. Then we did it all in reverse, doubling back and looping around the ridgeline before one last rocky descent. When we emerged from the woods and into the open field for the last half-mile, the heat and humidity of the day hit like a wall even though it was only nine o’clock in the morning.
Maddie was the champion of the day, besting me by a minute or two and destroying the other female competitors. I came in fifth for men – a respectable place to finish for my first race in four months. But it was not the overall standings that made the day a success for me; rather, it was experiencing the unique feeling of focus that comes over me when I race on trails. Navigating something as technical as the 10k race course required internal and external awareness, command over my body and my mind, and a whole spectrum of creativity and athletic abilities.
Trail running is so vastly different than road running, especially at venues as hilly and challenging as what I ran on Sunday. It is not a stretch to compare these activities to mountain biking versus road biking; one requires steady exertion and pacing, the other a broader athletic skillset. Trail running is better suited to my abilities and interests than road running, and that is why I jumped at the opportunity to race in the Steep Rock series.
I see the benefits and fun in both types of running. During the weeks, I have been participating in Central Park Track Club workouts, which have given me a chance to train with elite road runners. My endurance base is not quite where I want it to be, but I feel myself improving. Adding in longer runs as the weather cools down plus a more regular commitment to lifting and core will help prepare me for the half marathon at the end of the series. I have six weeks until that race, and I am sure, when I am knee deep in one of the three river crossings planned on that course, I will be wishing for the Indian Summer weather that we have now. Until then, and afterwards too of course, I will continue to seek out trails on the weekends, because nothing is better than a trail run on a crisp fall day with a blanket of colorful leaves cushioning every step.