The Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) is a 70-mile trail that traverses the entire length of the Shawangunk Mountains, from High Point State Park in New Jersey, where the SRT intersects the Appalachian Trail, all the way to the town of Rosendale, New York, where the trail ends just beyond a restored railroad trestle 140 feet above the Rondout Creek.
Along the way, the SRT passes through rolling hills, wetlands, rare dwarf pine barrens, sky lakes, waterfalls, and the distinctive white conglomerate cliffs of the Shawangunk mountains uplifted almost three hundred million years ago.
This was a completely new type of race format for me. They label it as an “unsupported” trail race which means a few things. No food, no water, and no trail markings to guide your way. If you get lost it’s your fault, and you gotta find your way back. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well here is my race report of how it went.
What went right
I made sure to diversify my food intake for this race. I used chew blocks because you can load them in your pack. Every snack I had in my bag I made sure to split up over the course of an hour and used a 30-minute timer to remember to eat. Splitting up each snack made sure I was adding calories slowly and easier for my stomach to digest. Pack was loaded with 4 scoops in the 2L bladder with Tailwind. The GPX loaded from the race was in reverse so I edited the file down to 30M, you can find the course file I modified here on Garmin.
Water filtering for the course was pretty easy to do, I loaded my bladder to the max at the start, but next time I would have loaded it halfway and used water on the course. I timed my pain relief (cracked my shin on a rock, normally wouldn’t do anything for this distance) and caffeine (halfway mark I felt tired from being up since 12:30 AM) and they made for a comfortable energy and pain experience through the race.
What went wrong
There were a few times I was off course and then had to cross over brush. This is what slowed me down the most but as I tell my kids, first is the worst. I couldn’t sleep the night before as I had some pre-race excitement so I decided to leave early so I could charge my car at the destination. I fell a few times on slippery rocks. If it rains you will need to be mindful of traction. The rocks were very slippery at points and only having poles would have helped to prevent some nasty falls. You need fast feet for this course, which means jump rope and running drills as it is a rocky course.
What would I have done differently?
Poles would be a must if it was wet! I should have taken a picture of my kit. I forgot calf sleeves and you need them to protect from brush in the beginning. There wasn’t a whole lot I would change with how this race went. I took my time where it was scenic and enjoyed the course. I didn’t rush it, was able to locate most trail markers on only went off the trail a handful of times. Now that I am aware of where the water refill spots are it eases my mind for next time, if there is a next time.
I used water sources at Mile 3, 9, 13, 16, 20, 23
I just finished the book Die with Zero and it talks about the 3 things we need to maximize our life experience. We need health, money, and free time. There are certain experiences that we get locked out of if we wait too long to do them in life. I was laughing as I don’t think this is a race I could do in my 70s or 80s. This was a HARDER ultra, but not impossible. The 70 miler might be worth taking on next year now that I have an understanding of the course. Someone said that it was harder than Eastern States because of managing both the course and unsupported. I believe that in the fact that is a ton of food you would need to carry. It might be a fun challenge for next year.
Another idea from Die with Zero is the idea of autopilot. In most races, your brain can go on autopilot following the markers until you finish. I think that’s why I enjoyed this race so much. There was no autopilot, you had to be engaged. You were always paying attention to water, food, and trail markings because if you didn’t you could only blame YOURSELF if you missed it! That’s how life is, you can easily be going the wrong path and doing the wrong thing far too long in life. You might think you are going the right way, but it’s only once you have traveled down the wrong path far too long you realize your mistake. In life, you CAN’T turn around! It’s this idea of living a well-intentioned life and constantly evaluating choices. That’s kind of what this race reminded me of. You have to constantly evaluate your decisions in life to see if you have missed a “life marker” telling you that you should have turned. If only life had more “markers” or signs to show you where you should be going, you may only get little hints here and there. Autopilot is dangerous as you stop thinking, stop interacting, and stop paying attention to the beauty that life could offer only if you had gone the right way. I add races I’ve never done every year to avoid autopilot. What other things in your life are on autopilot? If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you keep getting what you’ve always got. CHANGE IT UP! Go somewhere new, do something different, and add novelty, it’s the only thing that extends how long our life feels. When we are in routine life speeds by, when we are doing new and novel experiences it slows down.
I still do some of the same races every year, but I am glad for the new ones I add. They opened my eyes to the beauty and diversity of the trails you will find. The Catskill Mountains are amazing and I can’t wait to run more races there!