How did I get here
In 2011, I ran my first marathon after 11 months of running. It did not go that well taking about 4 hours and 43 minutes to complete, and I was wrecked for the next six weeks. After about 30 marathons and ultras over the next six years, I found myself heading to Rosendale NY on a Friday afternoon with my friend Tim to take on my biggest challenge yet, the SRT 70. The SRT 70 is a self supported race that traverses the entire Shawangunk Ridge Trail from NJ to Rosendale NY. If I could time travel back 10 years and tell 40 year old me that when I was 50 I would be running a 70 mile trail race up and over mountains in sandals through the night and the next day, I would certainly not have believed time traveler Bill.
The start and bus ride
Tim and I reached Rosendale NY and found the parking lot behind the theater about an hour before school bus was to leave for NJ and the start of the race. We first wandered into town a bit to find a bathroom. We ended up in a small bakery after sprinting across the road to avoid getting hit by a car. The owner of the bakery asked who won the race? Tim and I were a bit confused and thought he might know about the SRT 70, but no, he was talking about our “race” across the road. I purchased an olive focaccia bread thing as I felt like I should purchase something for the use of the bathroom. Tim and I split it on the way back to the car.
We found the race director Ken handing out bibs in a small pavilion in the parking lot. Barefoot Jake Brown was sporting some classic Bedrock sandals and checking over his pack at the checkin spot. Tim and I had on Luna sandals. We exchanged some small talk, and I went back to my car to get everything ready. Despite having lots of time, I somehow felt rushed as I did a last check of things and said goodbye to a perfectly good car to get on an old school bus for a nearly 2 hour drive to another state where I would be dropped off and have to make my way back over the next night and day.
The bus ride seemed long and I tried various ways to get some sleep. Feet in the air up the window, curled up on the seat, and several other positions and none of them really worked. At one point rain started coming in the roof vents and windows and folks had to batten down the hatches. It was looking like a wet start. I noticed that my phone battery was only at 70%, must have come unplugged on the drive down. I hooked it up to a battery pack for the bus ride and topped it off. The phone is useful because there is an app that has the trail map for the SRT trail that works in airplane mode. It was exciting to see that the app showed us on the map as we drove down on the bus. From my house in Clifton Park it would just say off map. So, at least that was working.
Eventually, we reached High Point state park in NJ. It was still raining a bit but a huge rainbow had appeared. We all used the facilities one more time. Then, we hung out under the roof of some building where Ken gave the final instructions. The big one being, don’t quit and go to a bar without telling the race officials that you did that or you will be shamed on facebook for the rest of your life. Ken made us all get out into the rain for a start picture.
Then we all hiked about a quarter mile down the road and on a very slippery rock trail. I managed to have a pretty good slip on a rock but caught myself without injury. (Hmm. this could be a long night). All 19 of us gathered around at the start of the SRT trail. It was almost 6:30, so not much was said other than go. I was not even sure exactly where to go, and realized we would go right back the way we came. Tim and Zack (last year’s winner) took off in the lead, I followed behind with Jason (second for 2016) right behind me.
On my own
Quickly I realized I was going to be alone for much of the race. The taper had going horrible which was a good sign. My knee hurt a bit all week, and my short run with the full pack was crazy hot and I felt like I was running in sand on the road. However, I was actually starting to feel good as the race started. The knee and everything felt generally good. I came down a nice trail and passed a T junction, after about 50 feet past the T, the first of many “off course” beeps came out of my watch. I quickly doubled back to find Jason heading down the trail. We ran together for a little bit, and I missed another turn that he told me about before the watch.
The trail turned started to get a little technical, and I let Jason slip away as I wanted to go at my pace. I figured I would not see him again the rest of the race. I continued on my way with my Petzl NAO headlamp lighting the way. This was a new purchase for this race. It is a really awesome headlamp, the only downside is that it has a proprietary rechargeable battery and you need two of them to make through the night. I wonder how many of their customers face that problem…
With the pack
Soon I found myself traversing the side of a slope covered in bowling ball sized boulders strewn across down the mountain. I then found myself moving pretty slow and hoping rock to rock. I came out on a wider flatter path and about that time Mark, Marcin and Robert caught up to me. Well, there you go I was slowing down and everyone was catching me. Robert led the way for a while. Eventually, Marcin, pulled ahead, and I followed him. I found myself tucking in behind Marcin as we climbed a road hill in search of the next point where would get back on the trail.
Tim and Zack again
When we reached the trail again Mark and Robert had caught up and the four of us headed into the woods. My GPS beeped at me and flashed “off course”. Robert and others assured me we were going the right way as they had done it before. We did see a sign with SRT on it, and I could tell by the map tracing my watch was making that we were going to end up intersecting the trail that the GPS tracks had in pretty soon. The four of use continued through the woods until we saw some headlamps coming towards us from the left. Turned out to be Zack and Tim!
Well, you never know what is going to happen in a race like this which makes them so much fun! The six of us continued on to the railroad section. It seemed that Jason had passed Zack and Tim when they made a wrong turn. Zack stopped along the tracks to fill water and the rest of us moved on. Robert caught the turnoff from the railroad track as Tim zoomed ahead missing it. Zack passed us all again, and Tim and I started running together. I ignored the watch as we proceeded past a nice rock cairn and the SRT trail! The group behind yelled at us as they made the turn. Tim and I were now at the back of the pack.
To power lines and Mark
Eventually Tim pulled ahead and I found myself running with Mark along some super impressive gigantic concrete power line poles. These things were massive super functional no aesthetics pillars reaching into the dark sky. Turns out Mark had hiked the SRT a month or so earlier solo in one shot. We talked about running and generally made pretty good time.
At some point we were on some more technical trail with some climbing involved and we saw a headlamp ahead. It was Tim again! The three of us muddled our way through the woods with a few wrong turns here and there. I remember thinking I saw a checkpoint but it was a house. I thought about the people in the house maybe reading a book and enjoying a glass of wine while we were out here running from NJ to Rosendale NY on the SRT. To each his own I guess.
Start of the 50
Eventually, we reached the starting point of the 50 mile race. At this point Tim said he was not feeling it, so I pulled ahead figuring he would start moving again if I pulled ahead. The next section is pretty flat and runnable, but also almost a marathon into the race. Tim did pull ahead, and I found myself running with Mark again. We did some walking some running, and eventually Mark pulled ahead of me and I was alone again. The next section is on the road. I figured I would take a walking break eat some food that was deep in my pack. I turned the pack around with it on my stomach and walked briskly through the town eating my avocado, spicy veganaise ezekiel bread sandwich.
Occasionally, I would see Mark’s headlamp ahead, but I continued to walk and eat. I was determined not to make the mistake I had made in the 50 last year and go up the road past the SRT turn off. Well, that is almost impossible with the 70 because there is checkpoint right near the trail head. I figured with all this walking Robert and Marcin should be catching me at any minute, but nothing yet. I turned on the trail and after some climbs and technical stuff I ran into Mark again. I passed him while he filled water at a stream. I figured he would catch me soon enough. A little further on a light started to overtake me, and to my surprize it was Marcin and not Mark, and he was moving with purpose. A bit later Mark caught me as well and said hey let’s go catch Marcin. No thanks, I was not going that fast on the hills at this point. I was mesmerized by the black acorns on the trail that looked like olives. Also, it seemed that an army of squirrels was trying to pelt me with acorns. They were constantly hitting the ground all around me. But they missed all missed me! Better luck next time squirrels!
When I finally reached the fire tower, the watch complained at me a bit but I followed the signs and stayed on the trail. Around this point my headlamp started to flash, I guess it was wanting a new battery. I stopped and made the switch. I continued into the night with the most amazing crescent moon as my guide. This section passes some old stone fences that must have taken someone a lifetime to create. It also traverses along some rocky outcrops. At some point along this section I stepped on a rock wrong and twisted my ankle. As soon as it started twisting I let off all my weight and crumpled to the ground. I tentatively got up and it felt OK, disaster averted! Somewhere in this section I also, seriously thought about quitting. I don’t think I have done that at a race before…. But how would I quit? I was miles from anyone…
Made it to the “rest” area
The next section of trail is a double wide slightly rocky and slightly downhill runable section. I looked at the watch and started to think I could make it to the rest stop! One part of the trail is off limits to runners before 5am, and if you get there early you take a break and your time there is deducted from your race time. I thought it was at mile 40, but it turned out to be at 38 and I was pleasantly surprised to find it at the end of that section of trail. There was barefoot Jake Brown to greet me with a yell of “runner coming”. Wait what how did he get there? Turns out Jake had dropped with a twisted ankle and getting lost too many times. Well I had made it! I only had 20 minutes to take a break. There was Tim, Jason, Zack, Marcin and Mark. I felt late to the party but glad to be there. Felt like singing “What’d I Miss?” from Hamilton, but I can’t sing.
I charged my watch and ate a PB&J sandwich. 20 minutes went by way too fast, and we were off again. The next section is a huge climb. My new osprey pack is great but I still have trouble with the buckles in the front. I found myself at the back of the pack as I worked on getting my pack secured. I was behind Jason and the others disappeared up the hill. When the hill gave way to a flatish section, I passed Jason and found Mark and Marcin getting water at a stream. Mark and I moved on while Marcin took some extra time at the water. The trail here was crazy with all sorts of twists and turns and ups and downs. The three of us eventually made it to the top to be greeted by daylight!
After a quick look to see if we could get to the coke machine in the building where the 30 mile race starts, (we could not), we moved on. Marcin’s long legs let him move up the hill walking at a pace I would have to run. He quickly left Mark and myself. The sun was coming up now and we had about 30 miles left. Mark and I could not resist taking a few pictures from Sam’s Point. The sunrise is absolutely amazing. Mark and I almost miss another turn at the top of the road. The trail then becomes rocky. I did not seem to have much appetite for rock hopping at this point, and Mark pulled ahead.
The next section is a series of rock outcrops with low tough scrub bush. The trail is often a bit hard to follow and I found myself a bit cut up from the sharp bushes. I traverse this section with little trouble feeling better than last year when I did the 50 The next section is Castle Point. The trail comes up to a carriage road and you take a right but only stay on the road for a short bit taking another left, and climbing a ridiculously hard climb where the trail markers are literally painted on the rock face. I finally make it to the top!
Relentless backwards progress
Awesome, I enjoy the downhill carriage road a bit too much and went past the trail head. But, no worries the road continues around back to the trail head that I had just come up. It says SRT and with 50 miles and over 12 hours of moving, I took the trail. My watch is telling me off course, I am watching the little green triangle which is me going down the black trail (been there done that color) and not the green (forward progress color). I come up with all sorts of possibilities why the stupid watch is wrong. After ¾ of a mile of this, my spidey senses start to kick in, this is wrong, wrong, wrong! I pull out my phone and check the pdf maps app. I move a bit and watch the blue dot move on the trail. I am on the SRT, good. I trace my path on the map and if I continue, I will be back in NJ in another 50 miles!!!! Damn! I am going the wrong way!
As soon as I turn around I recognize the trail, and I don’t like what I see. It is that uphill section with lots of boulders and generally not-runable stuff. I make my way back to the carriage road. I am not going to do the rock climb again, no way! I take the left and climb the road. I miss the turn again, and begin to think I have entered an infinite loop. I will continue on this road forever. I carefully look at the GPS line on the watch and walk slowly, until there it is plain as day, the SRT trail! How did I miss it!! Well, that was fun.
However, I am not discouraged or mad, only strangely amused at my folly. I press on, traversing great rocky outcrops with fantastic views. I stop for a water fill at a stream. As I am filling up Jason passes me. The next section is I think runable if you don’t already have 55 miles in you. There are lots of rocks, but I am making OK time. Suddenly a gazel shots by me, actually it was the first place runner for the 30. He is really moving across the rocks with fresh legs. I am a bit confused as someone had said the 30 started at 10 am, and although I am slow and he is fast, there is no way he covered 12 miles in 1 hour on this trail! A few minutes later number 2 in the 30 passes me. He cheers me on and says I look great. I say I wish I had your legs right now. He asks if I have seen the two runners ahead of him. I say I have only seen one.
At some point in this section my watch runs low on battery and I hook it up to an external battery pack and now have a wire from my wrist to my pack for the rest of the race. Turns out I could have removed it at some point as it charged faster than it drained. Next time.
You running in flip flops?
I am expecting Jake to be in the lead at this point, I figure, either he got lost or he passed me on my section of relentless backwards progress. Although, the math does not work out that well for that, but I can not trust my math judgement at all at this point. In five minutes or so, I hear the familiar, are you running in flip flops. It is Jake! He is in third at this point. We exchange stories and I tell him my new mantra is trust the watch! I say go get them, they are only a mile or so ahead of you. Jake takes off down the trail gliding like an elf across the top of the rocks, I am trying to avoid at the moment.
Which is the most scenic way
I make it to another checkpoint, then cross a road almost missing the trail. I am moving again on some nice trail, and a couple out for a walk asks me which way is the best way to go for some views on the trail? I explain that I have no idea and I am over 50 miles into a race, and promptly head the wrong way down Jennie Ln trail. My watch beeps at me, and I pass the couple again. The man says that his wife runs marathons but not ultras. He says I have amazing balance for that much running (I expect to trip on a rock and fall right in front of him after that curse.). I say good bye and head down the correct trail. I come across a great stream, and stop again to fill water. As I am filling up the couple passes me. Then the flood ( 3 or 4) of 30 mile runners starts coming at me. One guy yells hey, cool you are doing the 70! Like he is an old friend. I say, do I know you? He says, I follow you on strava, you are Bill Hoffman right? Yeah, that’s me see you at the finish.
Running with the 30s
I am passed by several 30 mile folks at this point, but no sign of any 70 milers anymore. A guy passes me and I say you should do the 70 next year. He says, this is my first 30, I just want to finish this first. Cool, I am going to try and see if I can keep up with you. Well, that is a big cup of NOPE. I can not keep up with him at all. Several other 30s pass me. I make it to the next checkpoint and pass Roland who is doing his first 30 and has hit a rough patch in his journey. We talk a bit, and I pull head. I do some running some walking, and eventually Rolland catches up to me. We start to talk and are moving pretty well. I am very happy that we make the left turn on the SRT. We have a great time together, but eventually he pulls away.
I might just finish
I make it out to the road, there are six or so miles left in this beast. I might actually do this. In the daylight I don’t miss the trail we missed at night on the 50 last year. I move on to the last checkpoint and they explain the ribbons and say I can’t miss them (I don’t believe them, but move on anyway). As I make my way down the trail, the lead women for the 30 passes me looking strong. I am wary of making a wrong turn and look for ribbons, but manage to make all the turns.
Well what do you know, I did it
The last section has a steep climb and then some OK trail. I am unable to run up the slightest hill at this point but can walk at an OK pace. Pressing on, I don’t see any runners until the finish. I reach the road and cross to the bridge where I manage to pull off a 12 minute mile pace. After 22 hours and 45 minutes I finish with a time of 22:15 (subtracting out my 20 minute break.) I am very happy with the run. I did not end up running in the dark again. When I ran the 50 last year, there was a 70 mile guy that we ran with near the end, and he was miserable. He said, I did the 50 last year, never ever do the 70. I feared that as a possible outcome, but I think I enjoyed the 70 more than the 50.
The end my only friend
At the finish, I find Tim holding a tomahawk, the first prize trophy! He had crushed the rest of the race after the break and set a new course record (https://thelongbrownpath.com/2017/09/22/tim-elas-2017-srt-race-report/). Jake did not break the course record but instead had a most excellent adventure and experienced his first return from the dead in an ultra, his story can be found here: (http://jstookey.com/node/244). We hung around for a bit at the finish, and Jake gave Tim and I a ride back to my car. After being up for over 24 hours, it was time for the last part of the journey, the drive home. It was mostly uneventful, except for a section of 30 MPH town road where a police car was behind me. I wondered if I could get a ticket for driving under the influence of 70 miles of running… I guess I was doing OK. We made it back to Clifton Park and my wife had made dinner and some neighbors came over for beer, wine food and stories of our adventure.
Here is the run on strava: Strava for SRT 70
The experience has extended my range and opened up new possibilities for adventure. Thanks so much to Ken Posner and Todd Jennings for making this event possible. Oh yeah, for running in sandals I got a cool barefoot pin, and for finishing the 70, I just received and awesome finisher certificate, that is way cooler than the four Boston finisher certificates I have! Some more pictures can be found here: https://archive.tombushey.com/index/G0000cClEBUBUWfE/I0000f1Po8Ma.Fro