A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Time for the Greenbelt Festival Trail Races

The Willowbrook Carousel, site of the Start/Finish line

So here we are, about 3 days away from the inaugural Greenbelt Festival Trail Races, with the start/finish line held only about a mile away from where I live, in Willowbrook Park. The temps are going to be near freezing for the early part of this race, so I'll need to prep up the appropriate clothing for the race.

I like to thank Matt Lebow and the Greenbelt Conservancy for getting this race launched. Finally, an ultra trail race held in my own backyard!

What I would like to do for people is to try to go through the 25 kilometer course in general and what hazards one might expect when running the this loop (twice if you're doing the 50 km ultra).

If you're in the NYC area, look outside your window today. Ah, it is most definitely raining! Now look at the weather forecast for Saturday morning...about 32 at race start. Yes, that's the temperature for freezing, but it will not be enough to freeze the mud that's on the course. So as a result, expect very sloppy and muddy conditions on Saturday.

OK, the course itself...if you want an overall view of the course, you can go here if you have a Facebook account.

Starting out we will be running around the lake on a path wide enough so that runners can easily seed themselves before hitting the single track trails. This is a good thing. Once we circle the lake we finally leave the Willowbrook Park vicinity and trek south on the Greenbelt White Trail. There will be a small stream crossing at around 2 miles in and then a general uphill climb as we go deeper into the Greenbelt. The paths here are smooth enough but there are some technical areas where there are roots and rocks. For the experienced trail runner, these are nothing, but it might cause a little shock to beginner trail runners. There is not much mud in this stretch; that will be coming soon enough.

At about 3-4 miles you will reach the first road (Forest Hill Road). Cross the road and continue on the White Trail. Right after the road is your first muddy spot and a very slippery turn onto a small footbridge. In my training runs I have wiped out there a number of times so take this section very, very slow. The path stays a bit muddy at times before you hit a section where you'll be on wood planks. IF THE WOOD PLANKS ARE WET, THEY ARE VERY, VERY SLIPPERY!!! Slippery as in you just need a little sideways pressure on your foot to slip off the plank. Be very careful on those wood planks and you'll be fine. The course will still be going uphill at this point.

After the wood planks you'll cross another road (Rockland Avenue). After crossing this road you'll be back on the White Trail with the uphill grade getting noticeably steeper. Watch for embedded rocks on your climb up. With the entire course entirely uphill at this point, you might start to tire a bit, but the end of the uphill grind is in sight...once you get to the top, you will hang a right turn off of the White Trail and head toward the Greenbelt Bikeway that parallels Forest Hill Road.

Greenbelt Bikeway

The Greenbelt Bikeway is the easiest section of the course; there are no rocks and no roots here. It is wide enough to pass slower runners without any problems and its slight downhill grade ensures a nice section to gather your wits before the next nasty section of the course. If you want you can casually glance to your left and watch the golfers tee off on the golf course as you run by.

By about mile 5 you'll hang a left off of the Bikeway onto an adjoining trail and then another immediate left brings you onto the Blue Trail, a very nasty single-track section that hugs the ridge of Snake Hill. The trail itself is tilted which makes for some dangerous sections where you might slip down off the trail. If you can, slow down a bit and make sure your steps are sure and steady so that you safely negotiate this section. There is also one mother of a steep uphill at the end of this section that will bring you onto the boundaries of the golf course (near the driving range). You'll cross Richmond Hill Road at this point and get to your first Aid Station (around mile 6).

One past the first Aid Station, get ready for the mud! And lots of it. The muddiest section is the section between Aid Stations #1 and #2, so get ready for a swim. After the first aid station you'll go for a bit on a path on the golf course before you head back onto the single-track trail (Red Trail). As soon as you hit the single trail, you'll start to hit the mud. Some of the trails here could look like small streams, so it is unavoidable to get your feet wet here. Take it with stride and run down the middle of the puddles since that is where the level ground is. Picking your way around the sloped sides of the path is not very safe as your feet might slip on the mud and take you down with it. The hills are slightly rolling at this point and shouldn't be much of a factor.

You'll spend about 3 or so miles playing in the slop before you finally encounter another road to cross (Lighthouse Hill; Manor Rd. and Rockland Ave). Once you cross, you'll be on the White Trail for another 2-4 minutes until you hit another road; here you'll hang a left and stay on that road. You'll encounter Rockland Ave. again, cross it, and end up onto an unimproved road that leads up to High Rock Park. This starts a pretty hilly section of the course. The unimproved road is generally uphill; once you get to the other side, you'll be hanging a left back into single-track trail and a hard climb. Stay within yourself, walk the hills if necessary and you'll finally wind up on the High Rock Loop Road and Aid Station #2 (around mile 10-11).

One of the hills in High Rock park

After taking in your water and food you'll then meander the trails around High Rock Park as it generally goes a bit downhill. You'll eventually wind up on the Yellow Trail moving toward Moses Mountain. You'll cross another busy road (Manor Rd.). Once across you'll be beginning your climb up to the summit of Moses Mountain. The climb is gradual at first, but it will get very steep as you close in on the top. Once at the top soak in the scenery (it's the best!!!) before you start your descent down the back side of the mountain.

Ahhh, the Scenery from Moses Mountain!!!

The back side of Moses Mountain is where it gets fun. But you HAVE to be careful. The trail turns off to a very, VERY steep downhill. The best way to negotiate this hill is to butt-slide down because any other way will involve a painful face-plant. Forget about speed here; take it real easy getting down, stay safe, and you'll be fine. Once down you can then start running again.

The course again at this point gets muddy in some sections so be careful so that you don't slip. The hills in this section aren't a factor; most of the course is pretty much flat here. At about mile 12 you'll cross Rockland Ave. again and start a tough little climb. At the top of this climb you'll hang a right onto the Nature Trail and eventually wind up that the Greenbelt Nature Center and Aid Station #3.

At this point, you got through most of the real tough sections of the loop and it's time to head back to Willowbrook Park. You'll leave Aid Station #3 and head slightly uphill on the Nature Trail until it intersects with the White Trail. You'll make a sharp right on the White Trail. You might start to recognize where you are since you ran this stretch of White Trail when you started this course. You might also see some of the 50k runners coming the other way as they head out on their second loop. Remember to always yield to the faster runners. If you see one coming the other way, just step aside and let them pass.

You'll cross Rockland Ave, encounter the potentially slippery wood planks, the very slippery muddy section (see above), then Forest Hill Road. You will be running generally downhill and as you progress, the trail will get noticeably nicer to run on. The last 2 miles of this course is a good cruising section. In the blink of an eye you'll wind up at Willowbrook Park and the finish line (or the halfway point, if you're a 50k runner).

Congratulations, you survived the Greenbelt!

Good luck to everyone running this race. I will see you on Saturday and hope that there will be people around cheering me on as I finish the second loop of my 50k race. :-)

1 comment:

  1. After reading this play-by-play account, I am now ready!

    ReplyDelete