For a longtime-ish trail runner, I have very little experience with mountain running. The trails that we run in NE Ohio are less mountains and more hilly with short but steep climbs. Very rarely do we climb uphill for more than 1 mile. Exceptions do exist but for the most part, our topography was shaped by the slow moving glaciers that left beautiful deposits of bedrock and limestone.
Beautiful but relatively flat
I’ve often thought of myself as somehow missing the essential trail experience by lacking the skills necessary to ascend and descend at length. Hill repeats performed on trails do somewhat mimic the effort but it’ll never be the same as a true mountain run.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to test out my unseasoned legs on a small but formidable (for me) peak. My husband Chris and I traveled to Upstate New York for the wedding of our friends Andrew and Jess. On Friday, we drove out to the the Catskill Mountain range and stayed in the beautiful hippie town of Woodstock. A few weeks ago, I inquired in the trail and ultra running Facebook group of any trails in the Woodstock area and was directed to Overlook Mountain, the base of which happened to be about 4 miles from our cabin.
Early on Saturday morning, Chris and I ventured out to the trail head to tackle a 5 mile round trip run from the base to the overlook. The parking lot was adjacent to a local Buddhist Temple with prayer flags everywhere. We quickly reviewed the trail map and chatted with a local who told us to expect it to take about 30 minutes to get to the top. We set off at a slow pace to warm up and quickly were reduced to hiking. We essentially were forced to fast hike for the entire 2.5 mile trip up the mountain. It’s funny because I’ve always said the fast hiking is one of the skills I need to spend more time focusing on to become a better trail runner and I certainly had the opportunity during this run!
One of the features of this mountain (aside from it’s amazing and breathtaking views) is that it was once home to a secluded retreat for wealthy families in the early 20th century. What stands now is a husk of the former hotel, allowing hikers to climb inside and wonder what it must’ve looked like 100 years ago. We were told by some locals that it was a 2 day trip by horse to get to this private hideaway and that Ulysses Grant was one of the more prominent guests of the day. Chris and I marveled at the remains as we walked through and speculated about what once stood here.
A half mile further up the peak we encountered one of 5 remaining fire towers that still stand in the Catskills. I was able to climb up the entire tower which is semi encased in mesh fencing to presumably prevent a long fall down. As I climbed higher, the winds picked up but the views just became more grand. I quickly waved to Chris who declined to take the trip up with me and headed down the steep stairs with both hands on the rails.
And just a bit further was the Overlook that made the whole somewhat grueling trip worth it. The views were beyond anything I have ever seen before. We chatted with some more locals who filled us in on what exactly we were looking at all those miles beyond us and shared some history of the Catskills and the Hudson River Valley. We sat in awe for a few minutes and tried to take in as much as we could before the return trip.
As we began the slow trip back to the trail head, I realized that this was going to be much harder than the way up. I’ve heard for years and years the quad trashing power of a downhill run. I figured I’ve run down plenty of hills, how bad could it be? Well, it was rough. The steep grade coupled with the rocky terrain really did a number on my quads which still show traces of soreness a full 72 hours later. I deftly dodged rock after rock and slowly made my way down the mountain to meet Chris who displayed some natural trail running ability by effortlessly bounding down the mountain. I wasn’t too jealous of his natural talent as his ITB bands certainly paid the price for those downhill sprints!
In talking with Chris on our 7 hour ride home, we talked about our highlight of the weekend. We both agreed that aside from the wedding, our favorite part was sitting on the overlook together soaking it all in. I hope that this isn’t the end of my mountain running career. At the risk of being trite, I will quote the oft cited John Muir “The Mountains are calling, and I must go.” Could not be a more true statement for me today.