Running for Art’s Sake
Sunday March 23rd I participated in the Fifth Annual Hudson River School Art Run, a 30-mile run (with occasional hiking), from Frederic Church’s landmark home Olana on the eastern side of the Hudson, to the picturesque North-South Lake high up in the Catskills. Inspired in large part by a legendary, late local art teacher and runner, Barry Hopkins, the Run takes in most of the key sites of the Hudson River Art Trail – with a handful of detours thrown in for the hell of it.
The pace was leisurely, as it needed to be given that we would be making our way from sea level up to 2500 feet altitude, with several more ups and downs en route, and allowing for the fact that we had two sections of proper trails, the last of it about three miles of solid Escarpment, such as some of us annually risk bodily harm on during the 30k Escarpment Run each July. As well as a crack crew of jogging comrades, we also had a team of support vehicles, allowing us to stop frequently for food and water. It was a new experience for me all round: the longest distance I’ve ever run, and especially, the longest I’ve ever been out running, and I was amazed to find that it’s possible to eat and digest solid food at this kind of pace. I didn’t know how I would perform, having not taken in more than ten miles since running the Boston Marathon five weeks earlier, but as it happened, I felt good throughout, and was only three people to run every single one of the thirty miles. Of the other two, one of ‘em was also a Brit. Go figure.
I ran the first four hours of the eight-hour day barefoot in my Vibram Five Fingers. As my fellow Brit (and fellow occasional Vibram wearer, though not today) observed: You notice them that much more when you’re running slow. And when you’re slogging through fifteen miles of mostly back roads, you really feel the ground under your feet. I ended up keeping them on through a half-mile of track that was, essentially, a layer of sharp pebbles. Plainly bruised by the experience, I switched after that to my brand new Inov-8 F-Lites 230s, which are unbelievably lightweight, beautiful to look at, and claim to stick to wet rock such as we have on the Escarpment. (The company is British, they make dozens of shoes for fell running and the like, and I know many trail runners – and winners – who swear by them. If only they didn’t make 50 diferent shoes, it would be a lot easier to recommend them!)
The part I’d been most looking forward to was the run up Route 23A from Palenville to Haines Falls, a route familiar to everyone who’s ever driven up to Hunter Mountain from the Thruway as the one with the very very very sharp switchbacks, and seemingly endless incline. It takes in about 1200 feet over the course of four miles, and I adored every inch of it. The Inov-8s seemed to love it too. Don’t ask me why I enjoy running uphill so much; I just do. We paused to hike up to the famous Kaaterskill Falls, where there were literally dozens of daytrippers admiring New York’s biggest waterfall, and apparently one of the world’s most famously painted ones too. I tried running again in the Vibrams, and now with socks, but by this point I’d attracted a small sore from where the materials join on the inside (my bad for running barefoot in them) and soon switched back to the Inov-8s for the final hike into the Forest around North-South Lake. We finished with the spectacular views from Newman’s Ledge, Artist’s Rock and Sunset Rock, and after the descent through the Escarpment, could almost be seen racing to the support vehicles in the car park for a rewarding beer. The day ended with pizza and more beer back in Catskill.
It was a spectacular day, with the weather once again obliging as it did for me in Boston: the humidity was high at times, but the temperatures stayed reassuringly low. It’s hard to express how enjoyable events like this can be. For me, it’s especially valuable to go out and NOT race, but just enjoy the company of good friends and the occasional stranger. Much as when a similar group of us took a 20-mile run/climb over five of the Catskills’ peaks in the middle of winter a couple of years back, it was equal parts exercise, endurance, enlightenment – and fun. I guess I’ll be back again next year.
You can download pdfs of the trail course and the Seven Historic Sites from here.