Runners and cyclists head for the hills in two new Catskills events

Some homegrown Catskills trail rocks. We've got a bunch more where they came from. Photo taken on the Escarpment Trail by Flickr user Kevin Kenny; published under Creative Commons license.

Summertime in the mountains got off to a promising start last weekend, with two new annual events that showcase some of the gnarliest terrain the Catskill Mountains have to offer. 

The winner for Most Masochistic New Race, hands-down, has got to be Manitou's Revenge: A 56-mile ultramarathon across the Black Dome Trail and Long Path whose inaugural event was held on Saturday, June 22. Race organizers didn't mince any words in describing the deep hurting involved

This is a grueling, gnarly, nasty course with approximately 12,000 ft. of climbing, much of it rocky and precipitous. To be sure, there are some runnable sections, but you will more often find yourself hiking uphill or down, sometimes hand over hand. Expect this course to take you much longer than your average 50 miler. That’s why we are allowing 24 hrs. to complete this monster. Because of its remote and difficult nature, there will of necessity be a limited number of aid stations, 8 or 9, and runners should be prepared to spend up to 3 or 4 hrs between aid stations. You will have to be reasonably self-sufficient. To make matters worse, the course gets progressively more difficult as you go along! And to top it all off, the average runner will have to tackle this hardest terrain in the dark.

The dire warnings didn't dissuade local yokel Tony Fletcher -- a music writer, blogger and member of the Onteora School Board -- from joining in. In a blog post about the race, Fletcher writes that he took part in the race as part of a relay team, and so was responsible for running only 26 miles of the course -- if the word "only" can be used to describe a full marathon's worth of grueling rock-strewn, root-laden trail.

The trail was tough, but he'd do it again, Fletcher writes:

Those who are hooked on trail running will tell you that it’s a universe away from pounding the roads, in every sense – although in the Catskills (where they say you know you’ve reached the mountains when you encounter ‘two rocks for every dirt’), the word ‘trail’ tends to be used loosely. I had two 1200+ft climbs in under a mile, which of necessity required a hand-over-fist, hold-on-to-the-tree-roots-if-you-don’t-want-to-fall-backwards approach, and even the parts of the course that can lay claim to being somewhat flat tended to have loose rocks or tree trunks or slippery boulders ready to trip you up if you allowed your mind to wander or push yourself too fast...

...I don’t often lay claim to common sense, but I’m glad I only took on the miles that I did. Still, seeing what a success this inaugural event was, at least for those who made it to the end around the time that I did, I can’t promise I won’t step up to a longer distance next year. This stuff is addictive.

The winner of the race, with a time of 11 hours and 51 minutes, was Denis Mikhaylov, a 29-year-old New York City runner who eats nothing but raw fruits and vegetables, and was a sedentary desk jockey until he took up running in 2010. 

Third-place finisher Ashley Moyer of Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, a dedicated ultramarathoner and trail runner, told Peak Magazine -- another new Catskills endeavor -- that Manitou's Revenge lived up to its name:

"This race has more ups and downs than any race on the East Coast."

Also celebrating an inaugural event last weekend: The Round Top Mountain Bike Association, who held the first Round Top Mountain Bike Festival on Sunday. The event drew about 100 cyclists and a visit from Giant Bicycles, according to a report from the Daily Mail, and showcased the group's new map of bikeable trails in the area:

“We’re putting mountain biking on the map in Greene County,” said RTMBA Co-director Mike Henry. “As a matter of fact, we made a map.”

The map, on display at the festival, details about 50 miles of trails winding through the rocky terrain among the area’s many resorts. Local riders, now with some major support from the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), have been working for years to make Round Top a mountain biking mecca.

The group has a big vision for the Greene County mountaintop. In a feature story last December, Daily Mail reporter Kyle Adams profiled the group and their efforts to transform Round Top into a first-class mountain biking hotspot:

The trail system currently connects most of the resorts, as well as the Cairo Town Park. Now, the RTMBA is working to link to a few remaining resorts, develop better signage, maps and marketing materials, and deal with sometimes difficult private property issues.

In the end, if they’re successful, Round Top and Greene County would become a national destination for both recreational and professional mountain bikers.

“We’re in a great area,” said Gary Campbell, co-director of the RTMBA. “We’ve got the mountain, we’ve got all kinds of trails, so it’s a perfect venue for outdoor activities such as mountain biking.”

Below: The Round Top Mountain Bike Association's brand-spanking-new mountain biking map of the Round Top area in Greene County.