I know why I love running on trails. It’s for a complex variety of reasons that make my trail running unique to me, and I’ve devoted many words in this blog to this very subject. And because the reasons are mine, they belong to me and can never be taken away. I consider trail running to be a gift from nature, and one which I honor over and over again in my daily life.
On Sunday, October 23rd, I made a trip to the Muscoot Farm in Katonah, NY for a special kind of trail run. And at 9:15am (or thereabout), I stood alongside a large group of intrepid runners who amongst them had 451 other reasons for running the trails here on this sprawling property in New York’s Westchester County. The event that had brought us all together was the 2nd Annual Run The Farm trail race, a 5-mile jaunt around the wooded hills of the parkland that surrounds the farm itself.
I should begin by saying that if you don’t already know, this race is put on and directed by the same amazing group of people who are responsible for the 25 years of trail running over in nearby Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, otherwise known as the Leatherman’s Loop. If you have never run the Leathersman’s Loop before, all I can say is ‘you should.’ And I can also say without the slightest hesitation that the level of care and love that is put into Run The Farm measures up well with the effort that has gone into the Leatherman’s Loop over the past quarter century. Farm runners have many years of pleasure in store for them.
The race itself is actually two races, with the first being a pair of kids races that take place prior to the main 5-mile event. In all, almost 250 kids aged 12 and under toed the line, and there was even a runner of age 2 who participated! The kids races began at 8:30am, and they were all done and scored before the big race got going at 9:15.
As I stood in the race start area with my friends Emmy and Frank, we all chatted about our race plan, with Emmy deciding to seek out a place near the front, and Frank and I choosing to hang further back and take a more deliberate approach. As we talked, a gentle man with a warm smile appeared next to us. The man, as you may have guessed, was race co-director Tony Godino, and he greeted me with a smile, a big hug, and words of thanks for coming out to join the ‘Farmers’ today.
Moments later it was time to begin the pre-race announcements. Tony was our MC, and after a few words of his own, he introduced Danny Martin, a long-time friend and trail colleague of his. Danny went on to lead us in a responsorial chant that was not unlike something you would experience on a Sunday morning in church. And to be sure, for many in the field of nearly 500 today, this was a form of religion too, and in the end, they would give thanks and praise to the Run The Farm team just like they might do in their own house of worship. After Danny’s chant, Rob Cummings played some very brief ‘rev up’ music for us from his smart phone (amplified through a sound system, of course), then Tony rang his starter’s cowbell, and we were off!
The first part of the race passes several of the farm’s barns and outbuildings, and then dives quickly into the woods as runners begin to climb the first of many hills. But the path was crowded, and it forced the deliberate pace that I had been hoping for when I had stood at the start line. After passing our first musical entertainment of the morning – a bagpiper
(this prompted someone alongside me to say that with these hills, it seemed like funeral music to her) – we broke into a sweet smelling meadow. Although the meadow itself was characteristically broad, the grass was very long except for the single-track path we were running along, so passing people here was a challenge. That being said, I tried it anyway, and managed to successfully put a few runners behind me before re-entering the woods a couple of hundred yards later.
Once in the woods, it really wasn’t any easier to pass people, and as it turned out, almost the entire race would be a similar experience. The wooded parkland here at Muscoot has
several different trails for hikers and runners to enjoy, but they’re all very similar in nature – single track with very little room on either side of the trail to maneuver around others. And so it was for the majority of the next 3 miles or so….
The lion’s share of the middle of the race course traverses the park’s yellow-blazed Outer Loop Trail, and as we ran we tackled what seemed like a never-ending succession
of hills. Amid the beauty of these leaf-strewn woods was a violinist playing soft sounds, which eased runners’ minds, and put a song not only in their ears, but also in their hearts.
At about the midpoint in the course I overheard a runner say ‘The big hill is coming up. You’ll know it when you see it.’ And true to that statement, at roughly the 3-mile mark I encountered a sign announcing ‘Godino’s Grind.’ As I peered ahead, I could see runners being brought nearly to a standstill by this extremely steep bit of terrain. It is also at this point that the race course kind of doubles back on itself, and for a brief moment we could see runners behind us running in the opposite direction, and looking much happier as they ran down the hill that we were now running up. I smiled, knowing that they would face this devil, too. ;)
Since most everyone was walking at this point, there was opportunity to pass people going up the ‘grind,’ and so I did. By the time you reach the top of this hill – whether you run or walk it, it doesn’t matter – I guarantee that you will be sucking wind just as though you had run a 100-yard dash! It was especially comforting to reach the top and know that this little bit of excitement was over with.
As you run down the backside of Godino’s Grind, there’s a sense that the finish line is near, but unfortunately it’s not. :( You are still in the woods, and there is still no sign of split rail fences or farm buildings anywhere in sight. It is only a mile or so later that the race course finally reconnects with itself in that first meadow, and you feel as though you can turn on your afterburners for one last push. The problem with doing that, however, is that what had been an enjoyable downhill going out was now a challenging-if-not-downright-unwelcome uphill coming back. Although runners weren’t walking here, we were all clearly in the trucker’s equivalent of low gear as we trudged upward through the wispy meadow grasses.
Once the meadow hill is crested, the course flattens and you can finally put on your finishing kick, if you have one, that is. Veering left across a different meadow than the one we went out on, the course sets up for its finish, which is along the northern side of the chicken building. But to get there, you still have to traverse one or two of the farm’s gravel roads (passing the turkey and goat pens as you do), and then make a hard right about 75 yards from the finishing clock.
As you complete this gnarly but scenic jaunt, a handsome youngster hands you an artistically rendered piece of paper known as “Farm Bucks.” The denomination on the bill for those who complete the 5-mile race is, appropriately, $5.00, and this entitles you to an equivalent value in merchandise from the farmers market that takes place post-race. Having seen the vendor setup prior to the race, I couldn’t wait to spend my Farm Bucks (and some of my own ‘real’ cash as well) on the wholesome and organic food that was waiting for us there. The vendors in attendance are very professional, they provide top quality products, and you can tell by talking to them that they take tremendous pride in what they do. They all embody the same sense of pride that you see in the Run The Farm organizers, who clearly love putting on this event, and take great joy and fulfillment from the sense of family that they’ve created here. Besides all the vendors who were there afterward, there was also some live entertainment to keep everybody smiling while they reflected on a fine morning in the countryside of northern Westchester County.
I had such a good time at the 2011 Run The Farm that I didn’t want to leave. But like all good things do, this event came to an end, and so I made my way across Route 100 to the large parking area where my car was patiently waiting for me. As I drove away, I waved to the farm, and to the pigs, the turkeys. and the cows who live amongst the well-preserved buildings here, for I knew I would be back to visit them once again. To share another trail running experience. To ‘worship’ the sport that I love so much.
Goodbye, Muscoot Farm. I will see you next year!