In Beauty May We All Be – Leatherman’s Loop

A celebration of 30 years! Photo: Closer North

A celebration of 30 years! Photo: Closer North

This was my 3rd Leatherman’s Loop and I find myself already excited to return for the celebration next year! The founders and race directors have really created something special with this race – steeped in tradition and approached with the utmost respect by each runner and spectator – it is easy to see why this is likely the largest trail race on the East Coast drawing over 1300 runners to tackle Ward Pound Ridge Reservation’s natural obstacles. I promise you – come and experience this race once and you too will be hooked by its charm.

Giant peace sign made of flags. Each runner was asked to take a flag - a piece of peace - home with them, as that is where peace begins

Giant peace sign made of flags. Each runner was asked to take a flag – a piece of peace – home with them, as that is where peace begins. Photo: Flint

Maybe it’s the theme of peace that surrounds you when you enter the park. Maybe it’s the way Tony Godino is overwhelmed with emotion when he climbs the ladder to address his captive audience. Maybe it’s the way the Loop’s long-time, loyal friends and legends are introduced and recognized one-by-one for their achievements. Maybe it’s the way we are reminded to reflect upon and celebrate this very moment on this very day when we all come together to share this experience. Or maybe it’s how Danny Martin invites us all to recite the Leatherman’s Loop poem along with him before we are sent off into the wild. It’s all of this and more.

But once the start command is issued the craziness begins! A stampede of eager racers erupts and no matter how prepared I think I am for the punishing pace and battle for position, I always find myself getting quickly sucked backwards in the funnel. Today was no exception but I decided to take a chance and cut left so I could reach the outer edges and hopefully have a better chance to hold my own in the flurry. It worked! I was pushing myself to a pace that no one should be dumb enough to attempt in the opening 1/2 mile of a race but I was gaining ground and moving my way up the field just in time for the single track. I’m never quite sure how I make it through that initial field sprint without taking a terrible tumble. The ground is uneven and with the high grass it is hard to see the terrain beneath – getting tripped up seems inevitable. However I survived again – must be the spirit of the Loop!

That initial mile left my lungs searing but that’s part of the fun! You redline from start to finish at this race. All of the nuances of the loop come rushing back to me as I make my way up and down the risers, over rocks and roots winding through forest paths. I wore my Topo Runventures for this race which offered the perfect lightweight protection and grip to tackle everything this course throws at you. Occasionally there are some spots where you can make passes, but for a lot of the time you either keep up with the pace pushing behind you or get out of the way! I was holding my own and having a great time, naturally. Although the course seemed slightly drier this year the first water crossing appeared to be as deep as usual but I was able to make a pass or 2 running across.

First water crossing. Photo: Hailey Ivey

Exiting the first water crossing. Photo: Hailey Ivey

You reach a clearing which means it’s time for the first sand hill. With a mariachi band serenading runners with some upbeat tunes you can’t help but be feel excited to tackle that hill 😉 From there you make your way to the halfway point which means after a sharp left-hand turn you’re into mudflat territory. There’s no avoiding the deep mud lagoons along this section so you may as well embrace it and have fun! Once you tackle the flats there is one more sand hill to conquer, this one hosts a bagpipe player beckoning you to the summit, before the hard part of the course is behind you.

One of two sand hills. Photo: Michael Rodgers

One of two sand hills. Photo: Michael Rodgers

I had been taking it “easy” on the hills during this race – more than once reminding myself that this was not an ultra and I needed to hustle up every hill I encountered. Telling myself didn’t work, and during the 2nd half of the race I found myself being passed by a few guys on the uphills only to turn around and pass them back once the trail flattened out. Trading spots with these guys over the last 2 miles helped keep me motivated and on my toes for the last section of the race.

Once you exit the forest you have a short field to run through towards the final act of this race – SPLASHDOWN! You can hear the roaring crowds from far away – this is by far the main attraction of this race. And for good reason. Runners can’t see the bottom through the deep, rushing water so every step is an adventure! Being my 3rd time, feeling like I should be a pro at this by now, I had it in my head that I was going to charge through Splashdown like a maverick – impressing the crowds with my water crossing skills. Which could only mean that I should expect the exact opposite… First step in and down I went! Okay, I still have another large section to navigate – I got this. I climbed over the median and leapt into the next section with total confidence. Down I went again. All I could do was laugh at how far removed I was from my visualization of this. But there was no time for laughing at myself – I heard the crowd screaming “you’re the first female – GO!!!!!

Photo: Closer North

Photo: Closer North

I popped out of the water and began my final charge up the hill through the tunnel of spectators lining the way to the finish line. There was that familiar feeling – like I just ran through wet cement, not water, and now with the air hitting my legs each step felt like I was getting slower as I grew colder. I forgot to bring my watch to this race which was actually refreshing – I didn’t really need it and why not race without worrying about time and pace? Once the finish line clock was in sight I was sad to see that this had been my slowest Leatherman’s Loop yet. However that disappointment was fleeting because no matter what my time, or what my place at this race, it is so exhilarating to be out there pushing so hard on a challenging and fun course.

I was able to defend my title of 1st overall female for the day, but it wasn’t by a longshot! The crowds screaming at me to GO in the Splashdown knew what they were talking about. 18-year-old Gemma Nuttall was a mere 30 seconds behind me. I’m going to have to do some work to maintain my streak against the young talent that dominates this event!

Photo: Deborah Burman

Photo: Deborah Burman

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy holding on to that spot for one more year, and the award that comes with it. Each year I receive a large bag overflowing with goodies! If you know me, you’ll know that awarding me food is always a plus 🙂 And so I celebrated that evening with some pancakes and local maple syrup courtesy of Leatherman’s Loop!

Victory pancakes!

Victory pancakes!

One more awesome thing to note about this race is that every year they collect food pantry donations to directly benefit families in need. I wish more races would take advantage of the sense of community trail running fosters. Even if only half of the runners bring 1 item to donate, that can still make a huge impact. It definitely adds to the sense of family that this race nurtures.

Finish time: 48:14

 

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Leatherman’s Loop Race Report

logoI had been looking forward to this race! When I decided to race the Spring Dual I was thinking it was short enough to not affect my performance at this prestigious race on the following day, but as the weekend approached the nerves were building. I was invited to race Leatherman’s Loop by a friend of a friend and I did not want to disappoint. Luckily I had no soreness from the prior day’s race – legs were just a little tired. But I convinced myself it was only 10k… When I arrived at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, NY my first thought was that this place was beautiful! My excitement was building. The energy at the race site was buzzing – all positive, happy vibes – and it kept my nerves at bay. I had received a detailed description of the course and what it entailed, and I had been going back and forth for the past 12 hours trying to decide which shoes to wear. Having choices is a great thing, and having to make such a tough decision because I love both shoes so much isn’t a bad position to be in either 😉 My inov-8 Mudclaw 265’s would provide the best traction over the many mud flats/pits we encountered, and also help me to scale the sand hills. However my inov-8 Trailroc 150’s have awesome traction at a much lighter weight, which would allow me to really open up on the more “relaxed” terrain. Love them both so much, but I went with the Trailroc’s.

inov-8 trailroc 150

inov-8 trailroc 150

The weather was beautiful which added to the peaceful, upbeat vibe at this race. With over 1200 runners making their way to the park, we had a delayed start. Normally this starts to put me on edge, but today I was just enjoying the surroundings and atmosphere. When we were finally corralled for the start, I found myself in the middle of a rather wide start chute, and a few rows back. It didn’t seem like people were lining up according to pace but I figured it would all sort itself out quickly. Boy was I wrong! leathermanAfter some course info was shared, we heard a recitation of the traditional Navajo/Irish blessing of beauty:

Beauty before me as I run. Beauty behind me as I run. Beauty below me as I run. Beauty above me as I run. Beauty beside me as I run. Beauty within me as I run.

I see Beauty all around. In beauty may we walk. In beauty may we see. In beauty may we all be.

From there, at the quack of a duck, the race began! The bottleneck was even worse than I expected – everyone swarmed front and center and I felt like I was being sucked backwards. I started to panic and let negative thoughts creep in “if I can’t make my way through this congestion I don’t stand a chance.” startI scrambled to the outside and swung wide trying to get into a better position. After running through the meadow we were greeted with the first section of mud flats leading into the trails. I was able to make some ground here, even as I hurtled over a lone shoe that didn’t survive the first of many pits. By the time I reached the first turn, less than a half mile in, I realized there were not any women in front of me. Phew – back to my comfort level of going out too hard and running scared 🙂

chris tingue

Photo credit – Chris Tingue

I was told that the 2nd half of the race was much easier than the first, so the plan was to try to keep it under control until I hit the 2nd sand hill climb (after going out too hard to get my lead of course), and then push to the end.

 What can I say about this course? It had everything! Multiple water crossings:

david gordon first river crossing

Photo credit – David Gordon

david gordon first river crossing 2

Photo credit – David Gordon

john cummings splashdown

Photo credit – John Cummings

Plenty of mud:

chris reinke mud flats 2

Photo credit – Chris Reinke

ryan reinke

Photo credit – Chris Reinke

Sandy climbs like “the wall”:

tom casper the pit

Photo credit – Tom Casper

Single track with roots & rocks, twists & turns, and wide open sections of soft terrain:

pine forest 2

Photo credit – Ciorsdan Conran

carol gordon

Photo credit – Carol Gordon

There were some short steep climbs but also plenty of descents. I was enjoying myself so much on this course that I was barely noticing the fatigue in my legs. Once I reached the top of the 2nd sand climb, I took a moment to look back to see if anyone was behind me. Coast was clear! At this point I was starting to feel very relaxed and was enjoying every second.

 I was about a 1/2 mile from the finish when I could hear the crowds cheering very loudly. As I approached the final water crossing, the splashdown, it was an awesome site to see so many spectators lined up along the climb out of the water. I jumped in, not at all expecting to sink down to where the water was shoulder height.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Blum

Photo credit – Michelle Blum

And boy was it cold! I made my way across and started the climb to the finish, spectators surrounding me making all kinds of noise Tour de France style. You hit the meadow and the finish line is in sight, but it’s also windy and your legs are feeling frozen after that ice bath. Crossing that finish line was bittersweet. Sure I was tired, but it was so much fun!

I definitely plan to return to this race. The land, the course, the race organization, the volunteers, the fellow runners – all made for a top-notch event! Awards were strudel, pies, and other local goodies. I got the motherload bag which contained a bottle of wine, 2 bundles of homemade pasta, a mega-jar of honey (looking for a good home), a Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bar, a jar of strawberry rhubarb jam, and curry cashews. BINGO!

I you love running trails, I highly suggest you throw your name in the basket next year for the lottery registration. You won’t be disappointed!

Top 2 lines from the race:

1) “I hope I don’t shit myself.” – we’ll leave that one anonymous 🙂 2) “Seriously” – a spectator’s “word of encouragement” to me as I ran up one of the hills