Catskills a perfect place to return to trail running after injury

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May 14, 2015
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South Deerfield MA
Last September, I felt a twinge in my heel one morning. Not true pain, just a seed, something that indicated rest was needed. No problem- I had no time to run that day.

Fast forward a month, and that seed had blossomed into full-blown plantar fasciitis. One by one, the activities went away, replaced by physical therapy, frustration, and a more sedentary life. Running, hiking, climbing, dancing, and even short walks some days were too much. My pants got harder and harder to button.

last Sunday morning at 5:00 AM, I stood in a valley underneath blackhead mountain, acra point, and black dome. I had completed months of physical therapy leading up to this. I had paced myself on my recovery, holding back from the temptation to just run one mountain, maybe push a little further on the mileage on a training run, do one more lap in Clifford Park (which I highly recommend to anyone on the southern Maine coast). I finally had gotten far enough to try out a short mountain run in a new set of mountains- a test of progress on my slow, gradual climb from injury towards being a mountain athlete again.

It was warm and humid already when I set off with my friend Travis. The rocks were smooth and slippery with the previous night's rain, far more so than the rocks of New England I am used to- and far more than the roads Travis trains on. Travis had not run in the mountains before, and was trying to see what it was all about. We both skidded a few times on our way up the gentle yet muddy path toward blackhead mountain, attempts to keep our feet dry an exercise in futility. the trail was littered with streams and shallow, muddy pits, forcing us to choose between being muddy up to our ankles, or the risky practice of hopping from rock to greasy rock. The trailed climbs very gradually, though, allowing us to gradually acclimate to moving uphill- again for me, for the first time for Travis.

Around 5:40, we crested out at the top of the ridge. Beams of sunlight were filtering through the trees, and the whole Hudson valley was fogged in. We followed the easy uphill path toward Acra point, weaving through spruce, beech, and oak, this relatively flat and well groomed section of the escarpment trail allowing us the ease of movement to glance out at the views starting to come to us. there are few of the expansive vistas found in the white mountains, more of a constant peek-a-boo with the surrounding valleys. there is less urge to sit and watch at a giant visual payoff- instead, we just appreciated exploring each turn bringing us slightly different angles through the trees. the rocks were drying out in the sun, affording better footing, leading to less worry about what was underfoot and more attention to the surrounding landscape. We were just discussing the logistics of overnight runs when Travis's phone rang. Our friends back at the rental wanted us to know that the water wasn't working, and they were all thirsty and in need of a lift to buy liquids and use a bathroom.

At this point, we were about to shift from gradual ridgeline to slightly steeper running. Travis had not ever done anything like this before, and could have used our friends in need as an excuse to turn around, easy downhill all the way back to the car. He wanted to go straight ahead, and told them we were halfway done. technically, this was correct in terms of mileage. However, we still had a few hundred feet of elevation to gain, and it likely would have been faster to turn around. he wanted to explore, and I did too. Toilets still work for a short while, even when they can't flush, and there were liquids in the fridge. However, we did run with renewed urgency, trying to get back quicker than we had planned (and leaving out one peak, in the end). We carefully slid down the west side of acra point, then sprinted the one mile back down to the parking lot on a moderately steep but soft trail that went under hemlocks next to a stream. it felt wonderful to go full speed on a downhill for the first time in nine months. We were both happy when we got back to base of the loop. Travis had done his first mountain run. I had returned to the peaks, and felt truly ecstatic to be moving along a ridgeline again.

I would recommend this section to anyone looking to get into or back into mountain running as a first step. It was a short, only about 6.5 miles. It gains only about a thousand feet the whole way, but affords a nice payoff in terms of views to effort ratio. We did it counterclockwise, but if you do it clockwise, you have the option of extending your run up and over blackhead mountain as well while maintaining a loop from one car. There are very few sections that are steep enough to burn your thighs out.

I have only been in the Catskills once before, but I think I will be returning many times. I'm going to try to run the whole escarpment trail in July (should my recovery continue to go well), and hopefully explore other trails after that.