It’s not as daunting as it may seem,” says Ken Posner, co-director of Rock The Ridge, a 50-mile, 24-hour endurance challenge set to take place on Saturday, May 2 at Mohonk Preserve. “I did my first 50-miler about 12 years ago, and I didn’t know if I could do it. It was exciting to discover that I could cover this distance without being any kind of special athlete, and the big surprise was that it was something that a lot of people can do. Part of what is exciting about ultramarathons is that people discover they can do more than they might have thought they could.”
For those in the front of the pack stepping off at 6 a.m., Rock the Ridge will be a race: first across the finish line in 2014 was 39-year-old Ben Nephew, who covered the distance in just five hours and 58 minutes. The next closest competitor was 28-year-old Ryan O’Connor, who finished in seven hours and 14 minutes. The first woman to complete the course (and in fifth place overall) was Nancy Dritz Levene, 46, with a time of eight hours, 22 minutes.
But for most of the participants, the endurance challenge will be more about finishing the 50-mile course through a combination of walking and running. Of those who completed the challenge in 2014, only eleven runners took the course in less than nine hours. Forty-five “Ridge Rockers” took up to 12 hours to cross the finish line, with a similar number finishing between hour 13 and hour 20.
“Rock the Ridge is about challenging yourself,” says Posner. “It’s not just for elite runners. There are a lot of different motivations for people to get out there, and a whole range of abilities. And there’s nothing wrong with taking breaks; you’ve got 24 hours.”
Just as with any marathon, he adds, there are those who run competitively to win and other people who may take many hours longer to finish but it’s still a huge accomplishment for them. “The way we look at it, every person who gets to the finish line is a hero; everybody who does it has accomplished something very special, in our opinion.”
There’s also a relay option; teams of two, three or four people can cover the distance together, each taking a section of the course. Awards will be given to those with the fastest times in each division and to teams and individuals with the highest fundraising totals.
And fundraising is the other side of the coin here. In addition to being a way to set oneself an adventurous physical challenge, Rock the Ridge is a fundraiser for the Mohonk Preserve, one that has raised more than $200,000 since its first running in 2013. Registration fees — $150 before March 14, $175 after that date and $95 per person for relay teams — cover the costs of putting on the event, and each participant commits to raising at least $250 in sponsorship.
Posner and co-event director Todd Jennings created Rock the Ridge two years ago along with Mohonk Preserve’s director Norman Goluskin. After years of running and hiking in the Hudson Valley, they wanted to do something to help preserve the trails for future generations. The idea for a “tough yet achievable physical challenge” was inspired in part by John F. Kennedy, who took Eisenhower’s 1956 President’s Council on Physical Fitness up a notch in 1961, challenging Americans to become more fit. Among his ideas was the revival of an old Marine standard of fitness known as the 50-mile hike, the ability to complete 50 miles on foot in 24 hours. Robert Kennedy even did the distance in snow and slush while wearing leather Oxfords.
Rock the Ridge is “growing nicely, year after year,” says Posner, with 188 participants in 2013 — 90 percent of whom were first-timers at the 50-mile distance — and 266 participants in 2014. He says he’d like to see Rock the Ridge become a signature event for the Hudson Valley, with the spectacular views from the Shawangunk Mountains and the groomed carriage trails on the Preserve setting this event apart from other marathons and ultramarathons.
And the economic value of the event cannot be overlooked, he adds, helping get the word out “that people should come visit the Preserve and the Hudson Valley, and we hope that’s helpful to the community over time.”
Raising $200,000 from the event’s first two years was an unexpected achievement. “I never would have imagined it, actually,” says Posner, “but I do think it points to the passion that people have for the Preserve and the Shawangunk Mountains. These mountains are worth preserving and the trails worth investing in.”
A taste of Rock the Ridge
Organizers of Rock the Ridge are holding a free event on Saturday, March 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to offer those considering taking on the 50-mile endurance challenge an opportunity to experience a modified second leg of the course starting and ending at Spring Farm. The course length will be a 10-12 mile loop with the exact route dependent on weather and trail conditions. The group will be split into runners (led by Ken Posner) and hikers (led by Joe Alfano), each receiving tips and training ideas on how to successfully complete the 50-mile challenge. Reservations for this event are requested at www.mohonkpreserve.org/events/taste-rock-ridge.
Participants for Rock the Ridge must register online by April 26. More information is available at www.mohonkpreserve.org/rock-the-ridge, where a thorough participant’s guide can be found along with a detailed description of the 50-mile course. Questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.