Rock The Ridge 50-mile, 24-hour endurance challenge at Mohonk set for May 6

Rock The Ridge is a 50-mile endurance challenge and environmental fundraiser set in the Mohonk Preserve. The goal is to traverse a 50-mile course within 24 hours by walking, running or any combination thereof. The course winds along carriage roads, through lush forests and over ridgelines This image is of the starting point, at the Testimonial Gate and Oak Alley. (John Aylward Courtesy of Mohonk)

Registration is now open to sign up for Mohonk Preserve’s fifth annual Rock The Ridge 50-mile endurance challenge to take place on Saturday, May 6. But don’t let that distance sound too intimidating, says Gretchen Reed, Mohonk’s director of communications. “Some people, understandably, find the idea of a 50-mile challenge a little daunting, but there are a number of ways people can participate.”

For one thing, the event has a 24-hour timeframe. Those who take part don’t have to be elite athletes competing to cross the finish line in six or seven hours — although some will — and can take their time, if they wish, walking, hiking or running the distance at their own pace. Seventy percent of Rock The Ridge participants will do the course that way, says Reed.

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“We’re also finding each year that an increasing number of people are signing up to do the challenge in relay teams,” she adds. Teams divide up the course between their runners and walkers according to experience and ability. “Folks can sign up with a four-person team and each hikes a ten-mile or 15-mile section on their own, or a two-person relay team can divide the distance in half. This doesn’t take anything away from the great accomplishment it is for individuals to do a 50-mile challenge, but allows people to get to be part of a great accomplishment as a team.”

There is also a category for teams of two, three or four people who will cover the entire course together as a team and cross the finish line as a group.

Many of the teams are made up of friends or family members seeking a memorable life experience to share, says Reed, or they might be business colleagues participating in a team-building exercise. Individuals who wish to be placed on a team will find a link on the website allowing them to find a group to join.

Sometimes people sign up to do the challenge on a team and then switch over the next year to do the full 50 miles on their own. “They ease into it by doing it as team members of a relay first,” Reed says, “and once they’ve gotten that under their belt, they feel ready to take on the bigger challenge.”

The course for Rock The Ridge is over well-maintained, level carriage roads through lush forests and over ridgelines with great views. The spectacular setting attracts a number of participants from the local area as well as some who travel a distance to be a part of it.

This will be the fifth year for the event, which in its inaugural year had 188 participants, most of whom were first-timers at the 50-mile distance. By 2014, there were 266 people taking part, and last year more than 400 runners, walkers and hikers registered. Ultra-marathoner Iain Ridgway was the first finisher with a time of 6:12:01. The first female runner across the line was Rachael Sparks with a time of 7:59:31.

Registration fees are non-refundable and used to cover the costs of putting on the event. The deadline to sign up is April 29 at 11:59 p.m. The number of participants that can be accommodated is limited, so early registration is advised. Individuals and those who run on teams covering the distance together pay $175 per person. For participants on relay teams, who run a portion of the course, the fee is $135 per person. Registration fees include all race amenities, including the participant t-shirt to take home, a finisher’s medal and a pre-race meal.

In addition, participants in the event must commit to raising a minimum of $250 per person through sponsorship. Since 2013, nearly $700,000 has been raised by Rock the Ridge. Donations are tax-deductible and go directly to Mohonk Preserve, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, to support their conservation science and environmental education programs and land protection and stewardship efforts caring for more than 8,000 acres of the Shawangunk Mountains region. (If a participant does not raise the required $250 minimum, their credit card will be billed the shortfall.)

The idea for a “tough yet achievable” physical challenge was inspired 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.

Registration and more information is at mohonkpreserve.org/rock-the-ridge.

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