“Running is about finding your inner peace, and so is a life well lived.”
– Dean Karnazes
“Running! If there’s any activity happier, more exhilarating, more nourishing to the imagination, I can’t think of what it might be. In running the mind flees with the body, the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms.”
– Joyce Carol Oates
For the past close to a half-century, the Shawangunk Runners and their comrades in sneakers have been hosting a six-week series of running races for kids and adults, in various spots throughout New Paltz, known simply as “the Summer Series.” This past Monday, July 8, they kicked off their 46th year of dog-days-of-summer running at the West Trapps trailhead at the Mohonk Preserve with more than 230 entrants, including 31 kids who participated in the half-mile or one-mile “fun run.”
“This was the most we’ve ever had,” said veteran Summer Series co-director Steve Schallenkamp, whose voice most local runners know well, as he refuses to use a megaphone or any type of amplified system to explain the rules of the running road or the course outlines. “If you see cones,” he will yell, “that means don’t run there! If you see white flour arrows pointing towards a certain direction, follow them. If you see flour arrows in the middle of the carriage roads with points on both ends, those are comfort arrows!”
Although the race is slated to go off at 6:45 p.m., Schallenkamp can’t help but give the tiny tots some advice before their fun run. “Don’t go out too fast,” he says with a cautionary tone. “You have to save something for the end!”
And this is part of the charm of the Summer Series and the Shawangunk Runners, who might appear to some as a bunch of mountain goats grazing through the trails of the 8,000-acre Preserve, but are really some of the most accomplished and humble runners in the region.
The races also take place in various scenic locations, including Monday’s 4.7-mile loop around the Undercliff/Overcliff carriage roads and the new River-to-Ridge Trail, Williams Lake or the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. These are world-class views and with shaded roadways, lakeside paths and meadows rife with wildflowers, all for $30 per person or $40 per family — for six races!
“I think what impresses me, aside from the low fees, is the quality of runners that show up,” said Beth Glace, a longtime member of the Shawangunk Runners’ Club and also a veteran co-director with Schallenkamp of the Summer Series. “We get average fitness enthusiasts and welcome them. However, we also get very fast college and high school runners, and that is not what most local races are dominated by in recent years.”
By way of evidence, some of the top finishers were throwing down five-minute miles on carriage roads with hills. At the same time, there were octogenarians, high school kids, parents pushing infants in baby joggers, shirtless wonders and compression-sock-sporting studs all mixed in together. The beginning of the race has family members, friends, competitors, contractors and professors all debating which direction is faster: Overcliff to Undercliff or Undercliff to Overcliff. Most are fans of running to the right and striding by the rock climbers and boulderers on Undercliff, while a dozen or so renegades take off towards Overcliff. In the end, it’s still 4.7 miles — or, as the race directors will say, “4.7-ish”: another thing that breaks this series out of the contemporary obsessive/compulsive-type running culture.
Instead of trophies or medals or ribbons or dry-fit shirts, those who complete the series receive one-of-a-kind, handcrafted ceramic bowls from Most Precious Pottery, designed by Solveig Comer, a New Paltz native and runner who is also a well-known sculptor. Wyatt and Shiloh Pileggi — who come from Shawangunk Running royalty, with mother Jan Pileggi winning many a series and all of them participating in the fun runs and adult runs since they were kids — were arguing over what age and what year they ran their first summer series. Wyatt thinks he was 8, Shiloh believes she was 4; but regardless, here they are, both in their 40s, still running the series, Shiloh with her 8-year-old son Nate in tow, making him a third-generation Shawangunk Summer Series runner. “I barely run anymore,” said Wyatt. “This is one of the few races I do. I mean, it’s the Summer Series!”
While they have welcomed and encouraged many a new runner into the fold over the past four-and-a-half decades, many of the original runners, organizers, coaches and volunteers are still guiding cars into parking lots, passing out cups of water at the halfway mark, encouraging the kids as they come towards the finish line and passing out bibs and safety pins to participants, as well as watermelon slices once they finish the course and the sun is setting. One avid local runner, who did not begin lacing up his shoes until his 30s, said that when he completed his first race in the series in the 1990s, he was so thrilled to get the watermelon slice at the end. “I thought, ‘This is just perfect! They give you watermelon when you’re done?’”
“The mix of runners is what gives the series its energy, atmosphere and feel,” said Schallenkamp. “It’s the one time of the year when everyone runs together, from kids in the half-mile races to high school and college runners, age-groupers, right up to those still running at 80 years plus! It’s a great mix of seasoned runners and beginners. Plus, the places we run can’t be beat. We would have to do a lot wrong to ruin people’s evenings.” As the sun was setting behind the Catskill Mountains, and people were laughing, sweating, enjoying orange and watermelon slices, leaning against the cool surface of the white conglomerate rocks, it was a hard statement to argue with.
Despite the renowned local beauty of the area, from the hundreds of miles of carriage roads and trails that span the ridgeline from Mohonk Mountain House to Minnewaska State Park and the three sky-lakes between them, the Summer Series took place for years at the college fields around SUNY New Paltz. According to Schallenkamp, the series was the brainchild of local cross-country running coach and enthusiast Joe Keller, a retired firefighter who had moved to New Paltz from Staten Island. Seeing a need for a developmental program in the area to help boost high school cross-country running, Keller began the first New Paltz X-C Summer Series in 1974. Somewhere in the in the early 1980s, Keller took his series towards the Kingston area and the Shawangunk Runners, an ad hoc group of local mountain goats, took over the series. “I think one day it just occurred to us that we were hosting this series at the college fields when we had all of this we could have been racing in!” said Schallenkamp with a laugh, as he gestured towards the sweeping view of the Hudson Valley to one side and the sun spreading in a pastel-hued gouache behind the deep blue of the Catskill Mountain range.
It was in the 1980s when local running guru Billy Glatz took over directing the series, as well as coaching the Shawangunk Runners’ club, while operating a running and skiing merchandise store called Catch Us If You Can in downtown New Paltz (and eventually The Running Shoe) until he moved on to start following the Grateful Dead and selling tie-dyes, and asked fellow club members Schallenkamp and Glace to take over, which they did.
The series has continued to be a summer mainstay for those who love running in the company of friends and neighbors and fellow competitors, and requires upwards of two dozen volunteers to run. It’s a culture that has somehow managed to escape the feeling of being part of the running industry and commercialized races while still being competitive. It has a bit of an outlier feeling, but one where everyone who is running along the margins in his or her own world is encouraged to come into the fold and take shelter underneath the canopy of trees or dip their sore feet into one of the many bodies of water swelling within the Shawangunks.
Schallenkamp said that the series has endured, in his estimation, because of the people and places that are attached to it. “I think that people see that it is an event organized for runners by runners, and I think that the culture of the Shawangunk Runners is based on one overriding principle: We exist as an organization to promote running, and that takes precedence over anything else.”
If you ever have the opportunity to run in the Summer Series or come out to watch the races, chances are you’ll be enthralled by how contagious the love of running is and how encouraging and spectacular the climate is for those who dare to follow the floured arrow. To learn more, go to http://shawangunkrunners.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/shxc2019.pdf.