10k of Bruising, Squishy Racing

(republished from old website)
by Jim Wright, The Bergen Record, March 28, 2002
imageAnd now for something completely different: The Leatherman’s Loop, a six-mile steeplechase through the backwoods of northern Westchester County, offers a few certainties.

You will get soaking wet when you cross two wide streams.  You will run slower than in any other 10K you’ve tried.  And you will not forget this race anytime soon, even if you fare better than the young runner who got run over by a deer during the loop last spring.  But more on that later.

The 16th edition of the race, held in the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation (across the Hudson, about a half-hour north of the Tappan Zee Bridge), is April 28, but training runs are now being scheduled.

Considering the stream-fording, the knee-deep mud, twisting trails, fallen trees, rock-strewn footing, and quad-aching-steep hills, you may want a guided preview. The course, though well-marked on race day, is virtually impossible to follow at other times without help.

The only requirement for the race – which drew 700 runners last year ranging in experience from novice to hard-core – is a dry change of clothing, replacement sneakers, and a desire to run hard instead of fast. Your sneakers will get squishy-wet. You may well take a tumble or twist an ankle on the exposed tree roots and leaf-obscured rocks, but that goes with the territory.

Figure on a finishing time that’s at least 20 percent slower than your current 10K time. The course record holder has run sub-30-minute 10Ks on the road, yet his fastest Leatherman’s Loop was just under 37 minutes, and he was so far in front of the pack that he didn’t have to deal with a herd of other runners to slow him down on the narrow trails.

The race – billed aptly as “six miles of adventure” -is an old-fashioned run organized by runners, for runners, with no corporate sponsorships or frills – just a great challenge and a unique event. Participants return year after year to enjoy the rough-and-tumble terrain, the beautiful surroundings, and the family-like camaraderie.

Although the organizers, a small band of hard-core trail runners, lost money the first few years, word of mouth has made the race a big hit over the years, and it now raises money for a local charity.

The race is named for the legendary Leatherman, an itinerant immigrant who wandered around downstate New York and Connecticut after the Civil War. His loop was 300 miles, which he would walk in 10-mile daily increments, sleeping in barns and caves at night. He dressed in leather (duh!) and cadged meals from various locals. According to the legend, he walked his loop for 25 years. Runners next month should fare better.

The 4,700-acre reservation itself makes for a nice day trip, with 35 miles of trails and a small environmental museum (www.trailsidemuseum.org) with historical relics, Indian artifacts, and nature displays. The Katonah Museum of Art (www.katonah-museum.org) and the Caramoor Center for the Arts (www.caramoor.org) are just minutes away.

Finally, you’re probably wondering about the young runner who got hit by the deer. The runner was 11-year-old Griffin Faro. The collision occurred about a mile and a half into the race, and boy and deer emerged somewhat shaken but unscathed. Young Griffin blamed the incident on the deer, though some suspect he may have just been trying to pass the buck.

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