Race on the Reservation will be worth it for runners

(republished from old website)
The Stamford Advocate • THE RUNNING COLUMN
Sunday, April 19, 1987
By Jim Gerweck, Special Correspondent

Regular readers of this column know that I make no bones about my preference for running (and particularly racing) over natural surfaces rather than those that are man-made.

Likewise, those of similar bent have no doubt partaken in such local offerings as the Waveny Summer Concert Series and the Back-Country Bushwhack.  And more than a few of you have probably come into possession of a tan colored entry form for something entitled the “Leatherman’s Loop.”

If you don’t have one, I suggest you rush out and get one and more importantly, make plans to be at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, N.Y. next Sunday morning at 8:30.  Because if you don’t, chances are you’ll miss one of the most unique cross country running experiences in the Northeast (and that includes such dandies as the Escarpment Trail and Nipmuck Trail Marathon).

For those not well-acquainted with local lore, the race gets its name from a 19th century wanderer known as the Leatherman because of his all-hide outfit (what a hit he’d be in Greenwich Village today).  For some 30 years this fellow followed the same 300-mile route through Fairfield and Westchester Counties covering 10 miles a day no matter the weather.  In fact, his travels were so regular that many residents along his route could tell the time of year by his passage.  Accepting only food when it was offered, he bedded down in makeshift shelters along the way, one of which was a cave in Pound Ridge Reservation.

That park, a 4,700 acre paradise, has long been one of my favorite haunts.  In the winter, its trails provide almost 10 miles of varied cross country skiing.  In the summer those same trails, plus many smaller ones, make up a virtual runner’s heaven.  It’s possible to run through the Reservation for two hours and never run the same path twice.  One of the advantages of living so far away from most of Fairfield County civilization is that I’m that much closer to Pound Ridge: unfortunately, I don’t take advantage of that proximity as much as I should.  Others obviously are, though, and that’s how the “Leatherman’s Loop” came to be.

About a year ago, Dave Cope, one of the founders of the Bushwhack, the most successful cross country race in the area and one of the most popular races of any kind, began running with a couple of friends up at Pound Ridge.  Pretty soon, an informal group started running there every week.  Struck by the beauty of the Reservation, it wasn’t too long before they started asking themselves the obvious question: wouldn’t this be a great place for a race?

The answer is resoundingly in the affirmative, although Cope & Co. weren’t the first to ask and answer it.  Steve Norris of the Fairfield County Striders staged an event at Pound Ridge more than a decade ago, although that event was a much more intimate affair than this on figures to be.

After several months of traveling the trails at Pound Ridge, Cope and such other XC denizens as Tony Godino and Ken Littlefield came up with a challenging 10k route through the northern reaches of the park.  Last November, a trial fun run was held there, and in the intervening time, the course has be rerun and refined many times.

Since the weather turned warm, the group has been gathering Wenesday mornings at 7 to train on the course.  Occasionally, they’ve encountered some hazards: the heavy rains of two weeks ago turned the stream crossing into a raging torrent that almost swept Littlefield away.

By next Sunday, though, most of the course should be relatively dry.  That doesn’t mean it will be easy by any stretch of the imagination.  Along the route, runners will encounter several stream crossings, sand dune “walls” worthy of Walter Payton and a log-span that will test their Robin Hood/Friar Tuck skills.  There will also be stretches through rolling meadows and silent pine forests that will please the eye while taxing the lungs.  After 6.2 miles of this, the finishers (survivors?) will be rewarded with a post-race brunch.

When the Bushwhack started three years ago, organizers expected less than 100 entrants, and were shocked when more than three times that number showed up.  Now that race is threatening the 700 mark.  Perhaps runners are sated with runs over macadam, and jump at a chance to try something different.  Whatever the reason, the “Leatherman’s Loop” figures to be just as challenging – and, no doubt, as popular, too.

Jim Gerweck is a track coach at Wilton High School and organizes many races in the area.
Note: this article was originally published in THE RUNNING COLUMN of The Stamford Advocate on Sunday, April 19, 1987