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74-mile race brings out competitive best in Cockeysville's Russell

For the Towson Times
"The appeal is the challenge, the competition, and the fear of failure."

"It wasn't just a race. It was an adventure." said Kevin Russell, of Springlake, to describe his amazing finish in the Shawangunk Ridge Trail Run/Hike — a 74-mile, overnight run and hike through the Hudson River Valley in New Jersey and New York. With an already impressive resume as an ultra-distance runner — five marathons (Baltimore and Boston), two 50Ks and two 100Ks, Kevin put his training to the test with his latest "crazy run idea" and completed the endurance event in less than 24 hours.

The run was "unsupported," which means that race organizers provided nothing other than organization and search-and-rescue support. That includes no course markings other than existing tree blazes on trails, no food other than what you can carry, and no water other than what you can take out of streams along the route. It also prohibits helpers along the way, which meant that Kevin's normal support crew of wife, Kelly, and children, Brandon, Lauren and Ryan, had to sit this one out. Billed as an event to emulate the experiences of 18th-century New Yorkers, who could cover long distances through the wilderness, the Shawangunk Ridge Trail Run/Hike encourages a spirit of endurance and self-reliance to make it through the grueling landscape.

Setting off with little more than a compass, water filtration unit, light snacks, water and some safety items, Kevin started the race at 6:30pm at High Point, N.J., on Friday, Sept. 18th. He ran most of the night with a Polish-speaking bartender from Brooklyn. They encountered campers, deer and a feisty porcupine along the way. "I got off the trail a couple times, which involved bush-whacking my way across woodlands and then scaling large rock walls to get back on the trail. The Shawangunks Ridge (called the Gunks for short) are a very popular place for rock climbing," he said. "I did more than I intended and certainly more than the course was supposed to involve."

So what drives an already busy and active person to tackle a challenge like the Shawangunk Ridge Trail Run/Hike? "The appeal is the challenge, the competition, and the fear of failure," he said. "I figure that if I'm choosing goals that I always meet, then I'm not choosing hard enough goals. If all I wanted was to "stay in shape" or something, then I wouldn't have the motivation to train hard. Training hard is rewarding in itself for the sense of self-improvement and self-understanding, as in understanding my limits."

Kevin was able to finish the 74 miles in 23 hours and 39 minutes during which he was in constant motion -- running wherever possible and otherwise, walking as fast as the terrain would permit. He finished in fourth place, about an hour and a half behind the winner, but six hours faster than the previous course record. Of the 13 people at the start only 10 finished. Amazing job, Kevin!

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