Telling Tales of Trails

by Shamala Kandiah Thompson

I’ve always thought of myself as a road runner.  I’ve pounded the pavements in many cities from Singapore, where I grew up, to the streets of Shanghai and Sydney. Then a few years ago we moved out of New York City to Peekskill. Suddenly this city girl discovered that just beneath that road runner surface was a trail runner trying to get out.

Admittedly there were some bumps along the way. Literally. A few weeks after we’d moved I fell over a rock on a trail in Blue Mountain – our closest off-road running spot –  and found myself with a goose egg-sized bump above my eye. Unfortunately that soon developed into a psychedelic colored eye. (I haven’t been able to wear purple eye shadow to this day. ) Walking next to me later that day Paul got some disapproving looks and I began to feel I needed a sign around my neck saying “running injury”.

Deer standing guard in front of one of the entrances to Blue Mountain trails

Even a second fall along that trail (no black eye this time – I’d learnt to break my fall with my hands rather than my face) didn’t curb my enthusiasm for running in Blue Mountain. I enjoy having the place to myself bar the occasional mountain biker and a few deer who eye me suspiciously but otherwise ignore me.  I love the springy ground below my feet and the feeling of being envelopped by nature. I struggle a bit with the uneven terrain and barely maintain my balance as I descend – but at least I’m not falling over anymore.  And because I am expert at slow running, I don’t mind that it’s not a course for fast running.

To feed my new hunger for off-road running I began researching other running trails in Westchester. To my dismay it was hard getting good information. Finally I stumbled upon Westchester Trails. This website contained information on two areas that have become my favorite running haunts – the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail and Rockefeller Park Preserve. In one of those small world coincidences, Joe Garland, who set up Westchester Trails turned out to be one of Paul’s Warren Street team mates. (Joe also has a great running blog – Run Westchester.)

Croton Falls created by water spilling out of Croton Reservoir

The Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA) Trail follows the path of the original aqueduct. With the help of gravity, it supplied thirsty New Yorkers with drinking water from 1842 to 1955. My run on this trail begins at the very start of the OCA  at the Croton Dam and Reservoir.  Other than a steep climb to get to the start of the trail, it’s a straight out and back run with a flat, soft running surface.  The trail ends in the Bronx and covers 26.1 miles. I’m not quite up for marathon distance runs on week-ends so instead settle for less – 20 miles less. While there might be the odd dog walker often it’s just me and the trees for company. Which allows for a wonderful sense of solitude. I don’t have to slalom through crowds, dodge mad deliverymen on their bikes or stop at traffic lights.  On many of my runs here the only sounds are of the birds, leaves rustling and, perhaps the loudest, my own breathing.

Trail along the Old Croton Aqueduct

After a bit of trial and error I discovered that just up the road from the OCA trail was another 6 mile out and back run along the Croton Reservoir.  It’s an easy run along a gravel road with the reservoir on one side and trees on the other.

However, for Paul and I, Rockefeller Park Preserve in Sleepy Hollow is our favorite off-road running spot in New York. Some 1400 acres of undulating, largely wooded countryside criss-crossed with a network of gravel carriage trails, literally for horse and carriage (which you might encounter on a run to this day). Affectionately known as the “Rockies” to the runners, this running magnet is a short drive from where we live and about 40 minutes by train from New York City (via Metro North’s Hudson Line, getting off at Tarrytown or Philipse Manor).

Greedy pigs in Rockefeller Park Preserve

In spite of it being a very popular running spot, I’ve done many runs there where it’s just me, a few deer and some pigs and wild turkey for most of the run. (Paul has seen  coyotes – at least he has a chance of outrunning them.) The varied vistas and extensive trail system, offering countless course permutations, help the miles pass quickly. In summer trees offer shade. In winter it’s often a wonderland though snow can make the surface difficult to run on.

Winter running in Rockefeller Park Preserve

As much as I enjoy being out on the trails, during the week I often find myself having to do road runs. As I run down Park Avenue towards the MetLife building or through Central Park, I still get a buzz from city running.  But as soon as I’m back on a trail I quickly realize that I’d choose trail over road anytime.

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