Extreme Sports and Races in the Hudson Valley, Upstate NY

Local adventure-sports events leave participants dirty, tired — and exhilarated

The notion of “summer fun” means different things to different people: lazing around a pool or a sandy beach, hiking or biking along a rail trail, playing a round of golf or a set of tennis, or simply prowling through an air-conditioned mall.

But as unlikely as it may seem, there are those among us who would rather spend hot summer weekends running up and over five of the Catskill high peaks, navigating obstacle courses that include mud pits and smoldering coals, or swimming 120 miles of the Hudson River in seven days. In the Valley, extreme sports enthusiasts can get their endorphin rush at four different events this season: the Spartan Sprint, the Eight Bridges Swim, the Escarpment Trail Run, and the Warrior Dash.

» Go to Hudson Valley Sports, Recreation & Fitness Guide
» First challenge: Spartan Sprint

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Spartan Sprint

Length: 3.5 miles
Known for: Fire jumping and mud crawling

Participants in the Spartan Sprint, held at the Tuxedo Ridge Ski Area in Orange County, can expect to encounter “mud, fire, water, barbed wire, and occasionally Hell on Earth,” according to the event’s Web site. More succinctly, entrants in this extreme obstacle race negotiate between 15 and 20 obstructions along the mountainous course. “Last year, they had to jump over fire, swim in an ice-cube bath, and do a 400-foot mud crawl under barbed wire,” says Robert Cannillo, Tuxedo Ridge general manager. Like any race, the objective is to reach the finish line as quickly as possible, which the most athletic participants can do in about 45 minutes — although some people take as many as six or seven hours, says Cannillo. And while the Spartan series does attract a number of elite athletes, “we have people of all different ages — from 10 to 75 — and sizes. We even had one of The Biggest Loser guys do it last year,” Cannillo says. More than 5,000 people ran, swam, climbed, and crawled through the inaugural race in 2011, and Cannillo expects closer to 10,000 entrants this year. “Folks loved the different terrain, loved coming to the Valley,” he says. And no doubt they also enjoyed the post-run festivities — which include music, food, and lots of beer. June 2-3; 845-351-1122 or www.spartanrace.com

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» Next extreme challenge: Eight Bridges Swim


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eight bridges swimIn the swim: Marathon swimmers leap into the Hudson during last year’s Eight Bridges Swim

Photograph by Greg Porteus

Eight Bridges Swim

Length: 13 to 120 miles
Known for: Wrinkled skin

You’ve no doubt heard of marathon running — but did you know there’s a sport called marathon swimming? For the second year in a row, practitioners of this particular form of physical torture take to the waters of the Hudson for the Eight Bridges Swim: Starting at the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in Catskill, they crawl, backstroke, butterfly, or dog-paddle from one span to the next, ending at the Verranzano Narrows Bridge in New York Harbor seven days later. “They are in the water for five to eight hours a day, swimming with the ebb current,” says Rondi Davies, a co-organizer of the event with High Falls’ David Barra, a marathon swimmer who — among other accomplishments — has swum across the English Channel. “The shortest day is 13 miles, then there are two days of 20 miles — it’s 120 miles altogether.” Twenty hardy souls took part in this challenge last year, although just two completed the full distance. “Most people come to do just one day, then go home,” says Davies. “Most of them had done a marathon swim [of at least six miles] before, although we don’t have strict qualifications. You don’t have to be a super athlete to take part.” Marathon swimming is a fast-growing sport, says Davies, who likens the Eight Bridges event to hiking on the Appalachian Trail: “You’re just getting into the water every day, swimming and enjoying the scenery.” June 25-July 2; www.8bridges.org

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» Next extreme challenge: Escarpment Trail Run

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escarpment trail runMountain goats: Runners prepare to take on the Catskills in the Escarpment Trail Run

Photograph by Doug Freese

Escarpment Trail Run

Length: 18.5 miles
Known for: Great views, skinned knees

The granddaddy of extreme sports, the Escarpment Trail Run is now in its 36th year. Entrants traverse this famed Catskills trail, a rock- and root-strewn single track that ascends — and descends — five of the mountain range’s highest peaks, with an elevation change totaling a whopping 10,000 feet. Not an obstacle race per se, runners nonetheless must contend with downed trees, slippery rocks, various types of wildlife, and sections that require hand-over-fist climbing up (or down); few make it to the finish line (which can take from three to six hours or more) without experiencing at least one painful fall. Previous marathon or similar long-distance running experience is mandatory, and — although the race offers no awards — “it sells out every year,” says organizer and Palenville resident Dick Vincent. “We get a nice mix of trail runners, road racers, and ultra racers from all over. One year, I had a guy from Hong Kong who came to run it.” Many of those who take on this challenge are over 40, says Vincent; amazingly, 65 percent of them return to do it again. “I think part of the reason for that is that everyone is treated the same way,” says Vincent. “First place is the same as last place. The mountains are the challenge.” July 29; www.escarpmenttrail.com

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» Next extreme challenge: Warrior Dash



Warrior Dash

Length: 3 miles
Known for: Costumed Cargo Net climbers

In the same vein as the Spartan Sprint, the Warrior Dash takes participants “right up the mountain,” says Beth Barry, media and communications manager at Windham Mountain Ski Resort, which hosts the event. Thirteen muddy, watery, and fiery obstacles impede their progress, the toughest of which — according to Events Manager Eric Lenseth — seems relatively tame. “I’d have to say the Cargo Climb is the hardest obstacle. They have to climb up a cargo net, then across it and down the other side. A lot of people have trouble with that one.” A whopping 25,000 “warriors,” ranging in age from 13 to 60-plus, took part in this wild scramble last year. “We get a lot of New York City people, who work at a desk job all day long. Most of them walk the whole way,” Lenseth says. Unlike the Spartan Sprint, speed is not an important part of the equation. “The whole event is just one incredible party. Lots of people come in groups and wear costumes. Last year, we had 25 guys painted to look like Smurfs,” Lenseth says. “Everyone has a smile as they cross the finish line.” Keeping with the Viking warrior theme, finishers are rewarded for their efforts with a free beer and a whole turkey leg. Aug. 11-12; 518-734-4300; www.warriordash.com or www.windhammountain.com

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