(UPDATE: Looking for more photos? Links to Facebook albums can be found at the end of this post)
Back before I became a software developer who daydreams about being a competitive runner, I was a software developer who daydreamed about being a street photographer. It was fun for a while, but lack of self-confidence in my skills meant this hobby eventually waned. Running ability can be measured in hard numbers. The former scientist in me appreciates that.
However, I’ve recently been able to pick up my camera more frequently, by fusing my old passion with my new one, and offering to photograph road and trail races.
Today I had the opportunity to volunteer at the High Rock Challenge adventure race, a fixture of the Staten Island running calendar since 2001. The event combines running, physical strength, mental acuity and teamwork to provide a unique challenge that draws close to a thousand runners to the Greenbelt each April.
It’s a mix that’s a little reminiscent of Spartan and Tough Mudder races, but HRC’s distinctiveness is the emphasis on fun (many run in costumes), inclusiveness (events designed to be difficult but manageable for all ages and levels of athletic ability) and most of all, mystery. You never know where you’ll be going or what you’ll be doing: under the twisted direction of Race Director Matt Lebow, no part of the Challenge is as simple as it looks.
Today I was stationed half-way up Moses Mountain, the manmade overlook created as part of the never-built Richmond Parkway in the ’60s. There’s a (fairly) easy way up the mountain, and a hard way. Naturally, the runners would be sent the hard way.
But that’s not enough for High Rock. They would be required to carry a single strand of uncooked spaghetti up the climb, without it breaking, or face an unknown penalty. A fiendish twist when both arms are needed to maintain balance and grip onto any available rope, tree or rock to avoid slipping back down the slope.
The most competitive runners of course charged up the hill, showing remarkable strength and balance. The real fun was to be had in observing the remaining teams first joking about the situation (“Where’s the sauce?” … “Use your noodle!” etc), and then tackling the task in many different ways.
Should you try to hold the spaghetti? Grip it between the teeth? Convert it into a primitive hair-pin? All these methods and more were tried. They all worked. Some of the time. At least a half-box of Ronzoni must have been snapped or spilled on the climb, and yet spirits remained high, knowing this challenge would soon be over, to be followed by yet another diabolical creation of Matt Lebow’s mind.
I’m still not sure whether I’ll ever run the HRC myself, but it’s an event that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of as a volunteer. Thanks to the Greenbelt Conservancy for inviting me to be a part of it!
The full set set of photos is available on Facebook: