Training for the North Face 50k - first trail race for me. Are there any good trails to train on in central or north jersey to use for training purposes (combination of terrain difficulty and hills)? I've been running at Watchung - any sense of how that compares the what I'll face at bear mountain?
The trails in Ringwood/Ramapo Reservation/Ramapo Mountain State Forest will be a lot more similar to what you will find in Harriman.
Please be advised that there were some issues with at least one "problem bear" there over the summer (the trails were actually closed for a bit), so you may not want to run alone there.
The closest you will get to Harriman is Ramapo, and if you are going that far you might as well plan on going to Harriman, it is less than 30 minutes further. Nothing in Watchung or Central Jersey will really get you the combination of technical, hills and overall terrain you will find in Harriman. NFEC is a challenging course particularly as a first trail race, so on-course experience will be invaluable.
Sadly, there are no more problem bears in Ramapo (there never actually were but that is another discussion), since they killed 5 of them in the Fall. I run there alone every week and the only problems are the occasional rude mountain biker or dogs off leash (which scare me far more than bears).
What is the "mpfit adventure club"? Last year I was training for the Assault on Schunemunk. I thought I could train in cnj (Cheesequake Park. Some good hills, kinda technical.) Boy was I wrong. Better to run the trails you'll race on for sure.
If you can't travel up to the course, and you don't mind doing hill repeats, you can make do with South Mountain reservation in Millburn. Right across from the train station is the Locust Grove parking lot. If you go right at the end of the parking lot and walk past the old pavilion, there is a fairly technical 300 foot climb there which you can do over and over again to your heart's delight. Its steep, gnarly, about 0.5 mile and highly accessible from the car. The more of them you do, the better your race will go at Bear. There's even a pipe at the bottom that spits out spring water. Just ignore the signs about the e. coli ;)