Faster Than Your Couch!
The Hyner trail View Challenge is one of the largest trail races. The 25k option is open to 1200 trail runners and hikers, and the 50k ultramarathon is capped at 175 spots. Despite its grueling, technical and difficult course, the 25k regularly sells out quickly, while the 50k, which was run for the first time in 2012, usually features around 135-150 runners.
The 50k course has an alevation gain of 7,400 feet, and it is notorious for its long, steep hills, difficult footing, and plenty of creek crossings and mud. There are some very nice runable sections, but some sections simply only allow for hiking due to the rocky, rooty, muddy, steep terrain.
So, with the two weeks leading up to the race filled with many storms, wind, and heavy rain, this was going to be a mudfest this year. And we were not to be disappointed!
My training had been good, but not ideal in the past 2 months. I had gotten in good miles, but, owing to lots of ice on the trails throughout the extended winter, I had slacked on really steep, technical uphills and downhills, and I had run only one run of 22 miles, and shorter runs up to maybe 18 miles. The Hyner has a reputation to "reward the runners who have trained well, and punish those who haven't", and so I knew I could be in for a rough day.
The weather forecast was good, no rain, but cloudy and cool, with temps in the upper 40's, and breezy. Great for a day of running in the mountains!
I decided to go with a long-sleeve shirt and a technical T on top, tights, and my new Cascadia7's. I chose thin socks because I had noticed a considerable amount of slip and wiggle room wearing thicker, cushioned socks with these shoes on my training run. Just in case, I took my mittens with me.
I drove to the location early in the morning and arrived there shortly before 6:30 a.m, plenty of time to get ready before the 8 a.m. start. Just like last year, I missed the huge, 6x10 feet big sign marking the turnoff into the parking lot, that's just one manifestation of my razor-sharp sense of direction - at least on the roads. Eventually, I found the parking lot - tents of the few overnighters still closed, and only a few cars there. Registered, dropped off my drop bag, and waited for the other PA ultra runners to show up, as we had agreed to meet before the race for a group hug.
And they did show up! I met Craig (Daydreamer1), Tonya (BadMotherRunner), Stacey (skeene07) and her husband Rick, and Jamie (boyjame). Stacey had just finished her first 50-miler the weekend before (Congrats!), so she was not going to run, and Craig had to drop from the 50k to the 25k because of a wonky ankle, but Rick, Tonya, Jamie and me were going go tackle the 50k.
I also met Leon, Kelly's (lace_up) friend, and we chatted a bit. He was excited about the race and all pumped up to go.
Group picture: Craig (Daydreamer1), Jamie (boyjame), me, Tonya (BadMotherRunner), and Stacey (skeene07)
At 8 a.m., we lined up at the starting line. And just as the risk of precipitation dropped from 5% to 3%, it started to - snow! Technically, the weather forecast was right, as there was no rain, but it was not pleasant at all, and it would be like that on and off throughout the race. After some last-minutes instructions (most important probably was the info that one aid station had been removed due to inaccessibility), we took off under the cheers and hoots of the 25k-runners, whose race started an hour later.
At the start.
The 50k runners have the first 22 miles of the course to themselves, so there was no jam after the first mile, where the course changes from road to single track. The usual conga line formed, which spread out quickly as soon as the first steep hill up to the Hyner View began.
On that first stretch of single track, the trail meanders alongside a steep, muddy, rocky hill, with train tracks way below along the Susquehanna River. A runner just before me stepped onto a huge rock (about 2x3x3 ft), which dislodged, rolled, jumped and fell down the steep incline, gaining speed rapidly, eventually crashing onto the train tracks. Oops. That incident made the runners who had observed it very aware of the inherent danger of the trail, even though it looks quite simple and easy at that section.
That first climb went fairly well, although I was shocked at how fast people were scrambling up the hill. Together with Jamie and Tonya, I had started out about 2/3 in the back of the pack, but I was passed by many runners. I had lost sight of Tonya and Jamie already on the access trail to the uphill. At one point, I think there were less than 10 runners behind me, which I had not at all expected. What the heck was going on, it felt like I had signed up for a 5k!
On top of the hill, I grabbed a few gels at the aid station and added water to my "food bottle" filled with perpetuem. As the perpetuem did not dissolve quickly, I vigorously shook the bottle, while navigating my way downhill on the technical trail. Not a good idea. I tripped and went headfirst into the ravine - bottle flying one way, mittens, gels and camera the other way. Luckily, there was a patch of grass and thorns which caught me and my stuff. The runners behind me stopped, all worried and asking if I was ok - I was, no harm done. Picked myself up, grabbed my stuff, and carried on, a bit more careful this time.
I got down, enjoying the technical trail and passing a few runners, and made my way through the valley to the next uphill, where the 50k course turns off halfway up. Things were not going really well, I felt dizzy, burned out and exhausted, and slowly slipped into a mental low. That had never happened to me that early on in a race, and it sure sucked.
After the turnoff, there's another mile of uphill, gaining another 1,000 ft in elevation. I started to resent and fight the trail, as I was trudging through the mud and creeks, and over the rocks. After a nice bellyflop flat into the mud, I realized it might not be such a great thing to put myself at odds with a trail that I was trying to beat and, maybe, even enjoy. I knew I had to get myself out of that mental funk, while at the same time I could not remove myself from dwelling on all the adversities brought on by the trail, the weather, and the cold.
Cold it was.
My hands had been frozen since I had arrived at the first hilltop at mile 4, and meanwhile, at mile 8 or 9, I was suffering from frostbite. Why did I not put on my mittens? Well, that was a technical mishap on my side (lack of storage space, no pockets in my tights or shirts, front pockets of my pack stuffed with camera, perpetuem, electrolyte pills, tissues, and all kinds of unneccesary clutter) combined with laziness (unwilling to stop and take off my pack to stow the gels in the back). So I was carrying the 4 gels and the 2 empty gel packets in my mittens, and therefore was freezing my hands off. Great planning, could make for another paragraph in that "How to ruin your race" guide!
My feet, which were of course wet from all that over-ankle-deep mud, many deep creek crossings, and wind, had turned into ice clumps. I could not even feel them below mid-calf, except for some pain on the soles from crinkled-up socks, and I started questioning my decision to wear thin socks in the windy weather. And the occasional snow showers did not make things any easier. Same held for the wind, which was pulling on my hat (thanks to the big visor), forcing me to take my hands out from under my armpits (to warm them up) to hold on to the hat.
At times, it felt as if I was not going to finish the race just because I was so ill prepared for the cold.
This was turning into a "not my day at all" experience.
And it went on further. On the second steep downhill, about 10 miles in,I realized I had already trashed my quads. Again, this had never, ever happened to me before. My quads have always been the strongest part of my legs, and, being a lightweight runner, I can usually bomb down the hills with no regrets. Not so today. The quads started cramping, and I started to increase my electrolyte intake, hoping that this would relieve some of the trouble, even though I knew very well that the cramping was caused my neuromuscular fatigue, not a lack of electrolytes. I realized that my training had really been slacking on steep, long downhills, and I started wondering if the Hyner would "punish" me even more on the rest of the distance.
Around mile 14, another steep, very rocky uphill starts again, and my quads recovered somewhat. I kept taking two endurolyte capsules about every hour, which was a bit tricky because as usual, I was not wearing any watch or GPS to tell me the time or distance.
Since about mile 8, I had been running all alone, no-one in sight in front of me, and no-one behind me. That added to the mental toughness of the race. For 8 or 9 miles, I would be all by myself, only meeting up with other runners shortly before the mile-19 aid station, where we had access to our drop bags.
Yes, that's the trail!
I fought my way along the trail, covering distance, always aware of my trashed legs, and at times feeling the cold wind take ever more energy out of me. My hands recovered after I eventually simply removed the gels and trash from my mittens at an aid station, and put them on. That felt just so good! My feet recovered and froze again on and off, depending on how many creek crossings there were, and how bad the wind was.
I started to feel nauseous, but could get myself out of my mental low by telling myself to just enjoy the run, no matter what, and finish the distance against the odds. I knew that at mile 22, we would meet up with the hikers on the 25k-course, and I was looking forward to having some company, though miserable and worn-out like myself, and not being all alone in a race fighting the time cutoff.
In case of doubt, it's uphill! And snowing!
A mile or two before the aid station where our drop bags were, I caught up to another female runner. She was tough, still running many of the technical or uphill sections, but I was determined to leave her behind me. We would leapfrog for another 5 miles after the aid station, before I finally dropped her on the technical downhill before the last big hill, despite my trashed quads and all.
At "the cabin", the aid station with the drop bags, I met Jamie, just as he was leaving. So he was doing to me just what I had been doing to him last year - I felt good for him and hoped he would finish strong. I also saw Tonya, she had come in a few minutes before me and looked exhausted. I was watching the female runner whom I had caught up to along the way, and I was hoping to leave the aid station before her. That hope, however, was crushed when I went about to refill my hydration bladder. The water cooler was almost empty, and only a small trickle came out the spout. Now that would take eternity and 3 days to fill up my bladder - and it did. Dropped three Endurolyte Fizz tablets into the pack for good measure on the last stretch.
I left the aid station much later than I had intended to, and saved a few minutes by deciding not to change socks (many runners did). That decision turned out to be right when, about 200 yards after the aid station, the trail turned into a huge, deep mud puddle, no way around it, and my shoes got all wet again. Well, cold, but at least no time wasted on changing socks!
The female runner I had wanted to leave behind had left the aid station before me, as had Tonya. I caught up to them a few miles later, and managed to leave them behind me on the long, steep uphills and downhills that followed. I put in all that I had left. I had recovered at "the cabin", thanks to an extra protein drink and some more food, and was starting to feel well and strong now. Apart from my legs, which had a strong tendency to cramp at every trip and large step I took, all systems felt ok and good to rock.
So I told myself to take it light and easy, and keep going. I ran whenever I could, and that was easier on the less technical trails that now followed.
The last hill, called SOB, is tough, because it is a long, steep, continuous uphill, the steepest incline on the course. It starts out on a muddy, rocky trail, which gets progressively steeper as the trail gets less rocky. The last few hundred feet of elevation gain are almost vertical at times, and, just like last year, I decided to climb up on all fours. Some hikers looked puzzled when I got down on my hands and started scrambling up, but it felt good, and I was fast. Scrambling up on all fours utilizes different muscles than just walking up, and that change had my legs recover and feel much better. After the steep uphill, the trail stretches out almost flat, but still somewhat uphill. I started wishing for the final downhill, as I passed some runners on this section.
On the final downhill, I passed many hikers. I caught up to a group of 5 other guys who were in the 50k, and together, we bombed that hill. One after another, these guys stopped to let me pass, and I took it from there.
This time I caught them! The legendary hikers in kilts!
When we came out onto the road again, on the last mile to the finish, I left another female with a 50k bib behind me, and secretly, I was chuckling a bit that I had made it up another position in the ranking.
The final stretch is just 100 yards of uphill on a trail again, and I just walked that section. I felt bad, because last year, I had run there, and even managed to sprint to the finish line, but this year, I could not do that.
Still, I ran the last 20 or so yards to the line. I could not see the clock, so I assumed I was way slower than last year, based on how I had felt throughout the race. Maybe a second or two before I crossed the line, I saw that I was to finish in 7:44, 10 minutes faster than my time last year. Yay!
Got the medal!
A bit muddy - most of it has washed off again in the creek crossings.
At the finish, I met Jamie again, who had finished very strong, and I chatted to Leon, who had finished not too long before me. Must have been a tough race for him, too, I guess.
Rick was there, who had finished with an incredible time in the 6-hr range, and Stacey, too. We waited until Tonya finished, she had had a tough stretch, but recovered on the last section and finished well. We did not see Craig around any more and assumed he must have finished the 25k way before us.
I had some food, chatted with Jamie some more, but then we got really cold, packed up and went our way home.
The race was done, and I had learned a few lessons.
First, always have some extra storage easily accessible.
Second, don't be lazy when it comes to stopping for a minute to adjust things, like taking off the pack, putting on mittens, or pulling socks straight.
Third, knowing that I'm a runner who likes to be rather warm than cold, prepare for the cold. Perhaps have an extra sweater in the drop bag, or even carry it in the pack.
Fourth, don't let "the pack" get the better of me in terms of going out fast. You inevitably pay the price later.
And finally, always prepare for a goal race specifically. Slacking on long hills in training almost killed my race, and I know I could have done better if I had trained more specificly.
Thanks to the many volunteers who made this race happen, and to the RD, who pulled through a very well organized event despite the inclement weather in the weeks leading up to it.
Thanks to Rick, Stacey, Tonya, Craig and Jamie, for taking the time to meet up and get to know each other in person, or see each other again.
Run for fun.
Nice finish to a tough race-- Congratulations! and great RR. What's the story behind the kilt hikers?
Nice job staying strong and sticking it out through the tough trails and cold weather!
In almost any report you can read on the Hyner race, those hikers in kilts are mentioned somewhere, they really are a legend meanwhile. I had not seen them last year, but this year, I caught them and took their picture to prove that they actually exist!
Nice job, and knocked 10 minutes off your time, congrats!
Way to overcome the adversity of the day. I've had those trashed quads and it is no fun. I am happy to read about tough courses and nasty weather and technical terrain that really challenges you. Much nicer than a run with smooth splits . That sounds like my kind of run.
Looking for a reason to run...
Sounds like a brutal course!
Good job sticking with it despite not having the best day logistically ..
I hate that race. But I have fond memories of being there last year with you, Jamie and Tanya (she was very pregnant and working an aid station). The trails in that country are no joke and you did well, which is what I would expect from you. I love your dedication and attitude. Thanks for sharing your report.
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running under the BigSky
Way to go! The tough runs always are the most memorable and that sounds like a very tough run
I've thought about racing in my kilt- one of these days
HURL Fat Ass 50k 1/11- DNS sick :(
Zion Traverse 47 miles 4/5 DNS :( stress fracture in heel
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Wow, that sounds brutal! Congrats on a great race and shaving off a good chunk of time! Great race report, thanks for sharing.
Awesome job couch. Nice pictures. Looks like a tough 50k. Thanks for sharing.
Follower of Forrest
Nice work. That sounds like a long way to go on trashed quads! Do you think that the "trashed quads" was inevitable or would you have run the race any different? Loved the pic of the RA'ers. It looks like it was a great time. Congrats on a great showing and a strong performance!
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Great job pushing through in tough conditions. And congrats on your time!
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Thank you for the congrats, guys. It was a tough race, and my legs are still a bit sore.
Jamezilla: I think I should have gone down that first hill slower. I was slipping, sliding, jumping and running down through the mud and over the rocks, and that was just too much too early. And of course, my lack of training on those really steep downhills - I had done them regularly in my training runs, but as they were covered in ice and snow, I had climbed them down carefully rather than slip-slop-slide them. Lesson learned!
The official results are up!
I finished in 7:42:08, which put me into 78th place out of 108 finishers, 12th female out of 22, and 4th in my age group, out of 7.
So it was not just my impression, the pack was really speedy fast this year!