2020 Green Monster Trail Challenge
Wow! 2020 has been quite the year.
Green Monster Trail Challenge
I am so happy to have been able to take part in an in person race that was able to take the necessary precaution to make it as safe as possible during this COVID19 pandemic. Thank you Tyoga Running Club.
There are not many race that I have run three times. I am happy to call the Green Monster Trail Challenge 25k one of them. The Green Monster 25k was my first 25k race. It is also one of the most physically challenging races I have ever run.
The Green Monster Trail Challenge includes a 15k, a 25k, and a 50k and they take place on the Green Monster trail system in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. I have spent more time running the trails that make up the Green Monster in preparation for races than any other event I have run. The trails are rugged and relentless and always kick my ass.
2020 Green Monster 25k
After a year off of this event I was back for my third try. This is such a challenging course for me. I love to run downhill, but I struggle climbing the hills to get to those wonderful descents. The Green Monster 25k probably has more elevation per mile than anything else I have run.
I love the challenge of this course, but on days when the elevation gain of the course is combined with any amount of heat it completely destroys me. I have had several days like this on these trails. This includes the second time I ran this race.
Fortunately for me race day was a cool and mostly overcast day. I was able to stay nice and cool almost the entire race despite the hot dry summer we had.
Don’t Get Injured
Unfortunately for me exactly a week from race day I rolled my left ankle on one of my last training runs. It was a significant enough injury that I did not run again from that day until race day. Combine the recently injured left ankle with the fact that I have had a long term nagging pain in my right ankle and I was a little unsure of what race day would have in store for me.
This race starts with a short flat section and then you immediately begin the longest climb of the race. Not normally how I would want to start a run. But, on this occasion I thought that would probably play to my advantage because it would be minimal impact on my injured ankle in the beginning as I power hiked up the climb. Hoping that the time spent climbing would give my muscles, ligaments, and tendons in my ankles time to slowly warm up and stretch out as necessary so they would be in the best possible shape for running the rest of the time.
This was the strangest race for me. Normally my goal is to survive the climbs and run the downhills as hard as I can. This race I was forced to take the descents gentler than I ever have before in a race. I would have like to run harder but I could tell my left ankle was not going to allow for it. Every time I started to speed up on a downhill section and started to get out over my foot and put extra pressure on it I could feel it wanting to roll over. I was forced to hold back. Running the downhills with the brakes on more than I ever have. Not really enjoy the downhills like I have in the past, especially the rocky ones.
But maybe having to hold back and keep something in reserve on the descents allowed me to have more energy for the rest of the race for a stronger finish than ever before.
I have never been so focused and intent on seeing the ground in front of me as I was during this race. I was determined not to have a misstep and roll my ankle again. My eyes were glued to the terrain. I backed off on anything that was too rocky or root infested and could trip me up. I allowed my pace to increase on the smoother sections.
Ironically I had more pain from my ankle that was not recently injured than from the one I injured a week ago. I don’t know if that was because I was more away of my left ankle’s weakness. Maybe I kept off the left to the detriment of the right. There were definitely times where I had missteps with the right that took my right ankle in some uncomfortable positions. Maybe that was just random chance or maybe it was because I was being too cautious with my left foot.
Fortunately for the most part my ankles held up. And at the end of the race I had no significant noticeable pain in either ankle. The next day however, was a different story. The next day my right ankle hurt more than the ankle I had actually injured. I imagine this could be due to overcompensating for the injury and altering my gait for a 4 hour mountainous run.
How Does It Feel
This year I hired a coach for the first time. It started as a way to stay motivated to run during the pandemic with the goal on working to get faster and all around stronger. We then transitioned to training for Green Monster.
There were very few times during this race when I would have said the race felt like it was going well for me. During the first long climb up Deer Trail there were times when my legs felt like Jell-O. This despite all the training focused on climbing. And I expected this to be the climb I felt the best during because it was not as steep as the others. Not how I wanted to feel at the start of the race.
The first quarter of the race felt ok, but not as good as I would have hoped. I passed the first aid station without stopping because it wasn’t time for me to fuel yet and I had everything I needed in my pack. I trotted down the dirt road to take the next trail into the woods. Then all of a sudden I tripped on ….. Nothing. And I fell flat on my face. You can probably see it on my GoPro footage because the camera was rolling for that glorious move.
Luckily a quarter of the way into the race I was in under 1 hour, which put me on pace to finish in less than 4 hours which I thought was a pretty reasonable goal for myself.
The second quarter of the race felt really hard. I felt tired and slow. I struggled on the major climbs.
The two major climbs other than Deer Trail are always hard for me, but I felt like I was going to be in much better shape than in previous years. On both of these climbs I had to stop to rest during the climb. I did not feel like they went well in the moment. They felt like a struggle.
Somehow I managed to get to the halfway point of the race and still be on pace for a sub four hour finish despite feeling like I was struggling.
The third quarter of the race was where I actually felt like I was running pretty well. My body felt good. I was able to push when appropriate and back off when I needed to. Still on pace for a sub 4 hour finish.
I think Mountain Dew saved me. I fueled the first half of the race with maple syrup. That seemed to be working ok. But by the halfway point I was dragging. I started drinking Mountain Dew at the aide stations. Just a little the first time. Then I filled my 500ml soft flask with Mountain Dew at the second to last aide station. And I filled it back up at the last aide station. I have never done that before. I did not intend to do it during this race. But I needed something to pick me up. Caffeine and sugar to the rescue.
The fourth quarter of the race felt hard as well. But I was still able to move a decent pace most of the time. The effort required just seemed more than I would have liked for how fast/slow I was going.
The last big obstacle I had to overcome to reach the finish line was the infamous Frankenstein’s forehead. This is a long steep descent that is almost impossible to describe or depict in a way that does it justice. Normally this is a section of the race I would be excited to run. I have practice this section many times. I enjoy the challenge of it and I have been getting faster at it.
This year, however, with my ankle situation I was not sure how I would make my way down. I spent the whole approach thinking about it. My concern was that if I tried to run fast down the slope there was a good chance that I would roll my ankle and that would either end my day or make it drag on much longer and much more painfully.
The best course of action was to continue as I had the whole rest of the race. Be deliberative and take my time. Go at a slower pace where I could control my descent and keep from rolling my ankle. The key was to keep from getting injured. I knew I had a chance at a sub 4 hour finish still, but that was only if I stayed healthy. If I got down Frankenstein’s Forehead uninjured I could try to make up time on the flat section that lay ahead.
I reached the bottom of Frankenstein’s Forehead unscathed. A fellow runner was also at the bottom giving thanks for reaching more stable ground as well. I continued on along the beautiful section of trails along the stream that is the finish of this race. The goal was to run a pace I could sustain until the end and then push a little harder at the finish if I needed to. Up ahead I saw another runner off in the distance.
Get To The Finish
I made it my goal to at very least keep pace with this runner. That way I would be motivated to keep going at a decent pace. I took it easy through the stream crossings. The last thing I needed now was to slip and fall.
I think keying in on the runner ahead of me was the perfect strategy. It allowed me to stay focused on the moment. I think I was actually slowly gaining on my fellow runner over the couple of miles to the finish.
Then I emerged from the trails onto the dirt road that meant I was close to the finish. I started looking at my watch. It was getting close to the 4 hour mark. I wanted to run harder but I was tired and if I went too hard too early I would slow down well short of the finish.
Finally the finish line was in sight. I was close. Time was ticking. Still too far away to push yet. Almost time. 30 seconds. Now. Run hard now. I ran harder. Really pushed, but I didn’t have much left. As I neared the finish line I could hear my wife and my friend cheering for me. I crossed the finish line. Finish time of 4:00:48.
I was so close. Less than a minute over 4 hours. But I am extremely happy with the result. It was a 15 minute PR on that course for me.
If you asked me during the race, judging by how I feel how well will I finish? I would not have predicted I would finish well at all. I felt like I was struggling the entire race. And even though I was aware of the time while I was running it still didn’t feel like the run was going well. It felt like I could crash at any moment.
Maybe that is what it means to run a good race. To run to your full potential on race day. Be riding that line between going to hard and not working hard enough. You always feel like you are struggling because you are pushing your limits. It doesn’t feel good in the moment, but at the end of the day you have good results.
I love to write about my trail adventures. Especially when there is an opportunity to run a race in these crazy times. Who know when the next opportunity will be. If you enjoy reading about adventures outside sign up below to join the KRNaturalPhoto community and receive email updates.