Trail Running | PA | Mt Tom Challenge

I have been working more on my overall fitness of late, but my running has been taking more of a back seat than it has in the past. I probably have not run nearly as much as I have in winters past. Especially considering 2 of the past 4 years I have been training for ultras in the spring. Last year I was training for a half marathon PR.

This year I have to specific training goals for my running. It has been a struggle at times to get out and run. Being able to get out and run with friends has been the only thing that has really gotten me out the door for runs lately.

I love trail running, but this winter has not been one full of trail running for me. With all the snow and the consistent cold weather I just have not felt motivated to hit the trails.

This past weekend was an event I ran several years ago and have been wanting to get back to for a few years no. I just have never managed to make it happen.

The Tyoga Running Club holds an event called the Mt. Tom Challenge. This event consists of running as many laps as you can up and down a mountain in Pennsylvania over 2 hours. It is the kind of event that I am not unlikely to give a shot.

The year I ran it in the past however, there was almost no snow. There was more mud than snow. Even causing me to lose a shoe in the mud.

Overcoming Anxiety

I wanted to do this event but I was feeling anxious about it. My trail running experience has been lacking lately. I don’t run much on snowy trails and none at all this year. I hadn’t even done much climbing on road runs. My running in general has been down this year as well. The snow has been pretty consistent this winter At higher elevations there is quite a bit of snow. Enough snow to make walking challenging let alone running.

I didn’t even really have proper footwear. Running in the snow and ice can necessitate extra equipment for grip. I didn’t have anything to provide extra traction in the snow and potential ice.

I had all the excuses lined up to skip this event once again this year.

But I dug deep and tried to overcome my anxiety. I committed to doing this event. With two days before the event I hopped on Amazon and orders Kahtoola EXOspikes to run through the snow in. Prime shipping got them to me in time. I was going to be ready to go.

Running Up A Mountain

Mt. Tom Challenge Time Lapse

Race day was cold, but not bitterly so. Below freezing for sure. For once I was to an event plenty early. I was able to get there, get sign up, and hang out and get ready to go.

I’ve run this mountain before. Last year a friend and I ran several laps of it to rack up elevation for a challenge we were doing. But that was in dry and pretty ideal conditions. I had no idea what the snow held for me.

The snow was pretty deep even at the base of Mt. Tom. And then we were off. The snow was pretty deep climbing up the steep slope of the mountain but the first ascent felt like it went by faster than expected. IT was difficult and fatiguing on the legs, but manageable. The key seemed to be watching the feet of the person in front of you to find where there feet found purchase and follow literally in their footsteps kicking your toes into the snow and ice for grip.

Upon arriving at the summit the terrain become essentially flat for a nice stretch. Under normal circumstances this would be a great time to either rest the legs and recover from the climb of try to pick up a little speed. There was none of that available for me as the snow at the top was deep. It was like slip sliding all over the place.

A fellow runner likened the conditions to running in frozen sand but I think this was even more difficult because the snow was deeper and less firm than then any sandy beach I have ever been on, which to be fair isn’t a whole lot as I prefer mountains.

It was just as much work to run on the flat as it was to climb the mountain. It used different muscles but there was not taking a break.

Snowy Conditions

Finally I reached the section of trail that descended back to the start. Normally I love running down hill. It is typically my favorite part of any trail run. It may not have been so on this particular occasion.

With all the thick loose snow I couldn’t see what the ground surface was like. I couldn’t see if the ground was even or rutted. There was no way for me to get traction to stabilize myself as I descended. I felt like if I tried to go fast down the hill I would just be careening down the hill and get out of control with no way to stop or maneuver if I needed to.

The conditions forced me to take it much more cautiously that I would otherwise. It was more of a slog down the hill just trying to stay upright than anything else.

I did eventually arrive at the start/finish. I checked in and quickly, turned around, and headed back up the mountain for lap two. The first loop was slower than I had hopped on lap one, but I didn’t feel too bad.


About half way up my second climb up Mt. Tom I began to notice how much tougher this climb was feeling than the firs climb. It felt noticeably longer. I kept looking up an seeing how much more trail and elevation was above me. And my toes were pretty frozen and getting numb. None of this was a problem on the first climb.

I did eventually reach the top on my second climb. More tired than I would have liked. I began to tugged across the most terrible flat section of trail ever.

The decent on the second trip wasn’t much more fun either. At least after the first pass I had a sense of where the “better” footing would be as I ran downhill. But I was so tired I am not sure I made much use of any of that knowledge.

As I descended the mountain I started thinking about how I was feeling and how much time would be left on the clock to keep running. I really wanted to run more laps than I had previously. But I was feeling pretty beat up and my feet were in rough shape. And I was getting cold. My biggest concern was just to stay healthy. I decided not to push it when I really hadn’t been training for anything like this.

Despite not feeling as well as I would have liked on a run like this I was so happy to have just gotten myself out the door. It was nice to be able to connect with some of the trail community again. I enjoyed seeing friends out on the trails again.

It felt good to be pushing myself hard to be challenging my body to do hard things. I have been looking for an inspiring challenge to take on and motivate myself. This was just the kind of day I needed.

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