Hills Creek Endurance Challenge
Two aspects of running that I love are exploring nature and testing myself. Running the Hills Creek Endurance Challenge was going to give me the chance to do both.
The Hills Creek Endurance Challenge takes place at Hills Creek State Park in Pennsylvania. The event is a 3 mile trail loop. There are options to run the loop for 3, 6, or 12 hours.
I have only ever run one other timed event before and I have run that race twice. That is the Sunfish Shuffle. That race is a 1 mile loop you run for 3 hours. I have enjoyed Sunfish Shuffle more than I had anticipated.
I was excited to see how running a larger loop would feel physically and mentally. And I wanted to make this as unique an experience for myself as I could. To accomplish this I chose to run the 12 hour version of the event.
The goal was to see and do new things. I had only ever been on my feet that long a few times. I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
It was exciting to be able to test myself and see new trails.
TESTING, TESTING, 1 2 3….
I sought this race out as a way to test myself. I have set big goals for myself this year. Training for a 100 mile race in the summer. I need to train hard, push myself, and see where I am at during training.
No better way to see where your training stands than setting a lofty goal and taking aim at it, right.
My goal for Hills Creek was to reach 50 miles in 12 hours. Not an unattainable goal but a very difficult one for me to reach.
When I started planning my training I thought about how long I would need to train to be ready for a 100 mile race. I thought 4 months should be good enough to get me through the race. That meant I started training the first full week of April.
What I did not consider, is what amount of training do I need to complete 50 miles in 12 hours at a race the first week of May. It didn’t help this race kind of snuck up on me too. I had it on my calendar and was aware of it being “soon”. But I didn’t realize how soon until I was running with my friend and she said “Don’t you gave a 50 mile race this weekend?” Yes. Yes I do.
So my training was going well as far as my main goal if running 100 miles at the end of July. But how would my current level of training fair in a 12 hour event where I would have liked to get to 50 miles remained to be seen.
Race day arrives. The weather forecast was looking like a possibility of rain all day long. And it was not likely to be warmer than mid 50s for the temperature. This concerned me more than anything else. I was not sure how I would respond physically or mentally if it came down to running for 12 hours in the cold rain. Especially with the start/finish line in sight every 3 miles. I could stop whenever I wanted.
I obsessed over this concern. With the amount I sweat (which is A LOT) there is no raincoat that will keep me warm and dry if it rains for a long period of time. I determined the only way to survive the impeding rains was to have clothing that would insulate me from the outside temperature, hold in as much body heat as possible, and be as light as possible keeping as much wet clothing as possible away from my skin. Over the past year I’ve accumulated quite a collection of puffy coats. They’ve proven to be perfect for long sweaty, soggy, soggy cold runs in the winter. They seemed like the best option. I packed every one I had. Then I could change every few hours if I got cold. I felt prepared for this eventuality.
Funny thing is. This weather I spent so much time preparing for never materialized. Instead it was mostly just cold and dark. Very little sunlight for warmth. Somehow I was unprepared for this.
It was pretty cold at the start of the race. I had a tech t-shirt on and I had puffy coats and light shells for if it got warner or to repel wind and rain. The weather just being moderately cold was a factor I simply hadn’t planned for. I opted to start the race with the lightest of my puffy coats.
This was not the best choice. Before long I was hot. Unzipped my coat. Sweated through my shirt even in the cold. After one lap I was soaked and needed to change into a lighter jacket.
I had run myself so hot I couldn’t slow down my sweating and quickly sweated through this jacket as well. Then it was just a matter of enduring the cold.
This was a day of the everlasting wardrobe malfunction. By hour six I had worn 4 different clothing options. Non of which really worked great.
I spent most of the day just trying not to be cold or enduring the cold.
The rains never came. It was just cold. I should have been fine. But I was unprepared because I obsessed over one possible outcome.
The running aspect of this event actually went pretty well. At least for a while.
I started off at a comfortable pace. The pace I was running didn’t feel like I was running hard. I passed a few people. Lots of people passed me.
I felt like I was running well. Pace was good. Breathing and heart rate felt comfortable. I was not exerting myself too hard. But my legs just never felt comfortable. Maybe it was my lack of trail running so far this year.
I really enjoyed the loop format. It was nice to catch up to people and be caught by people and say hi and even chat a little from time to time.
Occasionally someone would pass me and it would catch me at a time when I was feeling pretty good. I would just draft with them. It’s like their vibe was contagious and pulling me along for the ride. I would keep up for a little while then return to my regular pace.
I felt pretty good through the first half of the race. But there were signs that things were not great. The most obvious sign for me was when my legs started balking at the idea of running any downhill sections.
Normally I love downhill running. They are the part of trail running I live for. Especially if the trails are nice and runnable. The downhill sections on this course were perfectly runnable. But my legs said no thanks.
So eventually I was down to only running in the flats and slight inclines. Hiking the couple of steeper climbs. Them very gingerly descending after each climb. I don’t even know how to describe what it was like going down the hills. It wasn’t like I was injured but it just made everything hurt in a way it wasn’t any other time. It was a strange experience for me.
The pain and discomfort reached a point where I was forced me to make a choice. Push through and endure the pain and run wherever I can or back off let the pain subside and save myself for another day?
It wasn’t that I physically could not run at all. I wasn’t injured. I was just very tired and sore. Why run when I could just hike the rest of the time.
This is what I was worried would happen. Would I have the desire and will to push through the pain to reach a goal that may or may not be attainable for me?
Is it even smart to do that right now?
I was determined to keep going for the full 12 hours. How hard I needed to push how fast I needed to be going may or may not be relevant.
I set a goal for myself to reach 50 miles. It was a big goal for me. I have only run that far 1 other time and it was at the culmination of a training cycle at my goal race.
This race was essentially at the beginning of my training cycle. The most important part of this challenge was being in my feet for 12 hours no matter how fast I was moving or how far I went.
I did not want to get injured. It wouldn’t be helpful to achieve this goal only to be too sore to continue my regular training plan and stay on track for my main goal for the year.
The clear decision was to shift my focus away from this event and towards the future. What would be the best outcome of this event that would do the most good for my long term goal? Keep going but minimize risk of injury.
After about 30 miles I decided to shift from doing any running to just hiking at a good sustainable pace. This was the decision that made the most sense for me. Plus then I could take some photos, because of course I had my camera with me.
If the running had gone a little smoother maybe I could have reached 50 miles. Maybe it would have been worth pushing a little harder for. But I am happy with the results of this test.