Got A Little Lost | 2022 Green Monster 15k | Pennsylvania
In continuation of what has been a very different running year for me, compared to the last several years, I headed to Wellsboro to run the Green Monster Trail Challenge. This year I planned a running season that focused mostly on shorter races so I could try to feel what it would be like to run faster with more effort put into each mile. My norm for the last several years has been grinding out long slow efforts at ultra-distance races. So this was a big shift for me.
As in life, things have not gone according to plan throughout much of the racing season for me. Having developed what seems to be some Achilles tendonitis early on in the year I had to really back off my plans for running and trying to build speed. This even included taking an entire month off from running at one point. I still wanted to run hard at races. This just changed the variables along the way. Instead of working and training throughout the season to build fitness and get faster I basically ran just enough to maintain my current fitness. This meant run each race as hard as I could manage with just my baseline fitness from years past.
Run another race?
My main goal for the season had been to complete the Finger Lakes Running club trail series. I had done that. And now I was considering shutting down racing for the rest of the year. Trying to focus on overall fitness and letting my nagging Achilles issues recover. But after a month of no running and then one last race to end the trail series my Achilles had been feeling better. Not fully recovered but on the way. So maybe another race was in the cards after all.
I had run Green Monster four previous times. Each time was at the 25k distance. This race was one of the very first 25k races I ever ran.
Early in the year I was really excited about the prospect of running Green Monster again. But what was really exciting me was the opportunity to try something new at this event. I wanted to take my focus on the shorter distances over the course of the year and bring that to Green Monster. I wanted to run the 15k and I wanted to try to run it as hard as I could and see where that left me.
But Green Monster is still Green Monster and I didn’t feel ready to try and go for an all-out full effort pace on such a challenging course. The limited amount of running and training outside of races that I had done throughout the year was not going to leave me ready to go hard on this course.
Green Monster? Why not?
I contemplated running the 25k again. I would know exactly what to expect. And knowing exactly what to expect is why I did not do that. The 25k is a very challenging course. While I could have probably finished it I was not in the frame of mind to struggle through what would be a real challenge on the level of fitness I was currently at. Neither my mind nor my body was ready for those punishing climbs that wait for you out in those woods on the 25k course.
Eventually I decided I would go out to Green Monster. I registered for the 15k. I would go out and just enjoy the day. Planning to run at a comfortable pace and just see what the day had in store for me.
Race day arrived and the weather was beautiful. It was perfect for running. At least perfect for me. I do not like any amount of heat, especially in a trail race that requires a significant amount of climbing. Weather in the 70 degree range is more warmth than I like when I am running. And more often than you’d think race day temps at this event have been around 70 degrees. Thankfully race day temp was in the 40s but with beautiful sunshine.
Beginning the race
The start finish area is on a nice flat dirt road that leads you out to the woods and then back to the finish. At my last race I made it a point to push hard on the dirt road section of the race to get off to as fast a start as I could before I hit the tougher sections of the course. At Green Monster I made it a point to run at a moderate pace. I let the flow of traffic pass me by. I knew what was in store for me in about 1 mile and I was not in a hurry to get there.
What lies in wait after 1mile of essentially flat running is Dear Trail. Deer Trail is a section of the course that is essentially one long climb. The climb varies from pretty steep and intense to a more mellow elevation profile. But this climb does not let up. It is the Energizer Bunny of climbs. It keeps going, and going and going. The Deer Trail climb is at least a mile long if not closer to 2 miles.
This is where I was most thankful for the cool temps. Typically in my past experiences I am drenched with sweat and so hot I have to take my hat off to stay cool on this climb. This year thanks to the cool temperatures I felt much more comfortable. It was still a challenge but it was a much more enjoyable challenge. This is what makes up the biggest challenge in the 15k course for me.
And we’re lost
After completing the climb up Deer Trail the course takes runners straight ahead into the woods. This is a really fun section of mostly flat trail weaving around the forest at the top of the hill. I fell in with a group of my fellow runners and perhaps was having too much fun. Just running along, shooting GoPro video and enjoying myself.
Eventually we all came to a section of the trail that was nice and wide like an old abandoned logging road. And the group started making their way along that section of trail. People began stopping and talking. I caught up to everyone. They were all wondering if anyone had seen flags marking the course lately. None of us had. I really had not been paying close attention. I was just kind of following the group. Since I haven’t run this course, I wasn’t’ familiar with this section of the course so I did not know if we were on course or off course. But I had a vague sense of where we were and where we were headed if we continued in the direction we were going. So we kept going.
Why? Why did we keep going? Folks if you are running a race and you are pretty sure you have not seen a flag in a while go back and retrace our steps to where the last flag was. That is unless you love running bonus miles.
We continued on our may way down the old logging road. And eventually we got our answer. We ended up where the trail we were supposed to be on crosses the trail we were actually on. We had missed a turn and gone the wrong way. And we had continued on going to wrong way for a mile or two once we backtracked to where we went off course.
In retrospect I am not sure how we got off course especially that many of us all at once. When we got back to the turn we missed there was plenty of blue flagging. And there was even a small pile of branches meant to deter us from going that direction. I definitely remember stepping right over that pile of branches.
Mistakes happen. I have gotten of course before. And I think my level of comfort with running here contributed to my exacerbating this mistake of continuing to go off course for so long. I have run on the Green Monster trail system plenty of times and I have even gotten lost on the Green Monster Trail system before and I have been comfortable enough to not really worry about it. Had I been in a place I was completely unfamiliar with perhaps I would have had a greater since of urgency once I realized we had stopped seeing flags marking the trail for the race. And then I would hopefully have turned back sooner. I can’t believe I made such a huge rookie mistake by continuing off course for so long. But I was just having too good a time running through the woods. I just wasn’t really worried about it at all. But it was kinda fun to see familiar faces at the intersection where we should have come out and chat for a minute before heading back into the woods to discover where we had gone wrong. The off course experience didn’t sour me at all.
When I finally did get back to the point where I had gotten off the course for the race I immediately paid a different kind of penalty. Not a time or speed penalty. A you angered the bees penalty. Apparently our repeated trampling of this section of trail right where we went off course stirred up a hive of what looked like yellow jackets. I got a pretty good look at one as I felt the sting of something at my ankle. I looked down and sure enough a black and yellow winged insect was attached to the inside of my right ankle. And that critter was resilient. It took me several swipes with my hand to finally knock that sucker off of my leg. Lesson learned. Stay on trial. Don’t get stung. So now to finish this race with the angry stinging and burning in my ankle.
Getting back on track
After getting back on track I had an enjoyable experience winding through more of the beautiful woods that surround the Green Monster trail system. Eventually I reached the intersection of the race course with where we were previously of trail and loudly announced to my friend I saw previously that we had finally made it back around in the right direction.
I love the trails here at Green Monster. They are some of my favorites to run on. The trails here are a lot of narrow rocky rooted single track. So much fun to run on.
The challenge was now after having gone of course for over a mile I was now out of sync with all of the other runners that run at a similar pace as I do. I now had to navigate traffic of my fellow runners who would probably be behind me and our paths would not likely cross again at this point. The challenge in this situation lies in the fact that the trails are so narrow and technical. Great for single file trail running. Not exactly ideal for passing anyone on the trail.
But in typical fashion the trail running community was amazing. Most of the runners I approached form behind heard me coming. I am big and loud. So people knew I was behind them and closing in. Many of the runners I needed to pass saw me coming and moved out of my way so that I could get by. I seldom had to announce myself with the traditional “on your left” passing call. This made recovering from my of course adventure so much easier.
At one point I caught up to another friend who was running this race and I called out to her and she was like why are you behind me. I explained that I had gone off course. Apparently she had gone off course a little too, but not as badly as I had. I win in the poor judgment category I guess.
There was only one spot where I didn’t feel great during the course of the race. There is a section of beautiful trail. It runs through a grove of mountain laurel. There isn’t anything specifically challenging about this section of trail. It’s not overly technical. No steep climbing. No tricky descents. It feels like it is just a long gradual climb. I hope that it is actually steeper than it looks. But I always struggle at this section. I could have pushed harder, but I was here to have a good day not to suffer on this course today. So I took it easy and just hiked it through this section when I could have made myself run.
I knew that this section was going to eventually lead to the last climb of the race. And It Did. I wasn’t looking forward to this last climb after hiking that section. It was tough, but I could recognize how different it felt to get to this part of the course while running the 15k as opposed to the 25k course. And I could feel thankful for feeling just that much better. On a 25k kind of day I am completely gassed going up this climb and getting passed by people. But today I made pretty steady progress and didn’t feel too terrible.
The last major challenge of the course is Frankenstein’s Forehead. This remains the steepest descent I have fun anywhere. I am thankful to have gained experience with it over the years.
I am not super-fast but my preference is to try to make my way down Frankenstein’s Forehead at a relatively fast pace closer to running speed than walking speed. Going as fast as I can down works best for me. Feels best on my feet and my legs. It keeps me with as little time as possible balancing on this steep pitch. And I am a big guy. So physics works in my favor for going fast, sometimes too well, down this section.
The challenge on this day is that when I arrived at Frankenstein’s Forehead there was quite a significant amount of traffic on this descent. Many people moving at a variety of different paces. People obviously have different levels of experience with this trail section which is quite intimidating even for someone with experience on it. And thus people move according to how they feel best suits them. Unfortunately for me it was mostly slower than the pace I would like to go.
This is really not the part of a trail where you want to be passing people, but there really was no other way for me to do it. Speeding up on sections between people, then trying to slam on the brakes when I get to another person on the trail. Then trying to deftly navigate around a person whenever the opportunity arose. At times I followed fellow runners ahead of me cutting across the steep and narrow switchbacks that make up the traditional course of the descent in order to bypass slower moving runners. It was a very interesting challenge.
Getting to the finish
Eventually I arrived a the bottom of the valley and to what I consider the most beautiful part of the course. The rest of the time in the forest is spent running along a stream. And it is just one of the best nature experiences. Trees. Trickling Water. Leaves changing to their autumn colors. I love it. The best part is that for once I wasn’t suffering in the heat. Typically at this point in the race I am in just make it to the finish line mode.
The stream is not only beautiful but on hot race days it is a lifeline for me. I am often stopping to dip my hat in the cold water and splash it over my head. No need for that today. The cool weather propelled me. I didn’t stop at the streams at all. I enjoyed splashing through and kept going. My feet were even a little chilled from the cold water.
The cooling water kept me motivated to move at a steady pace. My last two miles are almost the same pace. I just kept going. Not pushing, but not allowing myself to relax either. I knew I was close to the end.
Eventually I saw the dirt road ahead. Then I just had to grind it out on the dirt road for a little while longer. There it is. The big blue finish line arch. The race is over.
Despite feeling well most of the race by the time I finished I was pretty well spent. I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to get some Gatorade in my system. Eating some cookies and chips from the nice spread always made available by Tyoga Running club at this event was helpful. But I was feeling so off I didn’t even enjoy a customary post-race beer provided at the event.
All in all it was a great day out on the trails and hanging out with the trail community after. I still kinda want to do the 50k someday, maybe?