In 2018 a group of my friends were all registered for the Hyner Trail Challenge in PA. I was not registered for the race, but had heard my friends talk about it. I was interested in the event and I wanted to see what the hype was all about. So I joined them for a group training run at Hyner to run 14 miles of the 16 mile course. It was really not the best day for a long hard run and certainly not the best day to be encountering the challenges of Hyner for the first time.
Now this year I am registered for the Hyner Trail Challenge. Once again myself and a couple of friends are making the trip down to PA for a training rung on 14 miles of the Hyner Course. It was a fairly typical cold winter day for our region, but it was made to feel even more frigid after enjoying multiple days of warmer weather including two days of 60 degree weather the previous two days. Then the floor dropped out of those temps and 24 hours later we were back to subzero temps in the morning with a high of mid 30’s. Luckily at least we had sunshine today.
Climbing up Humble Hill is no joke. The exertion level is high no matter what pace you are going. Despite the exertion raising body temps and the nice sun shining above the wind combined with the chilling temps to make it feel quite cold especially on the last quarter of the climb. It is cold and difficult but the view from the top makes it all worth it. It was still pretty windy and cold at the lookout point so it is not easy to stick around too long, but I hung out long enough to capture a few photos.
After that climb you switchback down the side of the mountain into the valley and you encounter the first of what will be many stream crossings. We stopped here to eat something quickly and drink some water. It was also a great spot to take some photos. I had brought my small Nikon camera with me and decided to get that out again and immediately proceeded to drop it on the rocks damaging the lens. Now that camera was out of commission for the rest of the trip after only about 3 miles. Not what I had in mind.
The next section is relatively flat but littered with so many stream crossings that you cannot really keep track. The freezing cold water from the snow melt doesn’t help either. Being that it was a training run and not a race we decided to pick out way across the streams and try to keep our feet dry-ish as much as possible, but this is simply is not possible in places. You have to take on that freezing cold water. By the end of the stream crossings your feet are numb.
After the stream crossings you start another ascent. If you thought climbing meant no more water, you’d be wrong. On this climb you essentially climb up a stream bed as the water pours down the hillside and over your feet. After another descent you climb again and eventually reach SOB and whose name is well deserved. Then you reach the most moderate section of the entire course. There is some times spent at a relatively flat section on top of the mountain and then you have a long not too steep decent back into the valley.
The most interesting aspect of this training run was the snow. Last year we ran in February. No snow. This year we are running in mid-march, nearing spring and there was quite a significant amount of snow especially on the second half of the course. I was hoping the snow would be melted. I am really hoping that the snow is melted by race day. It made the course interesting and was great for photos, but it did make for some slower going if for no other reason that just to be careful and make sure you had good footing.
Like many runners I use Strava to track my runs. One of the features I do really enjoy on Strava is the segments. When you run in an area where there are a lot of segments that have been created it allows you to pretty easily see how your performance has changed, hopefully for the better from run to run. There are a lot of segments that have been created for Hyner. I was happy to see that Strava had notified me of 12 achievements. Many of these achievements were 2nd best times on a segment which in this case doesn’t mean anything since it was only the second time I have run here. But there were several segments where I had PRs meaning that I ran better than last year. This was really good news to me because we really felt like we were taking it easier and not pushing too hard on this training run. So the fact that our perceived effort level was lower but we were actually faster on a lot of segments indicates to me that our physical conditioning has improved from our training over the past year. Hopefully this will translate to a nice strong run at the race in just over a month.
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I recently ran the Green Monster 25k for the second time. Let’s just say it did not go as I had hoped. I don’ run a ton of races each year and there are only a handful of races that I have run more than once. But so far in my experience every time I have run a race a second time I have run better. I don’t always have specific goals going into a race but I generally run a faster time at a race on the second go around. That just makes sense to me if you are always working harder and training more and that has been my experience every year that I have been running. Each year I work a little harder, run a little more, run harder races and then the races I repeat I perform better at.
I didn’t have any specific goals leading into Green Monster 25k. This was a race I was running because I love the trails there and I wanted to have a good time on the trails with my friends. As the race approached I began to think more and more about the race and how I wanted to approach it and how I wanted to perform. I knew I wanted to do better than last year, which I felt confident I would do because I have been training a lot more than I had in the previous year. I had actually been training for a 50k the week after Green Monster leading up to this. I had thought that my previous time at Green Monster 25k was around the 4 hour 30 minute mark and I was pretty sure that I could perform better than that this year.
The more I thought about it the more I felt like I really just wanted to see how good I could do if I just threw everything I had at it pretty much from the beginning. I am not a fast runner. I am pretty much mid pack, but I really wanted to give this my best effort the whole way. I really wanted to go sub 4 hour. I wasn’t sure if I could actually do that though. But I figured I would start out as hard as I thought I could and then if I blew up I blew up.
Race day arrived and the temperature was 10 degrees warmer than I would have liked at the start, around 65, with a forecast for it to be at least 10 degrees warmer still by the time I expected to finish. It also was quite humid. These are not ideal conditions for me. I run best in cool weather. I sweat a lot so heat of any kind is not my friend.
I started the race at a relatively fast pace for me and I pushed up the first long climb well. I was only passed by 3 people on a long climb which is really good for me as climbing is my weakness. I ran hard down the subsequent long decent, my favorite part of the race. I felt pretty good all the way down that long descent. At the bottom of that descent was the first aide station. I stopped to grab some food, as I wasn’t carrying much at this race. As I stopped one of my friends cruised by and I started back up to try to keep up and I just never recovered after that. My friend pulled away and I never saw her after that as we got to the next big climb.
I felt good at the start of the race but by just over 4 miles in I was spent. I had no strength in my legs for any of the climbs. Any elevation at all wore me right out. I was only able to run in fits and starts on flats or anything with even the most modest degree of incline. I did ok on some of the remaining descents but I was not able to run them the way I would have liked.
I was tired. I had no strength in my legs. I just felt wore out and week. I rode the struggle bus for 12 miles. I just did not feel good. At times I was a little nauseous. I ate and I drank but I could never fully recover. I drank every ounce of the 2 liters of water I carried with me before the finish, which even had Nuun hydration tabs dissolved in it, but that didn’t help. The food at times would help me push through the lowest points but I never got back to where I felt good.
At the half way point I was at a little over 2 hours, so in theory 4 hours was within reach, but I knew I was only getting slower at this point. I decided I needed to just try to push on en enjoy the race as much as I could and make sure I finished. I still wanted to at least beat my time from last year, which I believed to be 4:30 ish, but I had never actually checked. So I felt good at least that I should be able to beat that if only by a small margin. That helped me push a little harder down the last stretch of stream crossings, at which I stopped to pour water on myself at each crossing, and gravel road to the finish. Upon finishing I believed I had beaten my time from last year.
I say I believed I had, because as it turns out when I checked my stats from last year I had actually run around a 4:15. It turns out I was around 8 minutes slower this year. I am not sure how that would have made me feel during the race. I think this delusion that I was still going to beat my time from last year helped me to push a little hard and still perform with what little I had left. If I had known I had not been able to beat my time, maybe I would have taken it easier and walked and not pushed myself harder. So maybe being a little delusional can be a good thing.
Despite knowing I did not run the race I had wanted I had a great time post race with friends and fellow trail runners. This race has killed me 2 years in a row and has taken it out of me on every practice run I have done of the course. I still love the trails, but I am not sure I will be back to it any time soon. When I checked my statistics from the race according to Strava I still managed to PR the Frankenstein’s Forehead segment, which if you are not familiar with it is this wicked steep and technical section of the trail. I have no idea how I PR’d it. I didn’t even feel like I ran it well in the moment and I was exhausted by the time I got done with it. Also, according to Strava I somehow managed to PR one of the climbs but not Deer Trail which was what I really wanted, but one just before that it looks like that isn’t really steep. That makes sense because the whole plan was to run out harder at the start and this is the very beginning of the race.
Despite this race not going as I had planned I had a good time overall and love the experience.
At this race I did something a little bit different. I only shot video with my GoPro’s and no photos. I then used my software to extract photos from the video. I am not happy with the results of those photos. The photos did not turn out as well as I would have hoped. After these last two races I will go back to some of my methods I have used in the past. This is what happens when you are always pushing the limits and trying new things. Sometimes things don’t go as well as you would like.
Here are a couple of bad ass women, who I am fortunate enough to call friends, running some trails at World’s End State Park in PA.
This is a photograph of the stream that runs through park of Ravensburg State Park in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of trees both standing, falling, and from the looks of it in the process of falling.
One of our friends decided we should take on the Mt. Tom Challenge instead of our regularly scheduled local trail run. So at the last minute the night before the event we decided that was just what we would do.
The Mt. Tom Challenge consists of going straight up a mountain. Then going around and down the other side. And you do this as many times as you can in two hours. There is no warm up to the incline. You immediately start going up the mountain as soon as the race starts.
You quickly discover that most likely this is nothing like anything you have done before. Well, at least thats what I discovered. The incline is a climb of 1100 feet over a distance of .8 miles. Someone good at math figure out what the angle of that ascent would be.
Once you get to the top you head down this very brief but flat trail. It was so nice to be on flat ground again. No more climbing. Each lat is about 2.5 miles. So once you get to the top you still have over a mile to go to get back to the bottom and start again.
As you leave the flat land you come to this nice depression that was filled with snow. I couldn’t resist stopping to take a photograph here. It was such a nice spot.
The uphill climb was snow-less. Thankfully for me as my trail shoes are virtually bald. I never would have been able to get up a slick snowy slope. On the way down it was a different story. It was muddy in spots and there was varying amounts of snow. The snow could be just a dusting, to half frozen/half melted ice, to ankle deep or more amounts of snow. It was pretty tricky for me picking a route down the mountain and watching my footing. Trying to figure out where I would have the best traction. I was constantly varying my speed and stride to maintain control on the way down. And it almost worked too. At one point on my way down I over stridded and my front foot slide out in front of me and I went down. I basically sat down on my back leg bent right under my butt. I slid down the slop a little on a frozen hard snow that felt more like gravel and cut up my knee a little bit. But I was able to bounce back up and continue running. No real injury, thankfully. As I was getting close to completing my race I stepped in a thick mud hole and lost my show. As I was going downhill I ended up taking about three shoe-less steps downhill in the mud and then I had to walk back through the mud to retrieve it. (Check out my Instagram for that photo.)
When I looked at what the incline was like I was nervous I wouldn’t even be able to complete one lap. So I was very happy with the two laps I was able to complete. I completed my first lap in around 45 minutes and my second lap in about an hour and a half. I could have went for a third lap but I just didn’t have it in me mentally to go back up that hill a third time. Plus I was battling a cold, so that didn’t help. Maybe if I do this event again my goal will be three laps. It was a great but challenging event. Check out the Tyoga Running Club and the Mt. Tom Challenge.