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.
Since it is becoming much more wintry here in Upstate, NY I thought I would share some photos from a nice small trail 5k I ran back in June. The course was nice and scenic at Mt Pisgah County Park in Troy, PA. It wasn’t a technical course but was still quite hilly with lots of ups and downs. The race field was small with 50 runners but it was just the kind of run I like.
When I decided that along with some of my friends we were going to try to run our first 50k this year we initially only planned to do one. Then during the process of training one of my friends training for our first 50k with me mentioned that there was another 50k later in the year that she was considering doing. That sounded potentially fun and something we could possibly do if we felt like it after our first 50k and we still had any interest in running that distance. Over time the idea of running a second 50k this year just kinda fell by the wayside. After our first 50k we never really discussed it.
Then my other friend who ran our first 50k together this year mentioned to me about one and a half months ago that she was thinking about running the other 50k we had talked about previously. And that is all it took. I was in for a second 50k. And that is how I ended up running the Water Gap 50k from Red Newt Racing. All it takes is that one friend who is a bad influence and you get sucked right into another race.
I did not have a particularly good summer of running leading into training for this race. I had no idea what to expect for this training cycle or race. I had battled a lot of soreness over the summer, but I was ready to add in some miles and see how things went. I basically just ran normally during the week and added one long run in at the end of the week. Because of our condensed training time, we only decided to commit to this about a month and a half out from the race we added two miles to our long run each week with no decreases in mileage along the way, just a constant increase in miles. The only week where there was a decrease in miles was the week before the race where most people would taper and for the taper I rested most of the week and then another tough trail race, the Green Monster Trail Challenge 25k which has over 3000 ft of elevation gain. So not really a restful taper. We don’t really do things by the book around here.
Our goal for this race was to finish the 50k in under six hours. I really had no idea what to expect from this race particularly with the condensed training, but after all our long run results we felt pretty confident that we would be in good shape.
I prefer to run in cooler weather, so I was pretty happy as the race approached and the forecast was showing that it would be cooler than the week before. What I was not prepared for was sleeping in a tent overnight in the nearly freezing cold temperatures and then starting only my second 50k race at those same nearly freezing cold temps. That was a little bit of overkill on the, I hope it is colder than last race, wish-fulfillment. But it was still better than being too hot.
This was a very different type of race for me. The course was relatively flat and relatively straight. I have never run a road marathon before (However it looks like that will change next year.) so running 31 miles on flat straight terrain was new to me. I always feel like the constantly changing course of most trail runs benefit my legs by constantly changing my stride and that keeps my muscles from tightening up, but with this course my stride was mostly the same the whole way. I think the combination of that factor and the cold made my hips especially very tight and uncomfortable for most of the race. Even in the beginning when I should have felt good. There were points during the race where we were wishing we could just do a little climbing, something that anyone who knows me knows I never say. We just wanted to break stride and activate some other muscles. I usually love downhill running and there were some very nice little downhills in the beginning of the course that I enjoyed, but by the second half of the race what downhills there were I couldn’t really enjoy because I was too stiff and tight.
Despite all the challenges of training for and then running this race we were at the half way point and pretty sure that unless something catastrophic happened we would be able to make our time goal. During the second half of the race we spent a lot of time doing mental calculations and figuring out how much time we could afford to give back as we got more tired and the wheels started to come off. We would have to run about seven miles farther than our longest training run so one never really knows how it will go. I also spent our training runs trying to work out a new fuel strategy which I never really figured out and then made some unwise choices for pre-race meals the night before that lead me to completely abandon what I was planning to do for fuel that had worked on my previous 50k. Instead I ran the whole race on gels and tailwind until the last aid station where a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was calling my name. It was the first time I felt like eating any solid food other than M&M’s.
We slowed down significantly in the second half of the race but did succeed in finishing under our time goal at 5 hrs and 47 min.
The course was a really nice course and had the opportunity to be gorgeous, but the freezing temperatures and cloud cover most of the day made it hard to enjoy the scenery. There were a few burst of sunlight peaking through the clouds to brighten things up, however when you are in the middle of a 50k those only serve to heat you up more than you would like. A lot of the course is run on a nice wide gravel trail with trees on one side and an open field on the other side. Those sections are primarily flat. I really loved the sections of the course when you are running through the woods. Some of those sections were more technical and had more elevation changes to them. The woods, the technical trail, and the elevation changes are all thing s I love in the sport of trail running. There were some nice sections where you run pretty close to the river, which again would have been a little nicer if there wasn’t complete cloud cover. My favorite part of the race was a section where you are in the woods and you drop down across a short but relatively steep decent that is narrow and drops off to both sides and then when you get to the bottom you pull a U-turn and go back the way you came at a completely different elevation level and you enter this section of the woods that is like a small twisty canyon for a second. Its kind of narrow and wooded. When I got to that spot I was just like, wow this is why I do this.
Another aspect of this race that I could not possibly oversell is the fact that myself and two of my friends ran the race and then two more friends crewed us at the race the whole time. I ran the entire race with my friend who talked me into running the race. I have never before run an entire race with someone before, that was a nice experience and if nothing else it makes the concept of a race less stressful. Its more like just another long training run with your friend. I highly recommend that if you are going to run an ultra and can make a weekend with your friends out of it, do it. You will not regret it.
At this race I again tried 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.
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.
Trying new things is often what life is all about. Even if your new experiences don’t go quite the way you had hopped they would. In my running and in my photography I enjoy trying new things. Sometimes things work out sometimes they don’t. Every year since I ran my first official 5k I have tried at least 1 new thing in my running.
The more people you meet the more new things you learn about in running. When I learned about the Sunfish Shuffle I wasn’t sure it was the kind of event I would be into. But the more I thought about it the more it intrigued me. The race is a timed race. So the race is over when the allotted time has elapsed as opposed to the race being over when you run a certain distance. The layout for the race was a 1 mile loop. Runners run as many laps around the 1 mile loop as they can in 3 hours. I had never run a race where the time determines the en of the race, nor had I ever run a race where you ran short loops around a course the whole time.
I began to think that this could be an interesting event. I could use it to gauge my fitness towards a possible road marathon in the future. I’d like to run around 4 hours, so I could see how many miles I could get to in 3 hours. I really wasn’t sure if I would enjoy running around the same 1 mile loop over and over, but thanks to the amazing location of this race, Sunfish Pond County Park in Canton, PA, there was gorgeous scenery to enjoy during the race.
Another added interesting point about this style of race is the very fact that you are running loops. Everyone who runs with their friends understands that you don’t always run the same pace. So, often times when you go to a race together with your friends, unless you specifically plan to run together, you don’t necessarily see each other during the race. But when you are running loops you get to see your friends as they pass you by or as you catch up to the, or as you converge at the aide station. The aide station at this race was amazing by the way.
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
Aide Station Fun
My plan was to run out relatively hard at my half marathon PR pace from earlier this year since that is what I would need to do to achieve a 4 hour marathon. The goal being to just see how long I could continue that pace for. I was hoping to get in 19 miles as that would put me right on pace. As the race began I started off at a pretty quick pace for me, not really worrying about it as I felt fine. I apparently got sucked in too much by the faster group ahead of me because after looking back at my splits from the race my first 3 miles especially were significantly faster than I had wanted to be going. I felt good through the first half of the race. After the half way point the heat became a factor as it reached mid day. By mile 12 the wheels were stating to come off. I could feel myself getting more tired and getting slower. The heat really took its toll on me. The last several laps I ran I stopped at the aide station and loaded up the buff I was wearing with ice and ran with the ice hanging around my neck. I was getting hot. I do not run well in the heat.
At what I thought would be my last lap I stopped my watch then I looked at the timer and had about 15 minutes to go. I decided I could make at least 1 more lap even if I mostly walked. So I pushed on for one more lap. That ended up being one of my better miles for the end of the race. The race didn’t go as well as I had wanted I did not get to 19 miles, but I did get to 17.76 miles which is pretty good. It is actually the third longest distance I have run at the race. I also learned I can at least run faster for shorter distances than I would have suspected. Best of all I got to run in a beautiful place with my friends. We hung out some pre-race and then relaxed for a while after the race. That is another reason why I love running.
Last year a friend of mine suggested I run a race that sounded challenging and fun but it was the weekend after I was running another race. I didn’t think that I could run a race on back to back weekends. I ended up not running the other race and just sticking with the one race that I was already committed to. The race I didn’t run last year was the Green Monster 15k.
My friend said that since I couldn’t run the Green Monster 15k in 2016 that I should commit to running the Green Monster 25k in 2017. (Thanks Shannon) I decided that was exactly what I would do. Green Monster 25k would be my goal race for 2017. Everything I would do in 2017 would be focused on getting me ready to run the Green Monster 25k in October. The Green Monster 25k would be the longest distance I had ever run period race or not. The race would be the most challenging race I’ve run from the perspective of elevation gain and technicality of the trail as well. I wasn’t even that experienced in trail running at the end of 2016. I just knew that I enjoyed the few races that I had run and I enjoyed the occasional times I had run on trails in the past.
2017 would be a year focused on trail running for me. I only ran in two races that were road races. I spent more time than ever on trails. I ran longer and longer runs. I talked to people that were experienced in trail running, seeking advice and counsel.
This year was the most fun and interesting year of running I have had to date. I experienced all kinds of new things. Since I would be running my first ever 25k mile trail run and the longest trail run I had ever run prior to that was a 10k (I had completed multiple road half marathons by that point.) I thought it would be wise to target a 25k trail run that might be at least a little less challenging early in the year so that I could at least get some experience with running that distance. I targeted the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k. Then I forgot to register on the day the race opened and I ended up on the waiting list. I spent the whole first half of the year waiting to find out if I would even get into this race. Turns out I did get in and the race went pretty well despite the monsoon that occurred during the race. Nothing like a soggy trail run in the Fingerlakes.
Even though I didn’t know if I would be able to run the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k I spent the first part of the year training like I definitely was running it. That meant building up my trail running legs over ever increasing distances. Almost every race I ran in the first half of the year was a new first for me. I ran a 10k race. I ran my first ever 8 mile trail run on a tough loop course, in the early summer heat, in the evening where I had the option of just stopping at 4 miles and bow was that tempting in the heat. That race was a new experience for me in many ways. That race was a new experience to me in so many ways. The distance was new. Running an evening race was new. And even running in the heat was different for me. I usually try to avoid running in the heat. I’ve also never run a loop course before where you could just stop, and the mental challenge of not stopping was so tough.
After the 8 mile race I went on to run my first 20K trail run. This race also included some substantial elevation changes which would present another new challenge for me. This was my second go on a loop course. Having to pass by the finish line after completing a steep climb that was the end of the 10k race was not fun but I was committed. Despite getting off course along with a substantial number of runners and missing some mileage and some climbing I was exhausted by the end, but I got it done and it was on to the Fingerlakes 50’s 25k for the next race.
The Fingerlakes 50’s 25k was a great experience. Prior to the race I was worried about it being too hot as the forecast was for temps in the 80’s around race time. The actual race conditions were a muddy mess of a slog that for substantial portions of the race featured torrential downpours. Every trail you ran on had water running on it in some direction, towards you, with you, or across the path. There were even portions of standing water. Near the end it was a mental struggle to just fight the urge to just walk the rest of the way. I was beaten down by the distance and the rain and mud, bt I got to the finish line. This was not just a race it was an experience.
In August I ran my first every trail half marathon. It was on a relatively flat course that I actually had a little bit of experience with part of the trail from a trail relay I had run earlier in the year. Due to the lack of elevation change this race did not have a lot in common with my goal race other than getting me to close to that amount of distance. I still wanted to simulate how I would feel on my goal race during this race. I knew that long before the end of my goal race I would be exhausted, so my plan for this race was to run myself to exhaustion before the end. I ran out much harder than someone of my ability level proably should at the beginning of the race. And by not too far after the half way point I was feeling quite fatigued and slowing. But that was the plan I wanted to experience running tired and pushing myself to keep going. The plan worked well. I was exhausted and I finished.
I had run a race every month since spring to get prepared for my goal race and to help maintain my motivation to train. After my August race I didn’t have another race lined up for September. My friend Shannon once again stepped up and suggested I run the race she was going to run. An 8 mile loop course up and down a nearby ski resort mountain. Knowing I both needed to work on my climbing and have incentive to continue working on my climbing until my goal race, I was in. That was a challenging run for me. I am normally the kind of person that likes to stop for a second to get a photo of the nice scenery I am privileged to be out in. Not during this race. You were always going up or down. There were no convenient places to stop for a photo.
Finally October rolls around and my goal race, Green Monster 25k, is in sight. I am a bundle of emotions thinking about this challenge that is in front of me. Did I train hard enough. Will I be ready. Am I in over my head. I was pretty confident that I could handle the pure distance. It was the elevation gain that I was concerned about. I had run parts of the trail multiple times with friends. However, a planned preview run of the 25k course with a friend did not go so well and that had me a little down leading into the race and race day was forecast to be warm as well. Another strike against me that I’d worry about.
Ascents have been and continue to be my biggest challenge in trail running. The race starts off flat but quickly turns into the longest climb of the day. My strategy was to go out slow and try to conserve my energy for the climb. Climbs just take the wind out of my sails and I did not want to start off the race too tired already. I got through the first climb and I got to the top where it levels out tired but not too bad off. I apparently let my guard down a little too much after the climb and tripped and fell at one of the least technical (Read easy and no reason to fall) parts of the trail. But If I was going to fall there it may have been one of the best spots to fall. It was one of the least rocky areas. If I had fell a few minutes later I probably would have been pretty busted up.
After a little flat running came my favorite part of the entire race. A nice long descent. Not too steep as to be technical but steep enough that you could pick up some momentum. I even caught up to and passed some people. Descents are basically the only place that happens for me in a trail race. I spent the next portion of the race picking and choosing when to run and when to walk as distance was covered over a long gradual incline. The whole time I know a steep ascent is looming and I am trying to arrive at the ascent without being too out of breath already.
The ascent up Bark Slide Trail was steep and a considerable challenge for me. I took my time getting up it so I would have legs left for the rest of the race. At the top you loop around and go back down a more gradual descent and return to the path where you went up Bark Slide. A bit farther along was the third big climb of the race. This trail is steep and rocky and even has large trees growing in the middle of the trail. One of which I leant against and rested on during my previous attempt. This time I was tired but I did not need to stop. I slowly struggled on up the trail. These climbs were so steep it is difficult to even stop to rest if you wanted to because there is no level footing to stop on and it is pretty easy to lose your balance or simply slide on the slope.
After the three big climbs I had to endure the race was pretty tough for me. The climbs had siphoned all the energy from my legs. I just couldn’t run too much for too long after that. I ran when I could and walked when I needed to. I knew that at some point I would meet up with Jim Close trail and rejoin with the same part of the course that the 15k runners would be running. That was what I was seeking. I knew it meant that I was relatively close to the end and I knew it meant a chance to see my friends. When I saw the turn for Jim Close I saw my friends daughter and yelled to her to cheer her on. Getting on the Jim Close Trail was like a resurgence.
Eventually around mile 13 you get back to climbing and the resurgence I previously had felt had dissipated. At times it was all I coukd do to keep my feet going one in front of the other. After one of the steeper climbs I actually stopped for a few seconds and bent over to rest and that just seemed to make everything worse. So I trudged onward. One of the best things about this section though was 2 of my friends running the 15k caught up to me and I was able to say hi. That helped get me through it.
Finally I arrived at Frankenstein’s Forehead and at last I knew I was close to the end. One more serious decent and then a few miles of relatively flat running and I’d arrive at the finish line.
Frankenstein’s Forehead under race conditions was more challenging as I had to repeatedly slow down for others ahead of me taking more time on the decent. But getting to the bottom and heading out on the flatter trail was very welcome. The bottom was hotter and more humid than I expected. I stopped at every stream crossing and scooped up a hat full of water a nd poured it over my head as I put my hat back on.
As I neared the finish line it was so great to be able to hear all the people cheering. It was especially nice to hear my wife cheering me on. Every race she is able to make it to is even better. Crossing the finish line and reuniting with my wife and friends was great. It was a release it was the fulfillment of a year of hard work. Standing at the finish line cheering on more friends as they finished and then all resting and recovering together and talking about our races is what running is all about.