Tag Archives: RunPA

Hyner 25K Media 2019

Here are some media clips I created from footage I captured during my running of the 2019 Hyner View Trail Challenge.

Cliff Hanger time lapse footage
Humble Hill time lapse footage
Decent from Humble Hill
Streams time lapse

2019 Hyner view Trail Challenge 25k

It wasn’t too long after my induction into the trail running world and meeting a few experience folks in the trail scene that I began to hear about this mythical race called Hyner. The more people involved in the trail scene I met the more I seemed to hear about Hyner. Last year, 2018, most of the people I am friends with that run trails planned to run Hyner. I was not planning to run the race that year but I was interested in learning about it so I joined my friends on a “training run” to run essentially the entire course. Man that was a tough, cold, rainy day. But that day did spark a fire in me to take on a new challenge.

Prior to the 2019 Hyner event I had run 3 other 25K races. One event I have run twice had a similar overall elevation gain, but I don’t think any event had the same kind of climb then immediately decent that is essentially the format of the Hyner course but repeated 3 times over the 25k distance. I was very interested in how this course would challenge me in different ways. I do not love climbing. I am getting better at climbing, but I do not like doing it. What I like about climbing on a trail is reaching the top of a climb and having a nice long runnable descent. Hyner does not have that, at least not for someone at my skill level. There are just too many switchbacks on the first decent for me to navigate and too many rocks on the others. I am a Clydesdale runner and getting my momentum going and then having to hit a switchback turnaround on a decent is not what my body is made for. I have found that I like the Huff Run section of trails much more than other descents.

Leading up to the race the weather had been rainy and was predicted to be rainy on race day as well. The forecast had us all trying to figure out our best rain gear options and if and when they would be necessary. Would it be warm enough to run without rain gear at all? Possibly, the forecast was for a high in the mid 60’s leading into the race. Would you be able to start the race with a light shell on then shed it part way through? Sure, that could work. The rainy weather and continued rainy forecast also made yet another feature of the course more salient. Water Crossings. The Hyner View course features numerous water crossings. (Has anyone actually counted how many there are?) So, with all the rain, what exactly would these water crossings look like?

But guess what, mother nature threw us all a big ol curve ball. Race day arrived. No rain. No rain at the start. No rain in the forecast. Instead by the start of the 25K, the race I was running, the temperature was already in the mid 60’s. Um, can’t we have just a little rain? Please. I do not do well in the heat. I pretty much literally melt. Think of the sweatiest guy you know and then multiply it x2. I sweat a lot. I was not really thrilled with this turn of events. I personally would have been better off with 60’s and some light rain. Most people probably disagree with my preference on this. I was already sweating before the race even started. I was not excited about this turn of events.

I have literately never been part of a trail race that is this big of an event. There were nearly 800 finishers of the 25K race and 260 finishers of the 50K race. Over 1000 people will be charging down these trails in short order. The sheer number of participants in this event creates its own challenges unique to this event. Taking off from the start line with around 800 people running about a mile down a road and then reaching a trail that is essentially single track almost all at once is something to consider and strategize around. I am not a runner who is going to win a race by any stretch of the imagination but I still want to perform my best and finish with the best time possible. That means figuring out how to manage the obvious bottle neck that will occur when a street full of 800 people hit a single track trail. I planned to go out relatively fast for me and try to get as close to the front of the line as possible, but I also didn’t want to start off too fast and burn myself out before I get to what could be easily considered that most challenging part of the race and awaits less than 2 miles into the race. At that point you have to surmount Humble Hill.

I did OK getting off to a relatively fast start. Once the crowd dispersed some I was able to run the first mile around an 8 min/mile pace. Then you get to the single track and it is basically a complete log jam. The issues were made worse than I imagine it had been in the past due to the weather creating a little bit of havoc on this section of trails with some mud slides. This part of the race for me and I suspect others was a bit frustrating, but there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about it. This first section of single track is one of the nicest and most runnable parts of the entire course, I am glad I got to run it on practice runs. But on race day there is not much running, there is a lot of walking and even some standing completely still which is not really what you want if you are a runner running a race. But it is what it is and you make the best of it. I actually credit this forced delay at the beginning of the course with my better than expected performance on Humble Hill.

Next up, climb, climb, climb up Humble Hill. Humble Hill is called this for good reason. It is one long tough climb. I did not try to push hard on this climb. I just tried to maintain a steady pace and keep moving. This was a challenge at times because due to the weather and the fact that the 50K runners had already gong this way the trail was pretty chewed up and often difficult to find purchase on. Slipping, sliding, and the fear of knocking down a row of your fellow runners navigating up the hill behind you were ever present. I tried to stay as cool as possible during this initial climb. Surviving this climb in good shape held the keys to having any chance to complete the rest of the race with a strong effort. I spent most of the climb with the hat I was wearing to begin the race in my hand to let as much heat escape as possible. The more I climbed the hotter I got. I consumed fluids multiple times as I climbed the hill. I tried not to look up. I did not need to know how close or for that matter how far I was from the top. I would just trudge onward until I reached the rock wall that was situated at the summit. Finally I got to the top and was able to see my wife and friends cheering me on with a whole host of people. I would not see them again until the finish.

The decent off Humble Hill did not feel great. My quads were already beginning to feel the burn from that first climb. The zig zagging switchbacks in the beginning and then followed by some tough steep segments were not feeling good on my legs. I do best with docents where u can just let my legs go. If I have to keep the brakes on so that I can navigate that is not my strength.

Eventually you reach the swimming portion of Hyner. At least it felt that way with how high the streams were. Thanks to the trail crew for adding some log bridges to spare us a little. The biggest challenge of these stream crossings is the sheer number of them and the fact that the water is still quite cold from the winter. If not immediately then surely by the last crossing your feet will feel like ungainly blocks of ice dangling from your legs. They are not good for much other than barely plodding along. During this section I made a miscalculation that could have made for a more miserable day for me. The streams were high enough that you couldn’t really see your footing. If you wanted to cross quickly you had to plunge in with blind faith and trust your feet. At one particularly high stream that seemed to be about mid thigh high I decided to try to pass some fellow runners by scrambling up an embankment and then plugging back into the stream ahead of them. This resulted in me going essentially face first into the stream and being almost completely submerged. Good news is I was hot and it actually felt good to get thoroughly cooled of by the water. Bad news is in my rush I tweaked my ankle. Luckily it did not end up being anything major and significantly impact my race although I felt it the entire rest of the race.

By miles 7 and 8 I could feel my energy ebbing. I was clearly slowing down. Runners I had passed earlier began to pass back by me. One woman who I had passed earlier caught up to me and asked if I was OK because I had looked so strong earlier. I told her I was OK, just feeling whipped out. She noted that when she feels that way she usually takes a GU. I shared that was exactly what I had done. She wished me luck and continued on her way off into the distance. During the second climb I was so beat and beat up that I was just becoming agitated. Just the fact that people were carrying on a conversation behind me as I struggled to climb was grating on my nerves. I have never felt quite that way during a race before. Not one of my proudest moments. I finally reached the top of that climb and the second aide station and took on some fuel, hydration, and took a salt tab for the first time ever. I could just tell I was going to need more salt in my system.

After leaving that aide station I did begin to feel progressively better. That is until I got to the third and final climb. Granted by the third climb I am essentially hiking/walking up it just trying to survive but I think that comparatively the third climb at least until the last section at SOB is the least challenging. It doesn’t feel as steep as Humble Hill and it has switchbacks and it’s not as technical as the second climb where you are essentially ascending an extremely rocky stream bed as water flows down against you.

Climbing up the third ascent is basically a survival task. Put in exactly as much effort as it takes to get to the top but not a drop more. It was slow going but by the time I got to SOB, probably the steepest climbing section of the entire race I was ready. I had enough energy to take it on and even pass a person or two. Passing people on climbs is not usually something I have to worry about but today was better than most for me. Thankfully immediately after cresting SOB there is an aide station, refuel and re-hydrate. There is also a spectacular view. These views are essentially the reason for doing this course so if you are out there take some time to soak it in.

After surmounting SOB the race is still far from over but you are, thankfully, essentially done climbing. From here on out the rest of the course is relatively flat to downhill. That is the good news. The bad news is there are still a bunch of technical trails left to cover. There are some sections of relatively smooth jeep path type sections but there are also a lot of very rocky single track sections that lay ahead. Part of what makes Hyner such a challenging race is that even the flats and descents are difficult to navigate. There are so many rocks. And it is not rocks like one might think of like loose gravely stones it is like rows and rows of narrow blades of stone sticking up vertically out of the ground in a way that you really cannot step on them and a mix of stones emerging from the ground the size of softballs and basketballs. I usually love to descend down hills but Hyner makes it difficult between how tired my legs are and the challenging terrain it is never easy. There isn’t much room for taking a mental break either as you have to constantly be aware of the rocky terrain so you don’t take a spill.

Eventually, I reached the Huff Run section of trail, which in the past has been my favorite part during two practice runs. I was beat. There was not much I could do with this section of trail. I tried to move along at the best pace I could but I had no strength or energy left. I was really not able to enjoy this section of trail like I had in the past. I don’t know if it was a combination of the weather and trying to put forth a higher intensity effort or what, but I was just beat. I had no gas left in the tank. It was a little disappointing to not feel better on this section of trail that I liked so much. Eventually I arrived at the bridge that crosses the stream so I knew I was nearing the end of the trail. I stopped and took a few photos to soak in some of the last of the gorgeous scenery before I would be finishing this race. Then it was on down the path and eventually up the last rise of the trail section and down to the road section where it all started. I was a little nervous that getting back out on this exposed pavement in the warmer weather would sap me of what little strength I had left but fortunately it was relatively breezy especially as I crossed the bridge over the river. That breeze was a life saver. It was also uplifting to have a fellow runner heading back towards me at the bridge Hi-fiving runners as we neared the finish.

Then as you near the finish line there is this one last cruel joke. Yet another climb. It was not a climb like anything else on the course in comparison but at that point in the race any climb is an unwelcome one in my book. I surmounted that last climb crossed the finish line and hugged my wife who was there waiting and cheering for me.

I have been fortunate to be at a few races where the race day might not have been ideal for racing but the conditions made for an epic experience that will not soon be forgotten and this is certainly one of them. With all the pre-race rain the trails in many or most areas were waterlogged, but somehow not really muddy. It was like running on hard packed earth with a layer of water on top. Many of these areas were also rocky and some of them the water was actually moving down the trail in opposition to you. Then there are the stream crossings that might have been more akin to river crossings in some parts. And you combine that with the fact that it was not actually raining during the race but instead it was a bit on the warm side particularly for that time of year (during the after party the temperature reached 79 degrees while the 50k runners were still on course) it was a little mind bending. I mean if everything around you is drenched you expect to be getting wet and you do not expect to be so warm.

Hyner as an event is like nothing I have every experienced as a trail runner. It is exactly that, an event, not just a race. There are people wherever people can get to to cheer you on. There are over 1000 participants in the race. There is a huge party and crowd at the finish line. Very different than most of the trail races I have been to previously. I have never been to a trail race with so many people running it or so many spectators. One of the best features is that it allowed for me to easily hang out with my wife and our friends after the race and just be around the rest of the trail community. It was just nice to see so much support for our like-minded community that cares about trails and being outside in nature. That is what really made an impact for me. I don’t know if I will be back to Hyner as a runner next year. It is such a popular event and fills up as soon as registration opens and registration opens nearly a year in advance of the race. I just really haven’t figured out what I am doing next year yet. It is definitely the kind of trail event that everyone should experience at least once and I am glad I got to be a part of it.

Tyoga Running Club Collaboration

Facebook memories reminded me that nine years ago 3/27/2010 I had my first pieces of artwork on display in an art gallery. That was the opening of a door to things I never imagined. Those photographs would be on display in the Artisan’s Shoppe in Wellsboro, PA. It is quite amazing that on that same day nine days later another door would open to me and an opportunity to take on something else totally new in my life would arise. Nine years after my first photographs went on exhibit I am back in Wellsboro, PA meeting with the fine folks at the Tyoga Running Club. I had been having this idea developing in my mind now about a project I would like to embark on. I finally got up the nerve to approach them about it via email and they invited me to attend a meeting and discuss my idea with them.
Leonard Harrison State Park PA_July 29, 2015_141
Leonard Harrison State Park, PA
 
I have really have been learning that the hardest part of the creative process is the ask. Reaching out to people to ask for support and or collaboration just fills me with anxiety and trepidation. It is the one thing that holds me back more than anything else. As the day went on I became increasingly nervous about this meeting. I do not enjoy speaking in front of groups of people. One on one I can talk your ear of, and some would say quite loudly, but group speeches are not my thing. As I sat in the meeting room with the Tyoga Running Club and they discussed their preliminary business before turning their attention to me. My hands were sweating profusely, and I continuously tried to dry them on my pants. I sat off to the side seriously reconsidering having passed on a beer from the bar. Thankfully when they turned their attention to my idea my brain and my mouth seemed to function relatively normal and for the most part I was able to express myself fairly clearly I think. I enjoyed sharing my ideas with them and talking with them.
 
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Hills Creek State Park, PA
 
If you have been following me here you’ve seen that my running has progressed to longer and longer distances and as I have explored different running challenges I have been in search of ways to document my adventures and share them with the community. I am always open to taking on challenges especially in the form of new creative ideas in my photography and new physical challenges through my running. I am always looking for ways to combine those two aspects of my life and do new things. As I planned for 2019 I knew I wanted to do a couple of big races. I wanted to run Worlds End 50k again because I loved that race last year. Then I wanted to use that training and race to propel myself forward into my first 50 mile experience at Finger Lakes 50’s 50 mile race. Despite those two huge goals for this year there was just this niggling in the back of my head that kept thinking “What about more?
I kept returning this idea of running 100 miles. 100 miles is pretty much the standard high water mark in ultra running for now. In all the challenges I have undertaken while I knew they would be and will be difficult and challenging but I have been pretty confident and remain pretty confident tht I can at least finish the race. 100 miles is a totally different story. I have no idea if I can actually run 100 miles and there really is no way to test it other than to do it. As a writer and photographer I want to turn any new adventure into a creative project, so that is what I sought to do.
 
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Ives Run, PA
 
I don’t really like to travel and I knew there was a 100 mile race nearby in my area. That race is the Pine Creek Challenge hosted by the Tyoga Running Club. I have been to their events in the past and they always do a great job. This made sense to be the event that I would try to run. The Pine Creek Challenge takes place in the Wellsboro, PA area. The course follows a section of the Pine Creek Rail Trail. Not only does the running fit perfectly into what I like to do, the experience overall fits right into my wheelhouse. I have been to the Wellsboro area multiple times most of which involve exploring the natural landscape, trail running, or photography or some combination of those things. This is a beautiful region. I have seen some of it but not as much as I would like and I have not spent time on the Pine Creek Rail Trail despite frequently thinking about doing so. This would give me a reason to do it.
 
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Leonard Harrison State Park, PA
 
One of the goals of my photography is to show off and generate support for our natural areas, our local communities, and our local organizations/businesses. I really wanted to collaborate with the Tyoga Running Club to show off their event and the amazing natural area it showcases and the community that supports it. I am really excited and grateful to have their support as I embark on this project.
 
 
The goal of this project is to create content about the natural area where this event takes place and about my experience competing in and training for this event. This will include trips to the area to photograph the scenery and probably writing about it. I would like to go down and do some running there. I plan to photograph the event as I participate in it. I will also shoot some video of the event. When I shoot video it is not usually centered on myself. It usually focuses on the scenery. On occasion I will film myself running. And even more rarely when filming myself I will speak to the camera. I know after reading this much verbiage from me it doesn’t seem like it but I’m shy and I don’t like to be recorded or speak on camera. But I think recording some of my thoughts as I am going through the actual experience of this race would be valuable in completing the project and be compelling, I hope.
 
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Colton Point State Park, PA
 
And to top it all off I will write an article about my experience that includes my photography as well that will be published on my website and potentially in a local or regional publication. (If you are a publisher and this sounds interesting to you or you know someone who is please reach out to me.) I will share a lot of this work and my process on my website and social media as well as in conjunction with Tyoga Running Club.
 
 
If you like the concept of this project and would like to see more work like this please support me on my Patreon page, KRNaturalPhoto, for as little as $1 a month. It helps me to be able to do this work.
 
Colton Point State Park PA_July 29, 2015_494
Colton Point State Park, PA
 

2019 Hyner Training Run

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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Water Gap 50K

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.

GOPR5014_3-2

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.

Sunfish Shuffle

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.

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.

I Became An Ultra Marathoner

I woke up in the morning the day before the race and just could not get out of bed. I was so anxious. I couldn’t get out of bed and get the day underway. I just lay in bed thinking and trying to get a little more rest. There wasn’t anything much to be done. Finish packing the car and drop off our dogs at the kennel, then drive down to Pennsylvania to camp for the weekend and run a race. This was supposed to be a fun weekend. Then why was I so anxious in the morning?

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I think that was exactly why I was so anxious. This was supposed to be a big weekend for me, a fun weekend camping trip with friends and running a race. Not just any race though. This was my goal race for the year. It was something new to me. I didn’t know what to expect for the weekend, so I tried to hide in bed I guess. Eventually I got myself up got packed and we got under way.

My wife and I arrived at camp the day before the race and had plenty of time to relax and unwind a little. Later that evening we met our friends at bib pick up for the race. Then we had dinner at a great local place, The Forksville General Store. The food was amazing. Just the thing you need the day before a big race. Then we went back to camp and spent the night hanging out by the fire and enjoying each other’s company. One by one we turned in to get some sleep before the race.

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We all rose bright and early and headed over to the starting grounds for the race. We were there with plenty of time before the start of the race, which is fine and probably preferred by many, but for me standing around just waiting for something to happen makes me anxious. I prefer to be right on time and just start whatever it is I’m doing. So I was relieved when all the waiting and race director talking as over and the race started. The Worlds End 50k was under way. Finally my feet could start moving and my brain could stop.

I started the race out nice and easy as we ran down the road to get to where the trails started for this race. I was in no big hurry. I knew I’d be out here for plenty of time. When we got to the trails we started to climb. The first ascent is a pretty steep one. I am fine with going relatively slow up any climbs and that is really my strategy. Go slow up and conserve energy. But when there are spots that level out and there is room to run some I quickly got anxious and a little frustrated with the continued slow pace that was basically a walk. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. It was early on and I would have plenty of time to run, but I quickly found myself squeezing by people to pass o that I could go the pace that was comfortable for me. I didn’t want to go fast. I just wanted to go my own pace and I wanted space. I am sure some of the people I passed in the beginning because of my impatience passed me back later on.

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After that came a nice descent. It is fairly steep but it is also fairly wide trail and open in many places. It was a great spot for me to be able to just open things up and run down the hill at whatever pace my legs would take me. When I have a nice open descent like that my preferred way to run them is to just go with gravity. I don’t necessarily try to run hard down the hill by pushing my legs fast but I try to allow my legs to move at whatever pace gravity is pulling me down the hill. When you are my size gravity does a lot of work and provides a good amount of momentum to propel you down the slope. It really doesn’t even seem like work. It’s more like just trying to coordinate your legs to keep up.

When you get to the bottom of that fast descent you start right back up the hill again. You climb right back up a mountain for about another mile. Then once you arrive at the top one of my favorite feature of this race was a nice relatively flat section at the top where I could just run whatever pace was comfortable for me. I didn’t have to push. I didn’t have to really fight with gravity. It was like a nice casual trail run compared to the first several miles. Then after a nice gradual descent there is another quick climb going into mile eight.

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After mile eight there are several miles that are probably what I would call for this course most closely described as rolling hills would be on a road course except all the while you are navigating rocks, and roots, and plenty of mud. During this section you reach the second aid station, which is the first aide station that is crew accessible. There my wife awaits me with anything that I might need. Fortunately I still feel ok and don’t really need anything. I am plenty tired though despite it only being mile 10 of a 30+ mile run. I stop to eat some food at the aide station and talk to my wife for a little bit. My one remark was that “This is not Sehgahunda”, which is the race I ran two weeks prior and was my first ever trail marathon. That race was plenty challenging in its own right, but this was a whole new level. There I felt pretty good through 15 miles. Here I was tired by mile 10.

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The next crew accessible aid station would not be until around mile 19. There was plenty of varied terrain to cover between mile 10 and 19 when I would be able to see my wife gain and I would stop and talk for a minute. From mile 11 to 19 I got to run just about every kind of terrain one could imagine. There were relatively flat sections. There were hills. And there were downhills. There were roots. There were rocks. There were boulders. There were plenty of wet areas as well. The water took many forms on this course: mud and muck, puddles, full on bogs and marshy areas, streams and even waterfalls. My favorite part of this section was the steep technical descent that takes you into the aide station at mile 19. We had previewed this section a few weeks before the race so I knew what was to come. But when we ran it then we had much fewer miles on our legs. I was not sure what I was going to be able to do after around 17 miles had already worn down my legs. My plan was to run down it as fast as I could. I was wearing my GoPro on its chest harness and I knew this was either going to be epic or an epic fail and either way I wanted video evidence of this experience. I paused for a second at the top of the section to start the video recording and then down I went. I ran down as fast as I could while maintaining control. I stepped from rock to rock. Over and around boulders. Dodging roots and outcroppings. Many of my strides were more like leaps from side to side over and around obstacles. Watching my footing and making sure to find safe purchase. I plummeted down the descent. One fellow runner heard my thundering strides down the slope and moved aside and called out to me “Good Luck” as I careened by. He sounded sarcastic but I took it in stride, said “Thanks” and flew by. I think he seemed dubious that I should be taking this approach to the downhill. I caught up to another fellow runner who had passed me a while ago and he quickly moved aside so I could bound past him as well. I loved that section because it was a true test not only of my stamina but of my ability on a difficult technical section and I gave it my all and went for it. It was a fun and exciting section of trail to run during a race that had plenty of sections that were grinding.

At the mile 19 aid station I stopped to change my socks to prevent blisters. I also refilled my water bladder and added two more Nuun hydration tablets for electrolytes. I also ate some food that was provided by the aid station. I took my time and rested some as I changed my socks and ate and drank. I talked with my wife for a minute and gave her a kiss and then I was on the move again.

The three miles from the aid station at mile 19 to the aid station at mile 22 were the most difficult miles of the entire race for me. It was three miles of virtually all vertical climbing. Climbing is what I am weakest at. I really felt the fatigue set in as I made this climb. More than two-thirds the way up I really started to lose my energy and my motivation. I was felt like the climb had defeated me mentally. I just felt like I had nothing left in the tank. I had two vanilla bean GU’s with me and I really was hoping not to use them but they had caffeine in them and I felt like I needed any energy boost I could get at the moment. I really did not enjoy eating that GU. I basically choked it down. But eating it accomplished the goal. It gave me enough energy to get to the aid station at the top of the climb. I was very happy to get to that aid station where I could once again see my wife and eat some real food. It definitely helped to boost my mood. I took my time at this aid station talking to my wife, gathering my strength, and getting my mind right for the rest of the journey. Initially I thought it as odd to have two crew accessible aide stations so close together, one at mile 19 and another one at mile 22, but I was very happy that it was planned that way after I went through it.

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After mile 22 there was a good deal of varied terrain. There were downhill sections and uphill sections, but nothing too long or too steep in either direction. There was a combination of all the things that made this course great. Single track trails, trees, rocks, roots, mud, and water. To be perfectly honest after running for such a long time on such a tough course at this point everything kind of blurs together in the aftermath trying to remember it. All I know is that in the moment I was enjoying being out in the woods. I went over 8 hours without touching my cell phone. When was the last time I did that when I wasn’t asleep? This is what trail running is about. Getting out in nature and connecting with it. Enjoying the connection our body makes with nature as you traverse the course.

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Finally I arrived at the final aid station. I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat any actual food, but I knew it still could be an hour before I finished so I did have some tailwind to top off my fuel for the finish. As I rested for a minute one of the many friendly volunteers at the aide station jokingly asked “What are you still doing here?” I said “I’m enjoying all the hard work you all have put into this aide station.” And he responded “Then you should have a beer.” I normally don’t drink beer at a race. I actually don’t know if I have ever had a beer at a race. So I stopped and considered for a second. Then I agreed. I should have a beer. I am almost done. What harm could it do at this point? I will almost certainly finish. I am here to enjoy myself and have fun. So I did have half a beer at the aide station before I left. Maybe it was just what I needed to get me to the finish.

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After leaving the final aid station there is a long relatively flat section that looks like an old logging road or something. It is probably the most open and flat section of the whole course. I was so tired at that point. I could not keep up a steady pace to run, so I adopted a run walk strategy. Just pushing myself to run at all was a sheer force of will at that point so; I ran for as long as I could then I would walk some to recover and then pick up the run again and repeat over and over.

As I ran through this flatter section of trail I began to think. I thought about all the long hard hours of training I put into this. I thought about all the commitment and determination it took to arrive exactly at this point. I started to think about how this was the culmination of everything I have worked towards for the past six months. I began to get a little emotional as I ran along thinking all the deep thoughts one does when they finally realize that they are about to accomplish a huge goal that they have fully committed to. I felt the full weight of what this experience meant to me. It was fun and it was exciting and it was something I really wanted and I set my heart to it and I got it done. When I say I set my heart to it that is what I truly mean it took my heart and my will in order to get to this point. It is an achievement of a physical accomplishment, but it is not one you come to if your heart isn’t in it and if you don’t have the will to put in the work.

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I knew from the course map and elevation profile that I would eventually come to a steep decent before getting to the finish. I was a little concerned about how that part would go for me. I usually like to go as fast as I can on downhills. I feel like it’s the best strategy for me for many reasons. But when I got to this particular decent I was spent. There was no way I could run down this. This was no strait open flat hill. This was a steep twisty turvy and rocky vertical decent. If I tried to go fast my legs would crumble underneath the pressure of my momentum building up. I decided my best course of action was to pick my way down through the rocks, going as fast as I could but far from a run. Going slow down a step decent was no picnic. My toes were smashed in the front of my shoes, but I finally made it down. I felt like I literally dragged myself for that last little bit to get to the finish line. I felt like I was barely moving as I crossed the finish line and I think the video my wife recorded of my finish verifies that fact.

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I crossed the line and hugged my wife. I was finally done. I see my friends who were there, cheering. It was a great feeling.

Afterwards I was starving. The food was great. There was plenty of it and it tasted good. The beer was also the perfect thing after finishing a long race like that. It was a great post race experience to sit around and talk with your friends and cheer on runners you didn’t know as well as our other friends who finished. I told my friends I would do this race again just for the food.

I have run a fair amount of trails in our area and I have been out hiking even more trails and this area definitely ranks right up there as one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I loved all the scenery. It was amazing. I ran the race with two GoPro cameras to try to capture some of the experience. I had one GoPro on a chest harness and another GoPro that could be hand-held. I could have just stood and taken photographs forever. Every twist and turn revealed something new and unexpected. I would take a video or some photos of a section and then turn my GoPro off and then around the next bend would be another section just as beautiful and I would think I should turn my camera back on. If I did that I would probably still be there taking photographs. When we came for a preview run of some of the course I told my friends that if I don’t finish it’s because I am still out on the course taking pictures. It is that beautiful.

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If you are a nature lover like I am you need to get yourself out to the Worlds End State Park area in Pennsylvania. This area has just about everything one could ask for in nature scenery. You can hike up a trail to a scenic overlook and look out over the valley and across to another mountain that you can also hike up and be at the location you were just looking at from across the valley. There are endless scenic forest lands to wander through with all types of majestic trees. Throughout the entire landscape there are scattered rocks and outcroppings ranging from pebbles to giant boulders that you need to be on all fours to climb over. There are also many streams flowing through the woods and down the mountains. These streams create countless waterfalls that are just truly mesmerizing as they cross the green scape. There are sections of trail where you will cross the streams and waterfalls and you can get a real up close and personal look at them. There are so many I could not imagine how long it would take me to photograph them all, but I might go back and try some day. At the top of one mountain there is even a lake. Like really on top of all that amazing nature you get to run up to a mountain top lake. I’m telling you there is no shortage of beautiful sites in this area. The race course also has multiple sections where you run along a body of water that I am not sure if it is officially a creek or a river but it is big enough that you can dive right in and swim if you want. I know because I’ve done it.

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How can you beat all this? I experienced all this amazing nature all in one day. This is the type of adventure that might take weeks to experience on a normal trip. But thanks to the gift of running and how fortunate I am to be able to do the things that I do I got to do all this in a bit over eight hours. Not weeks. I saw all those sights in a third of a day. I love how much running has added to my ability to explore nature and enjoy the other things that make life worth living and that is really why I love running.

It is just a unique experience to be out in that type of landscape. World’s End is such a varied place of unique treasures with something new around every turn. I don’t know if I will ever top this experience.

I know these photos don’t do the scenery I have described justice, so I will try to link to some photos taken by others at the event. Check out these photos by Brian: Worlds End Photos. There are also these photos from Rusty: Worlds End Photos.