Tag Archives: Trail Running

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.

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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The Run I needed

Today I got in the run that I really needed. I love running and I really do enjoy it most of the time, but sometimes when I am training for a race the monotony just bums me out. This is especially the case here in upstate, NY during the winter when the weather can really limit the running options.

Today my training plan called for seven miles which is fine. That usually means that I will be running the seven mile loop I have worked out in my neighborhood and run countless times. Also, today it snowed all day long. So that means running the same old route, which most days I like, but is just boring upon continuous repetition on the snowy slushy roads trying to keep my footing and also being extra wary of cars driving in the snow. Not really the recipe for a fun and enjoyable run. I realize that every run won’t be fun and enjoyable, but I really felt like I needed on today.

I started to think about running somewhere on the trails. I thought it would be run to run through the fresh snow before it gets packed down and becomes too slick to really run on at all. It was the perfect amount of snowfall to run in just a few inches. It would add a little extra challenge but still be manageable. I started to think of places I could go where no one else would have gone yet and I thought Steege Hill Nature Preserve would be the perfect place.

I was a little nervous going into this run. I haven’t had much experience running on trails in the winter in the snow. I also hadn’t had much experience running on trails at night which it likely would be by the time I was done. I had all the proper gear including ahead lamp for when it got dark. I knew I could handle it and get it done. But it was that nervous excitement of doing something a little bit new and different.

And that is exactly what I needed to do. I needed to remember what it is that made me fall in love with running. It’s the challenge and the adventure that I love, especially as it applies to trail running. I like to be out there doing something new and connecting with nature. I like to challenge myself and do things that I enjoy just because I enjoy them, it’s not all about the training plan. Doing something a little bit different that isn’t exactly what the training plan called for is not just ok sometimes it is necessary. It is not going to ruin my training and it might just save it by keeping me from burning out. I have a long way to go with this training so I will feel free to mix it up from time to time and go off plan to get a little extra joy and you should too.

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2018 Running goals in review

It’s the time of year where we take a moment to look back on the year that has passed. 2018 brought on a lot of new things for me in running. The goals I had set for myself were the following:

  1. Run a trail marathon
  2. Run my first ultra
  3. Increase my mileage from 2017 – 2018
  4. Run a sub 24 Minute 5k
  5. Run a sub 2 hour half marathon
  6. Learn more about running
  7. Learn more about proper running training

Overall I would say my 2018 year in running was pretty successful. I completed 6 out of 7 goals. The only goal I did not accomplish was running a sub 24 minute 5k. I ran several of what I would call test runs on my own to see how realistic this goal was for me and I performed pretty well. I think this is still a goal that is within my reach, but I just never committed to running an official 5k where I could really put it on the line and go for it all out. To be honest this goal probably was the least important of the goals on my list. It was also a goal that was probably in direct contrast to most of my other top goals, running a short fast race as opposed to running longer races and mostly trying to just survive longer races rather than trying to get faster. I still want to accomplish this but I might need to target a specific race first and commit to training for speed for a specific time frame to really get it done. This is just another thing that I have never really done

My only other speed goal was to run a sub 2 hr half marathon. I was already pretty well on pace for this going into 2018, but I had never really run a race with a time goal in mind and I had no idea how to really approach the event. It turned out ok though and I succeeded in running under 2 hours. I think I will be returning there in 2019 and trying to further push down my PR and I’m hoping now that I have some experience doing that I will be even more successful.

Another goal that I had that is more about distance than speed is to run more miles in 2018 than I did in 2017. In 2017 I ran a little over 1,000 miles. This year I am at 1,425 currently. I don’t think I will break 1,500 this year, so that may be a 2019 goal.

The two goals that were the highest priority for me were about pushing my endurance to run longer distances than I ever thought I would. My goal was to finish a trail marathon and then a trail 50k. I never thought I would want to do either of these things, but when you fall in with the wrong crowd you find yourself swept up in this sense of adventure and desire to see what you can do. I successfully completed both the trail marathon and the trail 50k I had targeted. When I signed up for these races I thought I would likely be one and done for both especially for 2018 if not for ever. Little did I know I would end up running my second 50k later in 2018. Those pesky friends can get you to do anything. It is funny that initially I thought this would be all I would do at distance, but now I am already registered one long race and have more and longer races on my tentative schedule. I’ll talk more about those when I talk about my 2019 goals.

My other two goals were more about learning and knowledge than anything else. I wanted to learn more about the art and science of running and how to perform better. I feel like I learned so much about this topic. I have learned mostly from listening to experienced runners and coaches talking on podcasts. I still know relatively little but I have gained so much and there is always more to learn.I also wanted to learn more about proper training. I learned these lessons first hand as I trained for a race using a training plan for the first time ever. My friend and much more experienced runner put together a training plan for me to follow for my first 50k. It was both scary and amazing. I learned that you can really accomplish a lot when you take it a little more seriously and actually work strategically to accomplish your goals. I credit this training with allowing me to smash my goals including my half marathon PR, completing both my long races, and increasing my yearly mileage. I think the most important thing I learned is how much better you feel when you train properly.I might have completed my goals without the structured training but I would not have felt so good in doing so. I pushed myself harder and faster than ever before at a half marathon and I felt physically better post race than ever before. This is obviously a direct result of being properly trained. I ran my first ever 50k and it was tough. I expected to be completely destroyed and immobile for days, but instead I ran an 8k with my wife the very next day. I would never have thought that this could happen. This is only made possible by being smart and well trained. I could not have accomplished these things without the support of my friends.  

Gear Challenges

Over the years my photography has taken on many shapes. There have been twists and turns and unexpected adventures. That is part of what makes my photography so exciting to me, the unexpected. As my photography has changed and evolved over the years my approach to photography changes and my needs change. The very things I need to create my photography may change.

Pico Peak in Vermont

Over the last several years I began running and then my photography followed along and running became a large part of my photography. It started with mostly photographing races that other people were running. But then there was this shift in my mind. I love nature and my running allows me to explore more of nature than I can just hiking. I wanted to be able to photograph the places my running takes me and where it takes others. This often means getting out in nature and of the beaten path.

When you are running and trying to photograph your adventures it can get complicated. There are specific things you need for long distance adventures like food and water and you need to be able to carry that with you out in the forest where you will have no access to it if you don’t bring it with you. And when you are running you can’t really carry a 300mm lens attached to a DSLR while you are trail running. You can’t even really carry a regular size lens like a 18-200mm zoom lens on a DLSR with a battery grip. You can’t really carry something like that in your hands while you run for an extended period of time. What if you fall or just drop it into a stream or off a ledge? And how would you get to your food and water if your hands are full of camera gear?

Mt. Tom Challenge

Trying to find the right combination of running gear and photography gear means compromises. And sometimes compromises that are less than satisfying at times. I first found a small Nikon mirror less SLR that I could fit into my belt pack as I ran. That was annoying as the weight caused it to bounce around at my waist as I ran. However, it did allow me to capture some pretty good images even on my first attempt at this pursuit.

I then upgraded my running gear to a hydration vest for longer adventures and this allowed for a more secure location to put my small camera. I also began using GoPro cameras to create time lapse footage and capture candid moments as well as create some video components. The GoPro cameras were a nice addition but they did not allow for the control that I would have with an SLR style camera and both the GoPro and the mirror less camera I have been using do not have quite as high quality image capacity as I would like either. I also always worry about getting stuck out in the rain with my mirror less camera and having that get ruined as my iPhone was. That is the advantage with the GoPro cameras they are designed for this type of adventuring and can withstand it physically but then there is a compromise with what you can do with them and the image quality of photographs.

Hyner View Trail

I would like to find a system that would allow me to carry one of my DSLR cameras with a smaller wide angle lens attached perhaps in a small backpack format. I really a have not found many options that might work like that. It would need to be a relatively small backpack that can be tightened down to not bounce around while running and it would also need to be able to carry food and water. And on top of all that the camera and food and water would all need to be easily accessible. I don’t want to have to stop incessantly to get different gear out. I need to be able to do this literally on the run. I found one option that might possibly meet some of those needs but not all. So that would create yet another different type of compromise.

Another possibility is investing in adifferent type of camera, yet again. One that meets more of my needs. Thechallenge there is two fold. First is it a good financial strategy to constantlybe trying to upgrade or change gear in order to meet the goals that I have. Theother concern is that if I buy new gear I then have to learn how to use it. Tosomeone who is not a photographer it might sound silly to say I have to learnhow to use this new camera. I mean, it’s just a camera push the shutter andtake picture right? But unfortunately every camera is at very least minimallydifferent to operate even if you are using ones from the same manufacturer. Iuse mostly Nikon cameras and each one of them is from slightly to drasticallydifferent. The biggest difference is in switching from a DSLR o a mirror lesscamera system. So then if I ended up having to buy a camera from a differentmanufacturer to meet my needs that differences could be even more exaggerated.So then on top of learning a new camera there is the challenge of masteringeach camera and remembering it between uses. You don’t use all your gear allthe time. Some items are for special purposes. So if you don’t use it all thetime you have to re-familiarize yourself with the camera so you can rememberhow to use it especially if you need to be able to operate it on the fly. I amnot sure that is practical or even a good idea.

STRC Trail Fest at Grist Iron

I love photographing running events with my DSLR and 70-200 mm f2.8 lens. Ideally I would love to find an option that would allow me to carry that lens and food and water so I could run a course with the runner and photograph them at all different pints as they move through the course. But I just don’t know if that is something that will ever happen.

There are just so many variables that need to be considered and addressed. I am hoping that as I see more and more people out there trying to do things similar to what I am doing that more and more options will become available. 

Does it mean that I have a unique creative vision that I can’t find the gear that allows me to do what I want or am I just crazy for wanting to try to do something that just doesn’t seem possible?

Lucifer’s Crossing

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.