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.
Training for my first 50 mile race continues. I have several races built in as more serious training runs essentially prior to my 50 mile race. I “planned” other races into my training before I reach my date with a 50 miler, but I will admit most of them were not particularly strategic. They are more that I just want to run that race.
I am a little under a month away from the first race of my race season. My first race is a road half marathon. It will probably be my only half marathon and possibly my only road race. This will be the third time I run this particular half marathon, Skunk Cabbage Half. I have enjoyed this race in the past and I ran a PR there last year and achieved my goal of my first sub 2 hr half marathon. This year I would like to PR again. PR’s at half marathons have really been my only time goals at races these days. To that end I have been trying to be much more consistent and attentive to doing speed work during my training plan. I had speed wok on my training plan last year but I would not say I took a very good approach to it. Most of my gains in speed have simply come due to consistent running not by any specific strategy.
So far during this year’s training I have seen significant improvements in my speed at the 10k distance. I never really thought of this distance as on I could show much improvement in as I did not feel I had the stamina to run hard that long. I have generally focused on running longer and farther not necessarily faster over the last several years. My runs have been long but relatively slow. Earlier in the year on a cold wintry day I found myself running hard for my entire run because I was simply freezing cold and running hard was the easiest way to stay warm and also get done faster and get home and get warmed up. On that run I ended up running a 10k PR. Then I started incorporating speed work into my training plan. I decided to use fartlek’s as my speed work because I am not well versed in speed work, as in I basically no nothing about speed work, and fartlek’s seemed easiest to understand and easiest to implement. I decided to run 1 minute fast 1 minute rest fartlek’s for 4 of my miles on either 6 or 7 mile runs with a warm up mile in the beginning and at least 1 mile cool down at the end. Since I started that routine I have achieved multiple PRs at the 10k distance. Also depending on which running app you subscribe to Garmin or Strava I either PR’d or ran my second fastest time at the 5k distance on my most recent speed work, with the difference in times between the two apps being only 1 second.
To be clear I am not a particularly fast runner. I am very much a middle of the pack runner if not back middle of the pack depending on the race. But it is very nice to see these added benefits of speed work really showing up in measurable visible ways on my training apps. It really helps me to stay motivated and keeps my drive up to stick with these hard speed workouts. I have never really done much speed work and these are definitely some of the hardest workouts I have ever done. It is really easy to stop doing something hard if you don’t feel like you are getting results. I am glad to be seeing these results or I would be very tempted to give up on the speed work.
I am looking forward to seeing how this new emphasis on speed work translates to my first race of my season at my only race with a time goal at this point. Hopefully it results in another half marathon PR.
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.
I am half way through week 4 of my training plan with one short run and my first 16 mile run of the plan left for the week. Trying not to stress about the numbers during training this year as my goal race is a long way off and little differences won’t have an impact. I’ve only had one run where I really did not feel like running. Otherwise training has been going pretty well. I am trying to keep a little strength training and yoga in the mix with running.
Recently it has been frigid here in upstate NY and I’d prefer not to run on the treadmill but have been forced to several times already.
It’s been so cold lately that my brain tricked me into thinking 18 degrees seemed relatively warm and I should run outside. It was still crazy cold. I was running harder than I should be for a training run just to get warm and stay warm and ended up setting a 10k PR. That was not the plan. Despite the cold my Boco Gear hat and gloves kept my head and hands warm, however the rest of me could have used another layer. My neck especially could have used more coverage. Luckily its supposed to warm up to above freezing the next few days.
Regular training runs have been going pretty well. Long runs have been fine. I even added in my first round of speed work just for something different and to help me through a treadmill run, which I always dread. Today I ran harder for longer than I have in a while and the run felt pretty good. I probably could have even gone a little faster. Aside from being cold everything was clicking pretty good. Especially since this fast run was not planned at all I will definitely call this last run a small victory on the way to 50 miles.
Best of all I have been fortunate to share many miles with a variety of friends.
I have been writing a lot about my trail running experiences. I hope you aren’t getting sick of it because it seems to be a growing trend, especially as I explore new trails. I’ve written about how trail running has allowed me to and encouraged me to explore so much more of the natural world that I love so much. Today was no different.
Without running, but hiking instead the amount of distance one can cover on a trail in a reasonable amount of time is limited. If I was going to go for a hike would I choose to drive an hour to hike a few miles on some random trails in the woods or would I go to a well known state park where I knew that at least in those few miles I will be able to enjoy nice scenic views. I think I would probably choose a park. Nothing against state parks, I love them and go there frequently but that’s the point. I don’t see something new by doing that. There is less exploration.
Thanks to running I can cover 8 miles in a couple hours. So that is 8 miles of state forest land I can explore and discover for myself for the first time. Being able to explore that much nature in a relatively short amount of time is worth it to me even if there aren’t any majestic views. That all lead me to choose to go explore the Finger Lakes Trail through Danby State Forest.
I am not going to try to oversell Danby State Forest. I really enjoyed my time there, but I am sure it’s not for everyone. It is beautiful without being scenic, if that makes any sense. There are no grand waterfalls, or even small waterfalls that I saw along the FLT. There are no lookouts with wide open scenic vistas. You are in a forest just about all the time. There are trees of all sorts. There are roots. There are streams. There are flowers. And there are countless little spotted newts that I did not stop to take photos of but had I been out on a hike I surely would have. Being in Danby State Forest means enjoying the simple little things about nature. I didn’t even see any people until I had gone about 12 miles of my 16 mile run.
The run itself was very fun and interesting. I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t look at the map other than to confirm I could get a total of 16 miles in and stay in Danby State Forest. I didn’t look at contour lines or anything like that. Maybe I should have, but I am glad I did not. If I had maybe I would not have done it. My first thought when I began running on the trail was “oh nice this is rather runnable, not very rocky, no big climbs looming.” Then I started to go down and down and down. This was in the moment fine by me because I love downhill running and the trails were very runnable and I really enjoyed it. But it was one downhill after another without much climbing back up in between. I was loving all the runnable downhills but in the back of my mind I kept thinking “This is going to be a lot of climbing on the way back.” And it was. The first climb I came to I felt like it wasn’t so bad, but then climb after climb just wore me down. By the end I felt like I was barely able to move. I ended up with over 3,000 ft of vertical gain which wasn’t shocking but I was really thinking it would be more in the 2,000 ft range. I really loved the first half of the run with all the open downhill running. I just need someone to pick me up after eight so I don’t have to go back up next time.
I am looking forward to continuing to explore the Finger Lakes Trail, but as I explore it more and more I will need to drive farther and farther from home to reach new trail sections so that might make further exploration a continually growing challenge, but I will find ways to get out there and keep exploring. Maybe at Twisted Branch 100k next year.
When I first started running I never thought I would be doing the things I have done. They were not things thst I wanted to do. Some of the things I’ve done I didn’t even know were things people do when I first started running. Like trail running; that’s a thing? Running a trail marathon; people really do that?
As I began to run more I met more people. I made amazing friends. I learned more about running and the amazing things that runners really do. I learned about what the human body is capable of. More importantly I began to learn whst my body was capable of. I began to push myself farther and farther, literally. First a 5k, then a 10k, then a half marathon, several half marathons. I began to trail run more and more and conqured those same distances on the trails and thn pushed farther to 25k trail runs. Looking for that next challenge. Looking for that next beautiful trail I could experience. Wondering where tht next trail would take me.
Last year I was invited to participate in the event that really set all this in motion. My friend invited me to particiapte in an event with her and a couple other firends. We would run the Sehgahund Trail Marathon relay together. Once again, this was a thing that I didn’t realize even existed at the time. This was sucha fun event for me. It doesn’t get much better than spending time out on the trails with your friends working as a team. I don’t know if my fiend will think if this event with as much appreciation for the path it has sent us down as I do, but for me it was a formative event that has helped lead me to where I am now.
After building up by running loner distances last year culminatiung with a chalenging 25k I returned to the idea of Sehgahunda. We had all begun running more and more trails and I thought what if we all trained together and ran the full solo Sehgahunda Trail Marathon together. I almost couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth, and I don’t think my friends could either at first. A marathoin was never something I had thougtht about wanting to do. But now that the idea had formed in my head I just couldn’t shake it.
I spent all winter training and continued into spring. As the day of the race approached I began to feel nervous and anxious. I really has no idea what to expect. I just had to hope my training had me prepared for this. My wife was going to be at the race crewing and cheering me on at the aide stations and check points. Even though I really had no idea how this race would go for me I told her that I felt like if everything went well and I felt good I thought I could be done in six hours.
My friends and I spent the week leading up to the race watching the weather forecast for race day. The two conditions we were hoping not to have for the race was for it to not be too hot and for it not to be too wet. If it was wet we knew the trails leading to the aide stations/check points would be muddy disasters. We were fortunate enough to not have heat, which for me is the worst possible condition. However, we had plenty of rain leading up to the race including rain the night before the race and it actively rained during most of the race itself.
The trails that take you to the aide stations/check points lead you out of the woods and generally into open fields. The fields were completely saturated with water. It was a mud-fest. There was standing water in areas. The mud was at least ankle deep on most of these trails. You just slipped and slid all over. You couldn’t get any footing. You couldn’t push off because your feet just slid out behind you. As a mid pack runner another problem is that half of the runners are ahead of you so they have all already trampled through this area and degraded the trail a great deal. The traffic out in front on these trails basically created a narrow steep rut of mud to run through. You couldn’t step off to the side because it was so muddy that you slid back down into the trench. Gravity was doing its job. And it got more complicated. Not only did you have to navigate the water hazards and the deep slippery mud these sections were out and backs with two way traffic going down a path that especially due to the mud was basically single track. Trying to continue to move forward without colliding with your fellow runners was not as easy as it might seem. Combine this challenge with the possibility of passing other runners going the same direction as you and it was even more difficult. It basically became more effective to divert so far off the designated path that you were basically out in a field of knee high grass. But even that wasn’t possible most places.
On the way to most of the aide stations/check points you were going up hill. So, you were working against gravity in ground conditions that made it very to push off or use any power or strength to propel oneself forward as the ground just continued to shift under your foot as you pushed against it. The factors combined to result in a lot of walking up through the mud. On the way down from the aide stations/check points you were presented with a different kind of challenge. The mud was obviously still there but instead of going against gravity you were going with gravity down the hill. And instead of the mud preventing you from pushing off of to propel yourself up, now the mud prevented you from planting your feet to slow yourself down and control your descent. It was like mud skiing except there was much less control of direction and footing than with actual skies on snow. You slid and splattered down the hill at the best speed you could manage without completely losing control and either falling or colliding with a fellow runner. I’ve heard running described as controlled falling and this was as close to that as I have ever felt. The fall was barely under control but felt inevitable. However, I managed not to fall on any of those sections.
I thought that the main trails that ran through the woods would remain mostly firm with only a relatively small degree of mud despite the rain. I even advised my friend against running in her trail shoes with more aggressive tread for better grip in the mud because I thought the main trails would not be so bad as to require it and the side trails up to the aide stations would be so muddy that they wouldn’t make a difference. Luckily she was smart enough to ignore me and follow her own instincts. The main trail was much muddier than I had anticipated. I lost a shoe in a mud hole in less than two miles. I saw all the runners ahead of me running around this muddy spot and I thought it made no sense to take the extra steps to avoid it since we were going to get plenty muddy anyway. I ran right through the middle of the mud I went through it just fine. I didn’t slip at all. Unfortunately though one of my shoes did not follow me through those several steps and remained lodged in the mud. Being early in the race I was still moving along at a decent pace and despite my shoes being tied as tightly as I could get them my foot slipped right out and I took several muddy steps with no shoe on one foot. Then I had to retrace my steps and shimmy my foot back into my shoe.
I love the trails that make up the Sehgahunda course. They are almost entirely single track until the last 4 miles. The trails twist and turn and wind their way through the woods at Letchworth State Park. You get to see and enjoy so much gorgeous woodland scenery. You can see out across the gorge created by the Genesee River at times. You run along sloping ravines as you traverse the forest. You you run down into than back up out of countless gullies created by water runoff over the years. I was actually pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t more water in the gullies considering all the rain we had been having and were currently experiencing during the race.
I didn’t really have a plan for the race other than do whatever it takes to finish. I didn’t have a set plan to try to average a certain pace or anything. I started out the race running whatever pace felt comfortable. I wasn’t running hard but I wasn’t holding back either. I felt really good the whole first half of the race.
The race has a fair amount of elevation gain overall but there aren’t really any particularly steep climbs, which is good for me because I am not good at climbing and it always seems to just suck the life right out of my legs for whatever follows. Despite there being no steep elevation gains there are still some really nice long gradual downhill sections where you can pick up some speed and run faster. I was able to use these features to my advantage throughout the first half of the race.
As I approached the first side station/check point, about 6 miles into the race, I caught up to a couple of my female friends who were also running the full marathon. So I was able to chat with some friends out on the trail for a few minutes. At the aide station/check point I got one of my Calorie Bomb Cookies, that I made from the recipe in the No Meat Athlete Cookbook, out of my pack and ate and drank there. I said hi to my wife who was there to cheer me on and crew for me. Then I was back off on the trail.
After getting back down into the woods I eventually caught up to my two friends who I originally hatched this crazy plan with. We were able to talk for a little while out on the trail. We were all in good spirits. I also took some video of them running which I don’t know if they were aware of at the time. I continued to move along in the trails at a pretty good pace for me. I was just casually running down a relatively nondescript section of trail when I apparently failed to pick my size 14 foot up high enough to clear a root or a rock because I went down. I tripped and went straight down flat on my chest and face. Luckily I was able to brace myself somewhat with my outstretched hands like superman. Fortunately I was not hurt and I popped back up and continued to run. One of my fellow runners asked if I was ok and my response was that “I’m a professional faller at this point. I don’t get hurt.”
The large number of participants from our running club, Southern Tier Running Club, included several teams running the relay. The relay teams from our club included some very fast kids. Kids who are much faster than me on my best day. My friends and I had been talking about how long we thought it would be before I was passed by one of our club’s relay teams. Even with a 30 minute headstart it was only a matter of time before they overtook me. I said I would be happy if I stayed ahead of them for 10 miles. I actually did better than I expected. I didn’t get passed by the first member of one of our relay teams until mile 12. He went flying past me like I was standing still.
As I approached the 3rd aide station/check point at mile 15 I was starting to get tired. The plan here was to take the time to change my socks and reapply anti chaffing ointment to my feet because I have had problems with blisters on my past long runs. First I had to scrape the mud off my shoes just so I could get to my shoe laces. Changing my socks felt so good. It was much more noticeable than I had expected and even though I didn’t change my wet and muddy shoes my feet still felt dry and comfortable. I don’t know if that was a byproduct of wearing Darn Tough brand socks or what, but I was happy for it. The second half of the race was a little drier and less muddy so the change in socks was a good decision even though it took a significant amount of time to do. It also helps to keep your feet dry if you keep your shoes on while running which I managed to do during the second half of the race by keeping my weight more on my toes through the muddier areas. I was able to see my wife again and talk and absorb some of her positive vibes and every as she cheered me on and then I was off from the third stop.
The second half of the race was kind of a blur. The aide stations/check points were closer together and I took advantage of that. But the second half of the race felt like much more of a grind. Just trying to keep movingforward. It also seemed to have more elevation gain or at least more sustained segments of elevation gain requiring more walking. One part I do remember was falling once again on a very nondescript section of trail. Not doing anything that really should have lead to me falling. Just failing to pick up my feet. When I got up I saw another pair of runners standing over me and one said that they had just fallen there too. So it must have been booby trapped. At least I wasn’t the only one it took down.
At some point as the day progressed it began to get warmer and more humid down in the forest and when you emerged at aide stations/check points you could feel the cool breeze out in the open and we bantered with the great volunteers regarding their nice weather. I took some ice and put it under my hat and tucked some into the buff I was wearing around my neck to help me stay cool.
As I traversed the trails over the second half of the race what I knew to be my weakness became increasingly apparent. My hips and core muscle were getting tighter and increasingly sore. All the muscles you use to lift your legs and stabilize yourself in you pelvic girdle were screaming at me. I pushed on through the discomfort. I walked when I needed to on inclines and stretched my muscles as best I could at side stations/check points.
When I began the flatter section that was basically old logging road or gravel road or some combination of the two I knew I was getting closer to the end from the preview run I did here with my friends. Only about four miles to go. It was both a relief and a bit of mental torture. I was relieved to know the end was in sight but felt like how can there still be four miles. And those four miles seemed to drag on forever. But despite that the simple knowledge of how close I was to the end and the relative flatness of this section of the course allowed me to run at a reasonable pace and push myself to sustain it.
When I emerged from the woods onto the park road I was almost done. The finish was literally in sight. Just one more hurdle to get over. That last section of road included a not so small hill and it feels especially daunting after 25 miles. Who does that? Who throws one last hill in within the last quarter mile of a trail marathon? I was determined not to walk up that hill. I don’t know how fast or slow I went up that hill but I maintained some version of running all the way up. I am sure it wasn’t pretty.
As I approached the finish I saw my wife there cheering me on. She has been such a huge support for me during all this insane training. It helped push me across the finish just to see her. It was a great feeling to cross that finish and just stop moving for a minute. It’s a great post race vibe at Sehgahunda. Talking to friends who’ve already finished, waiting to cheer friends on through the finish, and cheering on other runners is a great way to finish off the day. Oh yeah, did I mention there is food and beer.
The other aspect of all this aside from the running for me has been trying to document as much as possible as a photographer. Race day was not a good day for photography so I did not take many still photos with my GoPro, but I did shoot several segments of video, which I honestly haven’t even watched yet to see how they came out. I’m hoping I can compile the footage into something bigger at some point. Race photos didn’t turn out great which is a bummer but I did some creative editing to try to make them look as good as possible and they accompany this post. I hope you enjoyed reading this way too long race report.
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