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.