Driving up route 120 north of Lock Haven, the territory was familiar looking, as it was only a few months ago that I made it through the Hyner Challenge. When I saw the hang gliding launch pad, I smiled.
Hello old friend.
But today, the imposing peak would not be climbed, this was just a 10k.
Nothing is ever JUST anything. Just a half marathon, or ironman, is still pretty far. And when the organizers of this race call it the hardest 10k, they’re not playing around.
This event isn’t nearly as large as the Hyner, with about 250 pre-registered. But make no mistake, this is a trail challenge worth your time. Short course is supposed to be a hard-out effort the whole way for a competitive runner, and this course puts that reality to the test.
I was glad to finally meet someone in person that I have communicated with via facebook. He’s a vision of my hoped-for future. Jim Conway is a Methodist pastor and ultrarunner, who knows what it’s like to be 100 pounds heavier. Need I say more? There is a chance you can see his name on the start list for Badwater 2014.
Meg and I shared a Camelbak. The heat wave hadn’t yet broken and the race start was 10am. There is one aid station located at the top of the climb, and I thought it best to have my own water. As my best 10k time is around 90 minutes, I figured 2.5 hours for this one. Take the water.
The hour arrived, we lined up in the same spot as the Hyner start, the countdown went off, and we ran. Instead of leaving the WCSA road and crossing route 120, we turned back to the hill we were already on, and went up an entirely different trail than I had experienced in April. Here’s the course.
3+ Miles Straight Up
The ascent was pretty straighforward. No single track like the Hyner Challenge, instead we had wide trails that could accommodate two to three people side by side. But I am not kidding when I say that a good two miles of the three, were so steep, it may as well have been a stair climb. But like Wayne and Cassandra, my wishes were shattered.
I won’t say that the climbs were harder than Hyner, that would be insane. But something about the constant, straight-up, no relief nature of this climb, with fewer than I’d say 100 yards of anything resembling flats, it was very challenging to me. I wasn’t alone. There were a few folks behind us the whole way. There was a teenage girl with her Dad slightly ahead of us that we leapfrogged a few times. They would stop often. I was trying not to stop too much, but I’d say maybe 5 times, I just stood to rest the legs. I didn’t have a HRM on, but I know I was in zone 4-5 a lot of the time, just slowly going step by step.
About 1/4 mile from the aid station was a spring right along the trail, where I refilled our camelbak with cool water. That helped. Finally we reached the red tent, which was definitely more than 3 miles. My garmin read 3.47, and others had reported similar distances prior to us. Of course, trail runs are never as exact, we all do the same course, no big deal. But I had to re-assess my goals for finishing times.
Having had a less panicky climb than any one of the three Hyner climbs, I decided it was time to try trail running. I wasn’t going to let my fear rule me like I did in April. It’s supposed to be 3.7 miles down, and as long as it isn’t as steep as what I just came up, I’m going to give it at least a fair jog.
Once more into the breach dear friends! And off into the woods. As we came around a tiny winding bend, the trail began to descend, and I said to myself “OK, run time.” I picked up my feet and ran a step.
Gimme Three steps, gimme three steps mister, give me three steps toward the door…..
Four steps! And I’m flying through the air, and crash hard on my right leg.
Yes indeed, the mysterious magnet in my right knee that is determined to pin itself to the earth was activated, I caught my toes on a rock and went down hard for a bloody crash on my knee and shin. I let a couple choice words fly, and sat there for a minute. I felt very warm sun on my face, and when I stood up I noticed that we were right at a rare vista at the top of this mountain. It was as if the mountain was telling me “hey tough guy, be real. You’re not that fast, so just stop here for a second and take a look around.”
Once we moved on from this spot, it was truly all downhill, and I got into a decent rhythm. I’m sure I looked as penguin-y as ever, but it was a solid improvement on my descents at Hyner. The trail was, for the most part, wider, but as we got past the 4 mile mark, we started to get into true single-track. Some was rocky, some was mossy, some was covered in pine needles. Each had its own challenge, but I pressed on.
When my garmin read about 4.7 or so, we came upon some stopped runners. There were two presenting issues. The first was the apparent ground nest of yellow jackets on the trail. We were warned of them. I spotted them, determined them to be few, and ran through without incident. Meg, however, treated the scene more like this:
She got around the nest off the trail, but the next situation was more concerning. A number of runners were gathered slightly off the trail, with one looking like she had taken a fall. We stood with them for a few minutes, and offered help in the way of water and salt tabs. There were other runners coming toward us that had been summoned from the finish line by Jim (you met him earlier in this race report). Water was plentiful, fast runners were all around, and a 4wheeler was brought to the closest possible point on the trail. Usually in situations like this, I am one of the take-charge aid givers, but in this case, charge had been taken, and we were just going to be standing in the way. So we moved on. This part had a happy ending. The injured runner walked out to the ATV and crossed the finish line, went to the hospital, and reported her release on the facebook page.
The course continued mostly downhill, but as we got close to the water, there were small, steep ups and downs. The only anxiety I had was approaching the last bridge over the creek where the moist ground had been run over by 200 others, and with its steep pitch, made me really slow down. I showed Meg that this step-by-step tentativeness was how I did all 16+ miles of Hyner. Today it was less than 1% of my total steps. This was definitely major progress.
There was some steep bank climbing before the absolute home stretch, but finally we could run in the last piece around the parking area. I told Meg to go ahead of me if she wanted, and she finished exactly one minute ahead of me.
Did Nigel Tufnel design this course?
As I ran along the path behind the post-race activities toward the finish line, my watch buzzed 7 miles.
10k eh? Yeah, OK. This one definitely goes to 11.
Speaking of rock and roll, I could hear a DJ in the pavilion, and the last song that played before I crossed the finish line was You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet. I felt that was appropriate. That’s been the theme song of my first three years in endurance sports.
We didn’t break 2:30, but we were under 3:00. My official time was 2:51:12
I had one competitive goal: just beat the five year old girl and her Dad carrying the two year old on his back. We got across the line a few minutes before them, so that worked. They had family at the finish line who invited us to the birthday party for the two year old that was in the pavilion. How cool a trail running family is that? I thought the party hats were for two-time Sproul winner John Johnson who turned 41 the day before!
The best post-race activity this side of a massage
Once a man is walking around in public around fit people, with a sweaty tech shirt clinging to every nook and cranny of his portly, corpulent frame, there is little that can embarrass him.
So yeah, of course I wanted to do karaoke.
That DJ I heard was the karaoke guy playing songs between performances. OK, I know I’ve mentioned the need to get drum circles started at trail runs, but post-run karaoke is in the ballpark.
Now, if I spent as much time training as I did to select a song, I’d be faster. First it seemed obvious: very large, sweaty, overly dramatic guy? Meatloaf. I should sing something by Meatloaf. But all of his songs are pretty long in comparison to radio friendly hits, and I don’t like people standing around waiting for me to finish already twice in one day. Next choice: I used to be a decent choral baritone, so The Doors or Pearl Jam fit. But then it hit me: I always run listening to Foo Fighters.
And that is how it came to pass, that on the afternoon of July 20, 2013, the hills of Clinton County echoed with the sounds of this overdone version of My Hero, dedicated to the five-year-old girl who ran the race, and watched the whole painful performance with a genuine smile on her face.
Little Kerrigan gives me hope that the future isn’t all kids sitting in front of video games.
As of Sunday evening, my hips and legs were sore like they haven’t been in a long time. Maybe there was some use for that Hoveround email I got last week. I’ve run longer, I’ve run in heat. But the climbing, oh the climbing. It definitely took a lot out of me. Even though the time itself is nothing to get too excited about, I am confident in saying that I gave a full effort on this day. I’m feeling it.
The Trails Beckon
I want to be a trail runner. It’s much much harder for me than road running. I know it is for everyone, but the delta has been wider for me with this. But when I got into endurance sports, it wasn’t to do something I was already good at. It was to challenge myself to conquer new things. Just running is hard enough, but trails are an entirely different sport. And they bring a more self-selected subset of the running community. Trail runners are easily my favorite people. I love the triathlon community and the general running community, but trail people are truly special.
Meghan and I are planning to do the Dam Scramble in late August. My original intent was the 18 mile course. When we got to the 6 mile mark on the Sproul, I told her “you know, the Dam Scramble is three of these.” We decided that the 11 mile course is probably long enough for now, and still worth the drive. Originally I had the attitude that since I did the Hyner, I had to go longer in August or it “didn’t count.” We know that’s silly, and now that I have had a little more experience attacking those trails with less fear, I can improve in so many ways, it’s not always about the distance.
Remember, there’s no such thing as JUST 11 miles.