Oh my! Hyner Trail Challenge brought some interesting racing conditions. None that I've ever seen in my short racing career...If you are a Facebook friend, you might think I'm disappointed by the DNF (my first one) you already know about. But I'm not. This was the most fun I've ever had racing. For this girl, the conditions were INSANE. And I suppose this took the pressure off of any time goal, but I think I learned it is hard to have time goals or expectations for trail races - especially the first time you race a course. AND especially when rain, cold, wind, mud and water crossings are involved. And maybe because I haven't done many trail races. Suffice it to say, I am a very TIMID runner when it comes to mud and slippery conditions. So I stole and expression from Georgia Snail's blog for the title of this blog entry. Would I do the race again? You bet. Hopefully next year! Here's some details - it's a long one, so grab a beer or your favorite beverage:
A few days before the race, I headed east to visit my two brothers and mother. It was a very low key visit - lots of hanging out and TV viewing. The day before the race, my brother Kevin, his fiance Kitima and I headed from Rochester, NY to Pennsylvania for the race. We stayed in Lock Haven, PA. Kevin had all the planning done! It was really nice - I wish all races were like this.
We carbo-loaded at the OIP (Original Italian Pizza) - the bread was so good! And we made our way to packet pick-up, about a 25 minute ride from Lock Haven. It was a nice swag bag(gels, tech shirt, biofreeze sample, dried fruit packets). But no bib or timing chip. We would need to pick those up on race day morning. Kitima wasn't sure if she would race or not - she just finished her "A" race on her road bike the week prior and had not been running regularly. I think after packet pick-up, she let the race excitement convince her to give it a go. Plus, I don't think the two time Ironman could pass up what looked to be a fun race.
On race day morning, we left the hotel at 6:45am. After we packed up the car in some windy and cold weather, the rain started. Obviously the weather forecasters out East mean business. When they predict rain, it actually rains. We parked easily and used the porta-potties and walked to the race start. It was still raining and it was more windy. Thankfully, there was a building where we could wait for the race to start. All around us, we noticed a lot of people with trekking poles.
Of course, I assumed that some nice little hiking group had signed up for the race. Isn't that cute I thought. Instead, I should have been asking myself...what do they know that I don't?
20 minutes past the designated start time, we started. We made our way across a bridge over the Susquehanna River. And turned right onto a single track trail that was on a cliff overlooking the river and rail road tracks. Funnelling more than 900 runners from a road to a single track resulted in a lot of traffic jams. At this point, I shut off my Garmin. I knew this would require some patience on my part as it would likely be congested. Plus, my Garmin is like the runner it belongs to, it doesn't really care much for the rain.
To the immediate left of the trail was the side of a mountain (or hill) going straight up. And to the right, there was air. We were on a 16 inch ledge. If you were brave enough to look down, you would notice that there were emergency vehicles every 1/4 mile or so down by the rail road tracks. I assume to collect the dead bodies of anyone who lost their footing. It certainly didn't look like a fall you could survive. Through out this section, you could run a little, until you came to a complete stop. Usually this occured because of a rather muddy or slick slate rock section on the trail. I was not the only timid rock and mud dancer. I felt good though that you could run parts of it. And then the first hill was upon us - Humble Hill.
It really was a crapshoot as to how to tackle the hill. You could stay on the trail, but it was pretty torn up and muddy. Or you could go to the edges of the trail, but a lot of the grass was covered in leaves, so you didn't know what you were stepping on or into. For the most part, I stayed on the trail and thankfully the oxygen rich air and my slow pace did not require me to stop. I think the first hill was a 1400 foot elevation gain...and here you saw some of the magic of the trekking poles. They really helped some folks get up the steep hill. At the top, the winds howled and made the rain sting on any exposed skin. Lovely. But I was so anxious to make up some time on the downhill. It never crossed my mind that perhaps the downhill would be troublesome...with the mud and slate rocks...and here you saw the magic of the trekking poles the second time. It wasn't some cute hiking club. No, these were some Hyner Trail veterans.
The downhill was slippery. More mud than rock. Some sections required a side-step dance because they were so steep. And then it dawned on me. There was going to be no making up time on the downhills unless I became a lot more confident. Unfortunately, I need some more experience before I gain some of that necessary confidence. We then hit the hollow section of the course. Flat or gentle uphill. I was hoping to make up some time here. And well, there I go again, being very naive. This section was muddy and riddled with tree roots. And there was this creek that we crossed about 15 or more times. At first, it was fun to try to get across the creek without getting wet by using the rocks and logs. On the third crossing, I slipped and fell into the side of the creek bank and got my feet wet and my butt and hands covered in mud. And then it didn't matter how I crossed the creek and it actually got a lot more fun - just jumping in the water crossings to help me gain a little time. This section also required some ducking under trees that had fallen or jumping over (or onto) logs blocking the trail. It was way cool and different than the few Colorado trails I've been on.
The second (of three) ascents seemed to be easy. Other than the people traffic. Lots of congestion. I passed about 10 people on this ascent who had to stop to catch their breath. The trekking poles could not help them in that department. The second descent was ridiculous. This part of the trail was covered in more rocks than mud, but under the rocks was mud. It was slow going for this timid dancer. I did chick two 14 year old boys who looked like they wished they could be anywhere else than on the trail. One person passed me on this section and he and I would pass one another for a few miles.
The third ascent was memorable if only because the rain increased in intensity and it included S.O.B. Hill. This hill was right before the 12 mile aid station and it did require some true scrambling - using hands and your feet. I came to resent those trekking poles! But had such an awesome feeling of elation when I topped the hill. The wind howled, I quickly made my way through the aid station, grabbing two creme filled cookies (which became covered in mud because of the use of my hands on SOB hill...yum - mud + sugar). I was confused why people stopped and hung out at each aid station where the wind was whipping. Perhaps some of those people dropped out?
I made my way through a muddy puddle ridden road. I was hoping I was close to the finish line. I knew I had one more descent. I ran a little and didn't care about what puddles I made my way through. I turned right on the road onto a meadow and the wind was howling even stronger. At this point, I think the wheels came off. I was dejected and I noticed how wet and cold I was. I started shivering and my teeth were chattering. I couldn't feel my hands and thought putting my drenched gloves back on was a good idea. It took forever to get them back on...I made my way through a little forested area, tripping over a few tree roots, although at the time I thought they were grabbing me on purpose. I came to a paved road, where a volunteer told me I had 3 miles to go when I thought I had 2 miles to go. I don't know when I've ever been this cold. I ran up the hill a little and another volunteer, a fireman said, "How are you doing sweetie?" and I immediately broke down and said I can't finish. He nicely said, "that's OK, you are not the first and you made it further than a lot more folks. I'll take you to the finish line."
I got into his warm pick-up truck and knew it was the right decision. Even with the heat cranking, I shivered the entire 20 minute ride back. He was a real sweet man, proud of his son for racing in the conditions and told me the winner of the race finished in 2:20. He also tried making me feel better by telling me "vans full" of people dropped after Humble Hill (the first ascent) and that he was on this fourth jacket because of the rain...
My brother and Kitima were at the finish hanging with some of their friends. I was thankful the finish had showers - with warm water. I don't think I could have waited much longer to get into dry clothes. By that point, cars were allowed to the finish and Kevin and Kitima were sweet enough to bring the car to me!
So what did I learn?
1. When racing a course that requires scrambling, a hand-held water bottle is not the best idea.
2. I need more time on trials.
3. Gear can make or break a race. If only...I had a proper rain jacket, I think I could have finished.
4. I can have a fun race even if I don't finish the race.
5. When Coach says the elevation profile is ridiculous, it is not an exaggeration.
It was nice to be at a race with my brother and Kitima. And I hope we do it next year and that it doesn't rain!
OK, must sign off for the evening. I logged 34 miles this weekend before I start my taper for Collegiate Peaks 25 miler...I'll fill you all in later this week!