Sunday, October 11, 2015

My best trail friend

He always pushes the pace 
He never minds stopping for a break
His enthusiasm for the trails is unmatched - including hills
He never complains 
He is a great listener
He doesn't mind getting lost
He thrives on technical terrain 
He likes getting wet
He's polite to strangers - unless they're not  polite to me
He'll go any distance 
He always checks on me 
He's never in a rush
He likes a long nap after a good run 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The 2015 Hyner Challenge Race Report

The winter of 2014 had the 2nd highest snowfall in history for Philadelphia.  It was the winter we lost power for 6 days and I begged my husband Mike to pack up the kids and dog to move south.  We were stir crazy that winter and I swore that the next would be different.  With no success in my pleading for a new home by Labor Day, I had convinced Mike and a couple friends from our CrossFit Box to run the Hyner Challenge in April 2015.

I first heard of the Hyner in June 2011 reading an article about it in Outside Magazine called Trail Hog. I'm pretty sure this is where I was hooked:

   “The Hyner View Trail Challenge,” he said. “People come from all over to run up the hill.”
   “What hill?”
    He pointed out the window of the WCSA’s newly constructed Nature and Environmental Center to a black wall        
    looming above the Susquehanna, a spot so high that it draws hang gliders from all over.
   “Nobody runs up that hill,” I said.
   “Sure they do. We had about 750 runners last year, from 18 or 20 states. They run up that hill then down the other side.     They run all over. It’s about 4,300 feet of vertical gain over 16 miles. It’s brutal.”
   “Why the hell would anyone do that?”
   “I run in it,” Werts said. “It’s fun.”

Our son Michael was 3 and daughter Mary was 2 when I read that article in 2011.  Reflecting back on that time I can understand why Mike looked at me like I had lost my mind after telling him that I thought we should run Hyner together.  But by 2014 the kids were older, we were both feeling good from training on the trails, and thought an April race would be motivation to get outside in the winter to avoid the blahs we had experienced the winter before.

Fat Ass Half Marathon on 3/21/15
I started running the trails almost exclusively after Thanksgiving.  I bought Yak Trax and made a pact to myself that cold, snow, and ice wouldn't keep me from hitting the trails.  I was raised in upstate NY which I felt gave me a super power against the elements (that super power expires when you haven't lived there in 15 years).  Santa brought me new cold weather running tights and tops.  Mike bought me windproof pants which were game changers.  I got legit running gloves and cozy Smartwool socks.  Most important, I found a couple running partners who were equally crazy/interested in running outside all winter.  We spent many hours of our weekends on the trails of the Wissahickon Valley Park.  I also started training with a coach who was programming a combination of trail running, strength training and CrossFit.

By April there were 3 of us still committed to the race: Mike, our friend Bryan, and me.  We had been hitting the trails regularly all winter, were doing targeted work-outs that included hill repeats, trail runs with burpees mixed in and ran a "fat ass" trail 1/2 marathon put on by a local running club called the Wissahickon Wanderers on March 21st that was unexpectedly in 5 inches of fresh snow.  Despite that prep I knew that our terrain in Philadelphia didn't touch what we would see at Hyner with a 4226' elevation gain.  We hadn't climbed more than 1000' total in any of our runs.  I did have confidence that my strength training program had me in a better place than running alone.

Mike, Bryan and I piled into our car late Friday night and left from the outskirts of Philadelphia for our 4 hour drive to Hyner.  As we approached our destination, we drove through the lovely town of Lock Haven where the guys remarked at how many nice hotels we were driving by.  It was dark when we pulled into "Heavy's Mountain View Motel".  The car was pretty quiet as we pulled into the parking lot.  Bryan asked, "Where do we check-in?"  Silence.  "I think the bar," Mike replied.  We got our portable electric room heaters and settled in for an attempt at sleep before an early wake up.
Our motel

We had our make shift breakfasts, told stories of the restless night sleep (I slept like a rock), foam rolled, and packed up.  There were some other racers in the parking lot who had similar faces to Mike and Bryan as we were leaving.  We had a short drive to the parking area at the Eagle's nest to pickup our bibs.
Smiles before the race
It was pretty chilly in the early morning but we knew the temps were going to rise quickly.  We met a nervous mom and daughter parked next to us racing for the 1st time and took some family pictures for them. We commiserated about the mountains that surrounded and were a bit in awe of what we had ahead of us.  After shedding our cozy jackets, we had a short walk to the WCSA for the 9am race start. We passed the sign to the trail that would take us to our eventual finish in 5.5 hours.

The start
Since we didn't know what to expect, we lined up in back 25% of the field of ~1000.  At the start, we thought we would be running most of the race with the exception of the big climbs and didn't want to hold anyone back.  The people around were exceptionally friendly and wishing each other a great race.  Mike and Bryan were teasing me about going out too fast and not sticking together.  We sang the Star Spangled Banner - my favorite before a race - and were off.

View of the bridge
The first mile of the race is on the road and crosses the Susquehanna River.  It's always a challenge for me to not get swept up in the excitement of the start and keep pace.

The running was short lived when we reached the trail head and were bottle necked getting in to the trail.  It was really exciting to go under the Hyner sign.

There were short bursts of running, but it was mostly a hike on the trail that lined the cliffs looking down on the river.  People were chatting and getting to know each other.  We even met a couple from Philadelphia who were doing their 3rd Hyner.  I thought it must be good if people keep coming back!

The ~1 mile climb up to the View was steep and we foolishly passed many people going up.  Most of the clouds had burned off by the time we reached the top and the view was amazing - as advertised.  We stopped at the aid station and then started the 1st descent.

 I was nervous about a nagging sore knee.  During that long 1.5 mile downhill full of switchbacks I felt like crying.  My knee felt terrible.  Mike was ahead of me and I knew he had his own knee concerns so I decided against telling him.  It was as if didn't say say it out loud maybe I could tell myself it was in my imagination.  My goal was just get to the next aid station at mile 9 and re-evaluate there.  Looking back it took 45 minutes to go up and less than 15 minutes to go down. The next couple of miles through the Hollows were really nice - with tall trees and a quiet stream.

We started Johnson Run trail which had many stream crossings - some bigger than others and we quickly abandoned trying to keep our feet dry.  There were spots where we could run, but there was allot of hiking.  When we started climbing on the single track it was a conga line slog where we had our heads down and were trudging up, up, up one foot at a time - and it was miserable.  I was behind Bryan and noticed that his feet are HUGE - size 14!  However, my knee felt much better going up than down so I found solace in that.  Mike, did not.  When we reached the top of Johnson Run and the aid station he was grumbling about calling it quits.  Bryan asked if I thought he really was going to stop.  I said no way.  I told Mike I was proud of him no matter what he decided and left him to a volunteer who gave him some peanut M&Ms.  I'm not sure what the volunteer said, but a couple mins later Mike had a smile on his face and we were off.  The volunteers are Hyner were incredible.

There's always something that shifts for me when I'm more than halfway through a race.  We were really warm by this point with temps in the 75-80 range.  As we went through Post Draft Hollow it felt good to have a little breathing room and not be on top of other people.  We ran more until we got to Garby Trail where we got bottle necked again.  It was single track with switchbacks and really tough to pass.  The woman at the front of the pack was barely moving and we were stuck again.  Finally, we arrived at S.O.B. and were able to bear crawl up.  I found S.O.B. to be the most challenging climb of the race.  Mike loved it.  At the top of S.O.B. is an aid station where we took our time.

The last miles of the race are very runnable and I was ready to run.  I said good bye to Mike and Bryan and took off.  It hurt more to go slow at this point than to be at a normal running pace.  The final run down Huff Run got a bit congested, but I let gravity take over and passed runners.  I saw lots of people cramping and slipping due to fatigue.  The asphalt felt like a dream and crossing the bridge again was allot of fun.
 I made the familiar turn into the trail heading toward the finish line.  The last little climb on the finishing trail seemed like a cruel joke!  I finished in 5:08, Mike and Bryan were in 2 minutes later.

The after party at Hyner is pretty special.  The crowds cheer you in and then there is a big bbq with craft beer and a huge dessert table.  We hung out for awhile and talked to people before heading back home.  I'll be back in 2016, Mike and Bryan TBD!

Lessons Learned:
1. Start MUCH further up in the field if I want to run more and avoid some of the long conga lines.
2. Enjoy the hiking and conserve energy on the climbs.
3. Hill repeats in training are worth it on race day!
4. Expect to hike.
5. Don't wait so long to write a race report because I will forget the details.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Escarpment Trail Run - 2015 Race Report

My dear high school friend, Jessie's mom went to a trail running camp last summer.  At the end of the race Jessie was talking to some of the camp leaders who said their favorite race was the Escarpment Trail in Catskills, NY.  Jessie passed it along to me and said, "You should do this."  So, that's how it all began.

The Escarpment Trail Run is famous for it's challenging climbs and technical terrain.  It's also well know for it's longevity of 38 years, low key vibe, qualifying standard, and entry process with a series of envelopes exchanging hands with the Race Director Dick Vincent before you are invited to register online.  The website description of the run is one that I can only describe as brutally honest and the run was completely as advertised.

"THE ESCARPMENT TRAIL RUN IS FOR MOUNTAIN GOATS ONLY!!! The Escarpment Trail is a very remote, rugged hiking trail in the Northern Catskill Mountains in New York State." 
Starting with wave 13 at 10am

I was pretty nervous at the start of the race, but knew Mike was worried about me so I tried to put on my, "I totally have this.  It will be fun.  No big deal.  See ya in a couple (6) hours!" face.  
He always tries to crack a joke or something to make me laugh and I'm like, "Just BE here."

There were a series of lies told me to me during this race by my friends on the trail.  The 1st was that the start of the race - where a guy huffing and puffing on his 3rd Escarpment told me that the initial 3.5 miles were the toughest.  I know by now to take these comments with a grain of salt.  However, when I look at the data, I can kinda see why someone might say that.  It's close to 3.5 miles of climbing.  The grade isn't as steep as the other climbs so it didn't feel like the most challenging part of the run to me.

The description continues, "This single track trail crosses no roads, has total elevation changes of nearly 10,000 feet, and requires all aid to be backpacked in by volunteers....."

The volunteers are truly amazing at this race.  They carry in water and food to 7 remote aid stations.  Mike made some friends at the start and they hiked to the third aid station at the bottom of Blackhead Mountain.  This station is manned by the Lost Patrol, named this because of the multiple times different incarnations of the team have gotten lost on the way to the saddle.     
"THE TRAIL... is viewed by many as an exaggeration of the term. It is extremely rocky and a runner must expect to navigate over boulders, downed trees, gullies and hidden roots the entire distance.  There are sections of the course that travel along cliffs. If you're not careful, you could fall to your death. Very few runners go the distance without taking at least one painful spill. ........"

I remember reading that description of the trail and thinking, "That sounds fun!"  I didn't fully grasp how 18.6 miles of that technical of a trail would feel.  The climbs and descents were tough, but there were very few mental or physical breaks even when you could "run".  I compare it to people telling me about sleepless nights with a newborn and then experiencing sleepless nights with a newborn.  You just can't understand it until you've gone through it - no matter how accurately it's described.  Speaking of newborns, I remarked at the top of Blackhead that the climb was reminiscent of childbirth - a long, hard slog, full of panting, pain, praying for it to end, and then finishing with joy when it's over!  

"THIS IS NOT A CARRIAGE TRAIL... it is a treacherous hiking trail. There won't be a vehicle to fetch you if you if you should decide to quit and it is your responsibility to get to the finish line.This is not a Run-For-All and we are not trying to hype it or make it something it is not." 

Let's talk about downhills and treachery.  I was somewhat prepared for the climbs from doing the Hyner View Trail Challenge in April with Mike and our friend Bryan.  I was nowhere near trained for these type of descents.  The downhills were steep and rocky, in some spots requiring me to get on my butt, put one hand steadily on a one side and the other with my stupid water bottle on the other, and then jump down to the next ledge.  The slippery rocks got me a couple of times and I became more cautious as the race progressed.       

When we got to the famous airplane crash site, I felt such relief because I'd been told lie #2 that it was really run-able from there to the finish.  Lies!  The plane signaled the last big climb, but the remaining miles down were still very technical and challenging combined with the fatigue.  
Airplane crash site at the 

"There won't be people telling you where the trail goes, doctors to wipe your blisters, or a bus to give you a ride to the finish if you decide you can't continue. This is a wonderful run across wonderful country, a run in which we will share the experience and the friendship with those qualified runners who choose to participate. No awards, no age group categories. Just runners, mountains, and some refreshments at the finish line."

I talked to allot of people on the trail.  Trail runners are friendly and a big part of what attracts me to these types of races.  I passed men, women passed me, I passed younger people, a guy who said he could be my father passed me.  It was good - everyone had a smile or at least a nod of understanding and camaraderie.  I talked to 2 guys who are also doing the SOS triathlon in September and 1 who volunteers every year.  It was a welcome distraction that got me through the last few miles.  

I could hear the announcer at the finish and was so looking forward to crossing the line to see Mike and the Weatherwax family.  Since Jessie gave me the idea she was coming to cheer me on with the rest of her family - awesome friend!  I got excited and started picking up the pace a little and before I knew it I was flat on my belly with the wind knocked out of me.  I made it 18.5 miles and took my biggest wipe out in striking distance of the finish.  I escaped with only a big bruise to my thigh (and pride).      
Jessie captured me at the finish and it really shows how I felt - exhausted and relieved!

Am I glad I did it?  Absolutely.  Will I return next year? ....

Lessons Learned:
1. HYDRO PACK.  I need 2 hands for scrambling in these types of races.  My hand held water bottle almost got thrown over a cliff a couple of times, but I was scared of bad karma for littering.  
2. PACK AHEAD and use a checklist the same way I would for a tri.  The little town of Hunter had no blister band-aids or GU, both of which I had forgotten.  I took simplicity a bit too far this time.    
3. NEED TO WORK ON CLIMBS and DESCENTS.  I felt good, but got passed allot going up and down.   
4. DON'T GET COCKY.  Biggest fall right before the finish?  Stop paying attention AFTER crossing the finish line!  
5. SUPPORT.  Having supportive and amazing friends encouraging me made this race super fun.  Thank you Mike, Jessie, Bryan, Addie, and Abe!  Post race burgers and fries were pretty good too!

Photo courtesy of Jessie Weatherwax.  Jumping in the lake was AMAZING!  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What's next?

November 2014....

It's been a couple weeks since my Ironman Princeton journey ended.  I really enjoyed that race.  It was long enough to be challenging and short enough to still be a fast paced push.  As I was in the midst of races I was thinking, "OK, double this distance and you've got an Ironman."  My mind says, heck no to that.  My body says, sure I could do that.  My mom/wife voice says probably not now (yikes, there's a probably in there.  I noticed that too). So, that answers that for now.

But, what's next?

I've been biking twice, running and did the Old School Trail Run last Sunday. Mike and I ran the 5 miles together and took it easy on the technical trails that we know well.  He has a creaky knee and my hip is angry at me for chasing my son on his newly christened 2 wheeler sans training wheels (Yes!  Future biking partner!).   We had to resist the urge to turn it up when people were passing us.  In the end we really enjoyed it and truly got to soak in the brisk morning temps, beautiful fall foliage in Wissahickon park and each others company (thanks to a very generous Grandmom who hosted a sleepover party for M&M).

In general, I've been enjoying my free time in the morning and evenings and weekends.  Kind of.  I feel a little.... lazy.  A little... unstructured.  There's a wild script that my brain runs through:

Am I losing all this fitness I worked so hard for?
Is it realistic to stay in this shape?
Maybe I should focus on my nutrition now?
Screw it, I'm sleeping in.
I should go run/bike/swim.
Does it make sense to do a brick for no reason?
I'm so scared of swim practice.  That's so dumb.

December 2014....

After a series of doctor appointments to check out a small broken bone and slight torn Labrum in my right hip, I was cleared to run again.  This was after about 6 weeks of sitting on my butt "resting", feeling VERY sorry for myself and googling every possible treatment while hoping for a resulting magical bionic leg that would give me crazy speed.  Luckily, none of that was necessary.  The surgeon told me that I have very normal, "36 year old active female who gave birth to 2 children hips."  Thanks.  I think.
Basically my little break and tear are there, but they're not going to get better with surgery so deal with it and manage pain.  So, on I go to start setting goals for 2015.  Big trail runs and one crazy Tri.