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.