Spring is here in PA! We are just beginning to get green popping out of the ground (other than grass) as I post this about a week later, although in some places we somehow still had snow and ice on the ground for the race. To be specific: 1) on fast single track down hills, 2) on fast jeep road down hills, and 3) on super, super steep, hands-on-your-thighs uphills. But I am getting ahead of myself. Christy and I went to our first trail race of the season: Mile Run Trail Race. I had been looking forward to this race for a while after running all winter, most of time on the roads since the darn snow just didn’t go away (yes, I could put screws into my shoes and slog out some miles in Rothrock, but for the most part I didn’t). The vast majority of the snow and ice are gone in PA, and we were pleasantly greeted with nice weather in the 40s to low 50s for this race and no rain while we were on the course. At this point, I am just excited to be wearing tights (one pair, not two) and a long sleeve shirt rather than full winter gear. The good weather added to my overall enjoyment of the race. PA trail races are always great and this one did not disappoint.
The last time I ran this race was two years ago and it was my second trail race (any running race actually; seems like a long time ago). I remembered it as a pretty challenging course with some rock-studded stretches as well as some steep climbs. That said, I did remember it being pretty runnable. I remember that, along with two other runners, I couldn’t figure out which way I was supposed to go at the very end because the trail, in the loosest sense, veered out of the ravine we had been running down and straight up a rough, rocky section. Gatorade also gave me a stomach ache. That is about all that I remember.
I should be able to piece together at least a little bit more from this race. The different sections of a race always end up muddled in my head, so I consider it a win if I remember details in between the start and the finish. Below is a quick overview of the course from the Pa Runners website. It follows the typical PA trail race pattern of “up, down, repeat,” although Mile Run has flatter sections and less distinct bumps. I am pretty sure this is the right elevation profile (the course has changed over the past couple years). If I had a nice Garmin GPS watch, I could just show you what I ran. Instead, I managed to forget my $15 digital watch, so, I don’t even know how long it took me to reach aid stations.
After a nice, quick drive up from State College, we arrived at the parking lot and were greeted with a crowd of runners/hikers milling about. Ah, the sight of trail shoes, hydration paraphernalia, trekking poles, and the red Pa Runners inflatable arch at the finish line; it is time for a trail race. I said “hi” to a few people, heard a few words about the course (some of which I forgot), and then it was off to the proverbial races.
This ended up being a reasonably fast race from the start for me. I realize distance is all relative, but I have been running some ultras so this was a shorter race in the grand scheme of things. I knew a plodding pace wasn’t going to cut it, so I decided to push myself a bit from the start. I ran next to a few of the people I have run many races with, John and Jeff, and chatted a bit. Adam was right ahead of us. I remarked that his Orange Mud hydration pack looked a bit like a rocket pack with the two bottles sticking out. John said something along the lines of “Well, that just means we can take them out and throw them away.” Oh, trail camaraderie. You can see the pack on Adam (in red shorts, blue top) with me right behind him. The other two runners to the right also seem to be interested in it. It appeared to work out pretty well for him later in the race as he enjoyed water mid-run. I love my Ultimate Direction SJ race vest, but I decided to go without it for this race.
The road didn’t last long and we quickly jumped onto single track. For some reason, I suspect either structural weakness of the bridge over the stream or RD sadism, we did not cross the bridge and instead went right through the stream. I couldn’t do my usual mountain goat rock jump across the creek here since it was too wide, so it was wet feet from the start. If you can’t avoid it, live with it. We worked our way uphill, crossing a few of the rockiest sections. A trail studded with bread loaf-sized rocks necessitated some quick footwork and a gaze focused intently five feet in front of me. At this point, I was following the top female runner, who was wearing a bright orange coat and Adam was up ahead. I thought two other male runners were further up ahead, but it turned out it was just one, the overall winner who I only saw at the finish. I hung out behind both Adam and the woman for the majority of the rest of the race. The uphill section snaked through some low shrubs and cut up a switchback or two. The footing was a bit squishy, but otherwise the trails weren’t too bad.
We breezed through the first aid station at 3.25mi (according to the race website). I think I was the only one to pause, and I just grabbed a cup of water. The section between 3.25 and 6.5 has some ups and downs, but nothing that made me get too excited. I kept wishing for some steep Hyner or Rothrock-esque hills that would let me walk. There was a short section that bounced me back and forth across a small stream. It may have been possible to stick on one side of the stream for longer and make less crossings, but I was too preoccupied with keeping my damp feet damp and not wet that I didn’t notice. Here, along with the majority of the race, I wasn’t running with anybody, instead catching glimpses of Adam or the woman up front.
When we hit the aid station at 6.5, the friendly volunteers (including John’s wife) asked what I wanted. I asked if there were gels, but alas, no CarbBOOM gels like at the other Central PA races. I gulped some Gatorade and grabbed a couple pieces of papaya from a tray of trail mix. I was pretty much just following Adam as he ran in front of me and was trying to keep him within sight, so I was breathing reasonably heavily. Unfortunately, gasping for breath was not conducive to consuming the chunk of dried fruit I had tightly clutched in my fingers. Adam gave me a gel when I was running next to him, which I appreciated. I offered to trade my piece of papaya for it, but he decided that wasn’t necessary. Hopefully, some woodland creature enjoyed the fruit after I jettisoned it. I focused instead on the gel, but just after I opened the gel, I managed to drop it while cruising on the steep downhill starting around mile 8 and had to come to a screeching halt to retrieve it.
I think it was on a downhill here that Adam hurdled a log right in front of me. Since I felt pretty good and not crampy, I decided to also do it at full speed and (luckily) succeeded. Whenever I jump over logs while trail running, I think of the GIF from the whatisultra Tumblr page (check it out here).
I was expecting to see an aid station at about mile 9. I really had no idea where mile 9 actually was since I didn’t have a watch and my sense of time and distance isn’t much better than a two year old’s. Unfortunately, that aid station did not exist. Christy informed me later that little nugget of information was given out at the pre-race briefing, but somehow I instead just managed to hear the not-so-important bit about running a couple hundred yards on the road at the start before turning right. If we didn’t know which way we were going there, following the horde would lead us the right way. I didn’t realize this aid station didn’t exist until we were later starting on the final downhill stretch.
Just after mile nine was the steepest part of the course. The trail headed straight uphill through a patch of hemlocks. There were a few rocks, but the trail was otherwise pretty smooth. The only issue was this was where we ran into the most ice and snow we had seen. There were some patches of snow and ice elsewhere on the course, but they weren’t overly bad. I just had to be careful not to over commit on a patch of ice and have my feet slide out from under me. On this uphill, there were patches of 6”+ snow that killed the footing. After talking with Christy, I realized we had it easy since the race horde hadn’t yet pounded out all of the crustiness that at least gave us some semblance of grip. Other parts of the trail had ice right up the middle that forced you to walk on the edges of the trail. Adam and I both got down to hiking and powered up the hill.
The last aid station at mile 11 only had a table with some water containers (no filled cups) on it when we got there, so I didn’t worry about it and kept going. The last downhill put us back onto the trail we had first climbed at the start, so I got ready for the small rocky sections. Adam managed to pass the woman in front of us and I slipped by her as we moved through a rocky patch. Not a lot of interesting movement for places here. The trail continued downhill past where we had crossed the stream. This was probably the roughest section for most people because there wasn’t much of a trail, there were a ton of rocks, and the footing was soft. Most importantly, it was the end of the race, so who the heck wants to worry about not twisting and ankle or tripping on a rock?
After getting through the rough section, I entered the first of the tunnels and I could see Adam splashing ahead of me. The tunnels are unnerving because you can’t see where you are stepping, but the concrete was smooth and the water was only 2-3” deep. I saw pictures from last year of people swimming after the 2nd tunnel, so I made sure to veer sharply left after the second tunnel. I preferred to get back onto dry land instead of launching myself into the pool for a swim like a number of runners did last year.
The last part of the race is a brutal climb uphill on the road. It was not that long and definitely not technical, but I was tired and I had just finished running downhill for over a mile. I watched Adam plod away in front of me. I decided there was no way I was going to pass him and because nobody was behind me, I just kept pace with him and maintained the 80 ft gap between us until the finish.
After I finished, I caught my breath and watched as bunch of the runners I know like David, Ashley, Meira, John, and Jeff (plus some others) finished. I hung around for a little while and then headed down to see Christy come down the trail and hopefully get some pictures. I saw her coming down the trail and yelled at her. She didn’t look excited about the tunnel and I told her to stay left after the second tunnel. If Christy went for a swim, it would have made for a good picture, but an unhappy end to the race. I chatted with her a little bit on the road and then watched her finish.
We hung around the finish for a little while, chatting with people and grabbing some food. I am always curious what the food is like at races, so here goes. There were hamburgers and hotdogs coming off the grill and there were some Nutrigrain bars, soda, and water. Nothing spectacular, but that is OK, I just won’t get too excited about it. We didn’t linger too long and headed back home. All in all, this was an enjoyable race. The course is not as extreme as some of the other races, but still has its challenging parts. It was also great seeing all the other trail runners. Here is to a good season!
If you ran this race, let us know what you thought in the comments. If you want more information about the race, we will try our best to provide some!
Numbers: 3rd, 1:43:45