I have had about two and a half seasons of trail races now, but I have only raced Hyner (or more properly, the Hyner View Trail Challenge) once. This race is bigger and more “momentous” than Mile Run or Dirty Kiln, so I was more excited. 1200 25K + 150 50K runners makes the Hyner View Challenge a sizable trail race. And hills are fun.
This is long. I guess that is what happens with a memorable course. I blame the pictures. Synopsis: Ran the 50K, cramped on Johnson Run, recovered, finished 2nd, loved it.
If you stick with at least some of this, I used bolded titles to indicate when I am on the 25K course and when I am on the 50K course, so if you don’t really care what happened out on the loop, skip around.
Going into this race, I wasn’t sure what would happen. My training this last month had been anything but typical as I nursed a sore knee, plagued with self-diagnosed as “runner’s knee” that would flare up whenever I tried to run. The problem was, I couldn’t just go cold turkey on running since I still needed to train and race. It started to bother me just before Mile Run, so I reverted to old habits and jumped on the road bike. The rough parts of Mile Run certainly didn’t help my knee, so I hit the bike and took the week off before Dirty Kiln. What do you know? Racing Dirty Kiln wasn’t particularly therapeutic, so in the weeks leading up to Hyner, I primarily stuck to my bike and did a few long rides. To be fair, I did get some trail running/hiking in, and I pushed my mountain bike up Spruce Gap out in Rothrock (which is the first section of the Rothrock Challenge) and then rode back down the roads, repeating a couple times and messing around on trails in between.
However, long, sad story short, I was a bit apprehensive going into Hyner not knowing exactly what to expect. Was road biking going to cut it? I did count myself lucky in that I had at least been able to bike. I am sure a was not alone going into a race either ill-prepared or unsure of whether I had put in enough sweat.
As for the course, I knew what to expect for the 25K piece having run the course once as a race and once as a training run (or most of it). However, the extra 25K loop that contributes to the 50K was an unknown beast. I found some solace in the fact that the 50K doesn’t double the elevation gain from the 25K (4200’ and 7500’). From the elevation profile that I dug up, it looked like there were some runnable, flatter sections.
The other unknown was how it would work when I finished the 25K loop and hopped back on the 25K course. Passing people on singletrack can be difficult and I was a bit apprehensive. I knew the 50K start was earlier than in the past (not sure when it changed), so we would be joining up with a cohort of 25K runners that were faster than in the past. This part made me happy because I really wanted to minimize (or eliminate!) the puncture wounds and blunt force trauma that might result from passing somebody flailing trekking poles on a downhill. Nevertheless, I was still a little anxious because when I ran the Dam Full, the only times I really had issues tripping and straining muscles was when I was distracted passing people. Heck, those people were even nice enough to let me by. Mentally, joining up with the 25K runners would be a big improvement because I wouldn’t be out in no-man’s land. Who knows, maybe I would see Christy! Although she might not be happy about that and I would have to anticipate her attempt to check me off the mountain (if she had the energy) and shoulder roll out of the way.
This is what I was anticipating if I tried to pass Christy
Christy and I were blessed to be able to stay with my labmate Eric and his wife Jackie the night before the race. No 4:00 AM alarm for me! Their hunting camp is about a mile or two from the start. We headed up late Friday, but only after I frantically ran around and went through the mental running gear checklist: shirt, hat, shoes, shorts, under armor, more shoes, socks, race vest, do I need more shoes?, and so on. I pounded down some spaghetti in the car as we drove to pick up our friend Paul who we had convinced (tricked?) to run. For the past year plus, I have tried to convince everyone I know that had the audacity to bring up running around me to sign up for a trail race.
The woods are great!
The people are friendly!
There is food at the end!
You get to walk during the race!
But…I hadn’t had any luck up until now. I think we bugged Paul enough about Hyner that he finally decided to give it a go. After picking him up, we started the drive up to Hyner. I think we drove Christy a little nuts, Paul continually asking, “are we there yet?” and myself getting all twitchy like a little kid on Christmas Eve.
Rain splattered on our windshield as we wound or way up along the Susquehanna River. I had to keep reminding myself that the weather people had forecasted rain-free, and even sunny, skies at least through about noon. Granted, this was a relatively recent occurrence; when I obsessively checked the weather about a week out it was supposed to be chilly, maybe with rain (http://whatisultra.tumblr.com/post/74863933765/my-relationship-with-the-refresh-button-on-weather-com). I desperately wanted some pleasant spring weather to race in.
We hung out for a bit that night before hitting the sack to get much less than 8 hours of sleep. Adrenaline and caffeine will get me going in the morning, right? The next morning I did the quick pre-race ritual: made some oatmeal with bananas, drank some coffee, then made sure I had all the gear. Eric had already picked up our packets, which was great. Ready to go. I feared (probably rightfully so) that I was going to forget my race bib and pins at the cabin. Several times in the past, I have closed all the car doors before remembering I should probably pin my race bib to my shorts. I am just waiting for myself to look like I am racing as a bandit. Running the 50K was nice because the start was right next to the parking lot. No walking uphill to the start! And the porta pottie lines were short.
Race Start (starting on the 25K course)
We lined up and heard a few words from the RD, Craig, including a brief, touching tribute and moment of silence for a fellow trail runner that had passed away much too early. The trail should be clearly marked. As we got ready to go, I thought about another advantage of running the 50K, namely that I didn’t have to worry about standing near the front of the pack at the starting line and I avoided the crush of humanity that is the 25K start. At the start time, I glanced down at my watch to confirm we were close to 7:00 and then started jogging with everyone else.
The start of the race is on the road. Wide, open road. Luckily, all of us had only been running for less than 5 minutes, so everyone had a bit of spring in their step and seemed to be thinking, “Yippee, this is fun!” Coming back across bridge at the end of the race was going to be a lot rougher. Similar to the nonchalant lineup at the starting line, the pace was nice and relaxed. None of that mad rush to the start of the singletrack in the 25K to avoid getting stuck in a slow-moving conga line, and making sure to pass everybody carrying trekking poles.
I chatted with John for a little bit and saw David running up ahead of me. I had figured I would run with David for a lot of the race (if I could) since our pace is typically similar and he just makes good company. Who doesn’t want to run a race with friends? As we finished crossing the bridge, I saw David start to pick it up a little and move towards the front, so I decided it was time to catch up with him. I chatted with him a bit and then we all lined up in single file on the first bit of trail called Cliffhanger. This section is very interesting because it is cut into the steep hillside and runs pretty high above the river and the railroad tracks. There had been a slide during the winter, which some volunteers had cleared in preparation for the race. I looked for it the whole way, but couldn’t find it. I was perfectly happy with my position, I believe with six people in front of me, and another runner I know, Gary, behind me. I let everyone ahead of me set the pace and followed another runner I would run with almost the whole race, Jon, with David in front of him.
At the end of the straight bit, we took a left at the “Humble Hill” sign and I soon found myself hiking. I matched David’s pace and we made our way uphill, passing one runner on the first steep uphill, my calves already screaming. We passed another runner as we got to the flat middle “step” on Humble Hill and started running. I love this part of the course because there is time to enjoy the fantastic view of the river and ridges off to the left. The running helped my calves recover, which was good because we then headed up the last steep section to the view.
I was looking forward to the flat ground on the top and the subsequent downhill. I saw the lead guy disappear over the top, which was the last we would see of him (at least during the race, aliens didn’t abduct him). Approaching the view, I heard some hooting and hollering, which included both my name and David’s. I straightened up from my hunched-over position and saw Adam cheering us on. It was a nice surprise and he ran over to say “hi” to us once we reached the top. I wished him good luck in the 25K and didn’t even look around for the aid station. We were headed down.
Man, there were WAY more pictures at the view than anywhere else.
That first downhill was slick. Not because it was wet, so maybe more so metaphorically. You end up stepping on shards of shale and then just skid downhill. Had to be careful on this part. I was leading our group of three (David, Jon, me) and we went up and over the small hump at the bottom. At this point in the race, we were still humming along, so that little section of uphill didn’t slow us down.
I had almost reached the bottom of this small hill when I heard a commotion behind me. I just managed to catch David attempting, and nailing, a superman on the trail. He said he was fine, so Jon and I kept moving forward, but it appeared that David was slowly dropping behind us. I tried to strike a balance between turning around and peering through the tree to see if he seemed OK or was keeping pace with us and watching my feet so I didn’t face plant into a rock as we moved up Johnson Run.
Like a true trail runner, I avoided getting my feet wet at all costs, skipping from rock to rock as we kept crisscrossing the stream. Wait, maybe it is “like an uber weenie.” Eh, one of them, take your pick. I would fight this battle as long as I could.
Out on the 50K Loop
We turned at 7.5 miles in to do the loop. We started up Sledgehammer, which was a long and straight uphill. We powerhiked that bugger. All told, we climbed about 1350’ after the split (according to the elevation profile). There was an aid station around 8.5 miles in and we briefly stopped there. I filled up my water bottles, grabbed some Clif Shotbloks and then we headed off. The next section felt airy and open because we were running through a wide cut. It was a little difficult to tell where we should hike and where we should run.
I was anticipating an aid station around mile 12 because that what had been marked on the map. However, I had only printed out the map before we left State College, so I wasn’t able to read through any other descriptions to figure out if one was actually there. If Craig said something about it just before the start, it went in one ear and out the other. I kept waiting….and waiting…and waiting. Only when we reached the end of a long descent and started climbing again did I realize that those cases water bottles sitting by the trail WERE that aid station. Whoops. It was starting to get warm and I was draining my bottles. It was going to be awhile until the next aid station.
This loop had some great scenery. There were some pretty views and the trail from about miles 10-14 (estimate) felt open because a bunch of it was on what I think was an old logging road.
I count hills in PA races (how convenient that RDs consistently send us up and over ridges), so I told myself, “starting #3” as we began working our way up along Ritchie Run. This was a pretty little stream and it boasted some small, but picturesque waterfalls and cascades. I tried my hardest to appreciate it. The labored breathing got in the way. Sometimes the trail ran along the stream and sometimes it ran right through it. I hopped, skipped, and jumped my way around the water, but quickly got my feet wet. Sometimes the trail was smooth, sometimes it was studded with rocks. We took turns leading and when I led up Ritchie Run, I found myself consciously varying the pace, alternating between running and hiking. I felt like I would kill myself if I ran the whole thing, but walking felt too slow. I had to strike a balance.
Somewhere on the plateau of the 3rd hill, we ran across Amey, John’s wife. It was a nice surprise in what felt like the middle of nowhere.
We briefly ran on a gravel road. Man that felt weird. It was nice knocking out some time without having to worry about watching my feet. While not impossible to tumble on a road, it’s significantly harder. We sped through the aid station, but I definitely appreciated the water. I don’t think this aid station had Clifshots, which were what I had been sticking with because for some reason, I just preferred to chew things. I do love CarbBooms, so I grabbed one. Not that much later, we returned to the aid station we had passed through at mile 8.5. Shotbloks again! I set the gel on the table and picked up a package of Shotblok, muttering, “Uh, I’m going to trade this gel in.” I don’t think they were too worried, but in my tired state, I felt like I had to say something. I still had a couple CarbBooms tucked into my vest.
Unfortunately, two of the top 25K runners were at the aid station. Huh? What were they doing? I was pretty sure had been going the right way. It turns out they had gotten lost. We left them at the aid station, but they caught us as we cruised down Sledgehammer back to the 25K course. They seemed to be in good spirits, with one, Matt, telling jokes about eyeless and legless deer. Had to be there. At the bottom of the hill, we turned right and joined back up with the 25K course
Back on the 25K course
Two more hills to go. It felt good to be on the 25K course. I knew where we were and we were no longer by ourselves. Pushing up Johnson run, we passed a number of the 25K runners. I put some distance between Jon and I (not really intentionally), but that wasn’t going to stay the case. Things started to fall apart going up Johnson Run.
I first felt great passing people and moving uphill. Midway up, my calves started to cramp. I had only taken one S-cap so far. Shoot. That was the downside to passing so quickly as I ran with another person. Keeping a schedule to stay on top of your salt intake only helps if you actually look at your watch and think about it. I popped one S- cap and would take two more within half an hour to try and keep the wheels on. I heard about other people having cramping issues, and I think the warm sunny weather, which I certainly wasn’t used to, may have contributed (sort of how I felt about the weather: http://whatisultra.tumblr.com/post/84405125621/when-the-seasons-rapidly-change).
Towards the top of Johnson Run, it gets super rocky and I found myself hiking up a cascade of rocks. This is all fine and dandy unless you are cramping. I started to make a move to pass a group of five runners. I made it past two and then my calf began to seize. I ground to a halt and found myself dropping back to where I was and just following the group. With my cramping, I was perfectly content to just follow along. Jon joined up behind and soon said, “Ok, time to pass.” Well, if he was going, I guess I was too, so I piggy-backed on his “passing on your lefts.” I kept wondering when the stupid S-caps were going to take effect; the cramps just weren’t going away. My cramping built to a crescendo and brought me to a complete halt at the top of Johnson Run. I stepped off the trail and massaged my legs. I probably wasn’t stopped all that long, but it felt like an eternity as I watched 25K runners I had just passed run by.
The next aid station saved me. It was my oasis in the middle of the desert. It was also a surprise. For some reason, I had forgotten there was an aid station at the top of Johnson Run. I heard the cheering through the trees and managed to hobble into the aid station with stiff legs to avoid cramping. In the aid station, I went straight for the bananas. I was hoping that the bananas would solve my cramping issues, so I crammed two banana halves into my face. Water plus Shotbloks and I was good to go.
This was basically me except I stopped after eating 1 banana. (Start at 0:39)
Post Draft Hollow is a long, somewhat rocky downhill. My goal was to join back up with Jon, who was now sitting in 2nd place. My cramps had started to dissipate (but not completely) and the downhill just felt better, so I picked up the pace. Making good time was going to necessitate quickly passing 25K runners, which was definitely difficult on the rocky, narrow trail along the sidehill. For the most part it wasn’t too bad, but I had to yell to one runner that had his headphones in (although he then graciously let me pass) and some woman made zero effort to allow me to pass and I almost slipped down the hill and killed myself (figuratively) trying to pass her. Meanwhile, I had one leg slide down the hill as I moved off the trail to let a faster 25K runner past.
Bottoming out from Post Draft, there wasn’t anywhere flat to stretch out my legs. Instead, the trail went straight uphill through Cleveland Hollow, starting with a gravel road. Hiking uphill, I passed a young(er) runner and asked him how it was going. He said he was cramping, so I offered him one of my last S-caps. I wasn’t sure if he would ask for water, so I offered him some water as well. I definitely didn’t want this exchange to end with him choking on a pill and dying on the trail. I really hope his cramps cleared up.
I had seen Jon on the downhill and knew he wasn’t that far ahead, so I tried to slowly gain on him. Most of the trail was fairly smooth, my legs weren’t fighting back too much, and I was able to make decent time. I slogged my way up a number of switchbacks, running whenever it flattened out. Passing one guy on the switchback, I apologized for taking it slow, light-heartedly telling him I really didn’t want to cramp. No, seriously, that is as fast as I can go. Jon and I went up SOB together, conquering its vertical glory. Towards, the top, I just started bear crawling. Why use my legs when I could use my arms, which had seen very little use?
We hit that aid station and then ground our way up the road that meandered over to the last downhill. I find this section one of the most mentally difficult. At least SOB is over relatively quickly and you get distracted by the fact you are headed straight up. The first time I ran Hyner, I expected the trail to head downhill immediately. Oh, that was not the case. Luckily, I knew about the road this time and that it GOES UPHILL and had warned Jon about it. I began to pull away as we neared the end of the uphill section. Our paces were just a little bit different; it wasn’t like I was sprinting away.
On the final downhill through Huff Run, I let gravity take over. I opened up and ran just slow enough that I was still in control. No need to crash and burn this late in the race, but I still felt the threat of getting passed. Huff Run is long, and I just wanted it to be done.
I really didn’t remember any landmarks other than a small wooden bridge that was towards the bottom. That bridge told me I was almost done with Huff Run. At the very bottom, there is a sadistic little uphill before you get back out to the side road. Unfortunately, the finish line wasn’t at the top of that hill.
Instead, the final stretch took me back across the bridge from the start. I did what I do when I am tired but am trying to maintain a good pace: I counted my steps. 1…2…3…4…5…you get the picture. That got me across the bridge and while I had seen Jon behind me, I knew he wasn’t on my heels. This was reassuring because I wasn’t in the mood for a sprint to the end and just wanted to avoid cramping.
Unfortunately, the final push is uphill on a small trail. I power hiked, fending off the threatening cramps. The two 25K guys that had gotten lost were running right in front of me at the very end. Matt tried to get me to kick it to the end. I grimaced and basically said, “yeah, that’s not happening,” and instead hobbled stiff-legged across the finish.
I hung out at the finish for a bit and chatted with Paul and some other PA runners. Eventually the food called to me and I went to investigate. OH MY GOSH CAKE. ENORMOUS PIECES OF CAKE. I was a teensy bit excited about the cake. I just stared at all the options for a minute or two trying to figure out which kind I wanted. I grabbed a giant piece and a bottle of chocolate milk and headed back to the start to wait for Christy to finish.
The post-race festivities at Hyner were a lot of fun, but we unfortunately had to get back to State College. I grabbed some BBQ chicken and baked beans and we headed out.
Hyner was a great race. The 50K was certainly challenging, but that extra 25K was a scenic addition that wasn’t as technical as the 25K course. I had a great time running with people I know, meeting a few new ones, and hanging out after the race. But, if I want a 50K PR I should probably hit the roads or run in Nebraska. Good thing I don’t care about times and just like running up then down and repeating.
Numbers: 2nd, 5:10:49
Let us know your thoughts on Hyner and if anything here struck a chord with you! Race information can be found on the Hyner page.