I woke up on Saturday morning, the last weekend in March of 2015. For most races I usually need to be up at four in the morning for a race but in this instance I had the luxury to set my alarm at 6:15am. I ran this race four years ago and it was one of my first trail races. It would be interesting for me how well I do after so many races behind my belt.

The winter has broken the spirits of many this season. It would not release its icy grip from our ankles. The day before the weather forecast called for temperatures to be in the upper-twenties at sunrise and climb to the low-thirties by race time. When I woke up, however, it was 10 degrees colder with the forecast temperature now only be in the mid-twenties. Once again, winter just gave us the middle finger.

Running to the first aid station at Mile Run.

Running to the first aid station at Mile Run.

Today we were running at the Mile Run Trail Challenge,  a half-marathon between Lock Haven and Milton along Interstate 80. There are no residents at Mile Run – it is just an exit off the highway and a Penn-Dot salt shed.

From Hollidaysburg and Altoona were me, Joel Noel, Mary Kowalski and Tim Stessney. We all left Altoona at 7:30am. Joel drove. It would be a ninety-minute drive.

After passing State College, I was looking on Facebook and learned that I-80 was closed in both directions from Lock Haven and Milton. Even though it was partly cloudy in State College, a freak snow squall had caused a multi-vehicle accident on the interstate between Lock Haven and Mile Run where the highway crossed the mountains. I-80 was a solid red indicating stopped traffic according to Google Maps for the entire 15 mile stretch. My phone started to buzz with dozens of updates, messages and text messages from other runners wondering what to do. I imagined I was Jack Bauer on 24, in the corner of the screen, while my trail friends in the other boxes as each of us tried to figure out how to get to Mile Run. The interstate was closed at Lock Haven and we were instructed to take a detour to Williamsport at Route 15 and travel around mountains and approach from the east. It would be a 50-minute detour.

“I bet you’re going to Mile Run,” said an emergency official as we stopped to ask the current status of the interstate. Not sure what tipped him off – maybe it was our running clothes.

As we traveled over the ridge between Williamsport and Milton on Route 15, Mary Dauberman, girlfriend of Brian Newcomer called to tell me she was taking a rural road that parallels I-80 from Allenwood to Mile Run from the east called White Run Road. Minutes before I read a Facebook post about the road and it was described as “lumpy”. WTF does that mean?

We decided to take our chances and see if I-80 from the east had reopened but as we approached the interstate, the highway was still closed eastbound. We took a U-turn and took our chances on White Run Road. It paralleled I-80 for about 10 miles to Mile Run. The road was indeed, “lumpy”, making it tough on our full bladders. We got to Mile Run about 10 minutes to spare but when we pulled in we were told that the race would be delayed by 30 minutes. The race was capped at 450 and I was surprised how many people actually made it. 300 to 350 runners toed the starting line. So much for placing in my age group because I would be the only one in my age group, like I thought on the drive here. This shows how resourceful trailrunners can be. There wouldn’t be this turnout if it was a heart association 5k.

THE RACE
At the start, Kathy Koetje-Simin and her friend Hayley Weyhe, late for the start, tried to kill us all in Hayley’s jeep. I think she only hit a half dozen people.

Perhaps I was not warmed up enough or perhaps since I usually do longer races and I’m more an endurance guy than short and fast aerobic run, but I had a bad first half of the race but I did very well in the second half. The first half I was stuck behind runners or was passed often. I felt slow, sluggish and sloppy. The last half I was more relaxed, ran faster, smoother and more Zen-like.

Just past the first aid station and into the pines.

Just past the first aid station and into the pines.

The first two miles is up a gradual hill (600 feet total) with the first mile before the climb was very technical. The group I was in all held their own ground – neither anyone bolted ahead nor lagged behind. The next mile was rolling when with occasional “pop-up” hills until mile 3.25 at the first aid station. After that the course had a fast section through some pines. Days before, the race director said there was “some snow here and there” on the course. Some snow, my ass! Underneath the couple of inches that fell that morning, much of the course had anywhere from three to seven inches of hard, granular, spring-like snow that had not yet melted. This made running slower than I hoped, at places it felt like running in sand.

Starting at mile 4, I started to feel better and by mile 6, I felt awesome. I began to be more exact in my foot placement, more fluid in my stride and adapted better to the terrain. I was able to run more fearlessly on the downhills and continue my momentum on the uphills. I began to pass.

The course is a big lollipop with the last two miles down the ridge we went up at the beginning. I was coming in hot. At the bottom, the trail gets technical and amid a field of rocks, my left shoe catches on a rock and I fall hard, slamming the outside of my left knee. I rolled forward, back onto my feet but the fall robbed me of my rhythm and my bravery. I slowed considerably.

The finish line and time for a beer.

The finish line and time for a beer.

I passed the bridge that led to the road which we entered on and continued on the course down the canyon as the rocks become larger and angrier. Finally at the end were two tunnels for the creek that went under both lanes of I-80. The water was ankle high and as cold as balls. Out the other side, it was a left turn up a muddy ditch and then a tarmac grind up the hill to the finish line.

I came in 56th at 2:21:01.

OTHER NOTES

The rest of my friends had a pretty good race. Mary Kowalski, running along Mile Run near the end, went over the bridge and down the road we came down at the start, totally skipping the faint trail along the creek and onto the tunnels. We theorized a couple of hikers removed some caution tape across the bridge.

Being such a cold day, we spent more time in the car getting warm rather than mingling with the crowd post-race. We went on to State College to Otto’s for post-race food and beer and we was joined by Mark Timothy Knapp from Pittsburgh’s North Park Trail Runners.

I feared that I twisted my knee as it swelled up after the race but it turned out to be swelled from the impact from the rocks and not a twisted knee. On deck next is the return to the Hyner 50k.