First 30k of the Hyner Challenge Course

First 30k of the Hyner Challenge Course

I was awake at 3:45am for a second Hyner Challenge 50K go around.
“3:45? You mean to tell me there’s another 3:45 called AM?” I thought as I woke. I don’t recall waking up this early last year but nevertheless, here we go again. Last year I ran the 50k race for the first time and did very well.  (Click to read last year’s post.)
In the days leading up to the race, I already felt like my 6 hour 32 minute PR from last year was unattainable. It had been a long and difficult winter training-wise, but everyone else was in the same boat. Still I decided to give it a try. Using last years time as a goal and with the help from Todd Lewis and his laminating machine, I created a timetable as to when I needed to be at various sections of the course in order to match last year.

Welcome to 40, Todd!

By 4:30AM I had met up with Joel Noel and by 4:45 we were at the 17th Street Sheetz in Altoona to meet up with Todd Lewis, John Weaver and Danny Mowers. Joel said from the get-go that this was just a training run for Cayuga in late May. (A “training run” for Joel is probably still a top 10 finish for Joel.) Because of work, most of it in Florida, Weaver had barely trained. Danny, like Joel, was just out for a “run” and saving himself for another season of races ahead.
Todd, the Hyner virgin of the group, was always fearful of Hyner. But after running the canyons and plateaus of the Eastern States 100 last Fall and the constant nudging from friends like me and Elmo, he threw his ring into the hat. A few days before Hyner, he was coaching baseball when for no reason whatsoever his back seized up.
“Welcome to 40, pal!”
Todd had just turned 40 a few days prior.
We got to Hyner about 55 minutes before the start. We parked only a car between us and Elmo Snively and his girlfriend Mikalee. The occupants in the car between us thought how in the world that got in the middle of our antics. As for Mikalee, maybe she lost a bet or Elmo was trying to get her to be more active but Elmo had signed up Mikalee to do the 25K. “She is the most stubborn person I know. She’ll finish just out of spite,” said Elmo. Mikalee hasn’t ran more than a 5k race or a 5-mile training run at Canoe Creek.
We walked over to packet pickup and talked to trail friends along the way before going back to the car to get our shoes, hydration packs or bottles and whatever else we needed for the race. I took my race bag up the clubhouse about a quarter-of-a-mile up the hill thinking it would be good time waster and allow me to stretch my legs. While there I ran into my shirt doppelgänger, a curly-haired dude that was wearing the same Cayuga Trail 50 shirt as I. “Nice shirt,” we said to each other at the same time as well as shooting each other the double guns. (Pfew! Pfew!)
Back at the bottom of the hill, all the 50K runners and well-wishers gathered amid the pines near the Eagle Nest Restaurant – the start of the race. Finally I was able to hook up with other running friends like Jeff Calvert and Mary Kowalski. But there was little time to catch up since soon we were off.

Crossing the bridge near the start. Jeff Calvert in blue and one calf sleeve on left. On left in orange is Todd Lewis, in white foreground is Danny Mowers and behind him in blue and green shirt is me.

Crossing the bridge near the start. Jeff Calvert in blue and one calf sleeve on left. On left in orange is Todd Lewis, in white foreground is Danny Mowers and behind him in blue and green shirt is me.

“RELUCTANTLY CROUCHED ON THE STARTING LINE” – CAKE
Craig Fleming, the race director, signals the local search and rescue to turn on the the sirens, and thus with an ear-splitting shriek we were on our way. The race starts with a mile of pavement with a 250-yard bridge over the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. We made a right on a dead end paved road and onto the trailhead. If we were in the 25K, this would be a choke point as 1100 runners would try to funnel down to a narrow singletrack. But in the 50K, even though more crowded than last year, there were only about 185 of us. This section is called Cliffhanger since it traverses a cliff with a railroad a couple hundred feet below and 600 feet of rock above. Here Todd, Danny and I shot the shit and caught up with what’s going on in our lives.
Recently I have had trouble in the first several miles of a run and this race was no exception. We made the turn and up Humble Hill. Humble Hill is two-part climb, first a 530 feet climb in 0.4 miles then a short half mile reprieve before a steeper 742 foot climb in just 0.6 miles. I am not sure if I was in worse shape from last year but I was nearly out of breath on the first climb. Also, about a week before the race, I slightly pulled something in my left quad and now I was feeling it. I tried to shorten my stride and focus more of my power to the other leg as Todd and Danny pulled away. “This is going to be a long day”, I thought. I managed to catch up to Todd before the second climb but he again gained some ground on me as we made our way to the top. We have a rule in that we each need to run our own race – no waiting or slowing down for one another.

Hyner Point pic taken by Kathy Koetje-Simin. It shows the river valley below socked in with fog.

Hyner Point pic taken by Kathy Koetje-Simin. It shows the river valley below socked in with fog.

As I neared the top I looked out to the valley below. Fog had socked in the valley and it was as if we were running above the clouds. I was 2 minutes slower at this point compared to last year. Cresting over the top, instead of the normal photographer, it was Kathy Koetje-Simin taking pics. She was to run the 50K but she had broke her foot a few weeks before the race.
About fifty yards past Kathy was the first aid station at mile 3.6. Todd, still within sight, opted to pass up the aid station while I decided to fill up one bottle. After filling up one bottle, I descended down into Johnson Run (-1099 feet, 1.68 miles). At the beginning I ran into three runners, one of which was the Cayuga 50 shirt guy. I’m not sure if he had a very unusual stride or was injured but he was taking the downhill slow and bow-legged. Not wanting to be held up, I passed them and opened it up. It wasn’t too long when I had caught up to Todd about one-third of the way down. I downshifted to his pace to ask him how he was feeling up to this point. Not far after catching up he said he had to make a piss stop. It seemed like I was running slower down the hill than last year so when Todd yielded I again opened it up for the last third-of-a-mile down to the bottom. At the bottom was a sharp left turn up Johnson Hollow. First the trail is high above the creek for about 0.7 of a mile until it finally drops down to the stream. Todd was able to catch up by the time I made it down into Johnson, crossing the stream on a log. Finally we were running up Johnson Run. The course crossed the stream about a half dozen times. There also seemed to be more water flowing this year than last. Finally it felt like I was running faster than I did last year. Later, checking the output file from my GPS, I was doing about 30 seconds to a minute per mile faster than last year in this section. Soon we made the turn for the 50K course and the climb up and out of Johnson Run. It’s called Sledgehammer.
“How long is this hill?” asked Todd.

Caption submitted by Josh Beemiller

Caption submitted by Josh Beemiller

“About 6/10 of a mile, maybe?” I said. Todd breaks out into a jog up the hill. “Where you going?”
“I’m just stretching my legs,” replied Todd.
After the race, Jen Fleming gave me shit, asking why the hell I lied to that guy.
“Oh, that was Todd. He’s fine.” I said shaking it off.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH OR JUST BEATEN
Sledgehammer is in fact more than 1.3 miles up 700 feet to the top of the plateau. Almost at the top we had caught up to Jeff Calvert who was wearing one calf sleeve.
“What’s with the one sleeve?” I asked Jeff. “Did you dress yourself in the dark this morning?”
“No, I am doing a little experiment. Remember the conversation we had on Facebook?” Jeff was referring to an online conversation we had with several friends about the effectiveness of compression sleeves. “I figure this is a scientific experiment to see if one calf cramps up or not.”
Excellent! WTG, Jeff using the Scientific Method.
At the top of Sledgehammer there was another aid station and I again filled up my bottle as Jeff, Todd and several other runners decided to continue without refueling.

The Scientific Method: Do Compression Sleeves Work?

The Scientific Method: Do Compression Sleeves Work?

Looking at my watch I was just a few minutes behind from last years pace. Weeks ago I decided if I was having a good race I would start my “hard run” starting here. The next section is 7.4 miles until the end of the downhill at the bottom of Richie Run (Mile 14) where I planned to make up some time.
Leaving the aid station I had caught up with Jeff and ran with him for a few minutes before he decided to lag behind. I assumed that he wasn’t having a good day. I was only a few minutes behind from last year so I decided to pick up the pace. Soon I reached Farley’s Vista and at the vista, the course makes a steep descent before reaching a logging road bearing to the left. On this downhill the insole in my right shoe slides to the front. (Salomon Speedcross 3) I have been having this problem with these shoes and even complained to Salomon to no avail. At the left turn onto a logging road, I stopped to take off my shoe and slid my insert back into place. Running by, Jen Fleming asks if there was something was amiss and I told her about my insole. (I would end up taking my shoes off five times that day and most of the times Jen ran past and laughed at me.)
Even though I ran the course last year I had forgot that this section was mostly uphill than downhill. I had caught up to Todd halfway through the section as well as Laurie Hall who I ran with quite a bit at the Mile Run Trail Challenge a few weeks earlier. We all kept the pace until the hairpin turn where, unlike last year, there was an aid station. Last year there was just a few jugs of water and many runners including I had missed it. Here at the aid station Todd decided to stop to grab some fluids. He also complained that his back was hurting a bit from the muscle pull he had earlier in the week.
At the aid station were two regional running phenoms, Ashley and David Lister. Ashley was at the aid station while David was taking photographs of the runners about 15 yards past the aid station. I also ran into John Fegyversei who is one of the few participant that have finished the infamous Berkeley Marathon.

Elmo is thinking about his favorite ultrarunner.

Elmo is thinking about his favorite ultrarunner.

Elmo has a big secret man crush for Fegyversi.
“I was at the aid station at mile 11.5 and there were the Listers and Fegyversei,” I said to Elmo after the race. “It was like I was in the middle of an elite ultramarathoner sandwich.”
Elmo grimaced. “Well, at the first stream crossing at the Dirty Kiln as Fegyversei crossed the stream, I held out my hand and said, ‘I got you, buddy! Take me hand!'” Elmo said with great drama. He was grasping for straws for any physical connection to Fegyversei.
Immediately after the aid station was the downhill section down into Ritchey Hollow (2.25 miles, -1144 feet). I got a jump on Todd at the aid station and that would be the last I would see him until the finish.
Again my plan was to run the section, especially this downhill, fast enough that I wasn’t slamming my quads. I had caught up to a woman in blue shorts and pink top which I had talked to for a little bit at Cliffhanger many miles ago. She said about how there was a runner ahead that she wished would just shut up and that this motor-mouth talked about anything and everything continuously.
“How are you? I am fine! Look at the these trees! There are no leaves on the trees. Oh look, a rock! That rock looked like a walnut. I like walnuts. But not in Grape Nuts…” she mocked.
She said that he she had purposely slowed her pace to let him go ahead.

ritchieRoad

At Ritchie Road

RITCHIE RICH
Finally we were at the bottom of Ritchie Hollow and we started to make our way up the creek (2.85 miles, +1162 feet). I had made it from the 50k split at Johnson Run to the bottom of Ritchie Run almost 10 minutes faster this year! I lost the girl at the onset going up Ritchie Hollow. Ritchie Run, in my opinion, is more beautiful than Johnson Run. There was more water flowing in the creek than last year and for some reason it was more rugged than I remembered it. Sometimes the course was up the creek since the sides were too steep for a trail. Nevertheless it felt like I was making good time.
Finally I came to the end of Ritchie Run where I made a sharp right turn up to the top of the plateau. On the way up I ran into another trail running friend, Tom McNerney. Last year he finished four minutes ahead of me. Even though I was running slower than last year, perhaps I wasn’t doing as bad as I thought. Tom is about the same age and level of runner as me.
I talked to Tom for a little bit. First he mentioned the motor mouth that past him that wouldn’t shut up. Then he started to dread the next section coming up. On top of the plateau the trees thinned out leaving behind just scrub and thigh-high bushes on the forest floor. I can understand why Tom dreaded this section. It was getting hot! Several runners ahead of me significantly slowed down and I passed. Then the forest got thicker as we made our way into a grove of pines. In the middle of these pines was a old Conservation Corps camp now being utilized as an aid station. Tom had caught up as well as Jen who asked if I had any Endrolyte capsules since she said she was cramping.

The belly comes out.

The belly comes out.

I noticed that a lot of people were in and out of the aid stations faster than me. I think it was my packets of Tailwind which I had to carefully tear open and pour into each bottle before filling. Anyhow I left the aid station, trying to catchup to Tom and Jen as I made my way toward Sugar Camp Road. This was the only dirt road for the entire race. It soon merged with Richie Road where Kathy Kotje-Simin was sitting in a lawn chair again taking pictures. Earlier, I was thinking of pranking her when I saw her again and that I would lift up my shirt by the tail and show off my huge stomach from the winter and rub it like a genie lamp. But as I approached her all I could think about is my breathing. I realized that I couldn’t breathe! It felt like I was running with a third of my lung capacity. It was from allergies and I was completely stuffed up. I stopped for a second to complain to Kathy about my allergies and the heat. Kathy mentioned that Elmo had said the same thing about allergies and not being able to breath. Coincidentally Elmo did what I wanted to do which was to show off his Buddha stomach. Touché, Elmo!
Up the road past Kathy we climbed a small hill and was gaining on Tom and Jen. At the top of the hill was an aid station, the same aid station we stopped at the top of Sledgehammer. At the aid station was Renee Calvert, Jeff’s wife. Tom was talking to Renee as Renee asked Tom if he saw Jeff. I could see Tom pointing to me saying that I had. “Oh, Ben is right there,” said Tom before running from the aid station.
“Have you seen Jeff?” said Renee.
“Yes but it was a long time ago. I don’t think he is having a good day.” I said as I past her.
“Where did you last see see him?” she asked me.
I said, “Here. Right here!” as I pointed down the trail Jeff and I ran down about 20 kilometers ago.

Second Part of the Course

Second Part of the Course

BACK ON (THE ORIGINAL) COURSE
Now I was running down Sledgehammer (1.2 miles, -808 feet) and I started to catch up to Tom. We made the switchback turn and I look down below into Johnson Run. I was very surprised to see fewer runners/hikers on the 25k course than I expected. This is a good thing. Last year when we merged with the 25K’ers there were long train of hikers going up Johnson Run – making passing difficult. This year it was a different story. I don’t think I saw more than five runners/hikers as I looked down into the hollow below me. Then I merged onto the 25K course. Not only were there fewer runners/hikers but they were all very courteous. Each moved to the side as I and a few other 50K runners went by. Here I ended up with climbing Johnson Run (1.96 miles, +983 feet) with John Fegyversi, one of Elmo’s idols. We chatted the entire time up Johnson Run while we both cheered and encouraged other runners and hikers as we passed. We passed an individual who recognized John and started asking him about his adventures. I wonder if John was sick and tired of his notoriety? He mentioned that he was moving to New Hampshire this Spring. He had been at Penn State getting his PhD. Nearing the top on a section called Psycho Steps I once again run into Jen Fleming. I could tell her legs where cramping but she continued up the rocks. She’s tough as nails.
Reviewing my performance several days after this race, I noticed this section is where I lost the most time. Perhaps, already knowing I wasn’t beating last years time, I resigned. Or maybe I was caught up in conversation with John, but this is where the race was lost for me.
At the top was an aid station – less crowded than it was last year. I finally run into the runner that Tom and the girl I ran with down to Ritchey was talking about.
“Oh my God, this is so hard! I am running and running! I’ve running so long! How far is the end? Is this the last aid station?! I think I can do that! That’s not that far! Is it downhill? It’s so hot! What is there to eat? Oh boy, bananas! I like bananas! Banana’s are my favorite! Maybe I can carry the banana while I run?” etc. as he rambled on and on and then takes off, it the wrong direction! He makes about 25 yards before he hears the volunteers yelling at him, turns around and runs down the correct trail

I BELIEVE!

THE FINAL BLERCH!
At the aid station, John, Tom and Jen had arrived and then past me while I was getting my bottles filled before I took off down Post Draft (1.1 miles, -1064 feet). It wasn’t too long before I realized that my legs have had it. My quads were blown. I did manage to pass several runners including Mr. Gabby but I was not able to catch up to John, Tom nor Jen. It seemed very obvious to me that I was running a lot slower in this section than last year. (7 minutes slower between the aid station between the top before Post-Draft to the top after S.O.B.) Weeks before there was a trail work day when Jeff, Elmo and about dozen of other volunteers did a lot of work on this section. I wondered if the created a superhighway considering how boastful Elmo was about his work. Maybe it was just me and my trashed leg muscles but it seemed that they widen the trail but it was just technical as it always have been.
Next was the crawl up Cleveland Hollow toward S.O.B. and I had caught up to Tom.
I’ve been replaying this section from Cleveland Hollow to S.O.B. (1.68 miles, +859 feet) in my mind over the past few weeks. Again I was slower in this section than last year and my legs have had it. However, I think my legs were in worse shape last year and I also remember being in far more pain last year than this year. In addition to the pain, last time my legs had swelled to the point that my calves sleeves were so tight, I was losing circulation in my feet and they were numb. Even though I wasn’t beaten down, I wasn’t cooked like  I was last year. That said, why was I slower? Was it the heat? Was my head not in it? Perhaps since I was already behind, I didn’t dare to push myself over the line?
I slogged my way up Cleveland Hallow I found myself running with Laurie Hall, who looked a little surprised when she saw me and asked why I haven’t already finished the race.
“Finish?” I laughed. “You have me confused with someone else…”
Even though we were now mixed in with the 25k participants, it was easy to know who was doing the 50k versus the 25k without looking at their bibs. The 50k’ers were all focused at the task at hand, moving intently forward while the 25k’ers meandered up the hill or would stop along the trail to catch their breath. Several runners wanted to know what was ahead and Laurie, always upbeat and enthusiastic, said that there was an “awful” grassy road after SOB before a “really fun technical section” called Spring Trail before the downhill into Huff Run. “Fun and technical”, she said? Ugh! Not today, Miss Hall.
Finally we approached the bottom of S.O.B.. A small crowd of runners had gathered at the base, all dumbfounded, while Tom, Laurie, and couple of other 50k runners moved past them to get to the front of the pack and immediately made for the trail up to the top.

The hill! It just keeps going up and up!

The hill! It just keeps going up and up!

“We have to climb that?” said one of the 25k runners. “Fuck me! That’s fucking steep!” said another.
Again, without hesitation, our small tribe of 50k’ers I did not hesitate on tackling the mountain. It’s just one foot after another – and at times I’m on all fours. While climbing up I pass Carl Undercolfer.
“Carl!” I yelled.
“Carl!” said Laurie and a couple of runners as we passed.
“Carl must be a celebrity” muttered a woman behind me. Indeed he is. Carl, now 77, is Hyner’s oldest participant and also most of the other races in the region. He is also a race director for a couple of races in Clearfield County.
Also climbing S.O.B. was Luke Ebeling and his mom Jane.
At the top of S.O.B. was the last aid station before the finish and this time I hurried through and for the first time all day, I leave the station before Tom and took off down the jeep road. The last two years I would kill it in this section. I would have enough in the tank to either pass a lot of runners in this section or many runners had to step aside to stretch out their fully locked up and cramped muscles. I don’t think I did as well in this section as previous years but I did manage to pass about a dozen runners even though there was a slight hill that I had to walk instead of run. At the end of the jeep road is a short section of pipeline before darting into the woods and onto Spring Trail. Even though this may be one of Laurie’s favorite sections, I was a little fearful when I approached it, not sure how my legs would handle in this technical section. There was slight “jump up” as I stepped off the pipeline and onto Spring Trail – which was a few feet higher than the pipeline right-of-way. As soon as my legs did the “jump” they almost cramped. I instantly took a deep breath and adjusted my cadence and was able to quickly relax and prevent a total cramp. Close call.
I continued down Spring Trail making the best I could down the singletrack. (Turns out I was only a minute slower in this section as compared to last year but it felt a lot slower.) Halfway on the trail, it begins to go downhill – downhill all the way to the river (2.19 miles, -1289 feet). I hear clapping and cheering ahead, letting me know that Hyner Road was ahead. After crossing Hyner Road and a small crowd of spectators, it was time to make a descent down Huff Run.
Not too far after crossing Hyner Road, I hear someone call out my name behind me. At first I thought it was Tom but didn’t look to see who it was since I was concentrating on the terrain ahead of me.
“How’s it going?” he said.
“It’s going…” I replied.

Wait.. what? Who? Jeff?

Wait.. what? Who? Jeff?

Then the guy passes and I realize its Jeff Calvert coming out of nowhere!
I ran down the trail dumbfounded as I tried to keep up but my legs thought otherwise. Soon Jeff was out of my sight.
Not to far after Jeff passed me, I approached two 25k runners from behind. About five feet from the first runner, I realize the second runner is Mikalee. “How are things?” I asked.
She replied briefly and seemed to be in good spirits.
I passed and continued down Huff. By the time I approached the bridge about 70% of the way down, I looked up the trail I came down and was to far ahead to see Mikalee behind me. I stepped onto the bridge and again my legs almost, but not quite, lock up. Second close call.
About 20 yards below the bridge, my right foot lands on a flat rock and it shifts toward the outside. That sudden angle change sends my right calve into a full on cramp and locks up. I stopped along side of the trail in great pain. I stood still for about 15 seconds trying to relax my legs before the seizing stopped and I continued down Huff Run and onto the paved road that I ran many hours ago near the trailhead.
On the road last year I was able to push a sub-eight minute mile. Not this time. I was only able to muster about a 10:30 pace at most. On the turn at the beginning of the bridge over the river, I had caught up to Cory Hudson. He was a 25k virgin. I exchanged pleasantries when I realized he was trying to keep up with me.
“Okay… I’ll pull,” I thought as we picked up the pace.
Nearing the end of the bridge, my legs were fatigued enough that I had to drop my pace as Cory went for it. We dipped down to the road that led to the Sportsmen’s Club, and then a hard left onto a singletrack and up the hill. This hill is considered a final middle-finger from the race director. I was expecting my legs to cramp up like they did two years ago as soon as I hit the hill but luckily they kept their integrity to the end.
I crossed the finish line at 6 hours and 54 seconds.

finishline

Crossing the finish line.

The finish had mixed results. I finished 22 minutes slower than last year. I had lost 9 spots in the final results from 41 to 50 out of 180 or so runners that toed the line. My UltraSignUp score barely moved. Yet I did move one stop up in my age group from 14 to 13. Plus there were more runners in this years race and quite a bit more DNFs due to the heat and other factors. For me. I could go on and blame the heat, my allergies, the inserts in my shoes and/or that my head wasn’t in it as much as last year but to be honest the biggest factor was I was less trained and had the extra pounds I was carrying along.

As for the other players in this little melodrama:
Joel Noel crushed it, coming in 4th overall in 5 hours and 13 minutes. Mary Kowalski was second overall female in 6:11. Elmo didn’t have the race he had two years ago but he came in at 5:58 in 13th place. Elmo later joked that he was slower per minute per pound of fat than I was. Jen Fleming took off after the second to the last aid station to come in at 6:41. Larie Hall came in a 6:46. Jeff Calvert sprinted away from me to finish 6:49. Finally finishing one spot ahead was John Fegyversi by two minutes. Tom McNearney finished four minutes behind me while Todd Lewis couldn’t shake off his back pain but still finished a strong 7:14
During the post-race we shared stories about our day. I was talking to Elmo about my decreased performance, less training and added weight this past-season. “Maybe it has to do with all the beer I’ve been drinking lately,” I said.
I looked over to Jeff as he shakes his head as if he was saying, “Perhaps, Sherlock.”
Speaking of beer, there was a point during the post-party that Craig, the race director, walked up to me to make an announcement.

Okay... what did I just do?

“Okay… what did I just do?”

“Ben!” he said loudly and points at me. “Hey, everyone! Listen up!”
“Oh, shit! What did I do now?” I thought to myself.
“I invited some friends from Indiana today. They own a brewpub and they brought some with them!”
“Oh. Because I really like beer,” I sighed in relief. That’s way he was pointing at me. Craig’s friends own a brew pub called Taxman Brewery near Indianapolis and the beers, mostly Belgium variations, was quite good.
Soon it was time to leave. As I tried to get into the front passenger seat of Mikalee’s car, my legs when to a full-on cramp. It took about 15 minutes of Hell before I could even hop into the car but now in the back seat. The front seat was too low and at the certain pitch that it severely cramped me up. The back seat was high and level enough that I didn’t have problems there.

AGH! LEG CRAMP!

AGH! LEG CRAMP!

That’s it.

After a couple days of rest, I started to prepare for the Cayuga 50 in Ithaca, New York at the end of May.