I’ve waited here for you
I throw myself into
And out of the red
Out of her head she sang”

(Everlong by the Foo Fighters)

After almost a dozen years, the race directors of the Megatransect were calling it quits.  Land use in the mountains south of Lock Haven are changing to the point that the race directors could not guarantee the eye candy and terrain that the Megatransect is known far and wide. 2105 being the last, I decided to go all in on the Megatransect experience. I left the office early and decided to tent camp the entire weekend. The start and the finish was

Central PA Trail F(r)iends

Central PA Trail F(r)iends

at a sportsmen’s club adjacent to the Lock Haven airport. There were two large parcels of land for camping. As I drove up to the campgrounds, I rolled my car into the grass and alongside the western edge of the property next to a tree line. Jeff Calvert and David Walker saved a spot for me under a large locust tree. After setting up the tent, we walked over to race headquarters. At HQ I met up with some running friends and caught up on what’s new.  I was then invited to dinner in Lock Haven at a place called Stellas with Mary Dauberman, El Christopher (Luke Ebling), Trail Porn Chick (Shaina Gilbert), Wendy Miller, among others in the Central PA Trail F(r)iends trail running group. After socializing in town, I went back to the campsite and had a couple more beers with Jeff, Dave and Roth Reason (a friend of Dave’s who acted more like a fraternity brother than a pastor) before settling down for the night. During the night, I swore there was a brief shower or drizzle from the sound off the outside of my tent. It was also getting foggy as the night progressed. This year the Megatransect was held in late August instead of late September or early October. The date is determined by other events held in the region like Penn State and Lock Haven football games, homecomings, etc. Since the race draws more than a thousand runners from all over the country, the race directors didn’t want other events grabbing up the area hotel rooms.  The August date was a mixed blessing. It is mostly likely going to be hot – much hotter than in October. Also many feared that rattlesnakes would cause an added hazard on the course. For me it didn’t really matter. In fact, the August date would allow me to train and run for races in the Fall that I normally would pass. As for the snakes, that would be a problem for the faster runners.

After months of speculation, it turned out that the summer of 2015 was barely a summer at all. I don’t think it was as cold as the summer of 2014, but there weren’t a lot of hot days this summer either. When I woke up race morning, there was a thick blanket of fog and overcast skies. It felt more like late-September than August. I walked over to race headquarters, got my bib and packet, and then had breakfast at the large pavilion near HQ. During this time I met up with the other assortment characters like Brian Newcomer (one of the RDs) and John Notte who used to work at Sheetz and was the “go to guy” that provided the beverage trucks that was once a fixture at all the regional trail races until he left for another opportunity in Pittsburgh. I also ran into Jeffry Schiesler and his daughter Alex. In the two previous Megas we ended up running together, not being able to shake each other off.

Todd on left, Jeff Nelson and on the far right is RD David Hunter

Todd Lewis on left, Jeff Nelson and on the far right is RD David Hunter

Joel Noal arrived. He had an awesome race last year and wanted to repeat. Mary Kowalski came with literally everyone in her clan which included almost a dozen brothers, sisters, their spouses, children, etc. Mary had been battling some leg issues so I haven’t seen her on the trails that much this year. Finally, a Mega virgin, Todd Lewis arrived. This year several friends and I urged him to do both the Hyner 50k and Mega. As for me, I haven’t had a lot of luck lately coming from a bad Escarpment race. The Mega race had always been a challenge for me and I told Todd that I would stay close to him for most of the race since I didn’t think I’d be up for racing going into Mega.

ACT ONE: It was a heartfelt scene as the race director Dave Hunter made his final bow. Soon after the horn blared and we were off to run the Mega one last time. From the onset, I felt so much better than last year. I remember that I was struggling even before we reached town last year. This year I was much more relaxed as I ran with Todd. We either talked about sections of the course ahead so he knew what to expect or we talked about running in general. The first few miles are on paved roads – first along some corn rows on the south side of the river – then over Route 220, the river and then uphill through the sleepy town of Castanea. After Main Street, we made a right turn up a road that headed toward a gap into the mountains.  Relaxed, Todd and I still kept a good pace, passing many through town. As soon as we passed the red gate, the road turned to dirt as we ran up a hill toward a water tower that also marked the turn onto what I call the “real course”… Link Trail.

The parade up Link Trail

The parade up Link Trail

Again, Todd and I were making good progress, hopscotching over a lot of runners. We would settle in among a group of runners for about a minute and then burst ahead – passing maybe a half dozen runners at a clip, again and again, – hopscotching runners on the course over the next couple miles. Every time we settled within the flow of traffic there was always someone there that I knew from running. Near the top, we had caught up to Kathy Koetje-Simin. We exchanged ‘pleasantries’ for a few seconds until I again charged ahead. This time, unbeknownst to me, Todd did not follow. It wasn’t until I got to the top of the hill that I noticed that Todd was no longer behind me. For a brief moment I contemplated whether to go on or wait for Todd. I soon decided that since it was every man for himself, I would trek on ahead without him. I was feeling extremely well and strong at this point and I decided to go for it and run a hard race. Two years ago I was ‘chicked’ by Hope Thompson and last year the upcoming downhill was so brutal on my legs and bum ankle that it really tossed a wet blanket on the whole race. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let this happen to me this year. Instead of pounding my quads trying to brake on the downhill, this year I was going to “let it go”. I figured if I can run fast enough without pounding my feet, I would do less damage to my legs muscles. Also I figured I’d run more efficiently and burn less energy – energy that I might need later.  To help me along with this plan, I decided to wear a pair of Hoka Stinson ATR’s.  Whatever you may have heard about these shoes one thing for sure is that they are a beast going downhill. They really absorb the small rocks and uneven terrain downhill and they are very forgiving in case you choose the wrong line. At the onset of the downhill I was worried if the modest tread would be insufficient for this course but after a few hundred yards I realized it was not the case. As Dave Walker once said to me “downhill is where you gain time”. Speaking of Dave Walker, as I descended down the ridge, there was Dave with Roth alongside the trail taking photos. As I approached Dave, a tree obscured his view of me until I was right on top of him, missing his shot. Below Roth, who was also taking photos, had a better angle on me. I yelled and threw up my hands as I went past him, thinking that he probably got one of the best shots of me running in any race I have ever ran in. Unfortunately from what I understand, out of the 5,000 photos he shot that day, only 3 photos came out! Worst photographer ever!

(Video Below: Hoka Engineer Testing a New Shoe)

I continued to bomb down the hill as fast as my bravery would take me. Sometimes I narrowly came close to slamming my shoulders against a tree alongside the trail. Finally the grade down began to ease. I knew from last year that the distance from the bottom of the hill to the boulder field is further than I thought so I tried not to concern myself as to when I was finally going to make it to the bottom.

A guy that was behind me said, “What? Are you wearing Hokas? Are you crazy?”

“I don’t think they are as bad as people think. I mean… I AM ahead of you,” I said then took off.  Ha ha ha!

Foggy Boulders

Foggy Boulders

Finally we come to the infamous Boulder Field.  As I started to climb, about halfway up the field it felt like I was a bit slower than the two previous years. But after going over the data, I was faster in this section by 5 minutes. (13 minutes from the bottom of the Boulder Field to the top.) However, in my head it seemed I was making the wrong choices and taking the wrong line up the boulders. Sometimes I ended up being boxed in among the rocks. Nearing the top, the Lock Haven University’s cross-country team would station themselves and encourage the runners up the rocks. I again used my line, “Hey, the moon called. They want their rocks back.” Ha ha! That joke never gets old. I didn’t work on any new material for this year.

Foggy Boulders

Foggy Boulders – Photo by Rob Clements

I reached the top of the ridge near mile 7. Previously the course would go along Rattlesnake Ridge for about a half mile until dropping down into the valley on the other side. However every year the course changes and this year as soon as we scaled the Boulder Field we descended down the other side. As soon I started the descent I started to have flashbacks back to the Escarpment. A bunch of track and field high school students were in front of me.

“Yo, dude. If you want to go ahead of us, please do,” one said.

“No. You’re good,” I said.

Then, only after about two seconds later, I became frustrated. The track kids were going so slow down the ridge, slow as little old ladies. “C’mon, you’re young and stupid. Why are you being so cautious?!” I thought. “Out of my way!” I said passing all three of them and then I took off in a feet of frenzy.

As I approached the bottom of the valley I looked up ahead and 50 yards ahead of me, a girl suddenly falls to the forest floor like a ton of bricks.  I caught up to her. Her right knee was gashed open. “Do you need help?” I asked.

“I’m fine,” she replied.

“You’re bleeding!”

“It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“There is a road up ahead. Usually there’s someone there that can help,” I said. “Need help getting there?”

“No. Go ahead. I’m fine.”

After the brief exchange I continue on. I get to Kammerdiner Road, an old jeep trail, and as expected there was a volunteer on a four-wheeler. “Hey, a girl right behind me took a nasty fall. She gashed her knee open. She’s only about a hundred yards up the trail.”

The guy nodded and stepped off the quad to help as I ran by.

"I don't remember this course being so lush."

“I don’t remember this course being so lush. Up Rote I go.”

From Kammerdiner, we would climb up to Rote Lookout. Instead of going down Kammerdiner and then making a left on Kammerdiner East, we took a right down Kammerdiner West then a left toward Rote Lookout.  This is basically in the reverse direction from the past few years. It is a lot easier going toward Rote than coming down. The woods seemed more lush with vegetation than I remembered from last year. Perhaps it is because of the wet summer we had or perhaps it is because the sun had started to break through the clouds, but everything seemed so green. With the morning dew that hung in the air, it was steamy. Then again it was August and not late September or early October.  The ridge approaching Rote Overlook had a lot a flat dinner plate-like sheets of rock that tipped and buckled under the weight of your feet. It was fine going up but a bit disconcerting going down.

Just steps before Rote Overlook I had caught up with Jeff Calvert. I wasn’t surprised to have caught up to him since he was just two weeks past his epic Eastern States 100 finish. Not only had he been recovering from that incredible journey (which I served as his crew chief) but he also contracted a case of stress-induced shingles! The shingles, he said was painful and he contracted the kind that shows little of the telltale rash that is often associated with shingles.
We stopped at the lookout for a brief few seconds. Wispy pillows of fog hugged the valley floor below.  After a glance, we both started the downhill toward an old jeep road, again going in the opposite direction in previous races. After the road, we got onto a singletrack section called “Fast and Furious” approaching mile 10.  Jeff, understandably, said for me to continue on ahead and to have a good race. I took off.
I continued onward past Crossline Trail, and then in and out at an aid station at mile 11.  13 miles into the race was a downhill toward McElhatten Creek.  I was overtaking a decent number of runners and I felt great. I’m sure I passed more than a dozen people, advancing higher in the standings. Then there is a long straight yet technical trail that was the final grade to McElhatten Creek called Bus Stop.  As soon as got to the bottom of the canyon and to the creek, I hear someone behind me. It is the first person who had come up from behind me the entire race!
“Hi, Ben!” I heard. The voice was all too familiar.
“Oh, hey Jeff,” I said. Even though I sounded cheerful, there was a part of me that was like, “Son of a bitch!  Not Jeff?! Damn it!”  I began to count the times in races where I passed Jeff only to have him overtake me before the finish! And, for crying out loud, he had done a 100 mile race two weeks prior and has shingles yet he is still kicking my ass! Argh!
"Why are you running so slow, Ben? I ran a hundred miles. What did you do?" - Jeff Morriarty Calvert

“Why are you running so slow, Ben? I ran a hundred miles. What did you do?” – Jeff Morriarty Calvert

At the creek Jeff and I were following a kid until he got to the bank of the creek and stopped, hesitating on how to cross the creek to the other side. Jeff and I just leaped into the water and onto the other side like two antelope.
“Good job on taking that kid to school,” I said to Jeff.
After a few minutes along the creek just past mile 15 we made a sharp turn to the right. Up ahead was a section of the course called “K2” that scaled up the canyon walls to the top. About halfway up the climb there was a rope that was placed to help you with the climb. As both Jeff and I climbed up, I noticed Dave and Roth were at the top, heckling and taking pictures. How the hell they got from Link Trail to here so fast, I had no idea. Anyhow, we got to the top and then veered to the right along a narrow ledge before climbing a small rock lip to the top. (Below video from K-2, via Brian Newcomer)

ACT TWO: Once at the top, we made our way along the top of the canyon toward the reservoir at mile 17 called Final Cut. Here, I began to notice that I was running on the inside edge of my right shoe. Here the trail was heavily cambered to the left. It felt like half of my right foot was spilling over on the inside edge.
As I battled with my shoes, Jeff was slowly increasing the distance between him and I. But I had to get my issues fixed and I found the first log I see where I could sit and try to fix this. With nearly half of my foot over the edge, not only was it uncomfortable but was rolling by ankle.  Reluctantly, I found a log knowing that I probably will not be able to catch up to Jeff.  I hooked the laces with my finger and tighten the laces that pulled on the inside of my shoes. I knew this would be a temporary solution. What seemed like an eternity, I got back onto my feet and ran down the trail toward the reservoir. At least I was passed by only several runners.
Mile 17.75 – Ahead was a clearing that marked an intersection with an access road that drops downhill below the breast of the reservoir and to an aid station at the bottom. A ditch crossing the course at the access road took me by surprise, enough that a friend, Joe Eaton, who was volunteering as course marshal, thought that I rolled my ankle considering the look on my face. (Later at the post-race party Joe mentioned that someone right behind me did roll their ankle right at that spot.) As I ran toward the aid station at the bottom of the spillway, there was a section of large shale stone on the road. While running over the stones – not even 20 feet from the aid station – I roll my ankle. Son of a bitch!
At the aid station, I had to take care of a lot of issues. Since I was stepping on the inside of my soles, I was starting to get hot spots on the bottom of my feet. I had a stick of BodyGlide which I lathered over my feet. I changed into a fresh pair of socks which I had in my pack. And I had to fix my shoes.  I completely untied and then re-laced my shoes. In all, I think I must have spent ten minutes trying to get my shit together before I could head out. I was in such a hurry, I forgot to refill my bottle and get some food. (Video: Lube Technique for Shoes. Misheard.)

After the aid station, the next two sections were called Black Diamond and Fernwood were the worse for me.  My re-lacing, though a lot better, wasn’t as good as I hoped and my feet were still spilling over the inside of the sole. I was tired. I was dehydrated.  I was at a low point. There is always a point in a race when the going gets tough. I had to decide to either succumb to the funk or push through it.  Even though I just left an aid station, I realized I wasn’t taking in enough calories I need so I began to eat and drink everything I had at the time. As I slowly climbed the pass between the two watersheds, I slowly yet steadily began to snap out of it. As I got onto Kammerdiner East, I started to feel a lot better and began to get into a grove.
I came to the section of the course where we departed Kammerdiner for a short respite toward the second to last aid station at mile 21. Approaching the aid station, I estimated that I think I was in the top fifty. As I refueled my bottles, I see Robert Baugley or also known as ‘British Bob’, running toward me up at the aid station.
“I’m the sweeper,” he said.
Utter confusion among the runners and aid station volunteers swept through the ranks. “Bullshit,” said one of the runners.
I thought there is no way that we are being swept. I was sure that I am somewhere in the top 50 participants.
“We got to the top of the boulders, down the other side and made a left and here we are,” British Bob said.
I begun to laugh. “You skipped 15 miles,” I said.
An aid station volunteer interjected. “You made a wrong turn. You need to cross Kammerdiner, take a RIGHT and turn up to Rote.”
“Oh Bloody Hell”, said British Bob.
As I left the aid station, British Bob followed then I pointed to the left turn toward Rote and I continued on straight toward the finish.
Down Kammerdiner West, I got back into the grove as I ran along the stream toward the last aid station. It seemed to be getting warmer – a lot warmer. At every point where I crossed the stream, I took off my cap, scooped up some water, and drenched my head in the cold stream water. I was starting to get skilled at bending over and scooping up  water with my cap as I ran without slowing my pace.
ACT THREE: Finally I came to the last aid station at mile 23. Knowing what was ahead, I downed a Carboom gel. About a half a mile away was Raw Trail.  Every time I had done this race, Raw Trail always been a kick in the ass. It is just an awful awful awful awful awful climb up a rocky boulder field of angry rocks that are conspiring against you.  Climbing up, it seemed like I did better the previous year than this years attempt however it was the only time during the race that I was passed by a large group.; maybe a half dozen runners.  My aching legs felt like they been through too much for them to go up the boulders.
Even course designer Brian Newcomer isn't looking forward to the Raw Trail. (2013 pic)

Even course designer Brian Newcomer isn’t looking forward to the Raw Trail. (2013 pic)

I got to the top. But unlike last year when my legs totally cramped up to the point that I was almost paralyzed and had to stand still like a statue – an tired, cramping, grimacing statue of hurt. This year I made to the summit of the ridge, my legs were tired but they didn’t cramp. I still felt terrible, but as I the descended toward and then onto Link Trail, I started to bounce back again and I was in far better shape than in previous years. Halfway down the mountain, my fatigue had melted away. I made it to the horseshoe curve on the course transitioning from rocky dirt to smooth asphalt. 24.25 done with 3 more to go.
A long time ago I learned if my body craved something then I should act on it if at all possible. The body knows what it wants. All throughout the race, I had been taking Tailwind for nutrition. However, my stomach and palette was done with it. All I wanted was lots of pure, clean, cold water. As I ran downhill toward town, a considerate homeowner left a cooler of water with a sign that read “take what you want”. I held my water bottle under the nozzle and took a big drink. Wow! That was perhaps the most refreshing and delicious water I had ever had in my life! I took several big gulps and then topped off my bottle. Even now, almost a year after the race,  I am still considering buying a case of beer, finding that house that had the water, and showing up on his/her doorstep and offering my thanks.
As I made my way through town I got the bead on several runners. I counted that passed the same number of runners that had passed me going up Raw Trail. Somehow it seemed that the water gave me a mental boost that I needed. We went over the bridge and toward the dreaded Green Mile, a 1.2 mile grassy strip of land along Route 220. As soon I got to the Green Mile, it seemed like it got very hot as if the temperature jumped 10 degrees. Yet, I charged down Green Mile as fast as I could muster. I didn’t pass a lot a people, just a few, but only because there wasn’t a lot of people to pass. I was determined not to slow down to a walk and I dug inside deep and I didn’t let up my pace.
Finally I made it to the end of the Green Mile, made a left under the highway, down the road past the cornfields and then a left toward the sportsmens and the finish. As I headed toward the finish, I knew that I had a hard yet satisfying run. I crossed the line at 6 hours and 20 minutes for a 39th place overall or about 70 spots higher than my typical finish from the last two years.
For the rest of the day, I tried to hide my joy that it had been one of the best races I had in awhile. As soon as I made it through the finish, I grew concerned with the other 900 or so runners on the course since it seems it got really hot really fast. The bright sun seem to bake everything underneath it like a french fry under a heat lamp.
But as friends and fellow runners came through the chute, most seemed to have had good day.  Race Results
As the afternoon went by, I was gauging how I was feeling. Comparing myself to others by scanning the crowded, most having problems walking. I was a tad sore but felt great overall. At the post-race party, even though I was staying the night so I didn’t need to drive and had the opportunity to drink all the Troegs beers I could drink – with the race and the heat, I don’t think I had more than three beers in the next five hours or so.
It wasn’t until an after an entire day of mingling before I hit the showers and into a change of clothes. My tent neighbors Jeff, Roth and Dave decided to head home so I crashed  the Kowalski party. Mary Kowalski, a running pal from Hollidaysburg, brought literally the entire Kowalski clan to participate in the final Mega. I think there might have been as many as thirty of them. I was there up until around midnight before I went back to my tent for the night.

September 2016: It has been more than a year since that race and I only had time recently (Sept. 23, 2015) to write and publish this account. Especially after the race and into the evening, there was a thin cloud of mourning knowing it was the Mega took its final bow. Yet, with everything else in life, things change. Every thing is fleeting. We move on. When on the trail, everything goes by so quickly yet you try to hone your senses and you try to take in as much as you can, when you can. The step you take now leads only to another step in another moment of time. The trail also teaches you to appreciate the nature around us – knowing that it will all pass by too soon. The Mega, with its 28 or so miles, too was just as ephemeral, just as enlightening, but in a larger scale, in chorus of a thousand shoes in a beat sublime.

“And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when
She sang”

(Everlong by the Foo Fighters) (Repeated Chorus)