Left to right: The Virgins. Katherine, Janice, Lisa and a random ear.

The Hyner Challenge is always like a family reunion of sorts. It seems like almost all of my trail running friends are there. This year was even more special. This time I had several Hyner Virgins to share in the experience. The cast of characters included Katherine Hainley, Janice Hartkorn, Lisa Spangle and Marc Wisniewski. They were doing the 25K while I was to do the 50K.
We met Friday and decided to caravan it from Hollidaysburg to Hyner, meeting up with Marc along the way in Tyrone and eating in Lock Haven before arriving in Hyner about 30 minutes after sundown.
We were up for only a couple of hours before retreating to bed. We all parked in the landing field below the Sportsman Association and slept in our vehicles.
My plan, again considering my nagging quad, was to take things easy and treat the race as a training run. I felt good the past week so I decided I would take advantage of the situation but had the option to throttle it back if it started to hurt during the race.

Ryan doing what Ryan does.

My race, the 50K, was an hour earlier than the 25K at 7am. As I was getting ready for the race, I realized I had left my running pack at home! In my rush to pack yesterday, I had left it behind! Lately, I been forgetting shit before a race and I wondered if I should start using a checklist.
I went around the parking lot and at registration, asking whomever I saw if they had a spare pack. Finally after about 30 minutes, Ryan Espulgar said he had a pack to spare.
Some background: I first met Ryan several years ago at Hyner. We were both climbing the last major hill of the race and Ryan asked me, since it was his first time there,”how much further it was to the finish?”.

At that race, he struggled. But flash-forward a few years later  he has become a superstar – running ridiculous distances and a few hundred mile races as well. It is remarkable how much he has accomplished. My sincerest kudos to him.
Anyways, he gave me a Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction pack but he did not have bottles the for it. After some more roaming, Jenny Rodgers, found a spare bottle in her car. For my second bottle, I would carry a 20oz. Gatorade.

Poor Roth

Finally getting my shit together, I was ready to walk to the start when it began to rain. The race starts at the Sportsmen’s Association. There was the usual cast of characters; Jeff and Renee Calvert, Tom McNearney, George Conrad, Aric Sponsler, Thad Will, about a dozen more familiar faces. While everyone was huddled together under whatever shelter they could find, Roth Reason was standing in the rain looking like the David Tennent in the rain meme. “Why are you so sad?” I walked up to him and asked.
After RD Craig Fleming and dignitary Sherry Collins from PA DCNR made some comments, it had stopped just prior to the horn going off.

Me at Cliffhanger

Over the bridge, through Cliffhanger and up Humble, I was bouncing between people I knew like Thad Will, Sean MacMillen, and Janine Gustzaw. I spent a lot of time running with Thad. I had volunteered to be his crew chief for the upcoming Eastern States 100 in August 2017. While climbing Humble, we talked about his prior races and his training plans for the big dance in August.
Prior to going up to Humble Hill, I already felt that this was not going to be a race for me. I was worried about my injured quad and the bad juju trying to find a running pack has all shed doubt that this would not be a good day. But as I reached the top of Humble Hill, I didn’t feel as tired and spent as in years past. But I decided to treat this like a training run rather than a race. Worried that I would aggravate my quad and I was just not in the mood to race, I was content to just having a relaxed run.

The iconic Hyner photo from the top at the point. The photographer wasn’t here when I past so here is Lisa who is much more photogenic than I.

At the top of Hyner, I stopped at the aid station to get the pack to fit right. It was too loose – the bottles bounced on my chest with every step. However, I was impatient and only wanted to stay at the aid station for a few seconds and for some reason I wasn’t able to figure out how to make the pack any tighter than it already was.
Going down into Reikert Hallow, I was able to overtake about a dozen runners, again using my experience going downhill to my benefit. I would try to find a sweet spot between insanity and breaking too much with my quads. I wanted to run with as less pounding as possible which meant at times bombing on the downhills. A couple of times I was able to use the patented “Tim Stessney-system” of leaping side-to-side like a mogul skier.
At the bottom I had caught up to a train of runners with Renee Calvert among one of them. Jeff Calvert, who I saw briefly at Humble Hill, had long gone ahead. At the 50K turn off the 25K course, David Walker as pointing runners onto the right path. As we started up Sledgehammer, Thad and I got hooked together amidst a train of about a half dozen runners. We chatted it up with the other runners and basically having fun. One runner, who was from Western New York near Ellicottville, was asking about different races in our part of the area. It turned out he knew Elmo Snively through his posts about Elmo’s Vol State 500K run in 2016.
Down to Ferrell Point and down into Ritchie Run, I was running with Thad. Then doing up Ritchie Run, I started to feel a little stronger than I had earlier in the race. I decided then (about halfway in the race) to put it into a higher gear. I actually started to race and charged up the hallow. This year the course was wet… much wetter. Ritchie Run was flowing about twice than I have seen it in years past. I had lost Thad and had caught up to Aric Sponsler and we jockeyed back and forth for the next few miles. That bastard did not want me to pass. We climbed out of the hallow and over the top to a scrubby plateau before reaching the aid station at a cabin that was a former Conservation Corps camp.
Out of the CC camp I had been feeling strong, passing more than being overtaken. I got to the top of Sledgehammer and I decided to press on the gas a little more on the downhill. Again I had caught up to Aric by the time we got to Johnson Run and merged with the 25K course. This year it seemed fewer people were on the 25K course than in past years and I didn’t reach any large groups until I hit the base of Psycho Steps. I felt good going up Psycho Steps despite the water that seemed to be everywhere on the trail. Many times it seemed like the trail and the creek were one of the same.
I remember The Hyner Virgins asked me earlier if the course was wet or muddy.

A little wet up Johnson Run.

“No… don’t be silly. You’re on a mountain!”, I said.

Now I was worried they were going to kill me when I reached the finish line. (It turned out that Katherine did not like the water torture at all!!)
Up Psycho Steps, I began to run into more 25K runners. As a courtesy and a good trail ambassador, I encouraged each one of them as I passed.
I got up to the top of the Black Forest and the aid station. I think it was manned by Team RWB Williamsport Chapter since every volunteer made mention of my red Sweat for Vets shirt and I couple of them recognized me as one of the race directors.
While at the aid station, I had caught up to Adam McGinnis and soon we started talking trash to each other. Adam left before I did since I was caught talking to some of the volunteers and tried again to adjust my pack to no avail. By this point my man boobs were very sore and I had developed a rub burn on my shoulders from the strap on the pack.
Realizing I had already spent too much time at the aid station, I grabbed two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without eating them. I munched on the first sandwich as I ran down the trail. I began going down Post Draft. This year it was very wet and with leaves calf high covering the trail, I had to go by faith on my foot placement. At the first section, I passed Adam. “Get out of my way, slow poke,” I said as I passed.
I gained speed and distance away from Adam as I entered another technical section. Going too fast on the leafy and muddy downhill, I ended up going wide to the left and off the trail. My shoes got caught in the tangle of laurel and I fell forward. My sandwich goes flying into the woods.
“My manwich!”, I cried out!
Another runner gives me a hand to get up. I am unhurt but my pride is broken and I was pissed to have lost a perfectly good sandwich. But I had more urgent matters than to cry over my lost lunch. Adam was catching up.
I got up to my feet and continued down Post Draft, hoping to keep up my surge to the bottom. I think I passed maybe a dozen slower 50K runners, passing them as quick as I can but showing as much courtesy as possible. I was constantly yelling “on your left!”
Finally, it was the climb up Cleveland Hallow. Though I knew from the onset that my legs felt much better than last year, I also know it was still going to be a tough section. I was always at the edge of my physical limit and wanted this section behind me as quick as I could muster. It was a slow grind up to the top before the awesome finale, S.O.B. – a straight-up the mountain scramble to the mountain to the top.

Thanks for being racist, Adam!

Halfway up the climb, I heard Adam, just reaching the bottom of the SOB, yell up to me, “Ben! I’m coming after you! I am going to get me some Chinese!” Other runners around him gasped, clearly offended by his racial taunt.
“Shut the fuck up, Adam!” I yelled back. Adam’s outbursts only pushed me to go forward. I got up to the top and paused at the aid station for a few seconds, grabbing a gel for the last leg home.
Next is the last section of the race which begins with the Horseshoe. Here, the course is an easy double track/Jeep road before reaching a pipeline and then Spring Trail to the Huff Run descent. The toughest thing about Horsehoe is not the terrain – but after climbing Cleveland Hallow and SOB, you reach Horseshoe’s flat and runnable terrain. Using muscles that haven’t been used for maybe hours, many end up here crippled on the side of the road with seized muscles. For me the challenge has always been not spending too much energy on the climb up Cleveland and SOB so I had plenty left in the tank. This section can be so frustrating since the entire section is so… runnable.
For me, it turned out that this year was not my best performance but also far from the worst. At least I was able to jog this section rather than walk even though I was tired at this point. Going over past races, I was slower than the first 50K I did here when I flew through this section crushing at 8 and 9 minute miles but I was faster than last year.
Just about when I reached the pipeline, Adam was on my back. We agreed to work together from here to the finish. Every single year – good years and the bad – running the 25K or the 50K – every time I turn off the pipeline and get onto Spring Trail… my legs would cramp. I think its from running a steady cadence on the Jeep road and pipeline then onto a technical singletrack. Also the pipeline right-of-way is about three and a half feet lower than the singletrack trail, requiring you to do a couple of “step ups” to lift yourself onto the trail.

Leg Cramp!

As we approached the turn onto Spring Trail, I recanted to Adam about how I would always cramp up up ahead. You would think I would have prepared for this, knowing what to expect. Well, as soon I made the turn and stepped up onto Spring Trail, my legs went into complete seize mode! In all the years running Hyner, this was the worse cramp I had and all I can do is shuffle forward. Adam disappeared into the woods like wildlife.
Spring Trail is about a mile or so long and it took me almost the entire length before my legs started to work like normal. I ran past Hyner View Run and then down Huff Run, trying to catch up to Adam but running at only about two-thirds of my capacity. My legs were always on the verge of cramping up again so I didn’t want to do any fancy feet work to cause them to seize up again.
Finally I made it to the paved road and the bridge. Entering the Sportmen’s Associations property, race director Craig Fleming has a “last F-U” – a small hill climb to the finish. At the bottom of the climb, I heard Adam from the top yelling at me. I was a little bit surprised he was only a few dozen yards ahead. I though he was gone like a rabbit when my legs cramped up at Spring Trail had reduced me to a crawl.

I finished at 6 hours and 47 minutes which was my slowest Hyner 50K ever. However, I am not disappointed since except for a small section where I was chased by Adam, I wasn’t out there to compete.
I had two races done and three more to go this season before summer. Spring has barely even started.

The beginning of the 25K. Left to right: Marc, Coryn, Katherine, Lisa, and Janice. (Also in orange on the right is Mike Haffley.)

POST RACE:
Hyner is always special. It is my favorite race, family reunion, and homecoming party all rolled into one. The post-race afternoon was spent drinking beer and talking to dozens of trail running friends as we recanted our race and what we have been doing with ourselves since the last time we saw each other. It was great hear the experiences of the Hyner Virgins; Katherine, Lisa, Marc and Janice. Janice helped Katherine get through the race when she had enough of the flowing water going up Johnson Run to last her a lifetime. Lisa tore up the 25K course with a mid-4 hour run – excellent for a first time. Marc had a solid run as well.
I was somewhat a bad host as the Hyner Virgins retired to the campsite while I continued to hang around at the Sportsmen’s Club for a few more hours. It was almost evening before I appeared at camp. We were joined by Matt Lipsey and his girlfriend before crashing the party and fire ring hosted by Robbie Risley and Mike Haffley.
Though this race had its share of highs and lows, the highs by far eclipsed the lows. The best was being able to share the experience with the newbies, catching up with friends, and planning the year ahead. It was the most fulfilling Hyner outing yet.