This past weekend was the Green Monster Trail Challenge 50k/25k/15k. As my previous blog posts have summarized, I had signed up for the 50k. Training went as well as it could have leading up to October 8th and I felt decently prepared to tackle the mountainous course despite being one of three people from New Jersey signed up for the race. Pennsylvanians had an obvious advantage if they lived and trained in the mountains, but I knew what I was signing up for going into the race and I willingly accepted the challenge. After all, I know I’m a mountain girl at heart.
Saturday – the day before the race
Because Wellsboro, PA was 4.5 hours from southern New Jersey, Josh & I planned to camp at Leonard Harrison State Park for the weekend. I coached a cross country meet at Desales University Saturday morning/early afternoon, drove home, packed up my car, and then drove to Josh’s to pack up his Jeep. We didn’t leave New Jersey until about 4:45 PM because of this hectic day. This was not ideal by any means, but it was what it was.
Our ETA was 9:30 PM. I knew I was in for a late pre-race night and navigating the twisty-turny roads of Wellsboro, PA in the dark made us both uneasy. After a few wrong turns, we made it safely to the campground. We set up our tent and canopy tent knowing that the weather forecast was predicting overnight rain. I was asleep on our air mattress by 10:45 PM with the alarm set for 5:00 AM.
Sunday – Race Morning
After a restless night sleep that felt like only three hours, the alarm sounded. Rain drops were hitting our rain fly and I exhaled numerous sighs of frustration. A rainy 50k would make for an extremely long day in the woods. I forced down a bagel with peanut butter and banana on it. We left for the race at 6:00 AM. The starting area was a 20 minute drive away and once again we found ourselves sketchily driving down dark, windy mountain roads – some of which were dirt.
We arrived to the USGS parking lot by 6:25 AM. Josh and I walked the 1/4 mile to the check-in tent with our headlights on. The rain had stopped but I kept my rain jacket on. I picked up my race bib, swag bag, and directions to aid stations for Josh. I also dropped off my drop bag in the designated spot. Having the option of a drop bag is always very welcomed and I appreciated the idea of having additional fuel available to me at the aid station of mile 20.5 – thank you Tioga Running Company (TRC)!
By the time we walked back to the Jeep, daylight was starting to peek past the surrounding mountains. I waited in line to use a port-a-potty (yuck!), then shed some of my layers. The humidity of the day lingered so I opted for a tank top and spandex shorts. I kept arm sleeves in my Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta just in case temperatures dropped on top of some of the mountains. All previous racers I had spoke to about the race had told me that historically the race always started in freezing temperatures. 2017 was the exception as the majority of the racers opted for shorts and short sleeves.
The race director conducted a pre-race briefing around 7:15 which was followed by the national anthem. My stomach was in knots. I was beyond nervous about what the day had in store for me and I felt nauseous. Josh tried calming me down and told me to run smart. I mentally stored his advice in my head as I approached the starting area.
Sunday – the important race recap stuff
For the remainder of the race recap, I am going to break down the race through aid station to aid station recaps. Instead of running the race as a 50k race, throughout the day I broke the race into 8 parts (there were 8 aid stations). This made the 50k distance seem less daunting. This allowed me to focus on one small goal at a time rather than one huge goal. The farthest stretch between aid stations was 5 miles so with my mental strategy, the farthest “race” I would be running would only be 5 miles. Be warned, this strategy might not work for everyone, but on race day, this was the best strategy I think I could have ever adopted.
Start to Aid Station #1 (Canada Run) – miles 0.0-5.0
By 7:25, all of us racers lined up at the starting line. After a countdown, we were sent off to the trails. I started the race conservatively and a lot of people were ahead of me. But I wasn’t too concerned. I didn’t let my adrenaline get the best of me. The first 1/2 – 3/4 mile or so was on a wide dirt road. Eventually we made a slight left at a trail head. Here stood a man in a T-rex costume cheering us on. I thought this was peculiar but I enjoyed the humor of the situation so early in the morning.
As the racers ducked into the single track, the trail wasn’t too technical but I needed to stay alert. Everybody at this point in the race was still pretty close together so keeping an appropriate distance from the racer in front of me was necessary to plan my footing.
After some nice, flowy single track, we began our first climb. I believe this climb started out gradual. I was brought down to a power-hiking pace and made a few moves around racers that were hiking a bit too slow for my desire. I politely scooted around them and continued the ascent. The climb felt like it was at least 2 miles long. If I recall correctly, I believe it got steeper as the climb continued. My calf muscles and my lungs burned but with every step, I knew I was getting myself closer to the top.
The race course was designed to have climbs followed immediately by descents. Once I reached the top of the first climb, I was rewarded with an enjoyable, flowy downhill. I was cautious on the downhill as my glasses were fogged over from the ungodly humidity of the morning. I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to see all that well and I felt like it was going to be a long, long day if I was running half blind the entire race.
We reached aid station #1 at the bottom of the descent. I chugged a half cup of Gatorade then continued on my way to the next trail head. Three miles until the next aid station.
Aid Station #1 (Canada Run) to Aid Station #2 (Baldwin Run) – miles 5.0-8.0
We were immediately gifted with another long uphill. This uphill hurt worse. It was steep, it was long and I felt like it was never going to end. Honestly, I don’t remember too much from this ascent. The downhill was a relief but my glasses were still fogged over so I was still running cautious (the struggle was real!).
I belief we ascended and descended a second climb during this stretch. I remember feeling like I had just ascended two of Hyner’s SOBs that were actually longer in length. Little did I know that the SOB-like climbs would continue.
During one of these climbs the man up ahead of me warned me that the trail was steep simultaneously as shale tumbled down towards me. Steep?! Yeah, I could tell. I was reaching for rocks that were intact to the trail just to give myself a little extra stability. I reached for a few trees that lined the trail just to pull myself up. I was using both my feet and my hands to keep myself from sliding down. One…step…at a time.
My legs were burning up these climbs but I kept telling myself that every step forward was a step in the right direction.
The field of runners was more spread out at this point as the three climbs had separated a lot of people. After power-hiking at the top of the ascent to recover my legs and lungs, I happily started running with one or two runners who were keeping a steady pace.
At the Baldwin Run aid station, I picked up another cup of Gatorade and drank the whole thing. I wasn’t ready for food/snacks yet but the aid station was fully stocked. Three miles until the next aid station.
Aid Station #2 (Baldwin Run) to Aid Station #3 (Stone Road) – miles 8.0-11.0
The runners I had been running with departed the aid station at the same time as me so I knew I would be running with people for hopefully another three miles to the next aid station.
We reached yet another climb that was steep. I peeked upwards a few times just to see that a few racers up ahead of me were still climbing. So…many…steep…ascents. Once we finally got to the top, I power-hiked to recover. I ran for about 400 feet than started power-hiking again. The woman behind me stayed in step with my tactic of run-hiking. After a relatively “flat” section of the course, we were rewarded with aid station #3!
Spectators lined this aid station as it was one of the first aid stations that were safely accessible by car. I spotted Josh immediately. Everyone was cheering and their energy was contagious. Josh ran stride by stride with me to the aid station tent. He asked me how things were going and I told him “I feel like I just climbed up SOB three times in a row”. He offered some words of encouragement. I grabbed another cup of Gatorade and then continued on my way. Two and a half miles until the next aid station.
Aid Station #3 (Stone Road) to Aid Station #4 (Broad Ridge)- miles 11.0-13.5
This was the shortest stretch between aid stations and it flew by! The two runners I had the pleasure of running with stayed comfortably behind me throughout most of this stretch. The man politely complimented me and my fellow trail chick on picking good lines to run down the technical trail. I appreciated this uplifting compliment!
Before I knew it we were approaching the next aid station. I heard this aid station way off in the distance as a local girl scout troop’s cheering echoed throughout the woods. Their energy was perfect for this point in the race.
I wanted to fill up my pack with more water because I knew I was drinking a lot. The humidity and heat required a lot of extra hydration. I filled up the bladder at the water cooler and grabbed a Fig Newton. That Fig Newton hit the spot! Josh told me it was all down hill from here….ha! Funny joke, Josh!
I spent a little more time than my fellow running buddies did at this aid station so I ended up departing back onto the trail alone. Four miles until the next aid station.
Aid Station #4 (Broad Ridge) to Aid Station #5 (Apple Orchard) – miles 13.5-17.5
Although I could see my running buddies up ahead, they weren’t within distance of me catching them.
After about 1/4 mile away from the aid station, we hit Frankenstein’s Forehead…..the infamous Frankenstein’s Forehead. According to my Garmin upload to Strava, Frankenstein’s Forehead is a 0.2 mile descent at -31.6% grade. Although I didn’t have these statistics during the race, it was obvious that this was a steep descent. The trail was made up of mostly loose shale which made it interesting. I managed to only slightly slip once (thank you, Altra Superiors for your extra grippy lugs!!)
I am not that fast at descents so my previous running buddies continued to gap me. I was cautious going down Frankenstein’s Forehead. It probably would have been quicker to slide down on my butt, but I wasn’t in the mood to have dirt and rocks plastered to my spandex for the rest of the day.
The trail reached another climb. There was nobody within eyesight ahead of me or behind me. I was all alone simply moving forward from pink ribbon to pink ribbon. I began to talk aloud to myself at this point. First, during the climb, I created a song about going uphill and how with every step I took up the hill I wouldn’t have to take that step again during the race. Then, when the climb became more gradual but still required a power-hike, I made a song up about the yellow leaves on the trees. It sounds crazy, but the songs distracted me from the soreness of my muscles.
Finally at the top of the climb, the trail exited the woods into a pipeline opening on the mountain. I spotted another racer trekking up the mountain and called out to him saying “are you in the 50k?!”. He said yes and asked me where I came from. I proceeded to point to the opening in the woods. He seemed to be following the pink survey flags up the mountain which I knew was wrong. He continued to explain to me that he was in 3rd place overall and that nobody had passed him all day. My gaze drifted to the woods on the other side of the open pipeline field where I spotted pink ribbons and a yellow blazed tree. During the pre-race briefing, the race director had told us to follow the yellow blazed trees when in doubt of the course direction so I proceeded to the woods and justified my decision to the apparent 3rd place racer. He agreed that this was probably the right direction and he sped off down the trail.
Paranoia started pacing through my head. What if I had somehow gotten off course, missed the next aid station in which Josh was probably waiting for me, and then somehow gotten back onto course to the point where I was now near the 3rd place guy? I feared I had somehow cut the course. There was still nobody within eye sight ahead of me or behind me (with the exception of the “3rd place guy” who had just sped down the trail). Every possible horrible situation was going through my head. Was I the lost one? Was I going the wrong way? Why was I so close to the guy in 3rd place all of a sudden?
As paranoid thoughts continued to race through my head, I heard a loud “F@#!”. Uh oh. Before I could process what might have happened, the guy comes storming back up the trail yelling “I already went this way and now I’m lost and I need to find my way back to where I need to be”…….oh shoot. All I knew is that I was going to continue on my way following the pink ribbons and the yellow blazed trees. I hoped and prayed that I would catch up to someone in front of me soon so that I could figure out if I was still on the right part of the course.
After about another 1-1.5 miles, I finally spotted someone ahead of me power hiking. I kindly asked him what his mileage was and he said about 16.5 miles. THANK GOODNESS! This matched the mileage on my watch and a huge feeling of relief overtook me. I explained to the runner that I had come across a guy that was lost who was apparently in third. I thanked him for easing my paranoia and continued on my way.
After about another mile, I reached the next aid station. Although this aid station was supposed to be unmanned, a volunteer was there with water, Gatorade and a few snacks. I grabbed another cup of Gatorade. The woman who I had been running with back through the last two aid stations was stretching out her calf muscles. I continued back onto the trail. Three miles until the next aid station.
Aid Station #5 (Apple Orchard) to Aid Station #6 (Hessel Gessel) – miles 17.5-20.5
I continued to run this section of the course alone. It wasn’t nearly as hilly as the first half of the race and my legs felt relieved. I knew that my drop bag would be waiting at the next aid station. I also knew that Josh would be at this aid station along with several other spectators.
During the ascent in this section I attempted to eat part of my peanut butter and raisin wrap that had been effective in my previous 50k in 2016. I took about four bites but I couldn’t quite stomach the rest. It was too dry and it was taking me forever to chew. I concluded that my race would be fueled off of Shot Bloks.
This section of the course wasn’t overly technical. I was still focused on staying alert to keep my footing precise and efficient. Towards the end of this three mile stretch, we were rewarded with a wide open fire road type area that was grassy. This lead us right into the Hessel Gessel aid station.
I spotted Josh and he was taking pictures/video. I was relieved to have reached this point. It felt like the psychological half way point because I could re-stash my pack with fuel. This aid station was manned with local cross country runners. I added some more water to my hydration bladder. Josh handed me another sleeve of Shot Bloks and I picked up two more Fig Newtons (thank goodness for Fig Newtons!) from the aid station. I meandered back into the woods after receiving some more words of encouragement from Josh. Five miles until the next aid station.
Aid Station #6 (Hessel Gessel) to Aid Station #7 (Frying Pan)- miles 20.5-25.5
Immediately after leaving the aid station, I started off this stretch of the course with 3-4 men. We navigated down about five huge boulders. I settled in behind a man wearing Altra Timps and proceeded to have a conversation with him about the Timps. After 50 feet later, the group of men and I realized we had just ran in a circle as we had returned back to the boulders. We had made a right at the bottom of the boulders instead of a left. I discovered this mistake, navigated back down the huge boulders for the second time within 3 minutes and made a left to follow the pink ribbons. Oops.
The group of men followed me down the trail back to another wide dirt road. We crossed the road onto another single track trailhead. I let them go ahead of me knowing that if it was a descent that I would be slower than them. We settled back into a nice pace. I heard Josh drive by on the dirt road ahead honking his horn and cheering for me – it made me smile.
Eventually we reached another climb and I politely scooted by the group of men as they were power-hiking slower than my normal power-hiking speed. I continued to power through the gradual uphill.
All the previous race recaps I read of the Green Monster 50k stated that the 2nd half of the course is more runnable than the 1st half. I can affirm that this is the truth. I did A LOT of running throughout mile 17 to the finish. I still conserved energy by power-hiking the climbs but there were a lot of runnable, non-technical sections of this part of the course. It was a relief!
This section of the course navigated through some muddy sections – probably from the rain from the previous night mixed with all the runners who had already came down the trail that day. It was sloppy and my shoes were covered in mud but I continued moving in the forward direction.
The trail wandered through 3-4 stream crossings before the next road crossing. I originally planned to keep my feet dry but there was no safe way to cross via rocks so I decided to splash through the streams instead. It was more fun to do that anyway!
Josh met me at this aid station too and told me that I only had two more big climbs to go. Uuuuggggggh, two more climbs?!!? My legs were shot at this point. I crossed another wide but shallow creek and started on my second to last climb. Three miles until the next aid station.
Aid Station #7 (Frying Pan) to final aid station #8 (Scotch Pine) – miles 25.5-28.5
I ascended the second to last climb. My legs were exhausted. It felt like it went on for at least 2 miles. Up, up, up. Eventually when I got to the top, I was rewarded with a lovely downhill which I took full advantage of.
This section of the course was simple: go up the mountain, come back down the mountain. I don’t remember too much about this section. I just remember that the final 400-500 feet of this section was on a ridge of single track trail. I could see the aid station down below but I had to follow the trail to get there. I crossed another wide, shallow creek and Josh asked me how I felt.
My response was short and simple: “I feel like I have 54 minutes to run the last 3.75 miles to the finish.”
My goal going into the race was 1) to finish and 2) to finish between 7 and 8 hours. I knew I was going to be extremely close to the 8 hour mark. I had 54 minutes to ascend another long climb, descend the mountain, and run the 1/2 mile of flat road to the finish.
I think I spent a total of 45 seconds at that last aid station. I chugged one final cup of Gatorade and started up, once again, another climb. 3.75 miles until the finish line.
Final aid station #8 (Scotch Pine) to the finish line – miles 28.5-32.2ish
I left the aid station saying to Josh, “I need to book it”. I needed to book it all the way up this final climb. Then I needed to book it all the way back down to the finish. 54 minutes.
I power-hiked for at least one mile up the final climb. I felt like I was a woman on a mission. Actually, I know I was a woman on a mission. Even when the trail continued upwards, I got to a point where it was a runnable uphill. I wasn’t moving fast but I was moving faster than I would have been power-hiking it.
I passed the man that had been lost way back at mile 15 as he was power-hiking. I kept pushing myself to keep up a “brisk” pace up this final climb. I was slightly panick-y knowing that I was going to be extremely close to that 8 hour mark.
I finally made it the top of the final climb and I expended all of my remaining energy on that final descent down the mountain. I was hyper-focused on making it safely down the mountain in a fast and efficient manner. I made sure I was putting my feet in the right places to avoid any unneeded ankle twisting. I kept my eyes peeled for pink ribbons. Now was not the time to get off course. I have never ran so fast down a mountain ever before in my life. Pure adrenaline is what made me forget how sore I was being 31 and 32 miles into the race. I needed to keep running and I needed to keep running fast.
After what felt like 5 miles, I finally made it the end of the trail head. The trail put me out onto the side yard of a Wellsboro resident. As he sat on his porch, I quickly asked him where to go. He told me to go down the road.
I made that final turn onto the road and I could see the finishing area. I was running so fast down this road and I was terrified to look at my watch. I hadn’t looked at my watch since leaving the final aid station because I was too fearful to see how much time I had remaining.
I was getting closer and closer to the finishing area and spectators were sporadically spread out along the dirt road cheering, clapping, and ringing cow bells. I finally got within eyesight of the finishing clock and I could read that it said 7:57. I knew I was going to be under 8 hours and a huge smile came across my face. I heard Josh cheering me on! It was such a great feeling knowing I had accomplished my goal of finishing under 8 hours.
I officially crossed the line in 7:58:08. I was handed a medal by a friendly race volunteer. Josh walked over to me and offered me a congratulations. All I could muster up was “I have never ran so fast down a mountain before ever in my life”. I made it!
Sunday – Post-Race Happenings
Josh guided me over to a table and chairs underneath a pavilion. He handed me a Gatorade and proceeded to exchange stories about our day. We eventually walked back into the open area to sit in the warmth of the sunshine. Josh had a beer from the local brewery that was offering beers. I just wanted to sit and not move another muscle.
What. A. Day.
After slowing hobbling back to the Jeep, I changed out of my sweat-drenched clothes and soaked shoes. I shared a few brownies with Josh. I craved pizza so we researched local pizza places we could pick up a pizza from. None of Wellsboro’s local pizza shops were open on a Sunday afternoon so we opted for a medium cheese Pizza Hut pizza. We drove back to the campground and immediately opened the box of pizza. I devoured four slices. Yum!
I was asleep by 9:30 PM that night. My legs were exhausted. My body was tired. I was ready for sleep, the sleep that I earned!
My Race Review:
Would I race this again?: Maybe. The 4.5 hour drive to the race makes for a long weekend of driving but the course is beautiful, the race atmosphere is perfect, the course is well-marked, and aid stations are fully stocked with ultra runner favorites.
How would you review Green Monster Trail Challenge as a challenge?: Yes, the 50k is a challenge. For those of you who have done Hyner, I warn you that Green Monster is by far a lot more technical. The trails are rocky, rooty, and steep. The course hits you with ascent-descent, ascent-descent, so there’s really not many flat sections of the course. If you’re looking for a well-groomed race, do Hyner. If you want more of a challenge in the technical area of ultra races, do Green Monster.
How would you review the post-race celebration?: There’s free beer, free BBQ, and a table of snacks/drinks. Although I am not a beer drinker and I’m a vegetarian, I thought the post-race celebration was perfect as it was low-key and relaxing after a long day in the mountains. There were plenty of places to sit and enjoy the afternoon as other racers were finishing.
My Race Statistics:
Official Time: 7:58:08
10th overall female finisher
39th overall finisher of 79 (I’m a middle-of-the-pack kinda girl!)
1st place age group 20-29
Garmin distance: 32.4 miles
Average pace: 14:46/mile
Garmin elevation: 7,000 feet of gain/loss (advertised as 7800 feet, but at that point, what’s another +/- 800 feet?)
Mile split for mile 31: 9:50
Mile split for mile 32: 8:55
Total Steps: 72,175
Fuel: 8 shotbloks, 3 Fig Newtons, 8 small cups of Gatorade, and A LOT of water
Thank you, Josh, for supporting me through three months of training. Thank you for being my chauffeur to and from the race. Thank you for meeting me at so many aid stations when you knew I would only be there for a few minutes before disappearing back into the woods. Thank you for buying me a pizza – my favorite post-long-run food. Thank you for being the best supporter I could ever ask for.
And, Green Monster, thank you for a challenge. Thank you for a wonderful day in the mountains, on these trails, and through the woods. Thank you for forcing me to run down the mountain at sub-10 minute pace when I’ve already ran 30 miles. Thank you for pushing me and making me a stronger runner.
For now I will rest and recover and relive the race through the stories I can tell and the lessons I can share.
What a race.