A few weeks ago I completed the Xterra Atlantic trail race series. The series was four races, culminating with a half-marathon. I’m slightly behind on blogging; however, after looking back I did recap the first two races of the series. For brevity’s sake, I’ll just post finishing results for the first two races and recap the final two races of the trail series below.
As the series progressed, I became less and less motivated to race. I had no desire to race a 10k. All I wanted to do was run an ultra. I was craving the mountains, not the swamplands. Yet, there I was on a humid Sunday morning pretending to be happy I was about to race.
It had rained for 4-5 days straight leading up to the race. The local mountain bike team that my dad coaches practices and races at this venue – Camp Edge. I’ve done numerous trail building days on these trails. I had even raced on these trails for the Sasquatch 5k. I knew the trails didn’t drain well. With 4-5 days of rain behind us, I knew that the course was going to be sloppy. This also added to my lack of motivation.
I was happy that Jess was racing too. I warned her about the mud and we both joked that we had signed up for a trail race, not a mud run.
“Sloppy” didn’t even do the trail conditions justice. It was a disaster. I went out hard for two reasons: because I knew these trails inside and out, forwards & backwards AND because I knew the mud would get progressively worse as more racers ran through it.
Two women passed me around the two mile mark. By mile three, I had mentally checked myself out of the race. The trails were crap, I was sliding everywhere, and I did NOT feel like doing a second loop.
We ran through the finish line and turned right to head back out across the field and into the woods. Here we go again. Loop 2. I gave up on running fast through the mud. The mud was worse the second time around because now we were running through mud that 100 other people had already ran through. I was frustrated. I was agitated. I was not having fun.
All I truly remember about loop 2 was focusing on not sliding in the mud and carelessly splashing through the puddles. It was hot so the puddles were a nice relief.
When we exited the woods, my dad, Josh, and Steve were taking pictures. My dad told me to pick it up and my response was an irritated “I don’t feel like it”. I crossed the line as the 3rd overall female and 21st overall of 68, in 56:05.
I was happy that Jess raced hard and finished 3rd in her age group. I was super proud of her for finishing her first ever trail 10k and I hoped that she would attend the next trail race of the series with me! I was also excited because we were all going to a wine festival after the race and I just love wine!
Disclaimer: I won’t be doing this race again. I didn’t enjoy the course conditions, I despise races that are two loops, and I just didn’t like the race atmosphere.
Big Elk Half-Marathon:
I was hoping that I would be in tip-top shape going into the last race of the series; however, my running motivation had dwindled over the course of four months and my cycling motivation had peaked. Due to work schedules, weekend events, and vacation, the training plan I had created for myself was merely a piece of paper hanging on my bulletin board.
My longest run leading up to Big Elk was 8 miles. Despite failing at following the plan, vacation provided me with an opportunity to spend miles and miles on my feet, climbing up mountains. I knew that the hills wouldn’t be a problem. Instead, my endurance might end up being the problem.
On the morning of race day, we arrived to the starting area with 25 minutes until start time. 25 minutes to spare is considered rushing to me so I frantically ran from the parking lot to the bathroom and from the bathroom to the packet pick-up area. I ran back to the parking lot, pinned my bib on crookedly, threw on my Ultimate Direction pack and ran back to the starting line.
The first mile was slightly downhill and I hoped that the crowd would eventually thin out. I found myself leading a pack of 5-6 runners on some single track and I wished that they would just go around me instead of following so closely on my heels. I was familiar with the trails so I knew what sections to be cautious through and what sections to speed up.
We ran past the first water stop and I yelled at a woman trying to pass me that she had missed the turn. It pays to pay attention, people! At the top of the next hill, Josh appeared! I laughed that he was just standing in the middle of the woods.
Finally half of the group of people went around me. A few still remained on my heels and I tried to shake them by speeding up. They stuck close.
I was running faster than my comfort zone trail pace and by mile 6ish, my left knee started bugging me. I couldn’t catch my breath and I just wanted to enjoy my time in the woods. I pulled to the side and let a few runners go around me. Finally, I could run in peace!
I spent most of miles 6-10 by myself. I was content this way. I listened to nature rather than the rapid breathing of myself and those that were once around me. I finally relaxed into the race. I was finally enjoying myself. I even took breaks to walk up some hills. All of this is my trail bliss.
The course went through a field with grass up to my hip. I was frustrated because I knew this wasn’t truly a trail. They just stuck flags in a grassy field to make things “interesting”. The only thoughts going through my head were “ticks, ticks, ticks everywhere!”
When we got back on an actual trail, a few people came up behind me. I let them pass and I just kept at my steady happy-go-lucky pace. Our course eventually met up with the 5k/10k course and there were a lot of runners on the trail now.
I passed a few people who were trudging through their shorter race and I knew we were getting closer to the end. We ran through some streams that felt super refreshing. By this point the top of my left foot was also bothering me so the cold water felt great on my sore foot.
The course exited the woods and brought us toward the finishing area. I ran confidently towards the finish line and Josh yelled at me to smile. I smiled.
I crossed the line and looped back to find Josh, Jess, & Steve. We talked about Jess’s 10k that she CRUSHED! She beat her previous 10k trail time by 14 minutes. We waited patiently for results, I changed out of my race attire, and then we waited for the awards ceremony.
I finished in 2:08:55 as the 4th overall female and 1st in my age-group. The results posted online are incorrect (once again). I knew my time would be around the two hour mark so I was more than content with a 2:08. I had completed the trail series, Jess had crushed her 10k, and then we all celebrated with brunch on Main Street, Newark.
I won the trail series for my age-group, therefore, winning a free entry to Xterra Nationals in Ogden. I will not be attending Nationals because the plane ticket is far too expensive and by September I will be in full grad school mode.
Completing the series was more of a mental challenge for me rather than a physical challenge. I found myself highly unmotivated for most of the races. I enjoyed the Brandywine 12k the most due to the ruggedness of the trails. Big Elk was my second favorite because I got to spend 2+ hours in the woods. Lums Pond 12k was semi-decent because I’ve never been to that trail system before; however, it’s too flat for me and doesn’t benefit my strengths. Wetlands 10k was my absolute least favorite race of the entire series. The mud was annoying and I hate courses that are two loops.
Next year, I probably won’t run any of the races again. It was something different for me to try this year in the interim of training for another ultra; however, my heart is set on ultras in the mountains.
It’s been real, Xterra, but now it’s time for you to crown another Xterra Champion.
Last year, I attended the Hyner View Trail Challenge merely as a guest to cheer on my dad and a bunch of friends as they raced through the mountains. However, exactly 9 days ago, I finished my first ever Hyner 25k. I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face and a new sense of accomplishment for a race that one year ago I was terrified to sign up for. This race boosted my confidence, gave me a new appreciation for the trail running community, and left me on a runner’s high for days after I had crossed the finish line. Let me begin this recap the day before the race so all you readers can get the full digitalized Hyner experience.
Friday morning Josh and I prepared to leave for Hyner. We loaded up my brother’s truck with our camping gear, food for the weekend, the basic necessities for personal hygiene, and layers of clothes. (side note: we were driving my brother’s truck up to Hyner because Josh’s Jeep desperately needed a mechanic’s attention and my little ‘ol Rav 4 just can’t handle mountainous hills anymore) We left Josh’s house a little after 10 AM, made a few stops on our way out of New Jersey (we checked to make sure my Altra Lone Peaks were packed in the truck three times before we left the roads of NJ), and before we knew it we were headed straight down the PA Turnpike towards the mountains.
After stopping at the Wawa before Route 80, we continued on our way towards Lock Haven. Miles and miles later, we arrived in Lock Haven. This would be the last town of cell phone reception for me (thanks, AT&T) but I wasn’t complaining because I was more than ready to be completely disconnected for the next 2.5 days. After a scenic drive, we arrived at the airfield where we met up with our friend (Chad) who was already setting up his camp. We pitched our tent, set out our camping chairs and prepared for a fun-filled weekend completely immersed in the trail running community.
We picked up our bibs and race packets, scoped out the “Run PA” gear, and returned to our camp. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the set-up of the temporary race weekend “campground”, let it be known, that these “campsites” are primitive. There is no running water and no flushing toilets. Most of the men (and some of the women I suppose) opt to utilize the woods as their bathroom instead of wandering up to the “modernized” port-a-potties (*yuck!*). Regardless of the toilet situation (or lack there of), I was perfectly content in my weekend getaway home.
Soon after picking up our race packets, we all took a 5 minute drive down the road to North Bend United Methodist Church that was hosting a spaghetti dinner for the racers and the community. Last year we had visited this dinner and were pleasantly surprised by the large portion sizes (carbs!!) and dinner services. This year was no different. For a small monetary donation of your personal discretion, the three of us got full plates of spaghetti (with or without meatballs – thank you for appreciating us vegetarians!), side salads, bread, and dessert. We consumed our carbs for the night and returned back to camp with full stomachs and pure focus for the race the next morning.
Shortly after we arrived back at camp, two more friends joined our camping area. We socialized with some of our camping neighbors and talked about running (surprise, surprise, right?). We decided to go to sleep a little after 9 o’clock but some of our other neighbors were still up enjoying the cool, crisp night. I wasn’t bothered by the noise however, and soon I fell asleep.
I was woken the next morning around 6 AM by the sound of car doors slamming and people talking. Although most of our camping neighbors and friends were sleeping, other racers were beginning to filter into the airfield to pick up their race bibs and packets. Although, I was hesitant to leave my warm sleeping bag, I knew I needed to get up and start moving.
I ate my normal pre-race breakfast (peanut butter and banana on bread) and gathered my race gear. Because Josh was driving the truck up to the top of Hyner View, I needed to make sure I had everything out of the truck that I needed for the race before he drove away.
The 50k racers started at 8 AM so Josh and I waited at the start of the bridge for our 50k friends to run by. After they ran by, Josh and I returned to our camping area. I double and triple checked that I had everything that I needed and then Josh drove away. He needed to drive up to the top of Hyner View to cheer on our 50k friends at the top.
After he left, I used the oh-so-“clean” port-a-potties one last time. As I was waiting in the very long line (apparently everyone wanted to see what the inside of the port-a-potties looked like…) I could see little silhouettes of the 50k racers up on the ridge on the mountain. I tried to be excited that I would be trudging up there in less than an hour, but part of me was really nervous. I knew what kind of pain I was going to be in climbing up Humble Hill – I had ran/hiked up it for “fun” last year in order to see my dad/friends at the top of Hyner View. I knew Humble Hill was going to hurt – I just forgot how MUCH it was going to hurt.
I made my way over to the start line 10 minutes before race start. I found a spot somewhat close to the front of the crowd. I had been warned and coached by many experienced Hyner racers that I needed to be towards the front of the crowd so I didn’t get stuck in the mass of people trying to filter onto a single track trail 1 mile into the race. I also knew I had to go out fast….really fast. The race started and a bunch of people got around me. Luckily, I knew I would have the entire length of the long bridge and then some more time on the road to get around the majority of the crowd. My first mile? A 7:14. I had gone out at 5k pace instead of 25k pace but I knew it had to be done. I made it to the single track before 80% of the field did so I was able to ease myself onto the trail without any drama.
The single track lasts nearly a mile until you start ascending Humble Hill. I was trying to maintain a moderate trail pace because I didn’t want to slow the people behind me down. I think I kept up nicely with the flow of the race at that point. There was someone a few steps ahead of me and someone a few steps behind me. We were spaced out evenly.
Before I could think very much more about it, Humble Hill appeared. We started ascending, and ascending, and ascending, and ascending. I had done this hill once before but this time around it kicked my butt. Instantly, my heart rate skyrocketed and my calf muscles burned. I tried to push off my thighs for extra leverage but nothing was doing the trick. The initial ascent of Humble Hill felt like an eternity. People were passing me left and right and rightfully so. They were pushing themselves. They were embracing the pain and exhaustion. They were beating that hill. I on the other hand was being defeated. I just couldn’t get myself together long enough to push through the incline. I was doubting my every thought as to why I thought doing this race would be a good idea. Climbing up Humble Hill, I couldn’t even shake the thought of “how am I ever going to finish this entire race with how I’m feeling right now?”. I tried my best to embrace the challenge, but the effects of running in flat southern NJ wasn’t really helping me get up the hill. I kept reminding myself that Josh would be at the top. Josh would be at the top ringing a cowbell and telling me that I looked strong. After what felt like 45 minutes of powerhiking up the hill, I finally could hear the cheers from atop Hyner View. The sound of the crowd at the top seemed close but there was still so much hill to go. I focused on taking one step at a time. The kind and patient man behind me told me to just keep stepping forward and that I was doing a great job – (I’m sorry I don’t know your name, kind and patient man, but I really appreciated your encouragement at that moment in time!).
We reached the top and I saw a drone hovering to my right. The woman in front of me lifted her arms up as if she was trying to get its attention but I didn’t have the energy to do that. I could hear the cowbell and then I heard Josh’s voice telling me to smile. I forget if I did end up smiling for him – I was just really exhausted. We rounded the wall and Josh was on the other side telling me that I did awesome. He asked how I was feeling and I just told him “that was really hard”. He proceeded to run beside me telling me that I did great and to continue to do great in the remaining 12 or so miles of the race. I hoped I would be able to live up to his expectations.
I passed through the Hyner View aid station and grabbed a few sips of Gatorade. Then, we began the descent. It was a long descent with many switchbacks. A lot of people passed me on the downhill but I wasn’t concerned. I let go of all my racing instincts and opted to just be out there to enjoy the race. I pulled off to the side of the trail when someone needed to pass. I didn’t want to slow anyone else’s race down with my cautious descending skills. We reached the bottom of the hill after a few miles and the hill got extremely slick with mud. I was afraid of sliding down the hill so I was extremely cautious. I probably actually would’ve been faster if I would’ve just slid down on my butt. But because I wasn’t necessarily in a rush, I just took my time.
A hiker had warned everyone that the stream crossings of Johnson’s Run were high. He told us to be careful. I knew I would be careful because slippery rocks are another worry of mine. Our first stream crossing was gifted with a two logs that had been put together to make a make-shift bridge. The next 15-20 stream crossings (and I’m not exaggerating saying 15-20), however, were a free-for-all. It was impossible to keep my feet dry so I just trudged through each stream crossing with a purpose. At some of the crossings, the water was up to my knee. I just kept trudging. Even when we weren’t necessarily crossing the stream, we were running up stream. I swear we were running up waterfalls at certain points (but I’m probably just being dramatic).
Johnson’s Run was a good long portion of the race. I was enjoying the scenery and the uphill wasn’t nearly as torturous as Humble Hill. I was enjoying the entire experience of the race. I forgot about the pain of Humble Hill and was just out there enjoying the day in the woods. After some time, we approached the Johnson’s Run aid station. This aid station had American flags leading up to it. I enjoyed that nice sentimental touch to the aid station. I grabbed another two or three swigs of Gatorade and continued on my way.
We descended again. This time, I was feeling a little more confident in my descents. The trail reminded me a lot like White Clay where I ran frequently last summer/fall. There were a few instances where my momentum got the best of me but I didn’t trip at all so I was surviving just fine. At the bottom of this hill, there were two men pointing which direction to go. I made sure I was going the right way for the 25k racers. We began yet another uphill.
I was getting used to powerhiking by this point of the race. The hills just weren’t possible for my body to ascend at a running speed. My little South Jersey calf muscles just weren’t ready for the Hyner, PA hills. I knew this coming into the race so it wasn’t a surprise to me when the hills zapped all my energy and momentum. I wasn’t mad. I was just accepting of the fact that I needed to powerhike in order to finish this race.
Another racer came up behind me and I asked him if he needed to go around me. He said my pace was the exact same as his so he didn’t need to pass. We got to talking about where we were from and if we’ve ever raced Hyner before. This racer was from Lock Haven and he had finished the 25k numerous times. He was pleasantly surprised to hear that I was from the flat part of New Jersey and was a first time Hyner racer. He told me I was on pace for a sub-4 hour finish which he seemed to be impressed with. I hadn’t been looking at my watch during the entire race because I wasn’t interested in my pace or how far I had left to run – I was just out there to enjoy the day.
I asked the racer if the hill we were ascending had a name. I had a feeling it was SOB (named SOB rightfully so) but I was told that SOB was extremely steep. All we were doing at that point was hiking up switchbacks. He informed me that we were on the bottom portion of SOB. He warned me of what was to come but I ensured him I already had been told what SOB was going to be like.
We continued upward and that’s when I saw the real SOB. All the racers in front of me were at a crawling pace. Mostly everyone had both hands out touching the ground in order to get up the hill. Everyone was taking cautious steps in order to avoid slipping on the loose dirt beneath their feet. The hill was probably only 200m in length but it was a long 200m. My lungs were burning again. My quads felt like they were lacking power to push myself up the hill. My calf muscles ached. Hello, SOB.
There were a few spectators waiting along the climb of SOB. One of them mentioned that we only had 100 more vertical feet to climb. The other was ensuring us that we were almost there. I’m not exactly sure how these spectators were standing so nonchalantly on this extremely steep hill but that was probably just dramatic thoughts in my head at that time. I remember yelling out “THIS IS RIDICULOUS” to anyone who may have been listening. I also remember thinking that they should’ve just put a ladder on SOB so that we could ascend easier (I sound like such a wimp saying that now that I have actually survived the race).
SOB was the hill that I had nightmares about last year. I kid you not, this hill gave me real life nightmares in my sleep. I remember the nightmare vividly. I was trying to get up the hill and I was physically unable to get to the top. I was clawing my way up a grassy incline and just couldn’t dig my hands into the ground to pull myself up. I was just stuck at the bottom of the hill with no physical strength to get to the top.
BACK TO REALITY THOUGH….I made it to the top. The hill wasn’t like the nightmare I had last year. With the encouragement of the man behind me that ascended the entire length of SOB (from the switchbacks to the tippy top), I made it to the top. I’m sorry I did not get your name or bib number to thank you but I hope that maybe the “man from Lock Haven that had raced the 25k many times before and was very much impressed by my southern-New-Jersey-flat-lander-speed-in-the-mountains” gets to read this blog. Thank you, SOB companion, for encouraging me all the way to the top.
At the top of SOB, we were all gifted an aid station. I walked up to the aid station with my legs feeling like jello. I took another cup of blue Gatorade, took a deep breath, and continued on my way towards the finish line. I knew that SOB was the third and final climb of the race and that the course was “all down hill from here”. There was an occasional mini uphill along the straight path after SOB but nothing overly strenuous compared to the other uphills in the race.
I was thrilled at this moment in the race. So thrilled, that I was running with a huge smile across my face. I had made it up every climb of the race. All that was left to do was run downhill to the finish….the finish line that was probably still about 3-4 miles away.
I was enjoying myself. I knew what was ahead because I had ran down Huff’s Run last year after spectating at the top of Hyner View. Huff’s Run was fun. Huff’s Run was downhill. Huff’s Run got you that much closer to the finish line.
Because I’m a slower-than-average downhill runner, everyone started passing me again. I kindly let people go by me knowing that I didn’t want to slow down their progress to the finish line. The 1st place 50k racer passed me about half way down Huff’s Run. Honestly, I had been hoping to hold the 50k’ers off until at least the road, but they are just too fast! Clayton Bouchard, the winner of the 50k, passed me with such ease that I was in awe of how quickly his feet were effortlessly moving down the trail. (We can thank Instagram for teaching me who Clayton Bouchard is – I’ve been following his Instagram account since last year’s Hyner – I’m not creepy I swear!). Another 50k racer passed me on Huff’s Run too….those mountain runners are fast!
We finally reached the road which left about one mile remaining of the race. I tried to increase my turnover now that I was on the road, but my quads were shot from the descents.
We crossed the bridge again and then I learned about the infamous “eternal” bridge. Although we had all crossed the same bridge at the start of the race, the bridge running in the opposite direction felt 10x the length of the bridge from the beginning of the race. Let it be known that….IT WAS THE SAME BRIDGE. My run across the bridge took what seemed like forever! By the time I got to the turn after the bridge, I felt exhausted. People were cheering and clapping for all the racers. It was a good feeling knowing how close to the finish line I was.
The finishing stretch hops back onto a trail. Surprise, surprise….the trail goes uphill to the finish. A short but steep uphill zapped my legs again – as if the other three climbs didn’t already do that. I knew I was close because I could hear people cheering. I powerhiked up the hill but once I got to the top I knew I had to run it in to the finish line.
I heard Josh before I saw him. He told me I was doing an awesome job. I rounded the final turn and saw the finish line. Josh was running about 20 feet to my right through the leaves and brush still cheering for me (extra points for him for doing that!). I crossed the finish line and knew I had left all my energy out on the course. I was handed the famous Hyner hat. I found Josh in the crowd and then instantly told him that I just wanted to sit down.
We sat down in the grass and I briefly reviewed the race with him. Soon he told me to get up and I knew I needed to get out of my sweaty clothes before my body temperature started to drop. I got changed into dry, warm clothes and Josh had checked the results sheet. My official finishing time was 3:54:16. I had finished 188th out of 850 finishers. I was extremely content with a sub-4 hour finish. I had met both of my goals. #1: I had finished the race. #2: I had finished as close to 4 hours as possible. I was now officially a Hyner 25k finisher!
The post-race party at Hyner is unlike any other post-race gathering I’ve experienced. There’s free food to choose from (my go-to choice was 2 slices of pizza). There’s free beer to choose from (not my thing but everyone else takes advantage of it). There’s cupcakes. There’s BBQ (also not my thing considering I’m a vegetarian). And of course…there’s good company!
I grabbed 2 slices of pizza and then Josh and I went back to the finishing area to wait for our other friends to finish. While waiting we saw people of all ages finishing their races. We cheered everyone on as we anxiously waited for our friends. We heard other race stories and shared our thoughts and opinions during certain parts of the race. We were just a bunch of trail runners hanging out.
After our friends finished, we found a comfy spot in the grass to discuss the race. We ate food and some drank beer. My shoes were still soaked at this point from splashing through the streams but I was content. I felt accomplished. I felt like I had achieved my goals in their entirety and got more out of it the race than I ever thought possible.
We returned to our camping area and settled in for the remainder of the afternoon. People were filtering in and out of the airfield as their race was over. A lot of people went home but there was still a good handful of people that stuck around for another night of camping. So many stars were out in the sky and the night was crisp. It was a good way to end a long day on the trails.
So Hyner….Hyner is challenging. Hyner is breathtaking (literally). Hyner is inspirational. Hyner is one big trail running community out for a run through the woods on a Saturday morning. Hyner is what you make of it. You can race it. You can run it. You can hike it. Make it your own experience. Most importantly, ENJOY your experience. Not everyone’s race will be the same. That’s what makes it so special.
One year ago I was just a spectator at the top of Hyner View not fully understanding the challenges of the course. I was the runner stuck between a transition from road running to trail running. I was afraid of something that would challenge me beyond anything I could imagine.
It took me one year to find the confidence to trail race to the capacity of Hyner. It took a year of going out with Josh to the trails and trudging along through the woods at a slower pace. It took a winter of occasional nighttime hill repeats to make me feel like I could climb up mountains. It took overcoming doubt in my mind. It took patience. It took effort.
But simply, it took my love and adoration for the trails to just go out there and enjoy it. My trail racing days are just beginning. Trail running takes patience. Races like Hyner take a lot out of you physically but give you a lot of strength mentally. Don’t be the person that shies away from their goals. Push your limits and just keep moving forward.
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to travel to Phoenicia, NY with Josh, my wonderful boyfriend, to support him during his Cats Tail Trail Marathon (actual length as advertised on the website is 26.5 miles) through the Catskills. We met some trail running friends who were also racing which made the weekend exceptionally entertaining. Not only did Josh do absolutely amazing during his race (finishing 13th of 89 finishers – don’t mind my bragging!), I was reminded of how truly enticing the trail running community is to me.
I spent this past summer craving trails. I got out to the trails as much as I could but I always craved more. I became increasingly intrigued by Appalachian thru-hikers following more and more Instagram accounts of SOBO and NOBO AT hikers. I craved the serenity of the trails. I craved dirt beneath my Altras. Oddly enough, maybe I even craved the hills that torture my muscles (…maybe). But mostly, I craved other trail runners.
I was reminded of this as I stood shivering at the base of a 5 mile ascent with my cowbell in hand at 6:55 AM. I patiently waited for Josh to start the race at 7:05 AM. The first wave of 15 runners went by me and I pleasantly greeted them with a “good morning” and wished them a sincere good luck knowing the next 26.5 miles would be tough ones. Most of them acknowledged my existence and exchanged warm thank yous for cheering them on so early in the morning. The second wave of 15 avid trail runners came by next and Josh was in the front of the pack. I wished him good luck as he began his ascent and traverse through the Catskills. I wouldn’t see him until mile 9.5 and I internally wished him safe travels.
With a few more waves of runners to be sent on their way, I made the short walk up to the starting line where I met a few of our other trail running friends as they waited for their wave to start. The lax atmosphere at the start of the race captivated me. For years now, I’ve stood on many starting lines surrounded by anxious runners hopping up and down, checking their pulses repetitively, and stretching out one more time before they’re sent on down the road to pound out speedy miles. But there, on that brisk October morning, the runners stood relaxed, talking and joking with each other, and re-tightening their Ultimate Direction, Gregory, or Orange Mud packs. Everyone knew the next 26.5 miles would separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls. The trail would do what it does best – challenge every runner mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Again, this is what I crave. I yearn for the moments where I can step up to a starting line and know that the trail will control the result of my race. I want to be surrounded by people on a starting line who truly enjoy the swaying of the trees, the silence of the woods, the dampness of the rain sprinkles falling from the clouds, and the dirt caked on their shins. I don’t find that feeling on the start of a road race. Instead I find tense feelings and minimal human interaction. I find people ready to pound their feet on hard pavement instead of loose dirt. I find people who would rather stand in silence and not make eye contact than someone who is willing to extend a pat on the back and exchange a heartfelt good luck.
As I stood patiently anxiously at the 2nd aid station, waiting for Josh and our friends to come through, I was once again surrounded by down-to-earth trail runners. The moment a racer came through someone made sure to ask “what do you need? Water? Food? Do you have a drop bag?”. Not only do aid stations become a source of fuel and water but they also become a welcoming place of encouragement and motivation to continue moving closer to that finish line. I saw this time and time again as I witnessed all 89 racers come through the only car-accessible aid station of the race. I was truly grateful to be standing at that aid station for most of my morning because I realized how special the trail running community was.
After a 25 minute drive from the aid station back to Phoenicia, I found myself once again waiting. Waiting for the first finishers. Waiting for Josh. Just…waiting. The time keeper and finish line photographer didn’t hesitate to come over and talk to me. We briefly discussed the difference between the trail running community and the road running community. Of course we mutually agreed the trail running community is truly special. They asked me who I was so patiently waiting for with my cowbell in hand. I told them my boyfriend and our friends. They expressed concern that I might get tired of waiting, but I assured them that I could spend hours and hours of every weekend engulfed in the trail running scene if I could. I was in my happy place and I would wait all day for Josh to come towards that finish line.
The first two finishers appeared and at first glance I noticed from a far that they were running stride for stride. I thought to myself “wow, this is a close finish! I wonder which one is going to out sprint the other”. That sentence right there, that my friends, (and I’m ashamed to admit it) is a classic road racer mindset. I snapped out of it once I saw one of the men had dry blood caked on his face. My next thought? “What kind of trouble did this guy get himself into out on that trail?!” The men finished side by side, tying for 1st place.
As the nosy person that I am, I decided to eavesdrop on the conversation between the race director and the two men. As the story goes, the leader of the race had accidentally ran into a low hanging branch with a sharp knob on it which pierced his scalp. The 2nd place runner came down the trail and noticed a pool of blood had accumulated. He followed the trail of blood and came across his wounded competitor basically bleeding out due to this severe injury, but still moving forward. The 2nd place runner luckily had two extra winter hats to offer to his fellow trail runner to control the bleeding. With 11 miles still remaining in the race, the 2nd place runner wanted to keep the fearless leader of the race safe and in his care. They stuck out the last 11 miles together and crossed the finish line with an epic story to tell.
It was a small moment like that as I continued to patiently wait for Josh that showed me the strength of the trail running community. One man halted his competitive spirit to help a fellow racer. Out of true sportsmanship, despite probably training for months to compete strongly in this race, he slowed his pace towards the finish line for the health of another man. I crave the selflessness like that of the trial running community.
Shortly after, Josh rounded the corner and came towards the finish. I congratulated him and guided him towards the table of food waiting for him and the other racers to munch on. I asked him questions about the course which he happily answered. I offered him Gatorade, water, more food, and some arm warmers for added warmth. We headed back out to the finishing stretch of the race to wait for the rest of our trail running entourage. And again, we waited.
Josh and I finished that day reflecting on our own separate adventures. He had travelled 26.5 miles through rugged trails and slippery rocks. I had seen only bits and pieces of the race and what the racers were experiencing and it left me wanting more. More time spent in the mountains, more time spent on the trails, more time spent surrounded by other trail runners.
Two days ago I signed up for the Hyner 25k in April 2017 (returning next year as a racer rather than a spectator like back in April of this year) and I’ve been energetically researching trail races to fill up my 2017 race calendar. I want to step on a trail race starting line and feel excited about the challenge of the trails to come rather than anxious about my pace out on the course. I crave the ache in my muscles from tough ascents and technical footing. I crave the stories I’ll be able to share upon crossing the finish line. I crave the exhaustion. I crave the passion shared between trail runners.
Don’t get me wrong, I am excited for the two remaining races of 2016 – both of which are road races. I plan on running both my half marathon in a week and a half and my marathon in late November as hard as I can. I know that I will ache and I know that I will be mentally tested during these races; however, I can’t help but look forward to my unoffocial “official retirement” from road racing and transitioning fully into the trail scene. Hyner will be my official debut race as a rugged trail runner.
My wanderlust and craving for trails is at an all time high. I look forward to satisfying these cravings. I look forward to the dirt, the potential blood, the leaves crunching beneath my feet, the hydration pack comfortably resting on my back, the congenial smiles of my competitors, and the yearning for a challenge.
Yes, we may all show up at a starting line on a brisk fall morning with competition coursing through our blood. Competition is inevitable in the human spirit. But once out on the trail, the trail will speak for itself. The trail becomes your biggest competition rather than the runners ahead and behind you. I want to compete with myself. I want to compete with the trail. That is what I truly crave.