Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hyner Challenge 50K - Epic Entry for an Epic Race

3 weeks. It’s been about that long since my last entry. Normally, I would regale you with all the fun under the sun as a lead in. But we all know the truth. I’m going to mostly talk about the Hyner Challenge 50K.

Hyner has been on my radar for a couple of years now. Last year, I didn’t think I would be recovered enough from Umstead to justify doing it. Once it was announced that a PA Triple Crown of Mountain Running was being organized and that Hyner was one of the events, I signed up quick. If I recall, it might have been the first race of 2016 that I registered for. Clearly, the Hyner Challenge was going on the schedule as my first A race of the year.

Given the manner in which I epically destroyed my confidence as a competitive runner last year, I had to game plan how to get it back. That work started way back in October at Steamtown when I was so broken mentally that I opted to not start the race. I realized where I had fallen. Through a series of small races I began to refocus. I publically admitted my state. I got pushes from my friends. One of the biggest pushes was from Pat McCloskey, the RD of the RunBucks series. If he didn’t encourage me to run the Bucks County Marathon the way he had, I might be in a different spot right now. It was a good boost and led to me ending 2015 strong with BUS Trail Mix-Up, Bryan Court and Winter Solstice. Still, work had to be done and I go off on the right foot with Phunt. I began to feel a little like myself. But I knew something was missing so I began adding road 5Ks in the past couple of months. I needed a gauge and those have always been a nice measure for me. Two weeks out, I had what I considered a bad time at the Oreland 5K, clocking a 16:49 on a hilly course. My 5Ks were going the wrong way each getting around 10 seconds slower. (Oreland was my third of the year.) As a result, the week before Hyner, I wavered about what to run but opted to run the Ronald McDonald House of DE 5K down along the riverfront in Wilmington. Much like HAT was the ultra performance I needed, this 5K was the short performance I needed. I ran a 16:16 with some headwind. I was at a good point……

Lately, I’ve gotten really good about having my race gear all set aside in advance and that really was helpful going into Hyner Challenge week. Directions were printed. What I was going to eat the night before was decided. Thanks to the generosity of the RD, Craig Fleming, I had a place to sleep. (One of the things I neglected was getting my lodging in order in a timely manner. Hey, I was working on me for the race.) You could say, I was dialed in. I even adjusted my schedule so I could work a half day remotely on Friday so I didn’t have to come into the office and make the drive as relaxed as possible. (I even packed the car, Thursday night of 95% if what I was bringing to reduce my nerves.)

Friday, I got up to the Eagles Nest packet pick-up location around 5pm. On the way out of pick-up, I saw Maggie and Ryan pull in. It was nice seeing them briefly. I could have hung out some at their campsite but I opted for the quiet hermit route to the evening so I drive over to the Hyner Run Lodge (aka the only cabin in Hyner Run State Park). It was really nice and roomy. Upon arrival, I said hello to some of the others staying there. For dinner, I had Saag Paneer with Rice. After that, I curled up with a blanket in a chair and read a little of Empire of Mud. (It is a book about the early days of Washington DC and it’s development.) I would have read more but an influx of people arrived after pick-up closed for the day. After all, I was staying where race staff were. The remainder of the evening involved lots of wonderful conversation. And it was all very calming. Ok…maybe not all of it. There was talk of rattlesnakes maybe being out in nice hot weather.

We're going up that?! (Courtesy of Momentum Photography)

My sleeping set up was an IKEA mattress on the floor of the living room with my sleeping bag and pillow on top. I’d say it was the ideal way to go. I could have had a bunk but I didn’t expect one so I went with the set-up I had in my head. It was the way to go as I ended up getting a fairly good night’s sleep.

While I didn’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed right at the start, I wouldn’t have traded the 3 mile drive for anything. My morning was as chill as could be. I listened to a little combo of Brandon Flowers/Killers before the drive over at which point I switched to some Clutch. As I pulled into the parking at the Eagles Nest, I spotted one Bryan Slotterbach prompting me to roll down my window and yell to him. At this point, I park, grab my stuff and walk over to the start area. Now is when I start to see people I know. For me, I feel very low key. I’m socializing but not panicky about anything. I chalk this up to having planned gear out well. When I left the cabin, I already had my racing socks and shoes on. (Smartwool Run and Montrail FluidFlex II) I knew I was using the Nathan Peak Insulated waist pack. Because of that, when I woke up, I made sure to put on the Nathan Hipster at the same time. Personally, I have a weird fit on most things and I have to use the Peak all the way down at its smallest to get no bounce. Since it could dig into my skin a little, I use the Hipster as a buffer layer. It’s what works for me. Knowing, the 50K is a one loop course, I wanted to have the Peak for later in the race and not need to mix any Tailwind on the fly, so I had a handheld as well. Normally, I use a Nathan Speedshot Plus. However, with the amount of climbing and downhills, I wanted to actually get lighter during the race. That meant throw-a-way. So I went old school and took a 20 Oz soda bottle and made a tape handle/grip. For my shot blocs, I had a baggie taped to the front. Everything was in order. Now all I had to do was run the darn thing…..

Before the Dance (Courtesy of Bryan Slotterbach) 

Am I playing soccer? (Courtesy of Steve Goss)

Going into the race, thanks to the internet, I had a general idea of who my competition was. From what I was able to garner, Cole Crosby and course record holder Adam Russell were the two to beat. Adam had been on a tear coming in running some tough courses and performing really well. Cole has PR’s of 5:47 – 50M and 3:11 – 50K. He’s got wheels and can run well on tough courses. My race strategy was to stay close to Adam or Cole early on and hope I could pull away later in the race. Everything doesn’t always go as planned. To evidence this, the tape handle of my bottle broke within the first few steps of singletrack on the day. I had a decision to make. Decide to hold the bottle or ditch it way sooner. Neither was ideal. However, I did know if I ditched, I had a sleeve of Tailwind I could might in the zipper pouch of my Peak belt.

Holy Hills, Batman!

Hyner View (Courtesy of Momentum Photography)

Starting out, there was a good pack of 8 or so running together along Cliffhanger before we kick up Humble Hill as we trek to Hyner View. We started to shuffle around here. It was here, the wild card element came into play. Tommy Darlington took the lead towards the top. None of the rest of us matched the maneuver. I knew nothing about him prior. Turns out, he finished 2nd at Tussey Mountainback last year in 6:31. As Tommy disappeared, eventually Adam, Cole and myself settled into a sort of pack. I’d say it was a great group to run with. A lot of the credit for the vibe has to go to Cole. We were workmanlike and fairly communicative. It said we were all comfortable. My thinking this early on was that Tommy would come back to us. Hyner 50K has 5 major climbs so it was sound thinking. All three of us were running sensibly. At a few intervals we would stretch out some but always come back. Adam would smoke the technical steep downhills. Cole could open on the long straights.

And this was only the 1st climb! (Courtesy of Erman Anthony)

Dynamics of our group changed at the base of the third climb (mile 16) which really was an inclined along a rocky stream run. At the bottom, Adam dropped back a little. Cole was powering ahead in a running motion anytime he could. In my head, I told myself, I had to match Cole and not let him get away. I stayed close and we regrouped on the steepest part of the climb before some runnable trail leading into the mile 18 aid station. Another change took place here. Since I still had plenty of fluids on me, I kept going. See, I managed to get comfortable holding the 20 Oz bottle really early so it felt like no work to use it. Plus, on the sections I needed to powerhike, I was able to use the tie-band on the peak to hold it. Now coming down Sledgehammer (our 2nd climb) instead of going up it, I was expecting Cole to catch me by the bottom. To my surprise, he did not. However, our quiet all to ourselves trail time was about to end as we slammed back into the 25K course. (Hyner’s 50K course, runs the same loop at the 25K but around 6.5 miles does it’s 25K loop.)

I say slammed into the 25K because before my eyes, I saw a conga line of runners at a hiking pace along Johnson Run. Here, I did everything in my power to keep churning and moving. I was tired and doing a bad job calling out to pass. (For the record, it does not help when some participants have headphones in.) I took whatever lane I could. If it was a tight pass, I tried to say sorry. A few times, I glance back and saw Cole having to deal with the same issue. I was wondering if the leader was up ahead. I had failed to ask for any leader information at the prior aid stations. Clearly, this was not going to help if he was far enough ahead. Eventually, things began to thin some. I started moving a little better into the Team RWB aid station. (Recalling, I’m a bit foggy whether it was before or after but I saw Ryan during his 25K and asked if 1st came through. He said ‘nope’. I said something like ‘damn’.) Here, I finally finished off the 20 Oz Bottle and disposed of it in a waste bin. Now, it was time to run downhill calling ‘On Your Left’. Let’s just say, passing on single track that is on an edge of a run can be tricky dicky. Here, I thought I was doing it well. However, not as well as…….ADAM! Towards the bottom, right before the long switchback climb up to the top of S.O.B., I caught sight of him. He apparently caught and passed Cole gaining on me by crushing the downhill like Adam demonstrated earlier in our run.

Coming into the RWB station. Notice the Fancy Bottle. (Courtesy of William Bo Hagaman)

So after 27 miles, second place was going to come down to the last 4. Not only that but down to the last ‘hill’. Surprisingly, I was moving at a good clip. People were totally encouraging. They were even trying to tell me, I was the 1st from the 50K to come through. I always responded with someone else was ahead. Yes, I was being crushed and I knew it. Still, I was running the race according to plan. I was feeling good and when we hit the kicker on S.O.B., I was excited! Mainly for the fact that this was it for climbing. I scrambled up that sucker like I never scrambled before. Looking horribly pathetic on hands and knees trying to not slide backwards. After what seemed like the longest 100-150 meters, I made the top, took a brief pause, dumped a cup of water on me and then ran off. What I was doing, I would not really call running. My legs felt dead. The wide open trail was failing to rejuvenate them as fast as I needed. And I needed them to do it NOW! I knew my place could be lost once Adam gets to the top and moving. He knows this course. He has the Course Record. And most of all, he can fly on downhills!!!! Gotta get moving.

Eventually, my legs came back to me. Much slower than I wanted but I had not been passed and in a quick glance back, I didn’t see Adam. At this point, I was not thinking about Cole. Not so say, he could not be the one rolling up on me but I didn’t see him anywhere up S.O.B. Finally, I got moving again right before hitting Huff Run. Yes!!! Huff Run was the big downhill portion. I knew I had to pull out all the stops here. My pace became the fastest all day. Huff Run was fairly straight allowing to get a good bit of momentum. And since it was not full of a ton of 25K runs, I did not have to throttle back much. I tried to shout as much as possible that I was approaching to pass. I took gambles. I lived life on the edge. It was exciting! All I had to do was have some distance and 2nd would be locked up. I had no idea what it was because if I glanced back I was going to seriously get injured. After not enough fun downhill, Huff Run spit me out onto the road to lead me back to the start at the Western Clinton Sportsman Association club. As I made the left onto Rt120 to go over the Susquehanna, I glanced back to see if Adam had hit the road himself yet. I couldn’t see him. I had a sigh of relief. I could enjoy the final stretch. It was here, I looked at my watch. I was definitely going under the course record by a lot! However, going under was not going to set it today. Never did I see Tommy on the trails following Hyner View. As we hit the last little bit of single track up to the finish, I said screw it and hike the last incline. I jogged over the line in 4:32:12.

Maggie (she ran the 25K) greeted me at the finish. She thought I won. I told her no. Someone else was ahead of me all day. I tell a few more people this. Then a few questions appear because I was given the wrong finisher hat. I was handed the 25K one. Finally, everything gets cleared up when Tommy comes over to the bench I am sitting on. He tells me that he did 25K! Turns out he missed the turn up Sledgehammer. And nobody told him at the following aid stations. That meant…..I WON!!!! Holy cow. I took 17 minutes off of Adam’s CR and won an AX!!!!

Courtesy of Sophorn Choup

Totally put me on cloud nine. As I wobbled about, getting numerous cans of Orange Crush, both Adam and Cole came in. Adam finished just under 5 minutes back while Cole was 15. All three of us went under. Sadly, I missed watching them across the line. (On the women’s side, Rebecca Lewandowski took 5 minutes off of the existing women’s 50K record.)

I’m honored to have shared the trails with both of them. Adam, I get to see in a few weeks at Worlds End 100K. Cole is off to tackle Cayuga Trails 50M.

Sadly, there is only so much time in the weekend, so instead of another night up at Hyner, I had to drive back home to Philadelphia. Thankfully, the drive home went smooth.

In the it takes a village portion of this recap, I have to thank some folks: Craig Fleming, RD and his staff of volunteers who made this event so outstanding. Also, thanks to Craig again for the generosity and hospitality. Cole and Adam. I hope we brought out the best in each other on the trail. All my friends for putting up with my running. Thankfully, a lot of you do these crazy runs too. (Maggie, Ryan S, Bryan, Ryan E, Kiran, Casey, Jim…so many more)  All the fellow runners who offered support and encouragement telling me something I didn’t believe was true. Wissahickon Wanderers and Trail Whippass. Do I even need to say why? Nathan Sports. All about the Peak Insulated here from my hydration company of choice. Tailwind Nutrition. Never have to worry about bonks with you in my bottle and belly. Montrail. Many thanks for believing in this Flatland East Coaster.

None of this would be even remotely possible without Peg. No words can do justice. She allows me to do these silly things. Maybe I should blame her because she helped me tap into the types natural environments these races are run. On the other hand, maybe she deserves all the credit.

Monday, April 4, 2016

HATs Off, Pants Off, Dance Off - Recent Shenanigans

It's been around a month and a half since my last verbal rambling of words followed by more words supported by both vowels and consonants. Some of you might have been out there missing my musings. To those who have, the wait is over. To those that weren't, you had absolutely no wait because you didn't care. Maybe I should be sad about such lack of love from the internet but I've been listening to a lot of Napalm Death lately so all is right in the world.

So what exactly have I been up to since the Swamp 50K? I've been working on me. By that, I mean training and racing to help boost my confidence. Last year, I pretty much thrashed my 'I can beat you' mentality I could take to any race. Performances at Phunt and Swamp have helped put me in a positive direction to start the year but with Hyner 50K in April as my first target race of the year, I knew I had to do more. As a result, I opted to skip the Naked Bavarian 20 Miler on March 6th and sign up for Seneca Greenway 50K on the 5th instead. Part of my logic for this was I wanted to see how I would do on a somewhat familiar course that isn't as windy as Swamp was for 50K. (I won a prior point to point version of the race in 2014.) It also helped that it was a Saturday race and not Sunday. That's Meet the Press day!

Well, in short, despite some good lead up to the 5th, I got a cough the day leading into it. Still, I drove down to a Maryland Rest Stop on the evening of the 4th to sleep in the car. Got some decent shut-eye after nailing down making the back seat of the car level. However, woke up with a hack. Yet, I still drove to the race site. Parked went for a jog and nope. Was not going to happen. I got back in the car and drove back to PA. Also proceeded to not run for 3 more days. That's great for moral.

I was a little down but I knew I had a 5K coming up on the 13th on a course I'd run before. So once I resumed training I prepped like usual. The 5K was up near North Wales hosted by the Village Tavern. It is a lollipop course with some rolling hills. Previously, I ran 16:19 at the event but was unsure what I would do since I last raced a road 5K on Halloween of last year! Cutting to the chase, I won it in 16:30. Not bad. I'll take it.

Due to the rug being pulled out from under me with missing Seneca Greenway and Naked Bavarian, I had looked for another 50K to do. Choices were narrowed to Lt Stone near Pittsburgh and HAT in Havre De Grace, MD. One was 4 hours away, the other around an hour. One was open, the other sold out but with a waiting list. Still I put my name in for the waiting list at HAT not expecting to get in but a few days later, I was in! I said to myself....good, I didn't want to drive to Pittsburgh anyways.

(And the only people who had any idea I was running HAT were Peg and Kat.)

So this meant a number of things:

Only had to drive a little over an hour
A 9am start meant I could sleep in until 7.

Those are two very important things every now and again. And with still adjusting to Daylight Savings, really a bonus since I'd been sluggish all week waking up.

Come Saturday morning of the 19th, I woke up to some Brandon Flowers/Killers tunes before popping in the new Killswitch Engage album in the trusty Nissan Versa (even with the pesky Tire Pressure System light on) cd player for the drive down. Driving was smooth and knowing bathrooms would be port-a-johns (or Honey Pots as they get called in MD), I opted to hit the Chesapeake House rest stop. Plus, who doesn't like heated bathroom use?! Not longer after, I got to Susquehanna State Park aka the race site. Parking was easy. Getting my bib was a tad longer than I expected. Apparently A-E is a popular range of letters and the line surprisingly long. Made me even happier to have used the bathroom before arriving.

Once I had my race number, I grabbed my gear and walked over to the start/finish location which was around 1/4 mile walk. As usual on a multi-loop course, I set up my trusty camping chair. I was pretty locked in with my gear. I've been tightening my organizing and prep a bit that has made things a bit easier lately. One of those aspects has been having some Tailwind pre-made and frozen in the freezer. Not in my handheld bottles but empty Seltzer and Powerade bottles. This has been great since I don't feel like I waste it if I don't use it all. I just freeze it again.

As I was lacing up my Montrail Fluidflex shoes (opting to go with Farm to Feet socks), I ended up talking to one of the 'rabbits' the race has to lead out runners for the 4 mile mini-loop. It was good to know there were pacers to show the way early. And it was helpful to know they were not racers so I didn't do anything too stupid. Like go out at 6:30 pace. Well, before I knew it, that hour at the site went by quick as it was time to start running 50K. The HAT Run starts in a big open field in a scene resembling Braveheart. In a flash all 330 of us were off.....but......

My plan for a relaxing start did not go according to plan. Another runner went after the pacers. Shite. A put up or shut up moment from the gun. Yes, I had checked the list of entrants on Ultrasignup. I had an idea of what others might do but you really never know. My best course of action was to stay with the other racer and gauge the situation sooner rather than later. Thus, in pursuit I went. Dang, this is quick, I thought. Yet, it was still comfortable for now.

Before the 4 mile mini loop ends, we merge into the latter part of the large loop. At this junction, our pace setters split off so it was other runner and myself. After a little while, we made some introductions. Since it has been over ten days from the race, I cannot remember if it was on that first loop or into the second. Once the conversation did start flowing it was pleasant. I would out the other runner's name was Taran and that over the summer before an injury he was working on qualifying for the Olympic Trials Marathon under the 1:05 half standard. DAMN. At that point, I recall saying, to Taran that he'd likely drop me but I'll run with him as long as possible. It really was good running and chatting. We did so for the first 12 miles of the race. He led through the first 8 (which was the first aid station on the big loop) and we went into the second together at which point he dropped back for support. We bid farewell but I fully expected to see the young man again. And that kept me moving....

Despite knowing the last 5.3 of the big loops was the toughest part and could come back to haunt me the second time around, I pressed. I pushed just that tad bit quicker up the hills. I didn't do the stream crossing too well as I didn't find the line I really wanted. Still, I was feeling good. I came charging into the end of the big loop in around 2:09:xx. Having set up my aid, I went straight to my chair to refill my Nathan SpeedShot Plus Insulated with Tailwind and to grab more Shot Blocs. (I had been squirreling away them in my cheeks and drawing down on them as I ran.

Going into the race my goal was to be around 4 hours. I knew HAT tends to have times over 4 and it was while more runable than Phunt, it had more climbing so it was in some ways tougher. I now had around 1:50 to run a second loop to get under the mark. I was doing the math in my head, 8 minute pace and I can do it. 9 and not. Time to get it done. Knowing the first 8 of the loop is the faster, I took what the course gave me. I floated on the downhills. Eventually, I came barreling through aid station 1 again to hear Phunt RD, Carl shout my name. I waved and said 'Hi Carl'. He was a busy man making french fries for the hungry runners. The next section between aid stations had a nice two mile gravel/paved road portion. I could move there but I had to get through some rolling to get there. I wanted 45 minutes left once I into the last aid station. Also, while I had no idea where 2nd place was, I wanted at least 5 minutes for the last 5.3 miles. Keep moving. The hurt was starting. Eventually, I made it to the aid station to hear Carl's cheer again. At this point, I figured out that both aid stations were next to each other! Talk about smart organizing. So super spectator friendly too!

In looking at my watch, I had 46 minutes to finish under 4 hours. Previous loop, it took me 38 minutes to cover the distance I had left. But I was now starting to come up to runners on their first big loop. Climbing and passing is hard. To make it tougher, there was a large hiking group on the trail!!!!

THIS SUCKS!!!! On singletrack it is super hard to pass people spaced out let alone a 30 person group. Thankfully, the hikers were nice enough to call ahead in the group to have those farther up move over. So they did not pose much of a problem as they could have. Considering I was wanting the race done, this still was a bit demoralizing. Yet, I was not walking the hills and that was good but the cadence was a half step slower. Umph. I just wanted to get to the last field. It seemed forever and once I hit the last bit of road downhill, runners finishing their first big loop were weaving through the woods to my right. What a tease! I had 18 minutes when I hit the road so I booked as hard as I could. As I got to the final trail rurn, I saw Saul who I knew back from NJ and RVRR! Said hi as I made the turn and that was a nice boost. The boost didn't last long as I really wanted to be done. This stretch felt like it was taking forever! Thankfully, after what felt like forever, I was out in the last bit of field. The HOMESTRETCH!!!! I crossed the line in 3:54:36. A time I was very happy with.

It is worth noting that it was the first time under 4 hours in a 50K since May of 2014. YES!!!!

For finishing, I was handed a nice HAT hat and camping chair (the chair is humorous since I have my own already).

Around 5 minutes after I finished and was chatting with others, it started to snow/rain. Immediately, when that started, the temp dipped. Thankfully, I had plenty of clothes to keep me warm. I moved my chair to under some trees so I could watch other finishers come in, chat and not get damp. Awards were done around 2:30 after which I had to take off as Peg's niece was in town and I wanted to hopefully see her before she left. Mission was accomplished! In my more impressive performance of the day I made it back to the house around 2 minutes before she left. Sure it was a quick hello but for family you like, you do such things.

And such concludes......HAT.

(Unlike the performance of the race and drive home, this blog entry has been a snail. It took me ten days to start it and over 5 days to reach this point. I was going to talk about another road 5K down in Delaware but I'm skipping those details. And since I started this entry, I ran a 10K trail race called Swamp Creek Stomp that was quite a fun experience. In short, it was so muddy that I had to go from lets run this hard and fast to, let's not do anything stupid. Still managed to run a decent pace on the two lap course. The second was much harder because there were sheets of slippery mud. You can see photos of the event on the Upper Frederick Township Parks & Rec's page: Swamp Creek Stomp .)

Now less than 3 weeks until Hyner....when the real fun begins.