by Julia Hager
Picture it…May 2022. It’s springtime, and we are out running and enjoying the beautiful weather, rejoicing in the sunshine and longer days. Honeysuckle fills the air. Birds singing. Flowers blooming. Everything is green and alive again. Someone posts in one of the running groups that Hyner View Trail Challenge registration just opened. Who’s going to sign up before it sells out?
Well my knee has been giving me some trouble, but the shot is working well, and I have almost a whole year to get it back to 100%, so….why not? I mean, before it sells out, right? And everyone else is doing it, so it should be fun! SOLD!
Registered for the 50K. I was so impressed that I had 2 qualifying 50Ks. (What? Am I actually a legit ultra runner? When did this happen?) Several times in the registration process it reminds you that there are NO transfers, NO refunds, NO waivers. It’s straight up Yoda Jedi master “Do or do not. There is no try”. Ok, I get it..
Woohoo! I’m in for the 50K!
Then, somewhere in the back of my head, I have this vague recollection of this being a tough race. Kinda remember Jason Karpinski running this one and mentioning it’s a lot of climbing. THEN I actually looked into what I just signed up for. Oh sh*t. Ok it’s cool. I have plenty of time to train. Lots of friends to run hills and long runs with. I figured I could do Blues Cruise again, and just keep that momentum going through the winter, right? Right!
Well, sort of. I trained for Blues Cruise, but did it half-heartedly, because I missed a goal I had set for myself the previous year and just felt defeated (and that is a story for another time). As Blues Cruise neared, my knee was again giving me trouble. Got another shot a few weeks before the race and started PT 2 days before. Ran the race in the cold, rain, and mud; continued PT for 6 weeks. Knee seemed ok. I kept doing the exercises at home and even started some hip mobility/strengthening exercises.
Now the weather is changing, and I need motivation to keep running in the cold (which I hate), so I sign up for the Naked Nick and Naked Bavarian races, plus the Shiver series, and I plan to do all kinds of great-sounding things like “leg destroyers,” Blue Marsh trails, elliptical workouts on colder days, weekly hill repeats on Walnut street, etc.
Barely did any of this because a) baby it’s cold outside, and b) my knee hurts every time I run, especially on road. I have time, so I’ll just take a break for a week or two and rest and regroup.
Let me tell you, breaks are comfy in the winter. They also add a random 10ish pounds pretty quick in my age group. Great. Now my clothes don’t fit right. Motivation is fading fast, and I have a 25k race coming up.
Naked Nick, you’re up! Ok, tape the knee, and get to the start line. Take it easy, and try for under 4 hours. Done! Knee held up. Hurt at the start, but it seemed to get better as the race went on. Maybe I just need to get off my butt?
Feeling motivated again. Kind of. Sort of. Got out a few times, but definitely not feeling it. Maybe I’m burned out? Maybe it’s just a dark, gray winter? Maybe if my knee didn’t hurt every morning? I spent January and February barely getting out there, then realized I only had 12 weeks to Hyner.
Ok. I needed a plan, so I found a 12-week 50k training plan. I’m normally quite disciplined when I have a plan to follow, but not this time. Knee did not feel too grand at Ugly Mudder. And I have a 20-mile race coming up.
~Naked Bavarian has entered the chat~
Ok. I was going to stay home and skip this one. Last minute, I decided to go and figured, if I have to stop, I”ll just stop. I’m gonna go get this looked at after this race. Well, once again, to my surprise, my knee felt better as the race went on. And even felt completely fine the days to follow.
I’m so confused. A friend gave me an indoor bike trainer a few weeks ago, and I rode it here and there, so maybe that helped? I’m still gonna go get this looked at.
The pain did return a few days later. 6 weeks out from Hyner, and I’m thinking I’m gonna have to drop to the 25k. Maybe. Let’s see what the doc says.
Annnnnnd maybe not. Now my ortho is not in my new insurance’s network. Nearest in-network is in Plymouth Meeting. Seriously? I’m really feeling like the universe is telling me not to run this race. But like my mother always said: I don’t listen.
Rode my bike a few times and tried to get out and get some miles in here and there, but I would not say I was gaining any sort of momentum to really train. And at this point, I had kind of given up completely. 25k is ok. I’m still gonna get the best/worst parts of the trail, and I have plenty of time to finish. I also have Michelle to hike along with, so it’s gonna be a good day.
So here we are on a beautiful 80° Friday in late April heading to North Central PA. I’m nowhere near ready. I’m gonna make the best of it and have fun. At packet pick up, I have to officially drop down from the 50k to the 25k, but they give you all your 50k things first, and I gotta tell ya, that 50k bib looked a lot cooler than the one I traded it in for. I also have a 50k shirt that I won’t wear because I didn’t do that distance. The FOMO is setting in.
The energy here is amazing. I’m disappointed, but starting to get excited. You can’t help it. It’s in the air. They just said there’s free New Trail beer and pizza, and I get a glimpse of the View from the landing strip. Seems so far away. Hope I sleep well tonight. Michelle and I make a pact: finish, don’t die, don’t cry.
And it’s here. Race day. 67° overcast with the sun peeking out. The breeze makes it a little chilly. Threat of severe storms later in the day. Maybe we’ll be done before they hit? Ha-ha. Who am I kidding? Grabbed some photos with some of the other runners from our area. Hit the potty.
It’s now 8 a.m., and the 50k starts after announcements and a lovely rendition of the national anthem. We watch them go out and over the bridge and then turn to our final prep. Hydration pack, energy chews, gum, headphones, phone, debate the jacket, some more photos, pre-race jitters, pet the dogs, and at 9 a.m. — we’re off!
Running over the bridge, we can see the view and some very tiny 50k runners running up the trail. As I turn off to enter the trail, I already get a “zinger” in my knee. Just gotta walk it off a little bit. Good thing I can’t run here anyway. It’s so congested that we are just walking along the trail single file going up, up, up. After a while, we sort of level out and can run a little bit, and I remember thinking, “I thought we were going straight up. This isn’t so bad.” Then the trail turns, and we start to go down. Now I’m really confused. Where’s the view?
So we continue on our descent, and then the trail turns again, and now we start to head back up and it’s getting rockier and a bit more technical as we go. Then we start to hear cheering and the ringing of the bell. Now I originally thought the ringing of the bell was to celebrate reaching the View. I later found out that in the 2021 race, Carl Undercofler, a member of the Pa Trail Dawgs, went into cardiac arrest just before the stone wall and died. Last year they installed a bell at the site to keep his memory alive. I rang the bell as I went up, and I was so excited I had made it up the longest climb.
Jason Karpinski and Penelope (his dog) were there taking pictures of Michelle and me as we reached the top. I honestly didn’t think it was that bad. I ran up to get a picture from the top, then went back down around the wall to follow the trail to the first aid station. This is fun.
I’m a little hungry. I was surprised my only options were water, gatorade, gels, or bananas. No bacon? No gummy bears? No pb&j? Clearly I was spoiled by Blues Cruise aid stations. Oh well. Potty break, lose the jacket, one more photo and off I go.
Feeling pretty energized at this point; the downhill trail was crowded, but runnable, so I took advantage. Knee is not getting better, but not worse either. The trails up here are much rockier than I’m used to, so as I descend I have to slow up to keep my footing. I was running along at one point and my foot caught on a root or branch or something and jerked my leg almost out from under me and ripped my sneaker. Guess which leg it was? Sheesh! Walked it off for a little bit then got back to it.
Eventually, I reached the creek, and the trail crossed it a few times, and I somehow managed to keep my feet dry. The terrain was getting very rocky at this point. This was harder for me than the climbs. I had lost Michelle at the aid station, but I had caught up to her by this point. She finally grabbed a stick to use as a pole. It was a little big and after trying a few others, she settled on one and offered the bigger one to me. I hesitated, but then took it just to see how it went. I’m not a fan of carrying something in my hand. It actually came in handy, and I eventually found a second one to use as well.
It felt like we were hiking along forever, and I mentioned that I was getting hungry. Seemed like we should have hit an aid station by now. I have chews with me, but I didn’t want to waste them if the next aid station was close. I’d rather have food and was hoping this one had more than bananas.
Finally we start seeing flags and begin to hear music, and we are suddenly greeted by Bigfoot herself!! I was so happy to see ring bologna and cheese and chips and pickles and candy and surprised at how much energy I’m using on this course. Loaded up on snacks, refilled my gatorade, and grabbed my newly acquired walking sticks. And we are off.
Back into the wilderness. A light drizzle starts but doesn’t last long. Back down the mountain and back up again. There are so many rocks on these trails up here. I was terribly happy to have kept the sticks. I somehow got way ahead of Michelle and slowed till I could see her again. We were both getting tired and heavy feet can get tangled up in this terrain. She was fine. I gave her a Rick Flair “WOOO” to help keep her motivated. This startled some other runners who were on the outside of our inside joke. Now we are all motivated!
Little further up and we are at a picturesque clearing cleverly placed to give a moment of ooos and ahhhs before we get up around the corner to […insert dramatic music…] SOB Hill. This was steep and rocky, but short, and honestly, not nearly as horrible as I was expecting. Again, I was happy to have the sticks. At the top there’s another aid station and I was so happy to finally eat a pb&j!!
It had started to rain pretty good by now and the wind was picking up. It was getting noticeably cooler, and I wasn’t sure if I should put the jacket back on again or not. There’s only 5 miles to go, and I don’t really want wet sleeves on me to feel even colder. I’m gonna power through. The view from up here was beautiful even in the rain.
We are in awe of the house across the way on the other mountain. They inform us that it is a truck we see and that is where we are headed. What? WE have to go down and up the other side? Well let’s get moving. We are treated to a nice long flat trail that follows along the crest and wraps around to the other side. About a half mile or so into it I’m too cold and have to stop and put on my jacket. We get to the other side, pass the truck, and are now heading back into the woods.
Spring Trail. There were no springs. It wasn’t springy at all. Back to rocky terrain all the way down to the creek. I gotta tell you, I love running near water. There’s a calming that comes from the soothing sounds of a babbling brook. I was cold and tired, but I had to admit…it is so darn pretty out here!
We followed along the creek, and I’m thinking, “The finish gotta be nearby now.” Wait. Why are we going back up? Yay, sticks! We got up to Huff Run. It’s been raining for a while now, and we just have this downhill trek to go. Almost done! HA! We are now faced with a fantastically slick single track deathtrap. To our left we have a steep mountain side. On our right we have a nice steep drop off. In front of us lies a slick, mud-covered rocky downhill trail with little room for error. Behind us we can hear the quick pace of seasoned trail runners (i.e. they’re actually running). Several times I frantically looked for a safe place to move over so they could pass.
Down we go and suddenly we think we hear music and we come upon a house so there must be a road nearby. Or it’s a mirage. Hard to tell at this point. Finally, after one last steep muddy descent, we get to the road. We retired our sticks and now we know we are almost done.
This was a tough one. As we walked along, I’m thinking I’m ok now with dropping down to 25k. I would not have finished the 50k. Michelle had stated several times that this will never be more than a spectator course for her. We come down around the corner and back over the bridge and break out in an easy paced jog to the finish–7 hours and 40 minutes after we started.
Brand new hat! Beer me! I grab food and find a table to eat and start to reflect on what the heck I just did that day. I am convinced the foliage grew while we were gone. This was a tough one, but I wonder how I would have done if my knee were up to par, and I was actually trained? I mean it was tough, but it wasn’t THAT bad. And I really wanted to do the 50k. And the weather’s getting nice.
It’s springtime and we are out running and enjoying the beautiful weather and rejoicing in the sunshine and longer days. Honeysuckle fills the air. Birds singing. Flowers blooming. Everything is green and alive again. It’s almost May. And Hyner View registration will soon open up.
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