Race Report: Coventry Woods Trail Running Festival

by Kelly Ammon

After running Dirty German 50M in May, my plan for the summer was just to take it easy. No goals. No training schedule. No races. The plan was going smoothly until one day a notification popped up on my Facebook feed. (Damn you Targeted Ads!) Big Woods Running Club was having a Memorial Day special on their TrailFest. I could now suffer just as much but for less money! Perfect! 

I immediately texted Andy Styer, fellow Pacer and one of the race directors. 

[Actual transcript]:

Me: I can’t decide if I should sign up for your 10k or do the 3 hour one. Lol.

Andy: Well…the 6 hr sounds like fun : )

Me: Hahah. I’m trying to be responsible/take it easy

Andy: Well…then 3hr!

Keep in mind, my plan for the summer was just to take it easy. No goals. No training schedule. No races. Also keep in mind, Andy Styer is the most wonderful kind of crazy that will run World’s End 100k and Laurel Highlands 70M on back-to-back weekends

I compromised and signed up for the 3 hour.  

The morning of the race, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. I mean, I guess I could have, but it was mid-June in Pennsylvania and the humidity was less than 300%–in other words, ideal. Jokes aside, the weather for race day really was perfect and made the day much more enjoyable. I arrived at the course about 45 minutes before start time, made my way to check-in, got my race bib, and was handed the softest t-shirt I’ve ever owned. After moseying around for a little while before start time, I made my way to the port-a-potties and then the start line. The line really was magnificent: someone’s heel dragged across the ground to indicate a clear “start” and “end.” 

“It doesn’t need to be fancy. If you’ve got a love and appreciation for nature– and at times like to saunter, walk, jog, hike, run, dance through it–that’s what matters.” –Kelly Ammon

I know my tone does at times lean towards sarcastic, but sincerely, the dirt drawn start line really was one of the best things about the day and a great reminder of why I love trail running. It doesn’t need to be fancy. If you’ve got a love and appreciation for nature– and at times like to saunter, walk, jog, hike, run, dance through it–that’s what matters. 

My goal for the race was to complete 3 laps in 3 hours, and I knew the course would make that a challenge. In the early spring I did a group run at Coventry with the Big Woods Running Club, so I was familiar with the course. There is a lot of climbing in the first half (~900 feet of vert/lap) and the second half, while downhill, has plenty of rocks and roots to keep you on your toes. I really, really love this particular type of course.  I knew if I could make it through the first part with its challenging climbs, then I’d be able to make up some time on the latter half of the course. Since it’s a time-limit race, I knew my biggest challenge would be the clock. In order to complete 3 laps in 3 hours, I’d have to push it each and every lap. Typically, I like to ease myself into a race–start a bit conservatively, get faster gradually, and then, if all goes well, hammer at the end. With a 3-hour limit, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to ease into it. What if my first comfortable lap made it impossible to run 3 in 3? I decided the best strategy was to hammer from the start until the wheels came off, and that’s exactly what I did. 

The first lap of the race I ran as much as I could, only power hiking on the steepest climbs. I definitely pushed, making sure to set myself up with enough time to finish my third lap. On the last half of the first lap, I shared a few paces with the guy who would go on to be the first male overall for the 6-hour race. (Important to note first male overall, because our very own Karin Tursack was the real OVERALL winner for the 6 hour race! #goals #You’veBeenTursacked)  

He mentioned how he wasn’t usually into “racing” but, damn, he really wanted to get the dinosaur trophy. At that moment, he perfectly summed up my feelings towards this race. I usually race against myself: I have my own personal goal I’d like to beat. Then I have goals B,C, D, E, F etc. if/when the wheels fall off. Never do my goals for a race include finishing before x # of competitors or in xth place. It’s always me against me. Except maybe when there’s a 3-D printed trophy of a velociraptor on the line, and, in that case, hot damn, I wanna win. 

“When there’s a 3-D printed trophy of a velociraptor on the line…hot damn, I wanna win.” –Kelly Ammon

I made it through the first lap comfortably under an hour. I knew I had set myself up for success for the second and third laps, but I didn’t want to relax too soon. I cruised through the aid station and on the next climbs, tried to toe the line between all-out aggressiveness and being too conservative. It’s usually the mid-race miles that I struggle with the most. The first few miles, I am high on the energy of the crowd and the event. The last few miles, I am driven by the idea of being over this sh*t. The middle miles can be a cesspool of pain, doubt, and stomach agitation. This is usually the point of a race where I begin reciting a mantra. Science extols the benefits of a positive mantra. Sometimes mine is “happy pace, happy face, happy race.” However, more often during this point in a race, my mantra is “pick up your feet, dumbass.” In these middle miles it becomes so easy to get lulled into complacency and tiredness with your feet; the next thing you know you’re doing a Superman sprawl into the rocks. (I always seem to fall during the “easy” parts of a race. Give me a technical downhill and I’ll send it; I’m much more likely to trip over my own feet on a marginally bumpy gravel section of trail.) Fortunately, my only fall in this race came as I was slowly walking uphill and only resulted in some slightly skinned palms. Shout out to fellow Pacer, Fred Foose, who fell, finished his 6 hour race, got beers, and ONLY THEN got four stitches in his finger. What a BEAST!!

I finished my second lap well under 2 hours and was feeling pretty good. Even if I resorted to power hiking every single climb of the last lap, I was pretty certain I’d be able to finish 3 laps in 3 hours. The little voice in the back of my mind kept me from taking it completely easy, but I was able to finish my third lap within 3 hours. As I crossed the finish line, I double-checked with the race director and he assured me I was done with the race and confirmed I was the winner of a dinosaur trophy!!! I wish I didn’t care so much about a plastic velociraptor trophy, but I’m sorry, dinosaurs are cool, and I’m glad I have a trophy commemorating them. Without dinosaurs, we couldn’t drive. In all seriousness, Coventry Woods Trail Fest is an amazing event that I would recommend to anyone. The race directors, volunteers, and members of the Big Woods Running Club are some of the best, friendliest, most caring people you will ever meet; the course is great, but the people are what make this race truly special.  

“Dinosaurs are cool, and I’m glad I have a trophy commemorating them. Without dinosaurs, we couldn’t drive.” –Kelly Ammon