Monday, October 15, 2012

2012: Green Monster Trail Challenge (Race Report)

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The consensus seems to be that Central Pennsylvania trail running has moved north. The Green Monster, in Wellsboro Pa, was designed by fans of such notorious suffer-fests as Hyner and The Megatransect, and according the veterans of those events whom I spoke with, The Green Monster delivers the diabolical nasty goods… just a little bit closer to home for some of us. And for the Ultra junkies, the word on the trail is that they may add a 50k for 2013. But lets not get ahead of ourselves. Lets talk 2012.



Weather is part of the game, but knowing the race would be hard enough under ideal conditions, I was praying for a rain free, cool sunny autumn day. So just about as soon as I started my truck at 6:00AM to make the hour and a half drive out to Wellsboro it began to pour, and continued to do so for most of the first half of the trip. Much to my delight, however, the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing by the time I rolled into race headquarters on Straight Run Road about eight miles outside of Wellsboro near Ansonia and the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.







I have a habit of showing up everywhere early, and there were perhaps ten vehicles on the premises when I arrived, making check in go quick and smoothly. (Race management threw together a pretty respectable gift bag, which is always nice) Early arrival also has the ancillary benefit of getting first dibs on a clean Porta-potty to take care of any pre-race business.

According to the race page there were approximately 150 runners pre-registered. Not sure if they all made it to the start, however a number of additional competitors registered day-of, so by the time the gun sounded at 9:00AM under clearing skies a healthy sized field had gathered for the inaugural running of The Green Monster.

4,000 feet of treacherous climbing and descending (sometimes so steep my Garmin 110 would fail to detect) over twenty-five kilometers, that was what the course had in store for all, as we rolled out of the start/finish area. Almost mockingly, the race begins with half a mile of soft, smooth packed dirt road before ducking into the trees along “Deer Trail” and the beginning of what the race website describes as a “gradual 1,000ft climb” up the western face of Mt Nessmuk.



I came out of the gate deliberately slow, determined not to get caught up in the early race excitement. Ironically, at 9:06, that first mile would be my second fastest mile of the entire race.

Relative to what lay ahead, most of the first climb of the day was indeed gradual. In the past two months I’d put a lot of effort in to my uphill running, and it would show through out the day. On the forgiving lower slopes of the initial climb I found myself, with another strong climber just behind me, gliding effortlessly past runners who had gone out faster and were already opting to power-hike. When the pitch finally did kick up in the finally quarter of the climb, and I too began to power-hike, I continued to pass runners in small groups. At 6’2” my height is often a disadvantage when it comes to speed, but not so when the situation calls for hiking.



Up and over the top, the course next traverses the ridge on “Stone Road,” a grass and rock covered double-track logging path, clearly not used in decades. After a mile on the ridge I began down “Water Trough Trail,” which in turn quickly gave way to “Horse Run Trail,” and a rocky 900’ descent. At some point on the ridge I tweaked my right ankle and was having trouble running downhill. Runners who I’d passed on the climb overtook me again, and we’d play leap-frog for most of the first half of the race.

Near the bottom of this first descent, as we rolled into the mile-five aid station, I hooked up with a friend (who in his mid 50’s continues to run 100 and even 200 mile ultras). We would end up running more or less together until the mile 8.5 aid station, but before we got  there, we’d have to go through a nasty 600ft climb up the “Bark-Slide” trail.



The night after the race I had nightmares about my morning of bear crawling up this sucker (and the 2 additional climbs yet to come) grabbing on to roots, branches and anything in reach to keep moving forward, as meanwhile rocks rolled down from above. On this climb I again power-hiked past those who’d passed me on the previous descent.

At the top of Bark Slide there is a bit of ridge-top running along Matson Road. Legs still burning at the top, I made a quick pit stop to pull a gel out of my pocket and crank my shoe laces tight, as my ankle was still causing trouble.

After Matson Road the course descends along “Lost Trail” and “Oil Well Hollow” trail to the second aid station at 8.5 miles. Tightening my laces seemed to help, and for the first time I found myself descending well. At 8.5 I popped another gel, refilled the (half empty) 10 ounce bottle (water) tucked into the back of my shorts, and continued on.


From the aid station at 8.5 miles the course picks up “Carpenter Trail” and continues to descend until picking up “Spoor Hollow Road,” toward the aid station at mile 11, but not before putting a 700ft bear-crawl up the aptly named “Stinger Trail” directly in your face. “Stinger Trail” is the most sadistically steep ascent of the day. Here I again passed the last survivors of the group I’d been playing “yo-yo” with for most of the day, and by the time I reach flatter ground at the top I fall in behind another runner I know from back home, who like a beast, completed the day’s race in Vibrams. On this ridge, “Plantation Trail” offers a rare thing, two miles of mostly level running into the third aid-station at mile 11.

In this next section my fitness begins to show as most of the runners I’d been passing on the hills (only to re-passed on the descents) are left behind. I ran mostly alone through this section, across the ridge and down “Jim Close Trail,” across “Straight Run Road” (the same road the race began on, albeit higher up), and then up the final climb of the day, a 600ft ascent toward “Broad Ridge Trail” and the final aid station at 13.5 miles.

The lower section of this climb starts innocently enough. The trail crosses a creek bed, wanders along its bank, and then gradually moves away to the left on single track pitched just mildly enough where I might have run it at the start of the race.

I put on my best power-hiking game face and “walked hard.” At the switch back (I must add that switch-backs are a rarity on this monstrous course.) I took a rare glance behind me. There were just two runners in sight, safely below (including my friend in Vibrams). But just when the lower section of the climb had successfully lulled me into believing The Green Monster had satisfied its blood-lust, and might release me with my pride and dignity intact, the incline kicks up, and as it kicks up my aching limbs rebel. Cramps tear through my legs, both the upper and lower muscle groups. But hands on knees, I march on. And when that old trick no longer works my hands find the ground as I bear-crawl over washed out roots and rocks to the summit.

Remarkably, the leg cramps release at the top as I glide into the final aid station along “Broad Ridge Trail.” As I approach I see just one pair of legs running out of the station. When I make my own pit stop here at 13.5 miles there are no runners in sight from behind.

When I train up to three hours at a time I’ll generally forgo taking on any calories (unless trying out a new product), and consume little in the way of fluids. Up until this point in the race I had sucked down three (possibly four) gels, and perhaps twenty ounces of water. After 13 and a half miles, and coming up on three hours, I was experiencing no energy problems. But the cramping on the final climb worried me a bit. Was it an electrolyte issue or merely the result of overworked legs? It was unclear, but just to be careful I took on Gatorade and a handful of pretzels before beginning the final leg of the race.

Perhaps fifty yards out of the final aid station the trail ducks into the trees where The Green Monster rubs salt into my wounds one last time. Another climb? Nope… just the most sinister, absurd, ridiculous, heinous, ungodly rock strewn 800’ downhill I’ve ever had the displeasure of facing. And this goddamned monster was the only thing standing between me and a couple of easy miles of rolling single track and dirt road back to the start/finish area.



It took everything in my bag of tricks, short of butt-sliding, to get to the bottom in one piece; shoe-skiing, tiger-hopping, zigzagging, you name it. Somehow I reached level ground. But had I done it on once piece?

The next section of single-track rolls gradually downhill, through a half dozen icy-cold refreshing stream crossings, toward “Straight Run Road” and the finish. It should have been easy. It should have been my personal victory lap, my reward for beating the monster. But it quickly became clear that something was not right.

If I didn’t know any better I would have thought I was having a heart attack. Me? Thirty years old? Health and fitness nut? As if I’d jarred something loose on the downhill, or simply reached the end of my rope, I found myself battling a stabbing pain on my upper-right chest area, as if somebody were sticking a knife into the ribs under my arm.



I tried stretching that arm. I tried deep breaths. I applied pressure with my hands. As long as I was running I was in pain. It was almost embarrassing. My legs were fine, and yet I found myself reduced to moments of walking on the easiest section of a difficult course. Four or five runners passed me before I reached the road. I was in agony when I turned the corner on to the blacktopped stretch of drive way into the finish, but as a matter of pride, successfully crossed the line in 32nd place out of 132 finishers-- running.


Distance: 16.79 mi
Time: 3:26:11
Avg Pace: 12:17 min/mi
Avg Speed: 4.9 mph
Elevation Gain: 3,647 ft
Calories: 2,082 C
Garmin Connect: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/233509691#.UHshrqHKyFo.facebook

3 comments:

  1. Nice read. I had about an identical feeling on the last flat part through the streams. I wanted to run like the Last of the Mohicans chasing an elk... but shoulder pains, jaw pain, and tingly fingers kept me at a shuffling jog. But is was a great experience, my first race of any sort.

    Pete Godwin

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  2. Hey there.

    A great experience indeed. You sure picked a tough one for your first race. Congrats on the finish.

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