Friday, April 19, 2013

Hyner View Trail Challenge 2013 (Race Report)



It is a little after 11:00 a.m on the day before the 2013 Hyner View Trail Challenge. I registered online for the 25k about 8 months ago after the idea was put into my head by local trail running standout and VRC member John Johnson who is without a doubt the biggest advocate of "Central Pa Trail Running," to be found up here in Northeast Pa.

Last October I ran the first Annual Green Monster Trail Challenge 25k out in Wellsboro (Going back for the 50k this year). I had a great experience that day, but unfortunately the race marked the beginning of an on going saga involving my right ankle. I twisted it sometime after the first climb and its never been the same. Immediately after the race I tried to keep running. Compensating for the ankle pain lead to knee pain, knee pain led to time off. The knee pain went away, but the ankle remained an issue. Weekday trail runs on snow went well enough, as did my long runs on asphalt, but once winter passed and the snows melted this spring I once again found myself having trouble on off camber local trails.

Despite it all, I was able to train relatively hard between Christmas 2012 and March 2013. Beginning with a 12 mile Christmas Eve group run, I put in my dues, gradually building my long run over the winter, culminating in runs of 18,19,20 and 20 miles on successive weeks before the wheels started to come off. My final 20 was on March 23 (with the flu), and my longest run since then (Today is April 19) was just 9 miles.

On April 13th I turned my bad ankle harder than I had at any other time since the original injury, hard enough to actually necessitate walking out of the woods. On April 14th, still sore, I turned it again during a group run with some other locals who are doing Hyner. Between Apr 14th and Apr 19 I ran only 5 miles, and instead focused on getting the ankle back in order (ice, massage, stretching, etc..) as best as I could before the race…


Heavy rains, high winds, temperatures expected to plummet over night, and even a tornado warning down in Clinton County where the race is held. That was the scene the night before the race, with conditions looking much the same at my home two and a half hours to the northeast.

Gusty winds, mud, fallen trees and cooler air expected for race morning. While some might argue such conditions are part of trail running and half the fun, with a course this tough, I for one, don’t require any extra obstacles to enhance the challenge.


Not knowing what shape the legs might be for the ride home, my sister volunteered to be my chauffer for the day. I’d hate the thought of completing a difficult race only to die in a car crash (caused by leg cramps) on the way home.

It was a 4:00 a.m. wakeup call for me, and then the drive down to Hyner. We left Sayre at 5:00 a.m., and even with a couple of pit stops, still reached Hyner shortly after 7:00 a.m. The big shocker was catching my first glimpse of Hyner View above the river (on the right) as we rolled down route 120 toward race headquarters. The second shock was remembering that I’d paid good money for the opportunity to run up the mountain to it, when there was, in fact, a perfectly good road. Ah, but such is the insanity of trail runners.

Hyner’s massive parking lot (which I assume to normally be a landing area for the Hang Gliders launched from the overlook) was less than half full at the time of our arrival, but filling up quick. From there it was a short walk to “The Eagle’s Nest” restaurant, which today was doubling as the packet pickup area. It was crowded inside (as well as outside at the Porto Potties), but trail runners being notoriously kind people, meant that everything seemed to be moving quickly. I checked in, went back to car to stash my awesome bag of race goodies, found a secluded tree to relive myself on, and then crossed the road up to the WSCA Clubhouse to scout out the starting area.

The 50k began at 8:00 a.m. As if 25k at Hyner were not enough, a hundred or so crazies decided to double it. Along with a half dozen friends, I watched their race begin near the end of the bridge. My sister took the opportunity to snap some pictures, and then it was back up to the WSCA clubhouse to begin my own challenge.

Trail running and trail runners are a different kind of animal, but regardless of your favorite surface, runners are runners and runners have to stick together. After the 25k field had assembled at the starting line (all 1,100 or so), and the pre-race instructions were given (largely inaudible) runners and spectators were asked to engage in 26 seconds of silence for those effected by the bombing at the Boston Marathon six days earlier.

With the niceties out of the way, it was time to get down to the business of what the last eight months of my training had been leading up to. Having not previously run the course, but being well aware of its sadistic layout, I’d placed myself conservatively into the middle of the pack, well behind many of my friends of a similar pace. My strategy was use the runners ahead of me to temper my enthusiasm, use my long legs to pass while power hiking up the first climb, let the field come back to me, run my own race, and above all else have fun.

The gun sounded at 9:00 a.m. The front of the field went out like a bat out of hell, no doubt, but further back the race began at a shuffle, a thousand runners moving together like a mudslide that starts slow and gradually picks up steam. Even had I not been running shoulder to shoulder, I had no intention of making any sudden moves on the short section of dirt road between the clubhouse and the beginning of the bridge that carries route 120 over the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

Upon reaching the bridge I did drop the hammer a bit, passing as many runners as I could before the start of the trail at which point the congo line began, a thin, relatively flat ribbon of single track with mountainside to the left and a steep drop to the river on the right. It was slightly frustrating to be unable to pass over the next mile or so, but that, of course, had been part of my reason to hang back in the first place; slow the early pace and conserve energy for the climbs. I would certainly need it. Hyner has three major climbs, and the first (and most scenic), a steep mile-plus ascent to Hyner View was about to begin.

The climb up to Hyner View was tough, but not spirit breaking. At this point in the race I still had plenty of pep in my step. My long legs are something of an advantage when power hiking the climbs, and I used them to chew up and spit out chunks of trail. I was actually passing numerous runners without over exerting myself. But where this climb hurts you most is not its steep early grade, but its length. Just when you reach what feels like the top the single track turns left and continues, up, up, up to false summits. At this point I found myself peppered by a few flakes of snow (and sleet), and battered by the wind. The final steps up to the top take the trail out of the trees and into the open, exposing runners to the full fury of the day’s gusty winds.

On this day the trail gods were with us, however as the wind was blowing in, carrying competitors uphill to the first aid station at mile 4. The view from the top was stunning, but there was no time to stand and gawk. There was a race on. I’d popped two gels on the way up, so I put the wrappers where they belonged (in the garbage bag folks!!!!), replaced them with two more, drank a cup of water, and tore out of the aid station onto the long downhill.

The downhill’s at Hyner are long, but mostly tame, in regards to their grade. The next two miles (4-6) were all downhill, and aside from an extremely steep short section, made for some much needed easy running. Where much of the later course is rock strewn and technical, this section was mostly a plush, dirt covered ribbon. My troubled ankle, which is worse going down, had been holding up well, and would continue to do so for most of the race

Miles 6 - 9 of the Hyner Trail Challenge course mostly inhabit a rocky drainage called Johnson’s Run; a rocky, wet, wonderland of a dozen stream crossings under tall hemlocks. A few runners had some illusions about keeping their feet dry (quickly shattered). As for me, I opted to cool my feet and bomb through the icy spring runoff from the start. Noticeable though this section was the quietness of the participants, most of the early race chatter had died away to be replaced with fatigue. I’d taken two more gels, sipped from my bottle, and continued to move up through the field. The real issue here for me was slippery rocks (in my Innov 8 Trailroc 245’s), until the trail gradually began its long, at first deceptive, climb out of the gorge on what (based on the official course description) I presume to have been “Psycho Path.”

Moving on to the section of the course encompassing miles 9 - 14, Johnson Run gives way to Post Draft Hollow and another aid station. I took on more water and gel and headed back out, passing a half dozen more of my fellow trail warriors as they ate and drank. The next section of trail (Post Draft) is a long, technical downhill. Attempting to hold a conversation with the female runner in front of me, I managed to bloody my hand and drive the nozzle of my water battle into the mud, in my first and only fall of the day. For the next couple miles I dripped blood; blood on my hand, blood on my shirt, blood on my shorts, and blood memorialized on my race number.

Luckily the blood eventually congealed, as I was going to need all of my blood inside me for what lay ahead. At the bottom the ‘trail’ takes a left and begins up the rocky switchbacks of “Cleveland Hollow,” on what is called the “GARBY trail.” Here I passed a local runner from the VRC (check out our facebook) area at the bottom, the first I’d seen since crossing the bridge at the start that morning.

If there are good views on the climb, you’ll not remember them. Its hands on your knees, eyes on the ground, time here. The course was relentless. Having apparently found my point of equilibrium in the field, my passing days ended. I fell in with small group, two ahead, a couple behind, and I would more or less be with these same people until the end of end.

 Heads down, grinding our way to the top, but surprisingly chatty. In the face of this much suffering there was nothing to do but crack jokes and keep pushing forward. We all knew what lay ahead, but I for one, tried to pretend that I didn’t.

The Hyner View Trail Challenge might seem like a good name for the race. With climbs so steep, unless you are in the lead, somebody’s Heine is in your face all day (not that I’m complaining, trail chicks are awesome!). But perhaps a more fitting name for the race would be the son of a bitch.

Just when you think you can’t hurt any more, the GARBY trail ducks out of the trees into the open, and the course proceeds to take you hard-left directly up a grassy section of gas line "lovingly" known as the S.O.B. Getting up it on foot is hard enough, the idea that they built it using a bulldozer boggles the mind. Short, but sadistic, the S.O.B is the steepest grade of the day. Runners are reduced from bipedal humanoids to animals crawling on all fours.

And just like that the worst of Hyner has to offer is over. At mile 14 I found myself "standing" at the top of the S.O.B, refueling on gels and water at an aid station. For my money, the top of S.O.B would be a great place to put a finish line, but there was still the little matter of getting down from that fucking mountain.

From here the course meanders awhile on mountain-top forest roads, and in open fields, savoring the carnage it has just created. What would otherwise be “easy running” is labored by more than three hours of fatigue. Legs that seized up on the last climb threaten to lock up again, fit runners become occasional hikers, until Huff Run gives us permission to leave.

"Its all downhill from here," said a bystander at the road crossing at the top of the descent. Part of me refuses to believe it, as I do my best to navigate the rocky path. I’m hurting now. Either I’ve aggravated my right foot/ankle or the Excedrin has finally worn off, but its starting to bother me. My back and shoulders hurt too, from the pounding and fatigue (need to work on that core strength I guess) and I actually pulled aside for a moment to allow two runners to pass me on the downhill. But then at last the trail gives way to asphalt. A left turn puts me back on Hyner Bridge with less than a mile to go. The sun is shinning, and the bridge really does “feel like 10 miles,” as the race website suggests.

Asphalt gives way to dirt road. I could hear the crowd cheering on runners as they cross the finishing line, still unseen. But as if simply to rub salt into my wounds, the course leaves the road on the left, climbing a very small hill that, at this point might as well have been the S.O.B. All the major muscles in my legs are locked up, but I grit my teeth to power hike the hill, and then run the last few yards to cross the finish line in 156th place (3:40).

The appreciative crowd made 156th feel like 1st, and that appears to be the essence of "Central Pa Trail Running," Insane courses and awesome people.


Is there a morning after pill for trail runners? Not quite 24 hours after having finished my first Hyner View Trail Challenge I find myself bruised, sore, tired, and ready to do it all over again. When you’re out there challenging yourself the voice in your head always asks “why?” and says “never again!”

Either trail runners are really stupid people, or in our ‘comfortable world’ there is some innately human (in our psyches or DNA) that draws us to voluntarily accept difficult challenges. Upon completing one challenge we feel empowered and ride the wave from this high to the next.  



  1. Brian,
    Thanks for sharing. By the way, did you used to post on RW? If you are who I think you are, we all (or many of us) headed over to and in the spirit of the PA thread over there we started Come on by. I was there at Hyner (again). I was one of the crazy 50kers. I wished I would have known you were there. Great report and very nice time. I need to pick you brain about the Green Monster. I have thoughts of doing the 50k. Thanks again for sharing. I am still working on my RR - too long.
    Jamie (aka boyjame)

    1. Yeah, I used to post on Runners World. I created the "Pennsylvania Trail Running" thread that mysteriously got deleted. Thanks for the heads up on where everybody has run off to. I'll check it out.