Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hyner View Trail Challenge 2014 (Race Report)



The 2013 Hyner View Trail Challenge 25k (Race Report) was such an incredible experience that I signed up for the Hyner View Trail Challenge 50k almost as soon as registration opened last summer. In October I finished the Green Monster 50k (race report), my first Ultra, and riding high on the residual fitness in November and December, I looked forward to diving into a winter of solid training.

Things were solid alright. Frozen solid. If you live in the Northeast, or even parts of the South, you know the story; months and months of below average temperatures and above average snowfall. While its not impossible to run in these conditions, it is certainly more difficult and not conducive to maintaining one's mental health and motivation. This winter gnawed at me, more than any other in recent memory and I had a hard time finding the state of mind required to put myself through the kind of strenuous, mileage based training block needed to prepare for a mountain trail Ultra.

On the morning of January 1st, to celebrate the arrival of 2014 I ran 14 road miles with a group of friends from the Valley Running Club. This was to be the official kick off to my 50k training, but my longest runs in January ended up being a lack luster 14,10,10,10 and 17.

On February 1st I logged an 18 miler, however, and still held out hope of salvaging my 50k aspirations.  But as the snow started to fly and the mercury began to drop everything unraveled. Who was I kidding? Before the 2013 Hyner 25k I had done long runs of 12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20 and 20 miles. In the weeks before my Green Monster 50k taper I’d completed workouts of 20, 20, 27, 26, 20, 20, and 20 miles. How could I possibly prepare myself adequately to run my best?

Ultimately, my February training consisted of a scant 50 miles. I emailed the race director and had myself bumped down from 50k to the 25k event, though honestly in my mind I'd already decide that Hyner wasn't in the cards at all for 2014.

In March a hilly 13 mile road run was my only significant workout as I logged a nearly as dismal 80 miles. But with the pressure of Hyner off my back I began to reassess my spring plans.

The schedule of local spring and summer races was coming into focus, and since I didn’t need to spend my entire weekend on the trails preparing for one big race I decided I would run a bunch of little ones instead, a habit I’d gotten away from in 2013.

The weekend before St Patrick’s Day I crossed the finish line first at a new 4k trail event; my first win ever at any distance. Over the next couple weekends I put down times that I consider to be quite respectable for me, at any fitness level.

4k: Carantoun Cloverleaf Trail Run (14:09) (Race Winner)
5k: Pink Panther (XC course) (21:33) (12th overall) (2nd age group)
5k: Jean & Pete Memorial (road) (21:18) (5th overall) (3rd age group)
1M: Leading Lotus 1 Miler (road) (6:15) (4th overall) (1st age group)

Somewhere along the way something strange happened. I started to have fun running again, and while my fitness level certainly wasn't at its highest, neither was I as in poor condition as feared
On Tuesday April 15, while it rained cats and dogs, I did a 4 hour, 20 minute 100 mile ride on my indoor bike. Three days later I completed a 15 mile, 4 hour group trail run with over 2,000ft of vertical gain. On Monday April 21st I did a 10 mile, 2 hour solo trail run with 1,000ft of vertical gain.

On Tuesday morning, April 22nd I decide to run the Hyner View Trail Challenge 25k on Saturday April 26th.


After a 4:00AM wake-up call and a breakfast of champions (Clif Bars, not Wheaties) Maria and I left Sayre Pa. at 5:30 to make the 2 hour drive to Hyner Pa. As we made our way Southwest her level of nervousness skyrocketed. Oddly, mine did not. I'm usually a wreck before big races. Maybe it was because it was to be her first Hyner and my second, or because I’d only just decided to race a few days ago, but I never really got the knot in my stomach I expect to feel.

We made it to Hyer just before 8:00, checked in and picked up our -always substantial at Hyner - swag bags, and then immediately looked for somewhere to go to the bathroom. Long line at the porta potties? Not to worry. At a trail race any bush or tree will do.

There may have been 1,200 25k competitors in attendance, making Hyner one of the largest trail runs in the East, but there is still a “small town” feel, and it didn’t take long to meet up with numerous members of our local running club, snap some group photos, and kiss Maria for good luck, before we assembled for the start.


The Hyner 25k course is characterized by three big climbs, but before you get to the first you must navigate less than two miles of road and a precarious, narrow segment of single track called “Cliffhanger,“ suspended a few hundred feet above the Susquehanna River. Typically speaking, if you want to make time at Hyner you need to go out hard - treat the opening section of road as a 5k start - in order to get your preferred placement in the conga line which forms immediately after the bottleneck at the trailhead of the Cliffhanger. Once you reach the end of the Cliffhanger and take the hard left up Humble Hill, the race’s first major climb, things open up a bit and you can begin to move forward through the field if you have the strength.

After an intentionally slow start in 2013 I’d set for myself the plan of burning it out at the start of cliffhanger in 2014. With this in mind I attempted to position myself further toward the front of the amassed pack at the starting line. There I fell in beside friend Matt Geer for a quick chat before the gun.

To my dismay, as the group began to shuffle forward, it became immediately apparent that I still had not started far enough up the field. My progress was hindered all the way to the end of the dirt road, and it was not until the start of the race’s lone half mile of asphalt that I was able to put on the afterburners.

Once on the Cliffhanger trail, progress was slow, but steadier than last year. I fell into my place in the line, occasionally chatting with the runners ahead of me, as the trail snaked along the cliff side with Humble Hill looming overhead.

Cliffhanger ends with a hard left turn, and at the base of Humble Hill I was able to begin making some progress up the field. I passed a handful of runners at the briefly less steep lower section. A little higher up I came up behind fellow VRC member Bill Matson, doing his first Hyner. We exchanged a few words before I continued my ascent up the escarpment.

At Hyner the swag bags alone are worth the price of admission, if you are into that kind of thing. By the time you get to the top of the escarpment and come into the clearing at Hyner View, a glider launch, you start to realize that your entry feel was a steal. The view is priceless, and if it wasn’t race day you’d take an hour to savor it.

With the clock ticking I could afford no more than a glimpse of the river valley far below. Injured VRC members, LeeAnn and Shawn, wisely sitting out this year’s race to preserve their summer racing goals, cheering and taking pictures at the summit were a welcome boost as I ran up and over the top to the first aid station at mile 4.

It took me 56 minutes to reach the top, and literally 15 seconds to cross it and begin the long descent down the other side. I stopped at the aid station only long enough to refill my partially drained water bottles (Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Endure) before beginning the switchback filled descent into Reichert Hollow (miles 4 to 6).

At mile six I caught up to, chatted with, and then passed VRC member Christopher Coon who was having some ankle trouble as the trail started up Johnson’s Run (miles 6 to 9). Thanks to a snowy winter and wet spring, Johnson’s Hollow with its dozen stream crossings was significantly slicker than 2013. My preferred trail shoe, the NB MT110, didn’t handle this section quite as well as I would have liked, but then practically nothing grips wet rock (On 2013’s dryer course I wore Inov-8 TrailRoc 245’s).

LeeAnn, who was following her son Louis’ progress out on the course, met me again with encouragement at the second aid station (mile 9), after the second climb of the day (Psycho Path). It was nice to see a familiar face out there once again, however this would be the last time I saw anyone I knew until the finish.

I refilled my bottles, grabbed a handful of peanuts at the aid station, and began the descent of Post Draft Hollow. My nutritional strategy for the day was more fluid and less food. I consumed only two Hammer Gels and a dozen peanuts during the entire run, though I tried to empty my two 10 ounce bottles between each aid station,  as well as drink another cup or two at each aid stop. Were there more fruit options than just bananas I may have ate more, but nothing looked all that appealing and my energy levels were good.

Miles 9 through 14 of the course take runners down Post Draft Hollow, and then up Cleveland Hollow on the Garby Trail which eventually leads up and over the infamous S.O.B pipeline climb. Last year at this point I was in the middle of a conga line. This year the company was rather sparse for this grueling climb. I passed two runners on the hike up Garby Trail, but otherwise used the solitude to eat my 2nd gel of the day and work on getting as much water in me as I could in preparation for the S.O.B. I passed one runner on the bear crawl up S.OB, and surprisingly the climb did not feel as tough as it had the year before.

I made sure to take a moment to take in the view back across the valley before hitting the aid station. I refilled my bottles once again, drank two glasses, and had the volunteer with the water hose drench my head. The sun had come out to play and the ice cold water did wonders to lower my core temp down and improve my mood.

Miles 14 to the finish are completely runnable, save for maybe a few feet of smooth gradual uphill that would be practically imperceptible at the beginning of a shorter, easier race. I unnecessarily lost time here in last year’s race, but intended to run strong this time. I largely accomplished this goal, passing many walking runners who were no doubt in the same dark spot I had been twelve months earlier.

It seems a bit ironic to think that the darkest part a race notorious for its climbs should be the final long downhill. Huff Run was my kryptonite. Lower back pain, rattled ribs, spasms - my core muscles had reached their limit, greatly slowing my pace on a descent where I should have been making time instead of losing.

The good news was that my legs were fine. I was able to find an 8 minute mile pace when I reached the asphalt again. I passed two runners on the bridge crossing, another on the dirt road, and two more on the final little hilly trail leading to the finish. This year I crossed the line running hard.


At Hyner the race is only the beginning. When you cross the finish line, whether its 1st place or the 1000th expect your fellow race finishers and their families to cheer for you like a rock star. In my book, if you have the guts to enter a race like this you ARE a rock star, so why not party like one?

The finish line party at Hyner is legendary. BBQ, pizza, desserts, soda, craft beer, all you can eat and drink, all free to everyone who comes out on race day be they runner, friend, family, or random spectators wandering in off the streets. And this year we had the sunny weather to hang out and enjoy it.

After crossing the finish line I hung out and watched my friends as they rolled in for a few minutes. A large group from VRC had come down for Hyner this year and everyone did great. On my way back to the parking lot to change my clothes I stopped at the corner near the end of the bridge and got to see Alex, Ron and Curtis finish.

 Cleaned up and in fresh clothes back at the finish area an hour after finishing I found my appetite, and my friends, but mostly I just thought about Maria and wondered how she was faring, under trained and a trail race rookie out on a difficult course. I'd finished in just under four hours, and estimated that she would nearly double that time. She exceeded those expectations and gutted out a 5:56 finish. Afterwards she insisted that "the hills were not that bad." Watch out for this woman, once she gets some solid training under he belt she's going to rip it up at whatever trail races she chooses to enter.

By 4:00PM, the crowd was thinning out and it was time to think about heading home, but not before making one more stop. We took a few minutes to drive up to Hyner View and savor the view that we’d seen only just fleetingly a few hours earlier.


I ran Hyner 25k under trained this year, but benefited from the experience of having run the race a year earlier. My 50k finish last October likely had an impact on my overall strength and ability to manage pain. Regardless, with a fraction of the training I’d done for this race in 2013, I managed to complete the course in 3 hours, 47 minutes, just 7 minutes slower than last year and in 160th place out of 1,200 registered competitors. Looking back, its almost hard to believe that I actually intended to skip this race, though perhaps my lack of expectation was in itself an advantage. When I set my mind to something I tend to obsess about it. When I obsess I put unrealistic pressure on myself. This year I just went out for a little 15 mile trail run with 1,200 of my friends. 

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