Saturday, July 19, 2014

Prowl the Sproul 10k (Race Report)

Same place, different race. Many of you will be familiar with the Hyner View Trail Challenge. The Prowl the Sproul 10k is put on by the same great people and has the exact same start line location (WCSA Club House in Hyner Pa). The website describes Prowl the Sproul as the "toughest 10k in Pa." Admittedly I haven't run every trail 10k in the state, and in fact this was my first, but I'd gander to guess this claim is true. It’s a simple concept; run, hike, crawl or drag your body up three miles of typical Pennsylvania single track to the top of McCloskey Mountain and then scream 3.7 miles (course is a little long) down the other side.
Afterwards one of my friends described the race as "Hyner condensed" and I’d say that is true. Big climbs and screaming down hills, though Prowl the Sproul boasts the longer climb. Hyner takes the cake on the steepness factor.
The atmosphere is also condensed. You’ll see many of the same great people, though fewer of them. And afterwards its great food and drink free to all comers, with race finishers milling about talking with each other and cheering for each finisher as if they were the race winner. The bottom line is, if you don’t head home from a Central Pa trail race feeling welcome and at ease you are doing something wrong.

Oh yeah, the race. The race is almost beside the point.

I hopped in my rickety white Ford Ranger at around 5:30 this morning and made the drive down to Hyner solo. Maria camped at Hyner Run State Park overnight with her sister. Maria has completed the Hyner 25k and Rothrock 30k this year and the trails are already in her blood, but this was her sister Hillary’s first experience on the trails. I arrived and checked in shortly after 8:30. After a short warm-up run with John Shanks I spotted them making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast on the tailgate of a truck. But we were not the only Bradford County runners on hand. At least a dozen bad asses from the VRC “coverage area” were there. That’s a pretty good Bradford County turnout for a 10k trail race with only 150 participants, two and a half hours southwest in Clinton County.

After a few words from the RD, the race started promptly at 10:00AM. Moving through a crowd down the dirt road parallel to the WCSA offered a bit of Déjà vu, but the crowd was obviously much smaller, and rather than heading for the bridge the course takes an abrupt left and dives immediately into the woods for the rest of the race.

I fell in with local running friends Tabby, Chris, and John at a pedestrian pace and as a quartet we began to move up the field, still all smiles and talk at this point.

Feeling great and at ease in my Patagonia EVERlong’s, which were seeing their first race-day action, I separated myself from my friends.

After a series of small rollers the course began to kick up in earnest, and once it kicked up in earnest it was pretty unrelenting, the kind of hands-on-knees hiking you'd expect from this particular breed of trail racing. A stronger climber, John blasted passed me somewhere in the second mile, and was quickly out of sight. I didn't expect see him again without a beer in his hand. My plan was to power hike to the top, and I stuck to that game plan. The only running I did was in brief bursts of a few yards at a time to make uphill passes. In this way I continued to move myself up the field.

When your heart is thumping and your legs are burning you wonder if its ever going to end, but every hill has a top. When you get more or less to the top of McCloskey Mountain the trail wanders around the summit a bit where there are still a few rollers. Its tempting to continue walking , but if you didn’t leave your legs on the mountain side, this is a great chance to make some passes before the long, precarious descent. My heart rate was high but I manned up and picked off three or four on my way to the course’s lone aid station. I did stop at the aid station, but only long enough to pour half a cup of water down my throat and the other half over my head.

Almost immediately after you leave the aid station, the long downhill begins. As I rounded the hairpin turn I caught sight of John’s familiar blue shirt on the other side and put the hammer down to catch him.

From here on out it’s a little more than 3.7 miles of almost exclusively downhill running. The upper reaches of the descent run at an angle across the mountain face, with the mountain above to your left, and a precarious drop to your right with nothing but a thin ribbon of rocky single track separating the two. I nearly took a tumble off the mountain side just before pulling up behind John, who was at the tail end of a trio. Our newly formed quartet let gravity do the rest, and in my Patagonia EVERlong’s I was enjoying every death defying moment of it. Whether because this was a shorter Central Pa. race than I’d ever run, or because of the soft ride of the shoe, I found myself able to really crank it.

Mid way down the mountain John seemed to decide he’d spent too much on the climb and pulled aside. A trio again, the remaining three continued to hammer, pausing only briefly to allow a young woman who was absolutely FLYING to pass.

On the way down there are a couple of small uphill rollers, nothing more than a few yards of uphill before the course continues down. As hills they are no big deal, but in the midst of a downhill they can be a real momentum killer.

After one of these rollers the trail widened. The pace of our trio had slackened, but I was feeling strong, so I used the opportunity blast past on the left. Honestly, my burst surprised even me. We can all dream, but I’m not used to my body responding like that. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was impressed, because I actually earned some cheers. Shortly after I caught and passed the young woman who flew past me earlier.

A photographer had placed himself above a steep hairpin turn just before the bottom. After a hard right-hand turn I was back in the creek bed the course had wound up near its start. From there it was just a matter of crossing over, making the short climb back up to the clubhouse, and then looping through the woods down to the finish. Who was standing at the top of that little hill? Being Central Pa trail running, naturally it was the 1st and 2nd place finishers, cheering on the rest of the field. Race winner Matt Lipsey (47:10) actually pushed me up the last, steep step to the top, while 2nd place John Johnson (52:13) stood by cheering. How do you like that for class?

I managed to slip past two more runners before cruising into the finish in 1:09:48 (Garmin Map). I'm very happy with that. The time is irrelevant. More importantly I feel like I raced well.

Today's race was my 16th of the year. I have some tough events planned for the rest of 2014 and this little monster of a 10k has left me feeling reinvigorated for whatever lays ahead.

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