Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth

“Sorry about that, bud,” I said to the guy behind me in the chow line after stumbling into him. “I’m feeling a little unsteady on my pins.”

“Understandable,” he said.

* * *

The threatened rain had held off, but the air was as cold as forecast. “There are reports of snow on top of the mountain!” the announcer called out to some thousand or so shivering nutjobs awaiting the start of the 2010 Hyner View Trail Challenge.

I had a liter and a half of water on my back, a GPS-enabled training watch on my wrist and a sour dread in my gut as we listened to the countdown. A final check of my gear, a last wave of encouragement from The Boss, and we were off.

It was a mile or so over road to the trail head. I had seeded myself some two-thirds of the way back in the pack starting out, which turned out to be a bad miscalculation. Once we hit the trail there was no room at all to pass, and I was stuck behind a bunch of lollygagging hikers, oohing and aahing over the trees and river. For the next mile or so we proceeded at a slothlike shuffle, and at times came to a dead stop. Finally hit the first real hill, and though it opened up a little bit, it was hard to get enough momentum to get around the shufflers.

That hill just didn’t want to end. Every time I thought I was near to the top, another 100 yard stretch would somehow open up past what I thought was the crest. My calves were on fire, but when the trail widened out near the actual last 100 yards I had plenty of juice to hump it around some of the tourists. I sprinted up to the aid station, chugged a cup of water, and took off down the trail.

I felt great over the next 9 miles or so – two long downhills, some flat meandering through the valley with several stream crossings, a couple moderate ups, and even the dreaded S.O.B., which was much steeper in person.

Passing was still a challenge, as the trail rarely got wider than a foot and a half or so. Had to wait for open areas to the left or right. At one point I saw a chance to blow by a line of 5 or 6 people and I took off through the scrub just to the left of the trail. I had about a three foot gap to get back on the trail before braining myself on a tree, and I realized that my momentum was going to carry me off the other side. Where there happened to be 50-odd foot drop down to the river.

I managed to grab the tree, swing around onto the path losing less than 10% of the skin off my left hand, and keep on rolling.

After the aid station at the top of S.O.B. I started to fade a little. I was reduced to walking even some of the milder ups. And then came the final indignity: a quad-shredding downhill stretch that just went on and on. I pulled aside a time or two to let some columns of stronger finishers past me. I was still keeping a pretty good pace, so I was a little puzzled as to why these people were behind me if they were fit enough to be blowing by me at the end. Maybe they’d taken some rest at the last aid station, but I’d expect people at this position in the race to be more concerned about their finishing time.

When we finally made back to the road I was determined to run the last mile or so back to the finish line. I was pretty much all in at this point, and I was still dropping places to runners who’d marshalled their energy better, but I stayed above a walk back to the final hill leading up to the finish:

The Boss was a sublime sight at the finish line. Some dude shook my hand and collected my chip. Somebody dropped a finisher’s medal in my hand. Within a minute after I stopped moving my legs were solid blocks of marble, and I could barely stagger through the chow line. I managed to down some bread, a single ladleful of ziti, and some chocolate cake with peanut butter flavored icing. The walk back to the car was excruciating and slow. It felt like it took me a minute and a half to lower myself into the passenger seat. I showered up at the B&B, and The Boss and I set out through the Pennsylvania hills towards home.