HYNER Pennsylvania, April 26 2014
If you are looking for Δz, Hyner is your course. The 25k race has some 4200 feet of climb, and the 50k adds another 3300 or so, for a total of 7500. Almost a mile and a half of total up.
The 50k race subsumes all of the 25k course and adds a separate 25k loop in the middle. I’ve done the 25k version three times before, so I knew what to expect for the first 8 miles and the last 8, but the middle 15 was going to be new ground.
The 50k started at 0700, two hours before the shorter race. The start is a mile over road to the trail head, followed by a mile or so of easy, flat trail. It lulls you. It sets you up.
Around mile 2 you see a sign: “Humble Hill”, and the path turns up. And up. And up. Nearly a mile of hands-on-knees, nose-to-dirt, sweaty, wheezing trudge gets you to a brief respite where you can run a little before round two – another near mile of death march up to AS1 on top of the mountain.
When I ran the 25k they always had somebody ringing a cowbell up there, but I reckon the ringer hadn’t gotten set up yet, or maybe they figured that the 50k runners were more serious and didn’t need the encouragement. I don’t mind saying, I’d’ve liked to hear some cowbell. The aid station volunteers were great, though.
I headed out of AS1 pretty quick, and on down the first descent, almost back to the level we started at. A few more small ups and downs brought us to Johnson Run, with its myriad stream crossings. Don’t bother to try to keep your feet dry, just slosh through and roll on.
Halfway through this section was the split-off for the 50k course. We turned right and went up a mild, muddy hill before turning left onto Sledgehammer. This was a monster. Not quite as steep as Humble Hill, and it was nice, smooth double-track, but it just doesn’t ever end. It was a straight line to infinity. I kept thinking of a passage from that children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth – “‘Just follow that line forever,’ said the Mathemagician, ‘and when you reach the end, turn left.'”
“Does this hill even have a top?” I asked a woman I had caught up with, exasperated. She grinned and expressed her own doubt of the proposition. I got a little frustrated at this point and set off at a strong hike, passing several tiring racers. It felt like we’d been on this hill for hours, but finally we took a right turn and a little more climbing brought us up to AS2.
There was a little more climbing here, though gentle, then quite a bit of easy downhill running. Around mile 11, some three miles past the aid station, there was a simple cache of water on the ground. Just a few cases of bottled Deer Park or something. Someone said that it was seven miles to the next AS, so I filled my carry bottle and took a deep draught from the cache. A few more miles of down brought us out to Ritchie Run.
This was basically a mirror of Johnson Run. Many, many foot-soaking stream crossings followed by a long upward grind. I was ready to be done with it long before it ended.
We finally came out to the next AS, but they were out of water! They had a few drops of Gatorade, some oyster crackers, and three tiny cups of soup. The soup was nice, but, dudes, when you are 10 miles past the last real aid you really hadn’t ought to run out of water. At least the weather was cool.
After this was some easy trail running and then a few tenths of a mile of road. Back on the trail again and up to the aid station at the top of Sledgehammer. It was only about a mile and a half from the previous, waterless AS, and I was a little concerned that maybe I’d missed a turn somewhere. All the runners I was with seemed to think we’d stayed on course, though, so I eventually accepted that I hadn’t missed anything and set off to get my revenge on Sledgehammer.
Now this was more like it. It was great to pound this downhill, though it still felt like it took all day to traverse. I was psyched to join back up with the 25k course, and I was passing suckers all the way down that hill. Near the bottom I said to a woman near me “Man, how did I ever get up this hill?” “I know, right?” she replied, smiling.
Back through the muddy section and then I could see some of the slower 25k runners down below on the course. I dropped back onto the Johnson Run section of trail and started picking my way forwards through the hikers.
I enjoyed giving out advice to the 25k runners as I passed them. Many of them wanted to know whether we were already on the second big hill shown on the elevation chart, and I felt very elder-statesmanlike handing out reassurances that this was the case. A lot of people were stopping to rest on the last push out of Johnson Run, but I kept up a pretty good power hike. I admit to getting a little vicious glee from telling people what was waiting for them on the following climb. Then out to a short runnable section before another aid station at the top.
Then there is a long, rocky downhill where I must have gone around like 30 people. Very few of the 25k racers were running here, so I was constantly calling out to pass. I made sure to express gratitude to those yielding the trail for me.
This section eventually bottomed out and it was time for the SOB. This is a killer at mile 11 of the 25k; I learned that it is much worse at mile 27. There is a long steep approach, riddled with switchbacks, that just grinds you down. I was still passing many people here, but I was really dreading the short, sharp shock of the SOB proper. It’s steeper than it looks. I had to stop to rest halfway up.
One more aid station at the top of this monster, then out for the final push. I saw a few 50k runners here – passing some, getting passed by some – but mostly I was reeling in the 25k people. I passed one perky-looking couple and couldn’t resist tweaking their spirits a little: “Only eight miles to go!” I called out. “Nooooooooooo!” said the woman, and I immediately relented, “No, no, it’s only three and change.” I think she forgave me.
A little more dorking around on some fire roads and a little single track, and then I hit the final grinding, quad-shredding downhill of Huff Run. This punishing section always seems to go on forever, but at least it’s mostly runnable. I continued passing a few people here and there.
At the bottom of Huff Run is a bridge, and from there I know it’s less than half a mile out to the road and then a mile back home. At the intersection with the main road back to the finish there are some cars coming from my right, but I think I can get across in front of them. I power out into the road, and some lady yells “Watch it!” “I got them, they see me,” I reply, and make it safely across. Probably a little risky, but I didn’t want to give back even a few seconds waiting to cross.
If I hustle I can make it in under eight hours. The slowest 50k I’ve ever run, but also by far the hilliest. I manage a weak jog down the road and up the final hill, and finish in 7:58:xx. I accept my finisher’s medal and collapse on the ground in the finish area.
Eventually I get up and partake of the excellent food and beverages this race always provides. As I’m gathering my strength to head home, Steve C., whom I met at the VHTRC’s Magnus Gluteus Maximus 50k in December, comes and sits beside me. We had talked about this race at the MGM, and I’d been wondering if I’d see him here. He’d finished in some 7:20 and was waiting for his buddy who’d come up with him. We talked a little about MMT, where he will be volunteering this year.
I also saw Gary P., whom I’d met earlier this year at the 모자, but I didn’t talk to him. He is also registered for MMT.
This race was a great experience, but it felt a little unsatisfying traveling there and back alone. I don’t think I’ll return unless I can convince The Boss and/or some friends to go with me, although if I lived closer I’d never miss this event.
Miles this race: 31
Miles raced this year: 185.8