Monday, April 22, 2013

Conquering Hyner

Hyner cannot be conquered.  It conquers you! Hyner is an epic event that has grown in popularity over the last few years.  Located in the "middle-of-nowhere" in central Pennsylvania amongst the hills and valleys, the trails of Hyner boast never ending climbs, gnarly down hill, grueling gradual climbs through the river runs, and amazing views.  Instead of doubling the already popular 25k course to make a ridiculous 50k course, the race coordinators created a new section to add to the 25k course for an adventurous and moderately difficult 50k course.  I do not have a ton of experience in 50k courses but I would bet this is one of the toughest east of the Mississippi.  It boasts of 7000ft+ of climbs and 7000ft+ of downhill.  This was my third year at Hyner - second for the 50k version.  It has quickly become a favorite of mine. 

This I have come to learn: YOU MUST RESPECT THE HYNER! You must respect the hills of Hyner.  If you do not, they will chew you up and spit you out.  And since there are so many, you could find yourself all kinds of messed up.  You could find yourself like this (see below) poor soul.  And this is only the first climb.  You must respect the downhill.  If you do not, your quads may just explode.  You must respect the long trudge through Johnson Run and Ritchie Run.  If you do not, your brain may explode with the numbing rocks, fallen trees, and creek crossings.  You must respect the trail.  She can work for you if you show her proper respect.  You must respect Hyner.  Don't say I never warned you!

Preperation for the Hyner
In 2012, I limped into the inagural 50k at Hyner with knee tendonitis that had hampered my training plans.  I managed to get through it and live to tell about it.  After some time off, I set my sights on increasing my mileage and run a couple ultras in the fall.  Unfortunately, summer brought a foot issue that I originally thought was Achilles Tendonitis.  I started a pattern of time off followed by trying to run again.  The time off needed to increase as the discomfort wasn't going away.  I finally made the decision to take an indefinate amount of time off which included bypassing my race plans I had for the fall.  I ended up taking a bit less than two months off and also started to see a physical therapist since the discomfort did not go away - infact my other foot began to also give me problems.  The PT assessed a mechanical issue in my gait and said due to that and the higher mileage, my tibialis tendon was flaring up. "My what?", I said.  It's a tendon that runs through your arch and up near the achilles tendon.  Long story short(er), I struggled to run again even with permission to run.  I did many exercises to strengthen weak areas in my feet/ankles/knees.  I ended up getting custom orthotics.  Things started to go well. I surprisingly got used to the ortothics and had built my long runs up to the 15-17 mile range on technical trails.  Things were going too well.  More issues with my feet arose - some of which seem to be exaccerbated by the orthotics.  Despite this, I managed to continue to run, build my long runs, do some strength training, continue my PT exercises and sign up for Hyner at the end of February.  I was not confident that I would be ready but I would show up anyway.  Overall, my mileage has been low (no weeks over 38 miles) with my longest LR of 24 miles.  This period has been very difficult for me.  I have had thoughts cross my mind numerous times that I should just quit running altogether.  I have had bad days (achiness in my feet/lower legs), good days (where I feel like I could get back on track to run ultras), and a few really bad days.  My solice has been the runners that have dealt with their own chronic injuries for longer periods and were resilient in staying the course.  Through persistence and patience I continue on.  This is not a conversation I have had with too many people.  Most would not understand the emotion behind it.  I am strangely emotionally attached to this thing called trail running. 
I recently reviewed my race report from 2012 for the same course and here is what I ended the report with:
"My recommendation is only do this event if you are a demented & sick person who loves to inflict self-pain.  Ask me if I would do it again? I think I distinctly said "no way" during and right after, but you never know." 
So why am I back????? To seek revenge on this wicked beast! (oh but you must respect her...)

The days leading to Hyner
The days leading up the event are usually filled with many checks of the weather, checking gear, fighting off some of the anxious feelings and tapering.  This year would not quite live up to the same process.  The events on April 15th, 2013 during the Boston Marathon turned my attention from Hyner to the tragic bombings, the victims, the heros and the manhunt for the sick & twisted souls who did this.  On the one hand, my anxiety about Hyner was minimal but my heart was breaking as the week went on.  I did manage to keep an eye on the weather and because it appeared that there would be a potential for strong storms rolling through on Friday, I decided not to stay in the area Friday night but rather make the long drive in the early hours Saturday morning.  The night before I was glued to the TV as law enforcement caught up with the lone suspect that was alive in the bombings.  This gave me a little peace as I tried to get a few hours of sleep.  Three AM rolled around and I was out of bed and started my routine.  As I read my Bible, as I normally do in the morning before a run or workout, maybe it was coincidence or maybe it was meant to be but I was at the story of David & Goliath.  Hmmm...whatever could this mean for Hyner? Was this the day I would slay the giant? Don't say that too loud, she might hear you! (you must respect her...). 
I grabbed some food and made the drive.  As I hit route 80, the dark skies slowly became illuminated behind the mountains.  The sign read "Welcome to the Pennsylvania Wilds".  That gave me a great feeling.  This is a beautiful part of PA.  I made my way through the winding road that led directly to the site of the event where hundreds of people would gather to suffer the same pain --together!
It was colder than I anticipated.  Fortunately I had stuffed a bin full of various clothing items so I could choose what I would need when I arrived.  It felt like a winter day.  This seems to be another facet of the Hyner. She likes to mess with your mind.  The weather is always unpredictable. 

I looked at my car and was reminded that people were pulling for me.  My wife found a way to send me a message (even without cell phone service - another way that madame Hyner gets you - no calls for help). 

Friends at Hyner
Before the race, I was able to meet up with a couple of regulars that I seem to see at many different races.  Run these races enough and you will recognize a lot of people.  I was also able to meet up with some of the fellow RA crew.  I think everyone had a good time. 

Craig, Me, Marie, Tania, & Stacey
(why am I always the tallest one in the crowd?)

The Challenge
"10...9...8...7....6....5....oh wait" (interruption) "Let's start that over again".  This is how we started.  No one cared.  It's a 50k.  It's a long day.  It made most of us laugh.  Not so sure how that would go over in a 5k.  Off we go, start with a warm-up over the bridge looking up to the right to where we will be in a little less than an hour.  "I will own you today" I thought of saying but then thought better of it (you must respect her...).  I did come into this race with a strategy today.  It was very simple: Just beat Marie.  That was it - that all I wanted to do.  She beat me last year - lulling me to sleep with her sob story of it being her first 50k.  Ok Marie.  I get it.  You played a game with me last year.  Last year, we got to one stretch of 3 mile downhill and you took off.  You stayed at the "cabin" aid station long enough to see me come in bruised and battered and then took off laughing.  Not this year.  I will get my revenge. 
                                                     I see you Marie. You won't escape!

We hit the trail called "Cliffhanger".  It is a narrow trail with a nice drop on the right.  We are still in warm-up mode as we made our way along.  There is no reason to be impatient here.  Part way through, the guy in front of me steps a little too close to the edge and off he goes tumbling down the cliff.  No not really.  But he did get too close to the edge and a nice size boulder went tumbling down towards the train tracks.  I think his response was "oops".  Ok let's just get off of this narrow trail.  I don't want to end my life so early in the race.  Let's wait until much later when the pain is too much to bear.  And then it begins.  The climb up "Humble Hill".  It is relentless and steep.  I wish I could say there were great views but all I could see was the muddy trail and the back of the shoes of the guy in front of me. 

I know she is there.  She haunts me. 
Two false summits later (but how false can they be since I knew they were there?) and we were at the top of Hyner View.  It was beautiful.  I stopped to snap a couple of pictures.  Every year I say I need to spend a bit more time there enjoying the views.  But alas - there is work to be done. 
                                                           Can I get a hang glider?
                                         The view from the escarpment leading to Hyner View
                                              Spectators heckling the runners at Hyner View
At the top - wish I had time to stay.

 I looked behind - no Marie.  Where is she? Did she somehow get in front of me and I was oblivious to it? Couldn't be.  In an almost paranoid fashion, I started the descent down the other side.  It was a beautiful switchback followed by a steep pitch into a serene area of great running.  Someone was breathing down my neck.  Was not Marie.  It was Tania.  She passed me and took off down the trail like she was on a mission.  I whispered "don't forget to respect the trail".  Not sure she heard me.  Didn't matter - she was killing the down hill.  Mental note to self - I must work on my technical downhill skills.  Just before the entrance into Johnson Hollow, a member of the DCNR stood where last year an aid station stood.  I hesitated for a moment and chatted with him a bit.  I thanked him for their service over the last week.  A few storms had ripped through during the last few days dropping many trees.  The DCNR and the Trail Dogs did a great job of clearing what they could.  A quick glance over my shoulder to see if Marie was there.  I thought maybe I saw her white hat.  Got to get going here! The entrance into Johnson Run is a bit of an uphill and then a short blast straight into the run.  Johnson Run in a beautiful remote  meandering trail in and out of the creek, over downed trees, rolling terrain but all at a slight incline.  The first section is mostly runnable. I made my way to the "50k loop".  About halfway through Johnson Run, we caught a side trail up to "sledgehammer" which is a pure uphill slog.  It is not too technical but just up.  I kept looking behind me but no Marie.  I thought I saw Tania up ahead so I chugged along.  The climb up was typical for the day in terms of weather.  It changed every 10 minutes.  We had part blue skies, part clouds, some snow, sleet, cold, warm, and lots of wind.  I thought it was odd to see blue skies over there, sun out but then snow blowing in from behind me.  This was the day in weather - repeat over and over again. 

Here's an example of the weather (end of the race).  Can you see the difference? Pictures only 1 min apart. 

The 14 mile loop that only the 50kers are privileged to run is a beautiful remote and mostly runnable section of trail.  After a quick aid station stop, I ran the rolling trail.  It was here that my right calf area started to seize up.  This was a similar pain to a previous training run that seemed to turn into a strain and took days to heal up.  I believe it is related to my feet issues.  I suddenly became very worried. I was not even 10 miles in and this was starting.  I started to contemplate how I would get through the day with that kind of discomfort.  The thing was - it wasn't that bad yet but I was thinking it would get worse and with many miles to go, it could get ugly.  But the pain never did get any worse.  Eventually I forgot about it.  I came to Farley Vista.  I stopped and took a couple of pictures.  As I was doing so, a handful of runners passed me by.  Honestly, I didn't care (unless if it would have been Marie). 
 Farley Vista

 A quick look down the trail and I was off in my favorite section.  A downhill meander of 3 miles or so.  This is where I really became paranoid.  I thought for sure Marie would catch me here.  Afterall, this is where she lost me last year.  I did my best to stay consistent on the downhill.  And then it happened! Blam! Pow! Bang! I was passed.  I had heard someone coming up behind me and gave a slight glance.  I saw "the white hat".  So as to not look like I was really paranoid, I didn't give a big look.  Instead I acted as if I did not care that she was passing me - no sense of urgency.  She pulled up on my left and I gave a "hi, how are you?" as I do to so many others runners.  She answered with an "ok" or something like that and kept going past me.  Wait! That's not Marie.  Same build, height, similar hat but definitely not Marie.  Whew! I had a renewed energy and bombed down the hill.  My favorite of favorites was to come.  At the end of this three mile downhill was a very steep downhill that dropped us into Ritchie Run.  Because of the rain and runners in front of me, it was pure mud.  It felt like skiing on mud.  I have no idea how I stayed on my feet but I was swishing back and forth like I was on a ski slalom.  Ritchie Run greeted me with joy.  It is Johnson Run's "little brother". 

I remember last year getting so frustrated with it.  Not much was runnable for me.  So I decided this year to just power hike it.  This was a smart decision as mentally I was not as exhausted by it.  I passed by Tania, gave her some much needed chocolate, and chopped my way up the severely muddy log flume trail.  I was truly christening my new Cascadia's. 
 A meandering up and around brought us eventually to "the cabin" at mile marker 17 or 18 - really unsure at this point in the race.  It all becomes a bit blurry.  I took adavantage of my drop bag and changed out into dry socks.  It felt like heaven.  Tania came waltzing into the Aid Station and then it hit me.  I had positioned myself on the porch of the cabin so I could see down the trail.  Marie came round the corner right for us. This time it was her.  I knew I didn't have time to lose.  I exchanged a few kind words and then got a quick bite to eat and I was off.  Port-a-potty stop? No.  I have to beat Marie! So off I went in my nice dry socks thinking this is what I needed.  Enjoying the trail and SPLAT! A huge mud puddle. I think I literally said out loud "Really??? What was the point of changing my socks?!?"  Oh well.  It wasn't long before we hit the top of Sledgehammer to make our way down to Johnson Run again.  I have to admit, I don't think I respected this hill.  I bombed it and passed a couple of guys along the way.  I had only wished this would not come back to haunt me.  In Johnson Run again, I was at another tough running section.  I once again power hiked it.  This is where I died last year.  It felt like eternity last year to get out of Johnson Run.  Not so much this year.  I had a renewed energy and enjoyed the power hike.  I did my best to encourage all of the hikers along the way.  At the top, there was a welcomed aid station but I stayed barely a minute to grab and go.  There were 25kers standing around - either done for the day or really not caring how long they lingered at the aid station.  Off I went down Post Draft.  Something seemed off though. It was eerily quiet and without people.  I must have been by myself for a good 10 minutes.  Eventually a 50ker caught up to me and passed me.  I had just passed him in Johnson Run - unaware he was in the 50k.  More hikers passed and (2) more 50kers that caught up (but not Marie!).  We then chugged our way up Cleveland Hollow and eventually to the dreaded SOB.  I literally crawled up on my hands and feet.  It was the only way to relieve the pressure off my lower back.  It worked.  Another brief stop at the aid station and I had 4.5 miles to go.  Looked at my watch and amazed at how I was doing (compared to last year).  But all that mattered little.  I just needed to beat Marie.  A horseshoe trail around the mountain and then a downward trek down Huff Run.  I passed a  handful of 50kers.  It was at this point that I knew I was having a good second half of the race.  One guy bombed past me on Huff Run.  I tried to keep up but he was simply too good on the technical downhill.  Another note to self - must practice the technical downhills! Back to the pavement and a simple jaunt over the bridge and I might just do it.  Too bad the bridge feels like an eternity.  The only flat surface of the entire race and the feet just rebelled.  I kept looking over my shoulder but I think I finally realized that she (you know who) would not catch me.  A little climb at the end and I was home free.  Fifty feet from the finish as I was exiting the woods, I felt footsteps behind me.  I heard footsteps coming fast.  Before I could fully turn my head, I was passed.  I had eased just a bit to walk the last hill and got passed at the finish.  But it wasn't Marie so I let the runner go.  I crossed and smiled as I quickly realized what a great day it was. 
 Marie finishes - AFTER ME!!!!!!!! Sweet victory!

A look back at Madame Hyner.  "I do respect you" I said as I drove away for the day.  I will see you again next year. 

On the day I finshed 68 out of 108 finishers with a time of 7:36:55 (avg pace of 15:02).  I bettered my time from last year by 43 minutes.  Not bad considering I am not in the shape I would have liked for this race.  I would like to see sub 7 hours for next year.  It's possible - with some respect.

I will admit that my fueling and hydration was very poor for me but somehow it worked.  During the race I had my 70oz bladder filled with water and Hammer Endurolyte Fizz.  I drank a mere 35 oz of that during the entire race.  I had maybe 2-3 cups of gatorade at aid stations.  I had (3) half bananas, (2) PB&J squares, (2) small pieces of chocolate, half a snickers bar, some assorted nuts, and an ensure at the cabin aid station.  How I had the energy I did during the second half is beyond me.  If the weather was warm, it might be a different story. 

My feet held up during the race.  Two days later as I write this - it's a different story.  I am in a decent amount of foot pain (near but not on my achilles) on both feet.  My legs are sore but minimally so compared to last year.  I was strong on the climbs - I owe some of that to the stair machine at the gym. 

All in all, it was a good day.  I am happy with the results but not satisfied.  I can do better.  Next year! I will conquer you madame Hyner! (with all due respect)


  1. Love it! What a great day!
    Did Marie know that she was racing you?! ;)

    Riks feet are hurting a bit also. Maybe the rocks?

    CONGRATS again!!!

  2. Marie did not know she was racing me. That was the beauty of it. I will take advantage of anything I can.

  3. I am so late on this - but great race!
    Any chance you're running the Susquehanna Super Hike this fall?