PART I: The Birthday
It is widely agreed upon that my wife is one of the best ultra crew members on the planet. In fact, I wish there was a competition for these selfless caretakers so she could be publicly crowned in a manner that is most fitting. But in the absence of such an event, you'll simply have to take my word that no other ultra runner, living or dead, has ever had a better crew.
So with Jo's birthday coming up fast, I felt compelled to do something extra special for her. It's nearly impossible to repay her for all that she's done for me, but I would be void of all human instincts and emotions if I didn't at least try to bring her some significant happiness on her special day. So after weeks of shopping online for the perfect gift, I found something that I knew would brighten her day...
The inaugural running of the Hyner View Challenge 50K!!!!
Some people may think my logic is counterintuitive, but I would strongly disagree! Hyner is an ideal choice because it doesn't allow for any crew support. Can you see where I'm going with this? She gets to simply sit and relax while I do ALL the work on her special day. And to top it off, Hyner offers camping right at the start line, so I also provided her with a chance to get out of the house for a while.
I can almost SMELL the jealousy as you all read this.
While I was cruising around in jets all over the continent this week, all Jo had to do was dig out our camping gear, get my race clothes washed and ready, find somewhere to leave our dogs, grocery shop, pack coolers, fuel the Jeep up, pack my ultra bag and restock missing items, and then pack the Jeep when she was done with all that.
We took off for Hyner, PA Friday in anticipation of the best birthday ever!
PART II: Friends
Once Jo got the camp all set up, it was time to relax and enjoy the rest of our day.
My 50k bib. I hung it there because I knew I would be drinking copious quantities of beer the night before the race, so this would guide me back to the right tent in case I got lost.
Several of our very good friends were planning to be in attendance, so Friday night was intended to be a time to socialize and relax before the big day.
The first of my good friends to show up was JC. This man is a trail beast and one of the nicest guys I've had the pleasure to meet on the trail.
JC and I relaxing. I look like I may be relaxing too much!
After hanging out for while, we decided to go up to the Hyner View (which the race is named after. Yes, it's an actual VIEW point). We were joined by Rex and Lisa. I had never met either of them before, but JC spoke highly of them, so I figured they were probably pretty awesome.
Going up to the the view would give us a chance to preview one of the toughest ascents on the course. This climb is legendary, so I was eager to see it firsthand!
We drove to the top and walked to the lookout...
The view from the top. The 50K start line is down by the river!
My natural reaction after seeing the ascent!!! I think I was pointing at the start line, and muttering "holy shit" in between sobs and panic.
We hung around the view for a while, screwing off and making jokes about the climb...
Trail markers coming up the final ascent to the top...
JC...getting in the zone! JC is a Hyner veteran, but even with the confidence of a prior completion, this trail can still get in your head.
Me and my buddy JC. We're trying to act brave...
Me and Jo...
A big group of idiots!
After scoping out the view, we all headed back to camp. We fueled up with large qualities of food and beer and settled around the camp to relax, tell stories and laugh our asses off.
At some point during the evening, JC brought out a plate of brownies with birthday candles on it and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Jo. In spite of an entire day of screwing around, laughing and making fun of each other, I could see that Jo was deeply touched by this. Thanks JC! You really are a fantastic friend.
As the evening wore on, we were joined by several more great friends. It's times like this that I really appreciate my sport the most. If I were to set trail running aside, there is no chance I would develop relationships with the people sitting around my camp. And whether I've known them for years, or just met them, they're all unique and special. I'm constantly amazed by how my life is touched by the people I meet on the trail. No other sport has this.
We retire to bed at 10:30 and I set the alarm for 5:00!
PART III: Oh...yeah...the race!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JO!!!
The 50k race began at 8:00 and the 25k began at 9:00. Hyner has been around for a long time and is legendary for it's high level of difficulty due to crazy ascents, steep descents, and very rocky footing. But the 50k is a brand new event this year, and for veterans of the 25k, it seemed unfathomable!
This fact is evident in the number of runners in each race:
25k = 1200 runners
50k = 110 runners
Hyner is NOT my kind of race. I like long runnable sections on the course and I like to make time on the trail. Hyner does everything it can to promise a slow, technical, frustrating day in the woods. This race can be mentally devastating.
We got up, had coffee, got dressed and spent the remaining time getting mentally prepared for the long day ahead. I spend most of my morning socializing with friends and trying to stay relaxed.
My good friend Bob Bodkin. Bob does a lot of the same races I do and we see each other often. He makes an occasional cameo in my blog as well. Bob and I are founding members of D.U.R.T. (Dumbass Ultra Running Team). It takes a special kind of Dumbass to qualify for entry. BTW...yes, I'm wearing the Bull Run Run finishers sweatshirt from last weekend. "Yeah...I ran a 50 miler a week ago. SO WHAT!?"
I finally got to meet Pat (runPAtrails), a friend from Runner's World. We had never met face to face before, so it was great to finally have the opportunity. Pat will be running the 25k.
Eventually, they got the race started and sent us on our way!
Jamie looking serious!
I had speculated to Jo that I would get to the view point in 1 hour. As I landed at the peak, I checked my Garmin and saw I had made it in 46 minutes. Despite the terrain, I was still under a 12 minute mile pace.
After getting to the top, we made a steep, technical descent into a tight river valley where we got aid. Then immediately turned back uphill toward the top again.
BTW...this is the theme for the entire race. As soon as we hit the top of a mountain, we turn and bomb to the bottom and then head straight back up. I honestly don't believe there is more than 2 miles of flat running on the whole course, and all of that came in the form of the road we ran to get onto the trail system.
Despite the forecast calling for rain, it was fairly warm and sunny for the first several miles. I was sweating much more than normal and spent a lot of time fighting off dehydration. I drank from my single handheld bottle constantly and took time to fill up with fluids at every aid station.
We continued the extreme UP...then Down for several miles. The downhills were too technical to make up much time. I went downhill only slightly faster than I could go uphill. The footing was treacherous and I ran with an abundance of caution.
Over a 6 mile stretch, we were faced with a mentally devastating section of trail. We made a sharp descent into the valley floor, then trudged upriver through boulders, loose rocks, downed trees and the creek itself. This was a slow climb back out and to the top. And once we finally got there, we bombed back down into another tight valley and repeated the process.
This was my hell! The uphill seemingly lasted forever and the downhill brought no relief because it was so steep and technical. I began to cuss the race, the mountains, the race director, and every rock I passed.
We came to an aid station at mile 20 and I was happy to put those sections behind me. I fueled up, refilled my bottle and headed out. On the way out I was following another runner and I saw him shove a branch out of his way. The timing was perfect, because as I reached it, it swung back and the sharp end landed right in my ear. This hurt like hell and it cut the inside of my ear open.
As I ran down the trail bleeding from the ear, I was temporarily distracted...and then it happened. Before I knew it, the ground was racing toward me at 100 mph. I landed flat on my face in the middle of trail. The fall knocked the wind of me and caused my sunglasses and handheld to fly off in random directions.
I've run THOUSANDS of trail miles and this is the 4th time I've ever fallen. Some runners make a habit out of it. I try to avoid it.
I picked myself up and carried on. We had several more hills to go UP...then DOWN...including SOB, which is a famous ascent on this trail. Most runners actually claw their to the top on all fours. I hated SOB!
It was about this time that I adopted a new mantra. I kept muttering "pizza and beer, pizza and beer". All I could think about was finishing so I could get me some PIZZA AND BEER!!!
After clearing that final hill, we had 2 miles of slight rolling terrain, then 2 miles of downhill to cover before we got to the finish. I ran every inch of those 4 miles, except for a brief pause to say hello to JC when I caught up to him.
On the final descent, I found my footing and ran, pushing an 8:30 pace down the trail. 4 other 50k runners tucked in behind me so they could steal my line. Slowly, I dropped all of them except one. The final runner faded, but he was still close behind. Close enough that I could still hear his feet skipping over the rocks. This was the best part of the race and I was literally laughing my head off as I ran. I was having a blast and it felt GREAT!!!!
We came out of the woods and hit the asphalt for the final stretch to the finish. I hammered down and pushed my way through the 25k runners, giving them words of encouragement as I went.
Right before the finish, we enter a small section of trail that shoots straight up to the finish line. After 100 feet of running the ascent, I stopped and turned to find the 50k runner that had been on my heels. Just as I did, he came onto the trail smiling. I said to him "How much fun was that?!?!?!" He was laughing and said it was "AWESOME!!!" He was still laughing as I turned and headed for home.
I crossed the finish line in 7:12:35.
This is MY blog, so I rarely post unflattering pictures of myself, but this one definitely speaks a thousand words. I was exhausted!
I had hoped to finish under 7 hours, but that time was just a guess, utilizing a lot of bad assumptions about the course. My time put me in 30th overall out of a field of 110 starters. Not a great finishing position, but I'll take it.
Here are a few more finish photos of our friends.
Jo Kappus finishing strong!
Post race was a blur of pizza and beer. We spent 3 hours watching finishers come across and taking in the amazing atmosphere at this race. It was one of the best finish line parties I've ever been to. Great food, music and the best people!
Not an uncommon site at Hyner. He didn't even make it to the second timing mat. He just crossed, veered off to the right and collapsed. I have no idea who this dude is, but Jo didn't let that stop her from capturing his suffering on camera. My wife is awesome like that.
More Runner's World Friends (BadMotherRunner and XtremeTaper). Tania volunteered at the mile 24 aid station because she's allowing her pregnancy to get in the way of running long races.
The Hyner View Trail Challenge is no joke. In all the years of the 25k event, it has developed a reputation for being a punishing event. The concept of doing 50k on that course is mind boggling to most people that have seen what the 25k reduces most people too.
This trail has over 7400' of elevation gain, which translates to almost 15,000' of elevation change over 31 miles. Considering the trail conditions, that makes for a serious day in the woods.
The race is well managed and has developed a warm feel and a great atmosphere. I'm not sure that I want to experience this race again, but I'm equally convinced that I want to be a part of it. It was a truly great experience and I'm glad I ran it.
So, in the end, Jo had a great birthday surrounded by friends. I ran a cool race and then we all had fun afterwards. It was a fantastic weekend!
We're off to Delaware next weekend for a trail marathon.
Thanks for taking the time to read my report. Happy Trails!