The first I ever heard of the Hyner View Trail Challenge was in part of a story that some of my running friends told during a long training run.
I have a friend Eileen who is an excellent runner. She is a yoga instructor, nutritionist, and all-around fitness guru. When she was in her 50s, she decided to run her first marathon. She registered for God’s Country marathon, a sort of Appalachian version of the Pikes Peak Marathon, with an elevation profile that looks like an upside down “V”. She won the marathon and qualified for Boston. That’s the kind of runner she is.
Some of our (male) running friends, including her husband, convinced her to run Hyner with them. They finished ahead of her and waited for her at the finish line. Immediately upon crossing the finish mat, she pulled off her trail shoes, threw them at her husband’s head, and vowed to never run a trail race again. To my knowledge, she hasn’t. That’s the kind of race it is.
It was with this story in mind that I began training this winter with one of the friends who was at the finish line with Eileen, for what I knew was going to be a tough race.
The race was held on April 21, but I had to register almost a year ago. In Pennsylvania, Hyner is legend. Registration for the 2018 race opened on May 1, 2017, and filled four days later. There is also a 50k version of the race and a strictly enforced cap of 1,000 runners total, most of them in the 25k.
My hubby Bill, my usual running partner, is less enthusiastic about trail races than I, so he agreed to come along and be my crew for this race. He is the best crew ever! We stayed in Mill Hall the night before the race, about a 40 minute drive from Hyner. The location of the race is fairly remote, and there are no hotels closer to the starting line. Camping at the race site is an option, but not for me. I have a strict no-camping policy.
We woke up Saturday morning, had breakfast, and got to the start of the race just as the 50k runners were starting. Registration was quick and efficient. We walked over to the starting line, about a 1/2 mile hike from registration. Now, one of the many benefits of having a crew is that I could keep warm clothes on until the very last minute. The morning was chilly. We explored the start/finish area and Bill did his best to distract me from my nervousness. (Below is a picture of me at the start, looking at the camera.)
Runners gathered at the starting line on a gravel road, and approximately 800 of us started at exactly 9:00.
After running a short downhill on the gravel road, we came out on a state highway, which was closed to traffic, to run across a bridge over the Susquehanna River. We turned left and, after some congestion getting through a narrow gate, were on the Cliffhanger Trail.
The Cliffhanger Trail is aptly named. It is a narrow trail carved into the side of a mountain. The trail is rolling, with more ups than downs. To my left was the side of the mountain; to my right a steep drop-off about 100 feet down to the river. I am afraid of heights, but as long as my feet are on the ground (as opposed to, say, riding on a chair lift), my phobia is not too bad. I did, however, do some mental calculations about water temperature and surviving a fall into the river.
We left the cliff, and started up the spine of the mountain. This was a serious climb. I could have reached out and touched the man in front of me for most of the hill. When I looked straight ahead, I was staring at his calves. That’s how steep the trail was. When we finally got to the very top of the first hill after several false-summit teasers, we rounded a stone wall from which hang gliders launch, and arrived at the first aid station.
The first descent was steep and rocky. Some of it was not runnable for me. I usually passed people on the ascents, and got passed on the descents in this race.
At the bottom of the first hill, we had our first stream crossing. It was nothing too notable, just a little creek that was too small to jump over. My feet and ankles got wet. We ran slightly uphill to the next stream crossing, then the next, and the next….I finally lost count after about eight stream crossings. The trail was uphill, very rocky, and some of it was actually in the stream bed. Your socks would just have most of the water wicked away from your feet, when you entered another thirty-something degree stream. This was the most discouraging part of the race for me
At some point in the second climb, we veered away from the stream and the incline increased, but there were still occasional water crossings. This section of the race was extremely rocky. The second aid station at the top of the second hill featured watermelon. It was the best I have ever tasted! I polished off a big cup and started the second descent, which was similar to the ascent, only downhill instead of uphill.
We reached the bottom of the second hill, and immediately began our third and final climb. The initial part of the climb was not remarkable. Some of it was even runnable, but it quickly turned into some very steep switchbacks, which had all of us puffing and panting. I made up my mind to keep moving, no matter what. I did not want to stop to catch my breath. I was afraid that I would never get going again!
Now, the last hill is aptly named the SOB. The final section of the third hill is so steep that runners were scrambling up using their hands, and grabbing onto saplings for support. You could not stand up straight on this last section. You would fall over backwards. I again vowed that I would keep going, no matter what, and eventually, after about 10 minutes that seemed like an hour, reached the third and final aid station at the summit. I grabbed a drink and some pretzels.
The reward for finishing SOB was about a mile of gently rolling, mostly downhill double track. What a relief! We returned to some very steep, rocky single track for our final descent. By then, my quads were screaming, and I went down some of the steepest parts sideways.
The bottom of the final hill ends at the state highway on which we began the race, so we ran back across the Susquehanna, and towards the start. Hyner had one final steep hill, however, before we could finally see the finish line. I crossed the finish line in 4:47, longer than it takes me to do a marathon. Bill wrapped me in a big hug. He had warm clothes waiting for me – how deluxe! I won first place in my age group, which I was extremely happy about.
The finisher’s award was a hat, rather than a medal (nice!) After the race, a party awaits. There was pizza, barbecued chicken, hot dogs, baked beans, cole slaw, soda, beer, and (the best part) home made desserts. Music was blaring, and the survivors of the race were in a festive mood. We ate and chatted with some other runners, but did not hang around too long, because we had a long drive home, and had to get up at 2:00 a.m. the next day to catch a flight to Colorado to visit our grandson!
Hyner is a tough, but not impossible race. I am so glad that I did it. I would recommend it to any trail runner who loves a challenge. Just be sure to train for the race. Here is a quote from the race director’s message: “I want to be clear that our course was not designed for the “leisure” runner or hiker. Nor was it designed so that “everyone” can easily finish. And lastly, don’t expect to come to this course and set any records for a 25K. This is a far cry from being a “rails to trails” course. Our course was designed to challenge people both mentally and physically. We make you earn that awesome meal afterwards. If you only train periodically, then reconsider what you are signing up for.” Good advice. Hyner, hope to see you again! I did not throw my trail shoes at anyone after the race.
I am linking up with Holly from HoHo Runs and Wendy from Taking the Long Way Home for their Weekly Wrap. Join me there for some fabulous fitness blogs! I am joining Running on Happy, Crazy Running Girl, and Coach Debbie Runs for the Coaches’ Corner linkup! I am also linking up with Nicole and Annmarie for Wild Workout Wednesday.