There are a few races that are so special to me, I like to do them every year. Most races I do these days, however, are ones I have never tried before. There are so many races out there, and so little time, that, with a few exceptions, I like to try out new ones rather than do the same races over and over. Montour 24 was both a new experience and an old favorite for me this year.
Montour 24 is a timed race. That means you run for a set amount of time (rather than a definite distance). I have done the 6-hour version of Montour 24 several times, but that was eliminated from the list of possibilities this year. Every option was a 24 hour option in 2018 – either run the entire race solo, or team up with 3 friends and run it as a relay. The friends who I ran it with last year (Nancy, Cammy and my hubby Bill) and I chose the relay option. I have never done a 24 hour relay before, so I was excited to try a special favorite race in new format.
In the relay option each member of a four-person team runs for an hour as part of a set rotation. That means that each team member runs for a total of six hours, with three hours of rest between each run.
The course is a 1.44 mile loop that is mostly trail, with a short section of grass and a short section of park road thrown in. Some of the trail is wooded single track along a stream with some rocks and roots; some of it is a more manicured double track. The course is fairly (but not completely) flat. I have always loved Montour 24 for its variety of surfaces and beautiful setting, but what I love most about the race are the friendly people I have met there over the years.
The race began at 7:30 Friday evening, so runners were running in the dark while we were still fresh. I liked that logic. Bill and I drove to Danville, PA after work on Friday. We were the first team members to arrive, so we checked in and set up our chairs and gear next to a couple we met at a previous Montour 24, Bob and Kelly. Cammy showed up about 30 minutes later. We knew Nancy would be late – after the start of the race – so we assigned her the fourth leg of the relay.
Bill started the first turn at 7:30. He was nervous before the race, not knowing how he would hold up with the long lay-offs in between runs, but he started strong, with Cammie and I cheering him on from the pavilion where food and drinks were served for the runners.
There was enough light during Bill’s first run that he didn’t need his headlamp, even though it was overcast, and dusk came early. While he ran, Cammy and I checked out the food. There was the typical trail race assortment of crackers, pretzels, candy (including some chocolate-coated sea salt caramel cashews that I must find soon), chips, soda, trail mix, bars, fruit and cookies. There was Gatorade and water out by the course for the runners. Three types of soup and two kinds of sandwiches were served. A local coffee roaster set up about 15 thermoses of hot coffee and tea, as well as iced versions of each, and assorted types of milk, cream and sweeteners to add. There was baked ham and ingredients to make your own egg tacos. I am probably missing some stuff, but you get the idea. There was a lot of food!
Bill came in after running 4 laps, and it was my first turn. I needed my headlamp immediately, so I turned it on, and set out over the grass, then headed into the woods. The first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of bugs in my headlamp. I had to get used to the little specks flying through the light, but the running was very easy and enjoyable. I thought I might be spooked running by myself in the woods at night, but there were usually people around, and it was very peaceful.
While I was running, Nancy arrived, and the other team members helped her to set up our tent and canopy (which she brought). I kind of lucked out there, since I didn’t have to help. I am not a camper, so I don’t have experience setting up tents.
My hour passed quickly, and I handed off the bib to Cammy. I thought we might want to sleep, or at least rest in between turns, but we were all too excited, and stayed in the pavilion watching the runners go by and talking.
Nancy took her first turn, then Bill his second, and it was my turn again at 12:30 a.m. As I began to run, I felt a little sprinkle of rain. It was not too bad, but the longer I ran, the heaver the rain got. Finally, by the time I started my third lap, it was pouring. I ran my last two laps in a downpour.
When my second turn was over, I was wet, cold and shivering. I wanted to change into some dry clothes and get some rest. I went to our tent to find Bill lying down inside. Unfortunately, our tent leaked. The tarp on the floor was almost completely wet and muddy. There was an air mattress to lie on, which was fairly dry, so I pulled off my wet clothes by the light of my headlamp, toweled off as best I could, put on as many layers of clothes as possible, and crawled into my sleeping bag (a Paw Patrol sleeping bag, usually used by our grandsons in our living room). And shivered. Sleep was impossible. I was too wet and cold.
By the time Cammy and Nancy came back from their runs, we realized that the warmest, driest place to be was the car, so Cammy and Nancy went to their cars, while Bill headed out for his third turn, and I went to cheer for Bill. It was still raining. And cold. This was probably the low point in the whole experience for me.
When I began my third turn, at 4:30 a.m., I noticed a lot of puddles and muddy spots, especially in the single track areas of the course. The conditions definitely slowed me down, and I only got three laps in this time. By the end of my run, it was starting to get light. The rain was slowing down, and there were pancakes with real maple syrup and cheese omelettes for breakfast. Things were starting to look up. The race director had a huge fire going in a fireplace adjacent to the pavilion, so I stood in front of that to stay warm. They really do think of everything to keep runners happy at this race!
After my third run, Bill and I changed into dry clothes, ate, then sat in the car with the heat blasting. I was finally warm and dry, and I dozed off for the first time since the previous night. By the time my fourth turn came around, I felt so much better, and I was very glad to be running without a headlight.
The rain had stopped by this time, but the course was a mess. When you run a typical trail race in the rain, runners chew up a section of the course, then pass by. With a loop course, the same sections kept getting chewed up by numerous trail shoes over and over again. The mud was six inches deep, and puddles were up to my knees at places. Many people were falling on the slick mud, including me. Twice. Runners were all a muddy mess, but still having fun. You had to laugh at the conditions, because there was nothing else to do.
In between turns, we now mostly sat in the pavilion talking to each other and other runners. And eating. This is one of the only races where I gain weight during the race. Did I mention that the race director hired a food truck to feed the runners on Saturday? We could get as much food from the food truck as we wanted. It was included in the race fee. I had a salmon burger topped with sauteed apples and sharp cheddar, with a side of tabbouleh salad for lunch. How many races provide this kind of food? It was heavenly!
During my fifth turn, it began to rain again. Runners were getting punchy by this time from lack of sleep. At one point, as I was headed up a short steep hill that was difficult to navigate because of the mud, I heard a (male) runner behind me yell to me “Hey, there’s my butt sister!” “Nice butt!” I felt my #MeToo righteous indignation rising. When he passed me, I was about to tell him off, then I started laughing. He was wearing the same buff as me from a trail race we had both (apparently) done in January. He wasn’t remarking on my derriere, he was commenting on the race we had in common. A woman who was running nearby asked me if I thought he said “butt“. I said yes, and we all doubled over.
Before the race I decided that I would like to try to run at least marathon distance for my cumulative total, and I thought our team could get 100 miles. I did some mental math (always dangerous), and realized that for our final turn, each of us would only need two laps to surpass both goals. We all decided to do just two laps for our final turn, except Bill, who did three (he is such an overachiever). My total for the 24 hours was over 28 miles, and our team total was 108.
I ran my final two laps in the rain and called it quits, another outstanding Montour 24 completed. We had a celebratory beer (or two), provided by Old Forge brewery in our Montour 24 commemorative glasses. There was an excellent sour cherry gose and an IPA on tap at the pavilion. We packed up our muddy, wet belongings, said goodby to our wonderful friends and headed to a nearby inn for a much-needed shower and a soft, warm bed with clean, dry sheets. What luxury! I slept for 11 hours.
Bill is already talking about next year’s Montour 24. He wants to try the 24 hour solo option. If we do, it will be the same as this year – a beloved familiar race in a different new format. I’m in!
If you want to see a video of the unbelievably muddy course, go here (my FB page).