On Saturday, My hubby Bill and I traveled to Williamsport, a town about two hours north of us, to take part in the Williamsport Community Challenge trail race.
This is the fourth year the race has been held and the third time I have participated, so you can tell it’s a run I really like. Both of the previous times I did the race I ran the half marathon version (there is a half marathon course, a 10K and a 5K), but this year, because the race was less than two weeks after the Marine Corps Marathon, Bill and I opted for the 10K.
One intriguing feature of the race is that the race director changes each course every year, so even if you do the same distance two years in a row, you will not be running the same race. Another interesting feature is that you get to run on the Williamsport Water Authority property, a place usually off-limits to hikers, bikers, and runners.
Before registering for the race, I looked at the course map. My family knows I am unable to read a map, so this was an exercise in futility. I learned nothing about the course. Bill had run the 10K before and really enjoyed it. Run mostly on logging roads, it was a very runnable course. New course each year, though.
Then we began getting emails from the race director describing how much more difficult the 10K would be this year compared to previous years. He wanted to make it more challenging. He also warned us the course would be longer than the advertised distance (not unusual for a trail race).
I received these emails, read them, and promptly forgot about the warnings as I trained for the marathon on my schedule.
We arrived at the race site early, picked up our bibs, and went back to our car to stay warm before the race start. The temperature was 19 degrees when we woke up that morning, quite a difference from the 80-degree temperatures at the Marine Corps Marathon less than two weeks ago.
15 minutes before the start we ambled over to the starting line (two orange cones set up on a dirt road), looked for our friend who was also doing the race, listened to the race director’s brief instructions (Follow the orange ribbons!), and were off.
The first part of the race was run on a dirt logging road. It was crowded with 400 runners and difficult to settle into a comfortable pace. We turned onto another, even rougher logging road at the half-mile mark and began climbing. And climbing.
The climb soon worked to thin out the runners and the trail quickly became much less crowded. I ran for the first part of the climb but soon switched to a run-walk strategy. As we climbed, I passed people when I ran, then saw them pass me while I walked. The runners who passed me, however, began to diminish as the climb wore on past the one-mile, then the two-mile mark and I wound up passing a bunch of runners on the way up.
I should mention that all distances are approximations since I forgot my watch. I was running “naked” and actually had no idea what the distances were.
Shortly after what I imagined was two miles, we turned off the logging road onto singletrack strewn with many rocks and roots. We were still climbing, but now the climb was at a steeper pitch and there were obstacles to contend with.
As we approached mile three, I could see that we were nearing the top of a mountain. “This has to be the end of the uphill,” I thought, and the tails did indeed level off. We rounded a bend, and I could see the trail held one more climb, the steepest of all, up a path consisting entirely of rocks.
I climbed the path, looked briefly at the magnificent view from the overlook at the top of the mountain, and finally began descending. The path leading down the mountain, however, was just as rocky as the one leading up, and I put on the brakes.
All of the people whom I passed on the way up, passed me on the way down.
We followed this rocky singletrack for about a mile, then turned off onto another rough, leaf-covered logging road. This was my favorite part of the race. I could open up and fly (relatively speaking) on the downhill logging road. I loved it!
At the end of the logging road, there was an aid station before we turned back onto more rocky singletrack. One of the guys manning the aid station yelled, “You’re almost done!”
“Really?” I asked skeptically, “Am I really almost done?” “Ummm…yesss…sort of,” he answered sheepishly. I knew I was not almost done.
We ran for another mile or so on narrow, rocky singletrack. At times it was difficult to tell where the trail was because the entire forest floor was leaf-covered, but the race director was right, I just had to follow the orange ribbons to stay on course. We passed through a clearing where the trail surface switched to grass and I could soon begin to hear the noise of the finish line. I crossed the mat in 1:18, good enough for second place in my age group.
If you are in northern Pennsylvania the second weekend in November, I highly recommend this race. It is a different course every year, it benefits a wonderful cause (the Salvation Army), race organization is excellent, and logistics are easy.
As an added bonus, each of the runners who are 21+ got a bracelet to receive a free beer at the New Trail brewery, located about five minutes from the race. I got a hazy IPA and Bill got an amber ale, both of which were excellent.
I would definitely do this race again. The next time, however, I will pay more attention to the race director’s emails describing the courses prior to the race.