Three Hours In The Woods

On the last Saturday in January, my hubby Bill and I traveled two hours north of our house to run CJ’s Resolution Challenge.

This was the sixth time I ran this special race. You can read about other years’ races here and here.

CJ’s is a timed race. That means there is no set distance. Runners compete to see how far they can run in three hours. The course is a 1.6-mile loop in R. B. Winter State Park, located in mid-state Pennsylvania. Part of the racecourse is a rocky, rooty single-track trail, and part of the racecourse is a smooth gravel park road.

When we left our house at 6:00 a.m., it was still dark. There was no snow on the ground, but the race director instructed us to bring spikes. At the last minute, we threw YakTrax into the back of our car.

As we approached an area 15 minutes from the state park, we started seeing some snow cover on the ground. By the time we turned into the park entrance, the snow cover was 100%. We were very glad we had followed the race director’s advice.

COVID mitigation procedures were in place, so runners picked up their own pre-made packets, which contained a buff, wooden medal, and bib. The traditional runners’ breakfast of donuts and hot coffee was still on, but the food was take-out only.

Bill and I grabbed some goodies, visited the (indoor – deluxe) bathrooms, and went back to our car to stay warm and wait for the race to start. The race-time temperature was 14 degrees F. It was windy and overcast. At exactly 9:00, we started off over snow-covered trails.

Masks were required to be worn for the entire race. I was unsure how it would be wearing a mask while running for this amount of time, but really, it was no issue. There were only 120 runners in the race. Even though we ran on a closed loop, there were many instances when no other runners were in sight, so I could briefly lower the buff to breathe in some fresh air.

The only problem with lowering the mask was that it was so cold, the moist mask froze when I lowered it. It was easier to just keep the buff up the whole time.

I was also worried about the trails being only partially snow and ice-covered. Wearing YakTrax in those conditions is not optimal. I have broken several pairs of slip-on spikes that way by running on bare pavement. I did not have to worry. The trails and road we ran on were completely snow and ice-covered.

The race began on an uphill. Bill and I took it slowly, feeling our footing and getting into our running rhythm. I wore fleece-lined tights, a fleece-lined turtleneck, and a windbreaker. Despite the frigid temperatures and the wind, the only part of me that was cold was my hands. Otherwise, I felt great. Running was easy, and I knew it was going to be a good day to race.

After a short distance on the trail, we turned onto an undulating gravel road. There were several spots along the road where the shelter from the trees was broken, and the wind picked up. My hands became even colder, and I pulled my fingers into a ball inside my gloves.

We ran for about .7 miles on the road, then again turned off onto singletrack through the woods. I felt great by this time and flew (relatively speaking) over the snowy, rolling singletrack.

We crossed the start/finish line after the first loop in 17:31.

Before most races, I set three goals – a fallback goal I am pretty sure to reach, a realistic goal, and a pie-in-the-sky-if-all-stars-align goal. For this race, my fallback goal was eight loops, my realistic goal nine loops, and my pie-in-the-sky goal 10 loops.

We decided to stop every three loops (more or less) to refuel. Though COVID diminished the fueling options available to runners, there was still plenty of the typical trail junk food displayed on long tables beside both sides of the racecourse. There was also Gatorade, several different types of soda, and water available to drink.

Because I am on a no-added-sugar diet, I stuck to the mini pretzels and water. Bill partook in some of the more exotic fare. If you call Oreo cookies, Gatorade, and Swedish fish exotic.

The loops passed very quickly, and before we knew it, we were finishing our eighth loop. I was certain at that point, I had at least one more loop in me.

We finished our ninth loop in well under three hours, and I asked Bill if he wanted to run another loop. He deferred to me. I had no doubts – I wanted to run another loop. We finished our tenth loop in 3:11:09.

There are no age group awards at CJ’s. I finished 10th woman overall (out of 53).

The traditional gathering for hot soup and snacks after the race in a fireplace-heated pavilion had to be modified, of course. The soup was served from a take-out window. I gratefully accepted some piping hot bean soup (Bill had chicken noodle) and some chips, then ate it in our car.

There are not very many races I do year after year but CJ’s is one of them. I like to experience different races, and there are certainly a lot out there. Or at least there were a lot of races available before COVID. CJ’s is an exception, though. This is one race I plan to do as long as my legs will allow me.

The race organization, execution, course, and overall vibe are outstanding. There is no way I can think of to improve this race. Except perhaps the weather. Maybe next year, the race director can order balmy weather for this January race.

My hands would be so happy.

You can find the places I link up here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s