This race will challenge a seasoned trail runner, it was insanely tough! The effort felt more like a 50 miler. -why it is titled PA’s toughest marathon. I’m also convinced (other participants agreed) that this race was longer than a marathon distance.
It rained for the first few miles and then became sunny for the duration. There was a flood warning the prior night and the area had been receiving a lot of rain recently, so the trail was slick, muddy, puddles (some ankle deep), and water rushing over the trail in a few spots. On a steep section, which slanted over the side of a cliff, I was sliding in the mud and ended up going down to my elbows and knees to try to gain more traction. I ended up grabbing into a small tree and crawled back to where there was traction. The first half of the course was completely runable, though there were so many rocks (I hate rocks), that I walked some of it. There were also many roots. -so, single track, technical terrain. A nice stretch or two was single and double track, through a tall grassy area, which made the run feel very relaxed.
The second half of the race was brutal. Very green and filled with more ferns than the first half and a section covered in a soft, beautiful moss! Though don’t let that deceive you because the second half is where all the elevation is, especially the last 8 miles! I think Stephen and I ran our strongest in the middle of the race. Though we ended up passing the majority of other runners that we passed on the climbs. So, the climbs (three of them) were soooo long and steep!! You would be hiking up the hill and think you’re at the top, but either you just went around a bend and there’s more hill, or you were mysteriously on a hill on the hill, which had more hill after that!!! Some people stopped on the hill to catch their breath, it was that tough. We decided to power through. By the way, the finish of the race was on top of Pennsylvania’s second highest summit, Blue Knob.
Going back to the amount of rain mentioned earlier… There were stream crossings. Three small ones, where the water ended up being ankle deep, and a small creek, which was above my knees. Now, the creek had a wire above it that you’re suppose to grab to help you keep your balance, but I was too short, so I waded through as usual. I ended up finding two holes and sunk deeper, but it didn’t throw me off my balance, I was laughing and happy. -literally, just out of the water, with shoes heavy with water, was the largest climb of the race. –go figure, right!?
The aid stations were greatly stocked. PB and J’s, lots of raw fruit, chips, etc… They were great, mini buffets, how they should be. The volunteers were friendly and on their game, asking what you needed when you got to them and making sure you were good to continue the race. The runners themselves, outstanding! No one was fooling around, everyone was running everything runnable, no walking, and giving it their very best. All runners I encountered were friendly, having a small conversation with us, saying “hi,” and or giving praise or encouragement. When a runner knew we were coming up behind them, they would ask if we wanted to pass, or just move to the side of the trail. Trail runners are the best!!! Despite the rough journey, I came out in good shape! Two of my goals were to not twist an ankle and to not fall (basically, remain uninjured). Check, done! I didn’t even trip much, though the sliding in mud and on wet rocks was inevitable.
I was very muddy. I received minor scratches from jagger bushes / weeds on my legs, even one that went through my compression socks. I pretty much avoided the stinging nettle plants and poison ivy / oak. I’m down one pinky toenail. For nutrition, I had all but two bites of a Cliff Bar, 16 ounces of Tailwind, a bladder of water, one GU, a handful of Oyster crackers, and a handful of cashews. Fresh fruit, Pringles, Coke, Ginger Ale, and candy from the aid stations. Nom!
At the finish line, the race director, Michele, was there to shake everyone’s hand and hand them their finisher’s coin, which was wood and had the race logo and year burned into it. The coin was great!! In our race packets, we received soft, cotton shirts, race sticker, and wool socks, complete with the race logo and adorable turkey feet prints. The finish line food was delicious… They had vegan options! Stephen and I had a vegan burger, vegan black bean salad, and potato chips. Runners waited around the finish line to eat and recover, but also cheered on other runners as they finished. I thank god for the incredible experience and for the ability to do such crazy things that make my heart explode with joy!!! -and to have Stephen by my side the entire way.
Total time: 6:56:13.68
AG20-29: 3/4 *
Final thoughts about the day, I will consider the 50 miler for next year.