Wait…isn’t that a trail race?  Break out your finest metal mug filled with instant coffee, throw another log on the campfire…and prepare yourself for another looooong winded email.

So a few of us roadies thought it would be fun to test our legs on some trails and see what it’s actually like, so that we have some clout to make fun of trailer runners instead of just picking on them for fun.  In talks with some of my trail running friends (or the ones that put up with me) it turned out that Sproul would be a great beginner trail race.  I wanted something runable rather than a rock climb, and also wanted something far enough away from marathon/fall season so that I’d have time to heal after I hurt myself since it seems every trail runner gets hurt every other time they run.

Sproul 10k course is a 3 mile climb follow by a 3.7mi descent.  Hold up…3 + 3.7 = 6.7.  Apparently math isn’t a strong suit of the trail people, because every 10k I’ve ever run is 6.2mi.  I guess this is more of an ultra 10k?  Or maybe since the times are so slow they can use the “oh that’s because its longer than a road 10k” excuse.  Eh..whatever.  I’m still going to run this thing.  So hearing about its grueling front half climb, I figured I’d used the weekly hill workouts as my Sproul training and I’ll be set to show these trail folks how to run their races.  I’d worn my road shoes out and needed a new pair, so I bought a pair of Patagonia trail/ultra shoes…to help me fit in on race day.  And for good measure I went to Shingletown gap once to run with the Thursday trail crew, to round out my Sproul training and hone my trail skills.

Unfortunately, recruiting of road runners to race Sproul didn’t pan out too well, and some of those that were ‘in’ had to bail for other commitments…so it was up to me and Bob Shafer to represent the road runners at this trail walk…I mean race.  I woke up at 3am due to the heavy rain and thunderstorm, and barely slept after that.  Bob and I start texting each other at 6am wondering if they’ll have the race with all the lightning occurring.  The rain was ridiculous, my creek in my backyard was up a few feet, my bridge had washed away, but hey…let’s go run a race on a mountain.  Bob was trying to convince me to just skip it and do a long run, but I’d already paid my entry fee and wasn’t about to lose out on the experience.  Plus I was guessing this was ideal conditions for the real trail runners since it’d likely be a mud slosh fest, and isn’t that what they love most about trails?  I texted Meira to make sure they wouldn’t cancel for lightning, to which she laughed at me saying no.  I also asked if we were required to carry granola bars during the run but she assured me they were supplied at the race.

So Bob and I meet up and caravan up to the race.  We get there about 9:20 for a 10am start…and we were about the last people to arrive.  The crowd was way bigger than I’d imagined, and everyone was in great spirits and excited to get muddy.  Everyone just standing around gabbing it up guessing what the terrain would be like, not really stretching or warming up…except for the more elite of the group who were running around.  The rain luckily hadn’t hit Hyner as hard as it did State College, so it seemingly wasn’t going to be a horrible time.  Find some other runners we knew and chatted it up.  Some people had even come a day or two early and setup tents to sleep at the course. 

Race Time!

After a quick greeting by the race director, he dropped the mic and jumped into the crowd to run his own race – ok…that’s cool.  Then a verbal countdown from 5 and we’re off.  It’s a quick downhill spree to get to the trailhead.  One sharp muddy/slippery/downhill turn and you shoot off into the woods to start the trail race…and find your way to the climb.  Bob, Meira and I were trotting together at this point…waiting for the crowd to settle down so we can start running our race.  The climb is a fairly wide trail so it’s very passable the entire way up.  This will be very useful I say to myself, since I’ll be flying by all these trail hikers.  About ¼ mi into the climb and I pass my first walker.  “Ha” I think to myself…exactly what I was expecting to see.  Pass some people, slip on some mud and rocks, cross some tiny little streams, pass some people…this is easy…and fun even.  Loving it.

Not even a mile into the climb…and my legs are now on fire.  What is this?  Did I not eat properly – no, did fine.  Am I overtrained – ha, doubtful…hmmm…wait, maybe this is just hard.  Can’t be.  Well, other people are walking anyway so I guess I’ll join in on that fun.  Somehow I was a few paces ahead of Meira and Bob at this point, but they caught me after a few steps of walking.  They walked with me for a few steps, mostly so Meira could give me that “see I told you so” look, half-cackle at me, and then run away in all her trail glory.  Bob clung to her heels when she started running again….and I’m left all to my lonesome.  A road runner walking in a trail race.  This sucks.  And my calves are still burning even while walking.  Yup..this is stupid.

I convince my legs to allow me to run off and on.  I look at my watch and I’m at 1.5 miles.  “Sweet, halfway to the top!”  I think…then I realized, wait this is going to take a long time if I have to walk the entire thing.  Convince my legs to run a little more, but I’m getting passed by people.  Other people are hooting and hollering as if they’re enjoying this climb.  The climb wasn’t technical at all and no one was having any traction issues – it was just man vs incline.  One guy passes me asking what smells like berries and then sees I was holding some shotblocks in my hand.  I guess I was breathing so hard that my shotblock breath was filling the air with the sweet smell of strawberry.  He laughed and kept going as I walked.  I finally get to 3mi in and it flattens out – great!  I take off running at a fast clip and pass the berry breather and he yells “uh oh…shot blocks kicked in!” as I pass him and keep going.  It was pretty funny, and I was happy to be able to run again.  Wait, wtf is this…more climbing!?  False summit.  Great.  Keep running anyway through the burn, only walk a few steps of some real steep stuff…but run to the true summit where the aid station is.  Stand there and drink a few cups of water and Gatorade…and I’m eyeing up the cliff bars and granola bars sitting there.  The berry sniffer emerges from the woods and flies past the aid station not even stopping (he was carrying a water bottle) and then I realize I’m just standing there for no reason instead of racing the fun part – the downhill!

I give chase. Almost the entire second half is single track with pretty steep edges on either side of you.  You’re running a ledge basically.  I knew it’d be like this, but hadn’t really thought about how tough it would be to pass.  I catch the berry sniffer after not too long, we share some salutations, he moves over for me so I can easily pass and I’m on my way to pluck off some more runners.  I’m running at what feels like light speed….land on this big flat rock and slide the length of it but didn’t lose my balance.  Wow I think, someone is going down on that for sure.  Note to self, do not land on flat rocks anymore.  Keep on chugging down, keep on catching and passing some people.  I’m making great progress catching people that passed me going up…and then get stuck behind a kid looking way out of his element.  Being a trail newb, I didn’t know the etiquette for passing on singletrack like this so I just hang on his heels and wait for a good place to pass.  No such place was showing up, and I feel like I’m running so slowly and not sure tailgating is appropriate.  Then thankfully the kid faceplants and I half hurdle him, half stop to make sure he’s ok.  “I’m good” he assures me and I’m back off to the races.  Next I catch a girl who is running quite well so I hang behind her for a little and we both get stuck behind a runner.  A third guy catches us since we’re reduced speed from traffic…and he yells out ‘on the left’ and does an impressive triple pass.  Oh, so that’s how you do it?  The girl and I both pass the traffic stop, and then I pass the girl and get back up to  full speed. Catch and pass the triple-passer…and continue on my way down the hill.  Make it to the “wooden bridge” near the end…cross that and you’re now in the muckfest.  It was about 3” deep mud with minor switchbacks that were impossible to turn since you had no traction in mud.  Fun though since everyone is sliding all around.  Make a few final passes and then you shoot up a small 50’ wall just to finally kill your calves before finishing the race.  Ahead of me was another female that I desperately try to catch and pass but couldn’t even put a step on her – she was kicking well.  Emerge from the woods immediately through the finish balloon and you’re done!

Meira and Bob were standing waiting for me since they’ve probably been done for 20 minutes now.   I had no idea what my time was – originally I wanted to break an hour, but felt like it took me a full hour to scale the mountain so I was certain that hadn’t happened.  Meira as always won the women’s race.  I ask Bob how he did and he was 1:03 something…I look at my watch and musta been 1:05 something.  Oh well…I’m the loser of the roadies.  Then Bob shows me his knees and hand and he’s bleeding with wounds packed in mud.  He’d wiped out on the flat rock I’d slid across.  Ha…I knew it’d have at least one victim.  Well, I’m ready to eat to I go to the post race picnic where there are roughly 4000 dominos pizza boxes, tons of hot dogs, cinnastix, watermelon, cantaloupe…and lots of beverages: beer, soda, water, Gatorade.  Wow…great spread!  Some of the first finishers had even gone back up the course to cheer people up the final climb – that was kinda cool except for those of us hating the final climb.

My take on trail racing:  fun and much different than road racing.  I never felt like I was going to die or break myself like I envisioned I would.  Aside from tracking your mileage for training purposes, there is absolutely no reason to wear a watch.  Time doesn’t matter on a trail.  Neither does pace.  To me, it felt more like I was racing the people moreso than the clock like I do when I’m road racing.  Having never raced a trail, and no benchmark time for Sproul, I had nothing to really aim for or expect from myself – other than to show off my uphill prowess from all my hill workouts….which proved to not be the case at all.  I guess I held my own sorta, but got passed by way too many people going up to even remotely consider myself a strong climber.  Hill workouts need to ramp up!

In the end…Bob took first place in our 30-39 age group with a 1:03:57 and I took second place with a 1:04:11. He claims he slowed down after crashing hard since he was scared…and I guess I believe him.  But, not a bad showing for the roadies.  Even shared some good laughs afterwards with the trail folk who were more than willing to accept us into their realm.  I can see myself doing another trail race in the future…but highly doubt I’ll ever be a full convert.  One major thing is the “run trails - it’s better for your knees” argument I think is debunked for a race like this.  Your knees take a pounding going down at a fast clip like that for miles at a time.  I guess I’ve lost the right to make fun of trail running speed…going uphill at least.  I passed enough going downhill that I still see it fit to make fun for that at least!  Other roadies that make fun of trails should get out there and try it though, you might have a good time like I did.