The Hyner View Trail Challenge, as told a few days later.
The crush of almost 1,000 runners slowly slogs forward, gradually picking up speed as we wind down the gravel driveway away from the Western Clinton Sportsmen Association clubhouse.
Dust billows over us, coating the back of the throat a little. S and I look at each other. Yep, it’s a good thing we can jump in the showers when we finish.
Across the bridge, we settle into a slow, steady pace. We keep that steady pace for a few minutes.
And then, stop.
The single-track trail starts up ahead and runs along the river before cutting into the hills. It’s also where a giant bottleneck of runners becomes a human caterpillar.
A few groans aside, the runners around us keep up good spirits – hey, if this is the race, I can keep up this pace pretty easily or well, there goes my time goal – through the next mile or so.
Then, the first hill hits around the second mile. It’s called Humble Hill for a reason.
People start dropping like flies, sagging to the left and right of the trail as gravity and muscle burn catches them. I kind of like hills. Maybe that’s what keeps me moving, but I just keep digging in and power hiking up and up and up.
Then, sweet, sweet semi-flat trail. Keep moving before the calf muscles tighten up too much.
Then a few minutes later, up. Again.
Oh, man, they weren’t kidding. This is going to be the hilliest thing ever.
Up we climb, dodging slag and loose dirt and slower climbers. For a few minutes, I’m caught in the caterpillar as we hit a vertical climb. No momentum to speed up.
No matter as a minute later, I’m free. And stunned by the view.
I pause a moment to take photos and wait for S to reach me. A few moments pass, and I backtrack. People we both passed on the first hill start filing past.
I glance up at the last ascent before we reach the Hyner View observation area. A flash of teal shirt, red hair and black capris. OK, she’s ahead.
With no easy way to pass people, I fall into line and make my way to the top. Volunteers and family cheer us on. “Follow the orange flags,” I hear someone yell.
The first water station appears. I double-fist two cups of water.
Four miles down, 12.something to go
Still no S.
I do a sweep of the area and still nothing. Did she not wait for me?!? Seriously?!?
So, I finish my water, tighten my Camelbak and decide to continue on. If she’s ahead, I need to catch up. If she’s not …
A steady but not agonizing downhill begins. Another woman and I pick up the pace, drafting off of each other. We weave left and right of slower runners.
Then, suddenly a clog of runners appears ahead. There’s a steep, rocky, slick drop. “This is where I wiped out when I ran this last month,” I hear one woman say as I pass.
Momentum carries me down. I slowly zig zag down the drop, briefly considering sliding on my rear end before reaching the bottom.
I stretch out a little to ease tightened muscles.
Suddenly, behind me, I hear the sound of rapidly approaching feet and S’s voice calling me. She had gone through the same routine I had at Hyner View, reaching the summit first and then just missing me when I did the sweep.
We crack up about how we both had the same outraged reaction – Did she not wait for me?!? Seriously?!? – at Hyner View. The trail flattens through Reichert Hollow; we make up more time.
Too soon, the next station appears around mile marker 6.
I present: The Wall
We half run, half hike the steady hill, finishing off our watered-down Powerade. We’re in the same group we’ve been in for a while.
Ahead, I see runners pause and then spread out as they take turns descending a steep, dusty slope. As we start down, one man apologizes for being slower, “I’ve fallen here the last two years.”
I step on a large, oval rock, thinking it’s steady. It’s not – and it flips over onto my right foot. OW, OW, OW.
We continue on, with our first real water crossing. Some people pause. I and S sweep right – I run through the water (thanks to my Merrell Pace Gloves) and she quickly picks out a route across. The cold water actually feels good, soothing my right foot.
This starts a gradual climb for a couple of miles, with the trail going through large areas of mossy rocks and logs and what seem like dozens of water crossings of the same little creek.
I don’t know if it’s the foot or the slight incline, but I start to slow down. S pushes ahead, keeping up the pace even when we walk.
Then the veritable straw that almost breaks that poor camel’s back.
We end up behind a few female runners as the trail narrows. I’m silent as I push forward, trying not to think about anything but moving. It doesn’t work – because one or two of the runners are hitting a wall of their own, and being rather vocal about it.
Both S and I briefly try to cheer them up. No good. The complaints start to work their way into my head. I slow even more – all walking now. My stomach churns.
A few minutes later, S and I make eye contact and find a way to pass.
The trail begins a drastic climb, a section affectionately known as “Psycho Path.”
My legs scream and my foot throbs. But there is NO WAY I’m ending back up with those runners back there. So, I push up and up.
We pass runners bent over on the side of the trail, stopped by either cramps or sheer exhaustion.
Slowly, the trail levels out. S picks up the pace again. I gradually do too.
A curve through a stand of trees and then: the long-awaited fueling station.
Nine miles down, seven-ish to go
We grab cups of stronger Powerade and pull out some granola crisps. I inhale the drink but only manage a bite of the crisp – my stomach is still complaining.
But The Wall has been scaled.
S grins. She knows what gets me going, and if I’m annoyed enough, I’ll keep going – no matter how exhausted I am. Although those runners magnified my discomfort, in a way, they also helped me overlook it and push on. Because they irritated me.
We start out again through stands of pine, falling into line with other runners as the trail becomes loose rocks flanked on one side by a steep drop-off and on the other with a slope.
The clanking of feet striking the shale echoes through the forest. I slip into auto pilot, although my feet remind me with every footfall that they’re still there and they’re not happy.
Then we begin the third steep ascent, winding along switchbacks and in theory, getting great views – although I don’t notice. As the trail description says, “… the only good thing about it is the fact that it is near the end. It is a grueling climb that will drain the last drop of energy from you.”
At this point, whether or not I want to stop, I know the only way to end it is to finish … because it’s a lot longer to backtrack.
Great philosophy. That is, before I hit S.O.B.
Too bad I was too tired to even swear by then.
It kind of defies description. It’s like rock climbing/mountain climbing – and not much like running or hiking. It’s a short, super intense cliff with shallow footholds. As the human caterpillar – which we’d joined again – moves up, it’s head-to-foot. As the previous person removes a foot from a hold, my hand replaces it.
Grip, swing up, brace. Grip, swing up, brace.
Again, we pass people collapsing on either side, heads bent, breathing shallow, sweat dripping.
I wander for a minute or two, catching my breath, snagging Powerade and water. Splashes of color catch my attention.
Peanut M&Ms! Swedish Fish! Oh, boy!
Must have M&Ms. Must have M&Ms. Must have M&Ms.
Welcome to the mental capacity of a runner after four hours of running/hiking.
We can’t finish the M&Ms, but I’m not about to throw them away. Remember, limited mental capacity.
We suit up to go. A boy seated nearby chirps, “Four miles to go, and it’s all downhill from here.”
I know he meant well. But it was a LIE.
The next half a mile or so is smooth and wide – but downhill it is not. It is, in fact, a slight, gradual ascent.
I stew about that comment for the next mile or so. So much so, that I could have made up time – and S was ready to. But no. That kid was wrong. So wrong.
Looking back on it, I know it was irrational. Again, welcome to the mind of a long distance runner – or, at least, this runner.
Finally, the trail narrows and starts downhill. Ah. Now, that’s more like it.
Then, it’s no longer a gradual descent. It’s a full-blown, hamstring/glute-burning downgrade – Huff Run, to be exact.
Rocks skitter away and dust puffs up as S and I barrel downhill. A few times, others runner try to pass, but they realize we’re not stopping for anything. We can’t.
After what seems like a mile of this, we reach a short uphill grade. It feels like heaven to our tired legs. We wind down to the road and start along it. I chug forward. I’m determined to finish strong. More like strong-ish at this point.
We reach the Hyner Bridge. The expanse of concrete seems like it’s a mile long. I dig deep and make it to the end of the bridge before allowing myself a second to catch my breath. S keeps going.
After a few steps, I start running again, turning onto the gravel driveway of the WCSA. The trail swings off the drive and plunges up one … last … hill.
After trudging up the incline, I start running once we reach the flat.
The finish line looms. A few more steps. DONE. 4:55:30. 519th out of 946 25K finishers.