Friday afternoon, I met up with my sister and we made our way to Lock Haven. After quickly checking into our hotel room and grabbing some dinner, we attempted to find the start/finish area to pick up our packets. We didn't have an actual address and the GPS proved to be ineffective so we were relying on our navigation skills and a few crude maps. Eventually, after a few stops for directions and more illegal driving maneuvers than I can count, we made it there, picked up our packets and made the drive back to the hotel. After a night of little sleep (thank you hotel neighbors who were up talking and laughing very late), we left the hotel around 5:30 AM and made our way to the start.
By this time, the rain had started but it was a light drizzle. I dressed in capris, a tank top and a long sleeve shirt overtop. The capris were a last minute choice, I was planning on shorts but the forecast changed looking like it was going to be cold and rainy. I had never worn these capris to run but I thought they'd work well. They did, except for the fact that the waist was way too big and I was tugging on them all day long. Stupid choice! Also, after overhearing others say the forecast now looked like heavy rain, we both decided to shove our jackets into our packs. This turned out to be such a good decision later in the race.
At 7 AM, we were off, making our way 3 miles on the road before heading into the woods. As the gravel road ended, we made a left turn, across our first stream of the day. This would be the last time for dry feet for the day. This would also turn out to be pretty much the last time I 'ran' for quite a long time!
Up, up, up we climbed the Link Trail and we went down before hitting the boulder field. This is probably the most 'famous' part of this race. The race changes every year, both in the trails used and the total distance. Due to the rain, the rocks would be slippery. I started up them, basically crawling up them and felt OK. I seemed to be able to figure out where to put my foot next and was feeling just fine. They could be slick but overall weren't bad. I thought I saw what I thought was a ridgeline and was feeling good. Then, someone said, about 1/3 of the way there! What!?! I thought it was almost over. After the first third, I slowed way down and tons of people were moving up faster than me. I kept finding myself moving over towards the right (not where I ultimately needed to go) and seemed to keep getting stuck with no good next rock to step on. But, I just kept going, very, very slowly and eventually hit the top. I think it took me almost an hour to get up them, the section is probably only 3/4 of a mile. I was so out of it by the time I got to the top that I didn't even see that my sister was standing right in front of me waiting for me. After a quick picture, we proceeded onward....
...to more rocks. Next up was Rattlesnake Ridge and down a trail called Winchester and I was very uneasy on the whole thing and moving slow. These rocks were much more slippery than the boulder field and I continue to move very, very slowly to avoid crashing hard on them. Eventually, we got to a level section and I attempted a slow jog into the 1st aid station.
Oh, the first aid station! I will never in my life forget the scene at my first ultra aid station. I have never seen more ravenous beasts shoveling food into their faces at such a frantic rate...and under such sanitary conditions! After a PB&J, some M&Ms and energy drink, it was time to keep moving along. At this point, we were only ~8-9 miles in and already at 3 hours!
I don't remember a whole lot of details about the entire next section. I know this is where it started getting really slippery and muddy and going down any incline, you just slid or fell and I went down half of them by sliding down. Every time we thought about running, it seemed like by the time the decision was made, we were back into another area that was not run-able (at least for me, the fast people had to fly through the whole thing!). It didn't seem like it was that long before we were at the 2nd aid station - about 11.5 or so miles into the race. After some more food, it was time to head out again.
Next, it was the Goat Path. An uphill, steep trail that seemed to be never-ending. My hands were swollen at this point so I figured I wasn't drinking enough and took a salt pill about half-way up. It kicked in quickly and I soon felt like I could close my hands again. After the uphill, we got to a short section that we could run on, followed by a some more water crossings and a crazy section called Giant Steps. A few people we were with at this point commented that half of this didn't seem like trails at all, just flags and ribbon hung randomly in the woods for us to navigate through. This definitely seemed true. The course is marked so well though, there is never a point where you question which way to go. Up and down more rocky, slippery sections we went, very, very slowly!
Somewhere during the later miles of this section, things started to get a little rough. It was getting cold, really cold and the number of times we were crossing streams seemed to keep increasing and each one got deeper. My sister and I were both very hungry and could not wait to get to the final aid station, at mile 21. Eventually, we were there. We spent a few minutes longer at this one filling up some food. We also both broke out our jackets at this point. We were shivering, hands swollen again, more salt tablets taken, more food eaten. The thing that stuck out to me the most at this aid station were the people passing through here that needed help opening the packs of peanut butter crackers. I kept hearing multiple people...'I can't open my crackers, can you open my crackers for me?' The volunteers were all wonderful, I wonder how many packs of crackers they had to open?
Soon, the food and salt kicked in and we were off, only a few more miles in the woods before we got back to the road. However, the final few miles were tough. Up we went on a steep trail called the Raw Trail. I have never in my life seen my sister appear the least bit tired or worn out in any of the races we've done together. She's much more experienced than me and goes my pace, not hers. She was actually feeling it at this point and kept commenting that she couldn't really feel her feet very well. At the top of this section, we hit another section like the Boulder Field - more rocks to navigate. After the rocks, down we went, slowly across more rocks and mud, rocks and mud.
Soon enough, I could hear rushing water, we were getting close to the original stream crossing. We crossed it, hit the road and started running. My shoes and legs were once again clean...but not for long!
Running actually felt really, really good. I am not experienced on trails so this was pretty new to me, other than times when I just go hiking at a very slow, leisurely pace and never across trails like this! Figuring we were just back-tracking to the original start line, it was a little disappointing when we saw we weren't going back on the road, we were going through a field. A very muddy field that many, many people in front of us went through. It had been rainy/drizzly all day. We ran most of it but I started walking in some of the sections that were super muddy. Soon, it ended and we were back on the road and hit the finish line. Hit the finish line in 10 hours, 14 minutes and 37 seconds. That is not a typo. I had no idea what to expect but kind of thought we'd be more in the 8-9 (probably 9) hour range! There were still many people to come in behind us. It was a hard, rough, long day for everyone but rewarding at the end and overall, very fun! It wasn't rough until I got really, really cold and I was also tired of being soaking wet!
Made our way back to the car, grabbed our stuff and headed to the showers. The shower was just enough to get the major mud off and enough to be able to put on clean, warm clothes. Bundled up in a hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants, it was time to eat! After filling up, it was time to head home. It was a three hour drive home, a long, slow drive in the dark, rain and windy PA state roads. Back at home, I got a real shower and then curled up on the couch..
Today, I'm sore, but nothing worse than the first marathon. Would I do it again? Absolutely! I don't think I will probably do this one again simply because I've done it and there are many others to try but I'm definitely up for more ultras - good thing since I'm already signed up for two 50Ks, one of which is in 4 weeks! They should have more trails to actually run...at least I think!
I now have 4 days to rest before Ragnar PA! Let's see how this goes!