Devil of a drive to PA started the nerves going. Two weeks no beer, one week off wine, 10 days off coffee. The PVC’s had finally settled but the pre-race jitters were in full force. The traffic jams on the cross Bronx and I-80 were interminable, broken only by texts from Ed, Caroline and the other flatlanders in front and behind us. Dennis and I settled in for a long drive. A fitful sleep, early rise for a jolt of java and a light breakfast, and we headed from Lock Haven to the race start. Cutting things tight, as usual, we made the starting line barely in time for the hugs and high fives from our 20 fellow east-enders. GPS on, hydration pack snug, shoes, check, socks, check, I love trail running, so little stuff. We took off like the proverbial whore’s knickers, and headed for the hills. Last years knowledge of the bottleneck had prepped us for the course: we hit the first mile on the road with a vengeance, pulling a 6:30 before hitting the trail, the pack splitting up as we ran single file on a cliff edge along the backs of the Susquehanna river. No rain this year, dust clouds taking the place of the dense fog and thunder clouds of 2011. Turning the corner at 3 miles, we faced the first climb up Humble hill, a 1000 foot climb looming over us, dragging our running limbs to a screeching halt, and forcing the first power march of the day. Calves screaming, face pouring, lungs sucking, the climb passed with more ease than I remember from last year. Those painful evenings in bootcamp with Ed were paying off. The downhill tested my inov-8’s, on their last legs, this was the swan song run. They should have been retired from last year, but I was squeezing their final run out of them, half-knowing I would be challenged later in the day by my decision. I scrambled, slipped and slid, keeping my 4th place woman by the bottom of the mountain, and headed up Johnson Run, through riverbanks, hopping from rock to rock, over logs, in and out of water, mud, moss. Settling into the front edge of my comfort zone, I was passed by a lass in a red t-shirt. (lesson #34 in trail racing: don’t be so visible to your competitors). While I hadn’t got anything to match her at that point, I knew it was a long race, and we would meet again. The climb had us pass, then fall back, then re-pass in the small group of 8 that were huffing together. The pace fell back as the red kitten led, and I felt my chance come. I knew from years of road and mountain bike racing that there is sometimes only one break chance, where the course would allow a get-away. This was it. I powered ahead, passing on the left, and broke clear of the group, suffering into anaerobic wheezing as I did so, but putting trees between us. The second peak had a magical moss floored forest at the top, and the soft terrain gave the feet a blessed break as the pace picked up. Down again, with a team mate from Team Hops, and on to the switchbacks leading to SOB. I ditched Chris on the climb, then scrambling on hands and feet to the summit of SOB, met Mike, another team mate, about 200 yards from where we had met and passed the prior year. 20 minutes ahead of schedule! He was hobbling, with cramps and aches, but I could give him nothing except encouragement. We split, and I continued the jeep road, up and up and up, to the final peak before the final descent. I had spotted #3 female ahead, 30 seconds at the top of SOB, then 20 seconds by the trail re-entry, but she was a billy-goat on the descent, 2 miles of rocky drop on tired barking dogs, and wobbly braking quads. Here my shoes reminded me that I should have splurged for a new pair, instead of waiting for the 2011 taxes to get paid. I lost #3 in the trees and the rivers of the final stretch, spotting her 60 seconds ahead on the road back to the finish. (Not that I was counting). I pulled a road pace out, and picked up speed, pounding out the last mile and scrambling back 30 more precious seconds. #5 was hard on my heels, and breathing down my neck, but the finish line was a welcome sight, and I was secure as #4 female, 1st in 40-49 AG, and 36th overall from 1000 crazy runners.
The food, the beer, the water, the friends, the fun at the finish line as we waited and cheered for our fellow nutters. 200 feet being the highest point on the east end of Long Island, we flatlanders had raced ourselves proud. While my sneakers made it home before going into the can (had to save the speedlaces), others were not so fortunate! I sympathized with the feet of the unknown runner, who left barefoot rather than taking a solitary step more in the dead kicks. Dennis, Jen and I joined the gang for some group photos, before heading into town for serious refueling. The blisters were not even popped, the delayed-onset-muscle-soreness not even begun to surface, and we were already talking about 2013. Hyner 50k this time. Bring it on!