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Hyner Trail Challenge 50km Race Recap

Hyner Trail Challenge 50km

April 20, 2024

The race website for the Hyner Trail Challenge says “get ready for the run of your life, the run challenges individuals both mentally and physically”.  Even the race director had a few things to say about the race, with a big caution, 4300 feet of elevation, and a rocky terrain, with steep hills as well as creek crossings. It is definitely not for first time trail runners! 10 hour cut off for the 50km.

I think those words really put this race into perspective. As a fairly new trail runner, I may have underestimated how the mountains would really literally challenge me both mentally and physically in so many ways. I suppose that is the entire point of running this type of race.

April 20, 2024 at 8:20am, a chilly morning in Hyner, Pennsylvania. The vibes were popping, there was a fire going, and lineups around the block for the porta potties. I stood by the fire, listening to some seasoned trail runners talk about the run. 

“That SOB is no joke” (He was referring to that last climb, but I had no idea at that point)

“It’s tough as shit, but I keep coming back every year”.

“Bear crawl!”

I had a little lump in my throat as I eavesdropped on conversations around me, and tried to shake off the nerves. I had a friend to run with, and I knew it would be challenging, but was ready to get out there and get it done.

8:29am, line up with about 300 other runners about to attempt to run this grueling 50km, and the bell goes off and we are all off. The first part of the race is relatively flat, and across a paved bridge for about 1600m before the first trail head. The fastest runners scrambled to the front, and got out fast. I had no idea that positioning at this point would be of utmost importance because there was a long climb right after the first mile.

I settled in somewhere in the middle, not wanting to gas myself, and push too hard for the first mile, I looked at my watch 6:05 pace per km, wasn’t setting any records, but felt comfortable and was breathing well and it felt good. Then, literally dead stop. I was at a standstill, waiting for the line of runners entering the trail head, it was single track and a very long line up was forming in front of me. There wasn’t time to get ahead, or gain position anymore, it was just runner after runner falling in line. There the first climb began, it was an extremely slow hike, I was listening to runners around me. 

“You gotta get out fast or you get stuck back here”

“Some guys get out so fast and you’ll see them puking near the half way point of this hill!”

“Lactic is gonna hit them hard”.

The climb kept going, and going, and I asked someone “is this the first big climb?” (I knew from the map it looked like there were three giant climbs). Apparently this was the lead up to the first climb, even though I felt like I had been climbing forever already. I looked up, but couldn’t see much, just runners in a line. It was steep, even though we weren’t moving fast, I was sweating a LOT! I looked up again and it looked like maybe we were nearing the end, I think we had been climbing for 20 minutes at this point.

Then I heard someone screaming “walk towards the light! I can see Jesus!” I thought it was odd, until I looked up like way way up, and I literally saw JESUS! A guy dressed up as Jesus, but he had a great costume, and it kind of made me laugh. How many people can actually say they saw Jesus during their run?

I passed Jesus, and continued on, just a few more steps to the very top, there we could ring the bell, and take a look at what we had just climbed. I took a second to catch my breath, and looked down and across at this beautiful scenery, climb one down I thought.

At this point we began running slightly downhill, and through an extremely rocky and technical trail, the friend I was running with was concerned we wouldn’t make the cut off in time as the first hill had taken so much time to get up. I think it took almost 30 minutes to make it about 2.5 km. He was concerned we had to pick up the pace to make it to the first checkpoint at 10:00am. I was concerned about the rocky and technical trail, and trying not to fall down and noseplant. The runners at this point had spread out a bit, and we all kind of settled in.

Then it was downhill, and I suck at downhill, but this wasn’t just any downhill, it was a rocky steep across the side of the mountain kind of downhill that literally went on forever!  I took a breath and began my descent. Every few seconds someone would blow by me like I was standing still. This downhill went on forever. I wasn’t even thinking about cutoffs at this point, I was just trying to stay upright, and focus on the ground moving forward as best as I could. One foot in front of the other, keep moving forward. I could finally make out the end of the downhill, and what looked like a flat.

The girl in front of me was directed to go to the right, to continue on towards the 50km course, left was the redirect to the 25km if you didn’t make the cut off. 

It was 10:01 am. The woman directed me left, I was shocked! “What time is it?” She says “well it’s just about 10:00am you can do the 25km course. I stood there shocked, I missed the cut off? Then she said “well how do you feel really?” I had my knee taped, and she kind of pointed at it. 

“I’m good, I’m good I swear I’ll make it to the finish of the 50km well before cut offs”. She nodded, “Ok, go right”. And off I went, like a bat out of hell, it was finally flat, that’s ‘where I excelled, and I worked that flat, right up until the first aid station.

I knew I was literally the last person at cutoff, and I had to make up a lot of time, so I was in and out of that aid station, I topped up my water bottles, and grabbed a banana and set out again. 

The middle part was a bit of a blur, there were lots of climbs, lots of ups and down, but nothing that stuck out as much as that first climb. I encountered a lot of runners that had run this race before, and asked them what to expect. They all kind of laughed, and said wait till SOB. A lot of the middle section was runnable, and I ran, and climbed, and ran some more. I saw sasquatch at an aid station, grabbed more bananas, and really was wondering when I would see my friend again. 

I stuck behind some runners, as we began another gnarly descent at what was kind of a lollipop section about 16km in. In this section we could see some of the lead runners heading back up as we headed down the hill. Down another hill again, I was again not in my element, just making my way down as best as I could and trying to move so the lead runners could make their way back up. At the bottom of this hill was the creek crossing which I had never done before. 

The water was shockingly cold, and the current was strong! It was slippery on the rocks, but you just had to keep moving forward. At this point I remember my feet had finally dried somewhat and there was this giant steep decline, so steep I actually thought about what to do. I could see the girl in front of me had kind of side stepped and was still slipping down. I literally got down on my butt and scooted down as best as I could, behind me one runner just flew down the hill, no fear at all, and there I was slowly scooting away on my butt. And what goes down, must come back up in this case, and as I came back through I hiked my way back up the hill I had just slid down on my butt. I was trying to catch my breath, and the runner beside me said “Just 30 more seconds, you can do anything for 30 seconds”. I like that I thought, 30 seconds, just 30 more seconds, times a million to go! I passed the second checkpoint, and asked “did I make it? Is this a checkpoint how much time do I have?” “Yes it’s a checkpoint, but you have hours to go, nothing to worry about”. Ah, I breathed a sigh of relief, and didn’t think about checkpoints again from there on.

I made my way out of the lollipop section, and back out to another flatter section where I was able to open up a bit and run. It was a nice grassy area, not a lot of rocks and not as technical as the beginning of the race. I smiled to myself, and enjoyed the views of the forest. The weather was literally perfect, it was dry, sunny and 15 degrees in April! I just enjoyed this part as much as I could. Then I looked ahead and saw my friend in the purple shorts! 22km, and I had finally caught back up to him. Working those uphills, and running decently hard on the flats and that made up for the slow downhills. My friend was shocked to see me as he had barely made the cut off he thought for sure I would be sitting in the car moping!

We ran together for a few kms, until we came to yet another downhill, and there he took off again, but another flat area and we found ourselves back together. We hit an aid station about 38km in, with one last big climb and a long down to the finish. This climb was the SOB, and it surely was. We were on one side of the mountain and looked across and could see some of the runners heading up SOB. It was literally straight up! We were going straight up. We got to the climb and it had slowed a bit, there were a few runners in front of us, and we got in line. Big steps up steep rocks, and grabbing on to rocks and roots to pull us up and up and up. Surprisingly, despite how steep this climb was, it was relatively short compared to all the other ups and downs throughout the race. And, that was it, that was the last giant climb. I saw it was flat, and I rejoiced inside, I told my friend I had to run this part as best I could because I knew we had a long downhill coming up. I felt relatively strong being about 44km into the race. The long flat section was wonderful, it was grassy, and so runnable. 

Then the downhill began again, it was about 5 km to the finish, and anyone can run 5km to the finish right! This downhill wasn’t as rocky as the first section, but it was still pretty steep and I just tried to get into a rhythm as best as I could and focus. It went on forever, through a waterfall that ran down the rocks which was really cool, and kept going on and on. I looked back a few times to see if anyone was catching me, but no one was in sight. I just kept my rhythm and kept moving forward, and before I knew it I had hit the very bottom of the mountain for the last time!

Ah, but the kicker was one last little uphill to the exit of the trail, that one threw me for a loop! Up and then out, my feet hit the pavement, one mile to the finish! I looked at my watch I think it was around 7hr and 48mins. I can break 8 hours I thought to myself, and I just pushed all the way down that bridge to the finish and never looked back. 

7:57hrs I saw as I crossed through the finish line, and they handed me a finishers hat. I DID IT! I really wish I saw that marshall again, the one who saw me at the cut off and let me continue, I wanted to let her know I did it. 

That was tough, it was challenging, but it was glorious and beautiful. It was painful, and exhausting, physically and mentally, but it was also empowering and wonderful.

I went straight to the cooler and grabbed out an ice cold pepsi and downed it in a couple mins.

8:00:34 my friend crosses the finish line and we high five. 

The music, the energy, the vibe, the cold soda in my belly at the end, the sore legs, the views, the people, the hurt, it was all worth it. 

This race was a fantastic experience, it was everything it claimed to be but more, because when you cross the finish line the sense of accomplishment you feel can’t be described in a mere race review. It was utterly epic.


Running has been such a big part of my life, I started as high school track and field athlete and attended university in the states to run the 800m. I ran in the police and fire games and after the birth of my daughters began running longer distances. I have officially become an ultra marathoner in the past two years and am finding a lot of peace and healing in the long runs. Running for me has saved me in so many ways, the versatility and freedom it gives me. The variety, trails, sprints, distances, pushing your body. It has challenged me and given me confidence and strength.

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