Chilly Cheeks 7.2M, Reading, PA

Elevation: 305'
February 24, 2013 - It is always a blast to travel the four hours to Reading
to run a Ron Horn event.  Each time I come away with increased respect
for his sadistic imagination at creating trail events more suitable for goats
than humans.  The route for Chilly Cheeks was more like a bushwhacking
scramble up and down the hill overlooking the town, with some single
track trails thrown in and a few short stretches of pavement.  It was
entertaining, if not instructive, to watch five hundred colorful harriers
scramble up a long steep incline through deep leaf litter, holding onto
trees, negotiating downfalls and thorny multiflora rose bushes, scrambling
for position to squeeze through natural bottlenecks before the next
contestant.  I was amused enough to take pause at the top of the first
climb to look back at the competitive onslaught behind me and better
appreciate the the creative deviance of the event planners as well as the
raw enthusiasm and fitness of my fellow trail racers.

Temperatures were fairly mild at forty degrees, if a person was standing
behind a windbreak.  Strong wind gusts at the top of the hill, as one would
expect, seriously put a chill in the air otherwise.  Dressing appropriately,
I watched more serious athletes, stripped down to proper racing attire of
singlets and shorts, anxiously shiver while waiting for a delayed, but
sunshiney start by master of ceremonies Ron with his usual jocularity.

Running as many ultra events as I do, I lose sight of the speedy starts in
these shorter races.  The field tore out of the blocks at a fearless pace,
while I tucked in at my usual conservative tempo, speeding up a bit so
as not to get trampled in the first mile.  Before I knew it there were more
than a couple hundred people ahead of me.  Age was slapping me once
again with a reality check.  Whoa!  Less than eight years ago I ran a half
marathon on this hill with just such a large field and managed to finish in
13th place.  I was moving well, I thought, but those in front of me were
moving as well or better.  All ego aside, I fell into queue and attacked the
first bushwhacking challenge, straight up through the woods back to the start.

It was fascinating to watch as three or four people managed to either go
over or under a windfallen log - at the same time - without doing damage
to any of the others!  It was defensive running like I haven't seen much
of since high school cross country.  I was loving it.  The congestion spread
itself out into a long winding human snake as we tackled climb after climb
with intermittent steep descents.  The trails were rooty and EXTREMELY
rocky, with copious mud and squirrley leaves the whole way, but no snow.

Once the enthusiasm of the start subsided and everyone began to test
their true conditioning, I kicked into gear and began pulling people back.
I was able to run most of the hills without slowing to a walk, except when
I would catch a line of people on steep single track with poor traction.
There was nothing else to do but go with the flow and wait for passing
opportunities later.  My race continued this way to the finish - running
behind some fairly good runners for awhile before moving forward to take
on someone else.  I was thinking at the time that if the race was only 
longer, say fifty miles, I could win it this way - through attrition!!!

The finish came all too soon, however, to much fanfare, as I crossed the
line in 1:14:30 in 124th place.  I ran a smart race - for me - and was
pleased with the effort, figuring I rose to the challenge, met it without
compromise, and overcame.  No falls, no soreness after, and no injuries,
except a little tenderness in the outside of my right knee.  After a
breakfast of pancakes and scrambled eggs I boogied home the same
way I had come, without waiting for the awards ceremony.

Thank you, Ron Horn for another memorable experience in Pretzel City.