Call of the Wilds 50K Trail Run - Waterville, Pennsylvania
Elevation Gain: 8425' ..... Elevation Range: 620' - 1973'
October 18, 2020 - As my passion for racing diminishes with time, I find it more challenging to write as fetching a story about my trail running experiences these days. The fire just does not burn as hot as in days of old. After a year of sabbatical because of the covid scamdemic, it was nice to toe the line once again with fellow trail fanatics. Part of me misses the cameraderie while the other part is very satisfied to run as a lone wolf and howl at the moon as a singular silouette. With all due respect to moderation, I'll probably continue to pursue challenges on difficult trails, with a race or two from time to time, that at least keep the fires smoldering inside.
After bivouacing in my trusty "chez Larry" on some back road not too far from the race venue, I arose early to dress for the race, take care of business, and otherwise follow a routine I have followed for a thousand races before. It was 34 degrees and chilly and portended to be a perfect clear day for racing in the woods. Driving to Pine Creek State Park in Waterville, I picked up my race packet, pinned on my number, downed some calories and a bottle of PowerAid, and stood by for the 0600 dark early start.
After 40-some miles of running during the week, I felt I was ready for the 50K distance. The small field enthusiastically followed their headlamps down the road a short ways before proceeding a mile up an increasingly steep climb to the ridge before descending back to the park again by the break of day. I start slow and bring up the rear, whether I like it or not. I no longer live in a racing body. Shuffling like an old man is good enough. The only objective in the dark is not to fall (which I only did once - softly) before loosening up enough to step it up a notch.
These days it takes me about 7 miles to clear my wheelhouse and this day was no different. Sitting down for my breakfast of gels, I dropped back to nearly last before my body was ready to rumble. We followed about twenty miles of the Eastern States race course, so the terrain was familiar - like an old adversary - and once I got into a rhythm I proceeded to pull people back one at a time over the next 13 miles. I was moving well, dancing with the rocks without stumbling and moving like I used to when I was younger. The rocks were loose as always and covered with freshly fallen leaves, but I really enjoyed these middle miles of the race - some of the most technical on the course - I was back in my element and was feeling heroic once again.
The rocky ridges with their enormous boulders are always magical in this part of Pennsylvania. I could stop and boulder around on these all day, but this was a foot race, so I weaved my way through one megalithic maze after another with delight and wonder. By the time I exited the Eastern States course and crossed Pine Creek to take on the final ten miles of new trails for me, I was feeling tired from the day's climbs and flailing descents. I had been running back and forth with a new friend, Rich Bugay, but from this point forward we put more energy into talking than running as the pace mostly slipped to a walk. I was tired of eating gels, so my energy level dropped, boosted temporarily by a couple shots of fireball whisky... so the walking suited me fine. I was just not in a racing mood.
A long sustained walk up the final major vertical challenge on the Tolbert Trail only reinforced my casual attitude. Rich and I were having a good time chatting and mixing it up with the aid station volunteers and other competitors. It was a fun day. In the final down hill mile, Rich yielded to gravity and his youthful enthusiasm and took off. If anything, I slowed down and stopped a few times to smell the dried leaves and enjoy the views on the descent. Gravity is still my friend, but I don't give in to it as readily as in years past.
Before finishing down on the flat, I was greeted by the smile of George Hollerbach, waiting on his wife Dale who I can passed twenty minutes before. After gliding across the finish line in 8:48, I saw my running partner Rich off before changing clothes and getting something to eat. He didn't have enough exercise for the day, so was off to go play hockey with his buds. In the end I was not very sore and just a bit tired from the effort. It was a good run at a quality training tempo and never a race. It was so good to revisit some trails I have come to love. It is the kind of torture that still feels good no matter what my age.
Photos courtesy Rich Bugay