Pine Creek Rail Trail, Wellsboro, PA
12 September 2015
Finally! I broke past the 50-mile mark and finished my first ever 100k! The wheels fell off the training bus a couple of times, between travel and illness, but I finished all my super long runs and felt reasonably confident lining up at the start of the Pine Creek Challenge. I had a good feeling about this event when I found it online last spring and it didn’t disappoint.
The Pine Creek Challenge is relatively small (a combined 74 finishers at 100k and 100 mile distances), but the event organization is first-rate. The run takes place on the Pine Creek Rail Trail, which stretches from Wellsboro Junction to Jersey Shore. (not that Jersey Shore, here’s a map) The start/finish is at the US Geological Survey building, just a short distance from a trail entrance. Once you’ve turned onto the trail, it’s a straight shot and nearly impossible to get lost. (I have a bad habit of running off course and I had no trouble this time, so it’s probably totally impossible to get lost.)
The daylight hours revealed gorgeous vistas: we were running along a river with water so clear the rocks at the bottom were visible. There were a few trees putting on their fall outfits, but for the most part the entire area was lush and green. The weather caused fog to build up in the valley and there were numerous picturesque cabins and houses along the trail. It was quiet and serene, plus the trail itself was in excellent condition—wide and perfectly flat. There was a leafy overhang in some areas and a handful of foot bridges for variety.
Race day was cool and rainy. The weather forecast called for a 90% rain chance and that’s pretty much what we got. There were a few dry stretches—like, 10-15 minutes of no rain—and a few periods of heavy downpour, but otherwise it was a steady light rain from morning until night. For me, that meant staying soaked through about mile 45.
I had planned to bring multiple pairs of shoes, just to give my feet a break every so often, but I packed extra socks and clothes when I saw the forecast. My first drop bag was at mile 19 (Blackwell aid station) and I changed socks and shoes at that point. It didn’t take long before my feet were wet again, but it felt good for a little while. I changed socks again at mile 36 (Cedar Run aid station), where I also drained blood blisters under two of my left toes. At mile 42 (Blackwell again), I completely dried off and switched to a dry, warmer outfit in addition to new shoes and socks. I had a poncho in my drop bag and I decided to put that on, too. The temperature was dropping and I figured staying as dry as possible at that point was a must.
I had spent the day intermittently running with others on the course, but as night fell it was just me and the trail. Leaving Blackwell with my dry clothes and poncho did make me feel good physically, but heading out into the dark was nerve wracking mentally. This was my first time to ever need a headlamp while running and even though I had two…it was really really dark. Tiny glowing eyes all over the trail belonged to toads of all sizes. I heard what sounded like larger animals in the brush two or three times, otherwise the only wildlife I saw were two rabbits and then a cat in the final two miles.
In the final 20 miles I was passed by one runner and then I passed another…besides those two the only other people I saw on the trail were the amazing volunteers at Tiadaghton and Darling Run, with their soup and glowing lights and cheerful conversation. All of the volunteers and aid stations were amazing. The variety of food was great and the people were so so nice. I was greeted by cowbells every single time, even in the middle of the night. I’m pretty sure lingered too long at every aid station…it was so hard to tear myself away from the food and company.
In the last stretch I was reduced to a brisk walk, thanks to pain in my right hip flexor and IT band and pain in my left calf and big toe. The rain stopped, though, so I was able to take off the poncho and concentrate on the finish line. Finally I could see lights off to my left in the distance and when the flashing lights at the turn off came into view, I wanted to jump and yell. I was too sore to do that, but on the inside I was jubilant!
It was just after 1:00 am when I arrived at the finish, where I was greeted by race director Steve Hanes and yet more volunteers and food! I had a delicious brownie, picked out my finisher mug, and then headed off to bed.
I can’t recommend this event enough, both for beginners and more experienced runners. It was just such a good experience and so well-managed that everyone should try it at least once. I will undoubtedly be back in the future—maybe a 100 mile attempt???
The Wellsboro Home Page covered the event (with video): http://www.wellsborohomepage.com/the-2015-pine-creek-challenge/