Thursday, September 22, 2016

Real Trail Running - Possum Glory 50K Race Report

September 10, 2016

The  3 Amigos - Al, Donny & Mike

Have you ever met a group of folks who you immediately knew were good people? That's the feeling I got the day I walked into The Tri County ATV Center to pick up my bib number for the Possum Glory 50K. While I had communicated with Mike Weaver, Donny Bowers and Al Lockard online, meeting them face to face was something special. A "hey let's go for a run" or "hey let's go get a beer" (or both) kind of special. Along with Al's Wife Candi, this friendly group made up the race director corps for this first annual event. (I unfortunately didn't get a chance to speak with Candi) While this was the first year for this race, these guys aren't rookies. Not only do they all have ultra finishes under their belts, they were the team behind the now defunct Punxsutawney Ground Hog 50K. I never got to run the Ground Hog before a property ownership change put it out of business so I registered to see what this first annual 50K had to offer (there were 25K and 10K events on the day's agenda as well).

I've used the term grassroots when describing another ultra I ran this year. This race was the next step from that and I'd have to label it simply as "real". The race was sponsored by Team Red White and Blue and from the moment I arrived at the ATV center, I knew that this event would have zero pretense. This would be "real" trail running. First, let me tell you a little about this Tri-County ATV place. The club was started 16 years ago and offers ATV enthusiasts a place to ride their machines legally. Most of the vehicles I saw were not your everyday ATV, these things looked souped up and capable of climbing a wall covered with mud. I was thankful they listed their coordinates on their web site as I was skeptical about finding the place using a "street" address. Yes, it was in the middle of nowhere. With that said, I couldn't get over how much I felt at home.

I arrived and there was a food auction taking place in the main building, so not to stroll through the auction crowd I walked around the building to find Al Lockard on a four wheeler. I knew I was in the right place.

In the back door and I quickly ran into Mike Weaver and Donny Bowers who made a bit of a to-do about the fact that I had been the first person to register for their new event. Yes, I was given bib #1 and they even gave me an additional t-shirt for being first. The race already was giving two t-shirts, so I walked away with a haul of three. The auction looked interesting, attended by a wide variety of folks from the countryside. I was tempted to stay and maybe bid on a case of Slim Jims, but I needed to go find supper so I headed back to Ebensburg where I had found a hotel room.

Pre-race early Morning At The ATV Center

The Possum Glory Mascot

Having visited Friday in the daylight certainly made the drive back to the ATV Center in the morning easier. After three stops for Deer in the road and a stop to give a fellow runner directions, I was soon drinking coffee and waiting for someone to say "Go!". The race directors buzzed about while radios crackled and volunteers loaded up aid station supplies. The food auction was gone and now the Possum Glory Endurance Runs had center stage. After some brief announcements we strolled up to the start finish and with little fanfare, Mike said go and rang a cowbell.

The course opened with a gradual climb away from the ATV center. It seemed like a nice way to get warmed up as I watched a few others ascend away from me. One runner in particular had separated from the bunch and when I arrived at the top I found a half dozen runners standing and wondering which way to go. Donny Bowers was there on the phone making it clear that the race markings had fallen down over night. He soon told us to turn left. By now we were all a bunch, less one who had seemingly disappeared into the forest going the wrong way. We made the left and toddled down a considerable downhill section only to be stopped at the bottom by caution tape blocking the trail. We could hear Donny yelling for Joe (the runner who had continued) and we yelled to him that we were stuck. In short order we were turned around and headed back up the hill. The left turn we were to take came after entering the woods, Joe had gone the right way. A couple folks bitched and they were quickly told to chill out as this was trail running. Back at the top, Donny was there and terribly apologetic for the mix up. I high fived him and told him it was an awesome start. I looked at my watch and estimated that the wrong turn had added about a 1/4 mile and for me had set the theme of the day.

The terrain that we would deal with all day was soon evident. These trails were built for rock crawling ATV's and not for running. If you run on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, these trails looked a lot the same, but maybe rockier. If we weren't picking our way through rocks, we were splashing through deep standing puddles. I decided early that fording the tiny ponds was better than trying to skirt them as they were surrounded by extremely slippery mud. The only other feature besides rocks and water was the hills. My watch recorded 5,000' of elevation gain which isn't a crazy amount, but it was the form of the hills that mattered. A few of them were like running up sliding boards and it seemed like they were at times one right after another.

During the race announcements an apology was given because it was advertised that there would be no loops. It turned out that maybe the ATV trails didn't exactly provide enough to host a 50K so we did end up retracing our steps in a couple of places. A short loop (about 1.5 miles) and a long loop (about 5 miles). Both included brutal climbs and I noticed something interesting, on both of the loops the second time through felt noticeably easier. On the first lap of each of those loops my brain knew I'd have to endure these climbs again. On the second laps I knew I was done. Each loop started with an aid station, which was cool and the volunteers kept track of your laps as well. I have to mention that both aid stations had watermelon, which is my favorite aid station food at summertime ultras.

I got through this course as fast as I could. I realized early on that it would be a day of grinding it out, certainly nothing pretty. I just had to keep finding ways to get through the rocks and up the hills. I also added a slight extra challenge by going off course a couple more times. I came to an intersection with signs that read "Outgoing" and "Incoming" with arrows. Because I didn't know the course I didn't know which I was. Was I "Incoming" or was I "Outgoing"?  I made the logical turn and began a muddy climb. There were "Two Way Traffic" signs on the climb and soon I second guessed myself, turned around and headed back down the hill. I got back to those signs that were mocking my ignorance and stood there a second until I said "F it" and turned around and went back up the hill. If it was the wrong turn, I'd probably find out soon enough. My other directional gaff was on the first lap of the short loop. I was on top of a hill feeling good and running along daydreaming. I was kind of in the zone and I did notice orange markings on two trees, but it didn't even register and I ran between them. After a short while of seeing no more orange markings, I finally woke up from my little trance and turned around. Now I was starting to wonder about making that 8 hour cutoff for the finish.

The long loop had a power line climb that was exposed to the sun. Oh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention that it was hot as hell too. The husband and wife duo at the aid station at the start/finish of that loop were great. They refilled my hydration bladder and stuffed me with watermelon. As much as I enjoyed them, I was stoked to not have to visit them a third time. As I exited that area headed for home, Al Lockard was there at a water stop and he had an obvious sense of urgency about him. He hustled me out of there telling me I had only 55 minutes to make the 3pm cutoff. He said I had about 3.5 mile to go, easy right? Well, it was 3.5 more miles of climbing in the heat and it opened with another uphill stretch exposed to the sun. Eventually I found my way through those last hills and I figured out where to turn for the finish. I must've been a pathetic sight running for all I was worth down that last hill trying to beat the cutoff.

Donny Bowers yelled "yes" when I asked if I was making it, but I didn't let up. I was worked, but I made it and a really nice guy standing there at the finish asked what I wanted to drink. He mentioned various things, but I only heard beer and he quickly produced an ice cold can of Busch Light. Best damned Busch Light ever...actually it was only the second one I'd ever had, the other was at the Mayor's House (a backpacker hostel along the AT in Unionville, NY) This being a Team RW&B event, the beer guy asked if I had run for someone. I said, "no". Realizing what I said, I quickly changed my answer and told them about my Dad; Marine Corps WWII Veteran who had just passed away in July. Donny kindly assured me that I had made my Dad proud and he hung a finisher's dog tag around my neck.

Donny asked me what I thought of the course and I told him this was my fifth 50K this year and hands down the toughest. The relentless rocky and muddy terrain and the short steep hills just one after another made for a thorough ass kicking. I ran it in preparation for the Oil Creek 100 and I believe it went as planned. Another oven-like day filled with stumbling up and down hills powered by ClifBar. A bonk on this course would've been disastrous and ClifBar Shot Energy Gels, Bloks Energy Chews and Organic Energy Food fueled me through to the finish.

Afterwards, the ATV Center was buzzing with volunteers, runners and ATV folks who were preparing for some upcoming event. There was acoustic music by Kevin Dale while food was served, washed down by some lovely craft beer by Levity Brewing from nearby Indiana Pennsylvania. Yes I went from Busch Light to a yummy IPA and a tasty Saison (if you're ever in Indiana, Levity Brewing is a must visit for sure). This was the first year for The Possum Glory and they definitely made their stamp on Pennsylvania trail running. Need a September 50K? An Oil Creek practice run? Go get your butt kicked at the Tri-County ATV Center. Good people and tough trails.

Justa' Pooch Hangin' At The ATV Center

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