In my two years living in Pennsylvania, I've come to understand just how beautiful Pennsylvania is. Truly, there are many different ways to experience the natural wonders of the state. However, in central PA, the trails are rugged and hills are steep and relentless, traveling by foot is the best way to explore the wilds.
The Hyner Trail Challenge showcases some of the best parts of PA while is simultaneously grueling and unforgiving - whether you're challenging yourself with the 25 km or 50 km. It traverses through the winding creeks and ridge sides of Hyner View State park.
While the 50k race boasts upwards of 7500 feet of elevation gain, the 25k is no joke either, as it climbs 3 of the same "hills" as the 50k giving it over 4500 feet of elevation gain. Over both of those distances, you'll find yourself in a beautiful and remote part of the park and state, and often times questioning why you thought this challenge was a good idea to begin with.
Why Hyner? Why 50k?
The race has been going on since 2007, but it wasn't until 2008 that the 25k course was established to what it is today. In 2012, there were enough crazy people to offer a 50k variant. Last year was really my first foray into the Pennsylvania trail running scene, and the first race I did was the Hyner 25k and was hooked. This year I got to do the 50k. I may do a separate post for a race report, but here is a quick summary - a perfect blend of beauty, steep climbs, and runnable single track - 10/10 would recommend to a friend.
Maybe a lot of people got my recommendation, as I was quite surprised by the number of people that turned up for the 50k this year. Although, I will say, the number of people in the 25k last year was shocking to me as well; the sign of a good race. With the increase in number of entrants, my competitive mind began to wonder if there was an increase in the amount of talent that was present as well. But if there was, how much? Was this year faster overall? And why were there so many fast people here??
A number of factors probably went in to its increase in popularity: the overall trend of the popularity of the sport for both sub-ultra and ultra distances; the 25k and 50k are both part of Trail Runner Magazine's Trophy Series, for the second year in a row; the 25k is part of the La Sportiva Mountain Cup; and the 50k is part of the Pennsylvania Triple Crown of Mountain Running. So there's a lot going on here!
While I could go in to detail about the 25k, I'll touch on it briefly, but my curiousity lies with the 50k... partly because that is the race I participated in, but also because the ultra distance is still a newer category but quickly gaining in popularity.
Everyone Likes A Challenge
Going back to when the 50k races began, there were initially 99 entrants in the race. Now there are 258. My how the times have changed.
You might notice that in 2015, the 25k has the most participants and decreased in 2016 - this is due to the increased interest in the 50k. There are certain rules that allow for a certain number of people to be out on the course at one time. Because of the rising popularity of the 50k, the number of entrants allowed to the 25k was cut.
This past year, 2016 saw the most challengers on the 50k course and an increase from 155 people to 258. So with the added number of legs and competition on the course, how does this change the speed of the finishers?
Yes, as you may have guessed, the field got faster - well at least the competition at the top did. While the 25k brings in some top notch talent, the overall pace of that race category is slower than than 50k.
This happens simply because there are runners and hikers taking on the 25k, while the 50k is reserved for anyone that has met the time constraints on a qualifying race. So there's a selective process for those attempting the 50k, along with the fact that it is truly a difficult race.
Again, that doesn't mean the 25k is easy.
If you then look at how the top finisher's times have increased over the years - you can get a sense for how the speed has been growing.
In 2015, you'll notice that the average times went up actually. Matt Lipsey commented on how that year felt slow, and it was certainly reflected in finishing times. Otherwise, with the increase in participants to the 50k, the finishers times got way faster.
Is this because the race is growing in size, so the number of fast people entering is increasing? Or maybe the same people are putting in more training and more rigorous training to be faster than last year? Probably a combination of both. But you can definitely see how the depth of the field is increasing as well. By that, I mean, the number of people clustered around the same times and how easy it is to jump ranks based on an increase in time.
In other words, the standard deviation. I left this part out, but the competition has certainly become tighter.
So you can see overall times and just how fast the 50k has become - below shows the top 25 finisher's times (not pace). Simply astounding how fast this race has become. Makes you wonder what it will look like next year.
Maybe it's just people wanting to be more active, or more people wanting to challenge themselves, or just wanting to get outside - something is definitely happening to the Pennsylvania trail racing scene, and for the better. With the added incentives this year of the 25k and 50k variants, along with people striving to best their own times from previous years, the growing number of people is sure to bring in a growing number of talented legs as well.
I look forward to being able to see what the rest of the year brings and how the newer races fare. With Worlds End 100k in only its second year, and Eastern States 100 in its third, there's bound to be more top racers emerging from the technical, gritty, and rooty trails that this state has to offer. Best to get out there and keep running!
1st photo is credit to Mike McNeil
Remainder of photos are credited to Momentum Photography