Monday, May 5, 2014

Playtime at Greenwood Furnace

Greenwood's famous (and historic) iron furnace stone stack

I decided to post a few words about a little race that took place over the weekend in my backyard.  It wasn't any high-profile ultra, nor an event one my find featured in ultrarunning magazine....but it was an incredibly fun and feisty event with some great after-run food and drink.  I didn't take any pictures so this post will be very short with a few stock photos.  My whole idea here is to simply reiterate the fact that you often don't really need to look that far to find great little local races that pack in a lot of fun, and allow you to spend a few hours on some spectacular trails with some really great people.

Last year I ran the 2nd annual Greenwood Trail Challenge which happened to be sandwiched in nicely between the Hyner View 50K, and my 3 Days at the Fair.  This year, Hyner was a week later, meaning that the Greenwood was just a week after.  I knew if I ran it again this year, I'd be a little more sluggish.  Still, I decided it was simply too good of an opportunity to pass up.  Despite the relatively short distance (13 miles) of the course, the Greenwood Trail Challenge is a monster.  It packs a whopping 3300' of gain in this short distance, and many of the miles are littered with brutal and unending Pennsylvania rock gardens.  This race is about as technical as you can get on the East Coast and I don't say that lightly.  I suppose if you did some off-trail running in the mountains of Southern Maine or New Hampshire, you could rival the technical level of Greenwood, but for official "trails", this is right up there with the Frozen Snot or Rothrock Challenge.  There's a reason that Appalachian Trail thru-hikers refer to Pennsylvania as the place "where hiking shoes go to die".  The rocks here along the orocline of the Appalachian fold-thrust belt are legendary, especially within the area of Rothrock State Forest.  Any  trail runners out there who regularly participate in events in PA will tell you the same.  Putting aside larger known events the like Laurel Highlands and the upcoming inaugural Eastern States 100, there are a series of more "local" races (The PA Trail Runner Trophy Series) that are put on each year that are all as tough as nails that many outside of PA don't even know about.  Races like the Rothrock Challenge, Hyner View, Frozen Snot, the Megatransect, the Dam Half/Full, the Dam Scramble, and the Mile Run Trail Challenge Half-Marathon.  Sure most of these events aren't even "ultras" so to speak, but all of them are ass-kickers, and offer up about as much fun as you could ask for as a trail runner.  On top of that, they all have fantastic race directors, and all have the home-grown/local feel that I love so much in a good trail race.  When the day comes that I leave the state of PA, I will certainly miss these little gems.

A typical picture from the "rocky" Appalachian Trail in PA

The short story on the race itself was that it went fairly smoothly.  I ran way too hard with a ridiculously high heart-rate for the entire event.  I was pretty miserable on the climbs, and sluggish to boot.  I was getting passed quite regularly on the climbs despite feeling like I was moving well.  I made up for it though with quick descents and very fast running on what little level terrain there was.  Almost every runner that passed me during the race I was able to re-pass by the finish....coming in 9th place overall and about 5 minutes slower than last year.   The rain held off, but because of the damp air, many of the rocks were very slippery.  This instinctively made me slow down a smidge on the descents and keep it slightly conservative.  I was out there to have some semblance of fun, not to kill myself on a stupid wipeout.  There's little room for error on a course like this.  If you take a gnarly spill, it could end very badly.  I think most of the 5 minutes I lost from last year came from this more conservative approach to the rocks.  Despite the high heart-rate, and sluggish climbs, I still had a good time, and was able to catch up with some friends before and after the race.  The race directors again provided a fantastic spread of great food and drink and many of us relaxed and traded trail stories after the run.  It ended up being the perfect way to start a Sunday morning.

The short description of the course is quite simple.  You start the race with a quick up-and-down, and then make the first big 1400 foot climb up to the Greenwood Tower.  Its important to note that even on top when you finally get some "flat" runable trail, it is littered with jagged rocks making for some extremely technical navigation.  The course then immediately takes you down the even more technical Greenwood Spur Trail (A spur of the mid-state trail) down to the Alan Seeger Natural Area.  This is one of the most technical official "trails" in all of Rothrock.  A few years ago, I was actually doing repeats on this climb/descent as a part of my Barkley training.  Once at the bottom of this descent, you get spoiled with a 1-mile road section to stretch the legs.  I was able to pull off a sub-8 minute mile in here and it felt great.  It ends quickly though and the toughest climb of the course begins.  Another 1400 ascent back up to the tower, but with a notorious pitch in the middle that requires some "All-Fours" scrambling.  It's amazing how less than 10 miles into a trail race you can feel so utterly spent by this point, but this course will do that to you.  At the top, you pass by the tower again, and get to cruise the long downhill back towards the finish line.  Like last year, I ran the last mile in about 7:40 pace and crossed the finish spent.  My recovery was quick though as my belly was soon full of some great home-cooked food.  I should note that the volunteers along the course were fantastic as well and made sure we stayed on course in the few confusing spots.

If I'm around next year, I'm sure I'll be running it again.

hike on everyone,


Here was my GPS Track for the day:  Greenwood Furnace Trail Challenge

Official Results: Greenwood Furnace 2014 Results

GPS Track

Elevation Profile.  Up-Down-Up-Down, pretty much sums it up.

Google Earth view

Some typical trail tread (photo: GFTC website)

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