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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2012 Megatransect - Mega X Race Report

You are stronger than you think you are.
If I had to put on my finger on what was the deciding factor that made the Mega X hands down the best trail experience I have had to date, it would have to be a single phone call when I wasn't feeling that saying,
You are stronger than you think you are.
which was posted at the Megatransect. 
Over the course of my running years I have made a lot of trail friends.  Many of them are folks I am not fortunate enough to spend much time with off the trails.  As the Mega drew closer and my nervousness grew I sought the advice of an experienced Megatransecter who had done it in 2011 in the rain.  Troy wasn't going to be able to attend this year's event due to personal obligations however while he was giving me my pep talk he mentioned that his daughter might still be doing it.  I told him to make sure she contacted me and a few conversations later I found myself standing in a dewing field with his daughter, Nicole pondering how much sleep we were going to get in our cars.

We didn't get much sleep but that is typical of the night before the race.  Up extra early we found the Sheetz coffee and then the bathrooms and got prepared for our day of fun.  There was even a little expo in one of the buildings.  This is one of several events I do that Sheetz is a sponsor for.  A huge THANK YOU to Sheetz for supporting the ultra racing community.  Their coffee seems to be the magic ingredient in my recipe for the prefect race day.

The following video will help those who'd like to see things strung together correctly.  At least for the 2012 Mega.  My recollections will most certainly not be in the correct order as I suffer from serious trail brain and a general lack of any discernible ability to string geographical points together.  This has been confirmed on numerous occasions.  Case in point, I got lost in a 5k.  Yeah.
special thanks to Francis Shanahan for the great video

The weather could not have been more perfect as we started our adventure with a roughly 3 mile run from the Castanea Fire Company picnic grounds and headed onto Link Trail.  Nicole and I ran together for roughly the first 4ish miles.  Once we were on the trail and climbing, I pulled ahead but passing was very tight and the trail was technical.  These beginning trail miles were my least favorite part of the entire event. 

Link Trail or at least the sections of it in the beginning were very congested.  Given that this event offers such a long cutoff, there are many different athletes completing the challenge.  You don't have to be a trail or ultra runner for long before you learn a little bit of trail etiquette.  For example when you pass another runner, you get over and tell the other runner which side you will be passing on.  Easy peasy.  Another bit of etiquette, whenever using music on the trail have the courtesy to use earbuds but not so loudly that you yell when you are passing other runners.  And if you don't use earbuds (which you should unless you have asked your current trail brethren if it's okay with them to have the music on) keep the volume to a minimum.  Lastly, when the trail gets tight stay off the heels of the person in front of you.  If you can go faster, pass.  If not, stay a body's length back.   

aka OMGosh I've flippin died and gone to Heaven.
alternatively titled This is what My Heaven will be Like
Thankfully my super secret spy husband probably won't read this because I've gotta tell you that when I actually saw these boulder fields I think I got a little excited.  Who knew that I was made for climbing?  I always knew I loved it but this was a boulder climb that just went on and on and on.  With each step I didn't get more tired I got more excited.  I was ready to explode with energy by the time I was at the top.

I had been told that there was no way to explain the Megatransect to someone else.  Veteran ultra runners who have done it for years told me I just had to see it, do it to understand.  Well as we came up out of the tree line into this boulder field, I knew what they meant. 

Nicole and I took a few photos to document the awesomeness of the moment and got to climbing.  A common worry before the race was the concern for running into or worse stepping on a rattlesnake.  We quickly figured out that if there were any snakes out today they had already been scared off my the many feet that had climbed up before us.  The only wildlife I encountered was a bat that climbed deeper into the boulders when the rock it was rousting under was disturbed. 

Nicole pauses to enjoy the view.

I am Ridiculously Happy!
After topping the boulder field I waited for Nicole and we continued on quickly finding a trail runner who had dislocated her ankle on the boulder field.  She and a fellow runner were waiting on assistance to help her down what would be some serious trail.   It was a harsh reminder of how challenging the trail actually was.  During much of these sections Nicole and I would start off together and then drift apart.  I was trying to balance encouraging her with allowing her to give what she had to give.  We quickly became known within the field of runners I was running through.  As I would work my way ahead on climbs or descents and then wait for her, fellow runners would give me updates about having seen her on the trail and how she was pushing through.

That was the case when I came into the aid station at about 10 miles.  I had gotten ahead on some of the technical downhill sections where I passed the awesome volunteers who were climbing up to assist the runner with the dislocated ankle. 
Huge THANK YOUS to the men and women who put themselves at risk to help others!
I refilled my pack, ate half a banana, a piece of pb&j, two cups of water and begged for some salt.  I also took time to rewet my contacts thanks to a fellow trail runner.  Trail runners are the best people!
The volunteers were amazing! 
Some of them would be at multiple aid stations and would remember us from one visit to the next.  Thanks ladies for scooping up salt for me and wearing those smiles all day long!
These awesome ladies scooped up some salt from their chip & pretzel bowls for me since I had forgot to bring any salt pills.  I also had dropped all my tylenol while on my boulders.  We had a brief chat about the awesome benefits of CEP Compression socks and tights while I waited for Nicole. 

There were sweets...

...and salty with everything in between. 

Nicole hit the aid station to my annoying lively cheering and we quickly got her handheld refilled got a few bites into her and we were off again. 

During the last sections I started running off and on with a fellow trail runner who had done a 50 miler just a week or so prior, Melissa.  She was great trail company with an upbeat positive attitude.  We were also falling in and out with a group of two men who had come up from Florida with a group of 21 CrossFitters.  Both were kind enough to tolerate what had to have been by now my annoying habit of talking/cheering non-stop.

I wish I had taken a photo of the ropes at K2.  At least I think that's the area they are in.  When I heard there was area area where ropes had been installed for a climb and a decent, I though that's crazy.  Probably overkill just to make it sound tough. 
No.  No it wasn't over kill.  It was awesome.  The climb up was hard even with the rope and the decent was so fun.  Repelling down was a blast!

Although the trail was challenging, I was having a blast. I simply couldn't stop talking the majority of the time. My energy was simply over flowing. When I made it to the water fall I stopped to wait for Nicole and take in the beautiful view. I got to encourage a bunch of fellow runners and chat with the volunteer who was lucky enough to get to spend her day in such amazing surroundings. 
A special thanks to DCNR for the use of some unbelievable areas. 
At one point while I was running alone I noticed a metal marker on a tree. That was the first time I realized that unlike the events I've done in Maryland and Virginia the trail wasn't blazed. Or maybe my constant cheering and chatter had allowed me to not notice any. Either way, I wondered how anyone would be able to follow these trails without the aid of blazes. My thoughts of being able to return and follow this course again were fading and I was made more aware of just how special getting to do this event really was.
Before the aid station at Zindel Park around mile 13ish we were on a runnable section. Trying to encourage Nicole to push herself, I pulled ahead slightly. It also gave me time to just enjoy the amazing surroundings I was running through. As I went I passed a pair of runners and saw a beautiful reservoir to my left. Since I was looking in that direction I saw a few runners about to cross a small creek to the left. Of course I started to follow and talked out loud about how excited I was to have a larger water crossing. I was just about to hit the water when the pair behind me yelled down the hill that we were to go straight through. With orange ribbon on the other side of the creek, I argued that I could see markers but when I back tracked I saw that there were ribbons that lead straight on the trail also. Having gone slightly off course actually helped put Nicole and I back together to run into the Zindel aid station.


Again at an aid station we topped off our fluids. Feeling my hands were starting to swell slightly, I asked if there were salt tabs at the aid station. A fellow runner overheard and offered to share. I just love trail runners! I encouraged Nicole to take one also. I grabbed more pb&j, a piece of banana and water. I loved that there were porta-potties at some aid stations and I quickly made a pit stop instead of having to find a tree later along the trail.

A rare wide open runnable trail
With my energy soaring we headed out of the aid station and took in the beautiful scenery.
Rote Overlook


The climbs, the descents, at times runnable, at times simply unbelieveable it just all went on and on.  Nicole and I would run together and then I would sense she might need a break from my cheerful banter and encouragement so I would ran on solo or catch up the next group of runners.

On Luge Trail I came across these cheerful Florida visitors.  Within the first few miles of the race I had taken photos of a group of other runners for them.  It turned out to be a group of 21 Crossfitters who had come up from Florida to join in the Mega.  The group started the annual tradition last year and hope to be able to send participants each year.  They were great trail company!
Team Black as I think you are known had runners finish is so very impressive times.  Hope to share the trail with you all again next year.

Having not raced since Laurel Highland 70 miler in June made this event a very welcome challenge.  Just getting the opportunity to push myself was amazing!  This course provided me with everything I love about trail running.  I got to run with many different people along the trail and yet I also found moments to run solo.  There was every kind of terrain you could imagine and just when you thought you would scream if you had to run on one more rock you would come upon a runnable trail or a cliff side or an amazing view and BAM! you'd want to know what was coming next.  What the RD has created here on the mountain trails in Pennsylvania is really special.  I just wish I could keep it a secret.

The end was drawing very near but I knew that there was the promise of one more boulder field to climb before we began the relative 4ish mile decent to the finish.  That boulder field seemed to appear out of nowhere as we were climbing.  My trail mate's energy was running low so I pushed ahead and quietly enjoyed my final play of the day on the rocks.  It was even more challenging than the longer boulder field from the morning.  It could have been the tired legs or the steepness but when I hit the top the sense of accomplishment was even stronger than it had been that morning.  I cheered from the top and waited for Nicole to summit the boulders.  And then we were off running downhill to finish.

The last few miles I got way ahead thanks to the downhills and some good running.  It was wonderful practice to the events coming later this fall and since Nicole was giving everything she had left to finish, I knew I shouldn't push her too hard.  Before I knew it I was out of the trails on back on the road for the run in.  I ran.  I stopped.  I talked with other runners.  Most of them knew Nicole and I were together.  Many of them had seen her on the trail heading in and said she was fine and running with someone.  I ran some more.  I chatted some more.  I got close to the finish.  I stopped.  I turned around and ran back.  After all the miles and challenges, I couldn't cross that finish line without her.

I found her with another runner but she was tired.  We talked about trying to push the last miles and finish strong.  She gave it everything she had but the Green Mile took more from her than she had left.  We walked and talked about the amazing thing we had done.  Then the finish line was in sight and we ran cheering into the finish line.

We got cleaned up and joined the most amazing after party.  There was food and drink everywhere.  Pulled pork or chicken sandwiches, grilled hotdogs, pizza, snacks, drinks of all kinds and the fabulous Sheetz truck making smoothies, iced drinks and coffee.  We refueled and visited with fellow trail runners but then had to say goodbye to our view of that amazing mountain. 
When I say that this was my best event ever it isn't the after race euphoria talking, this has got to be one of the top 3 events that I have ever done.  And coupled with how great I felt doing it, this event is number one in the small group of extra special events.  As I often dream of being able to organize events like this I would love to learn from this Race Director because I think what he is doing is so close to perfect.  So thank you Dave for keeping this event true to it's Mega standards.  And my thanks to the nameless many that help you provide us with something that you simply can not find anywhere else.  The volunteers, the locals, the sponsors, the track and field group that helped with a injured runner, the volunteer rescue/firemen that helped...does the list have an end in an event like this?  My heartfelt gratitude for all your hard work.
It was an amazing day. An amazing event. I couldn't be more proud of myself and Nicole. She really reached deep and found strength that I don't think she knew she had. And wasn't that the point of the day to find out that We are stronger than we thought we were.

2013 Mega ~ I'll be back for you!


  1. Great post and so glad you liked the video. Congrats to you both on the finish, great accomplishment. What an awesome day. Rock on Mega Transectors!!!

    1. Thanks again for the great video. I shot a little bit during the beginning but yours was great!

  2. What an amazing experience! You tell the story so well. I've said it before and I'll say it again - you were made for this! Congrats on an awesome day out there! I wonder if everyone enjoys it as much as you. :)

    1. The trails were so quiet. I think I was the only one cheering and woohoo-ing their heads off. It was unbelievable!

  3. I LOVE your race reports. LOVE. Like, I was supposed to leave my house a half an hour ago, but I couldn't tear myself away, kind of love :)

    Amazing, as always - congrats, not only on finishing a crazy trail race, but on supporting another newer runner, all the way to the finish. Outstanding!

    1. Thanks! It really was an amazing experience. Watching another runner give it all and keep pushing just reminded me how strong this sport really makes us as people.

  4. I love all your smiles in this recap and, of course, the flamingo's!!!!

    1. Ok...this was almost as exciting as your up coming "event." I think I'll be crying for you here even before I get to see the photos after. Great big hugs to you!

  5. wow what a neat experience! I love that you helped her through this course...seriously it looks crazy tough to me! boulders would have me quaking and you are giddy!

    1. It definately changed my focus during the race. I think I would probably be a killer pacer in ultra length events. The problem is I want to be running them too. Seriously, having the stress of wanting to "go fast" removed and focusing on someone else was the biggest blessing. We worked really well together that I was able to keep her motivated to push and she could let me know when she needed me to shut up...but of course she said it in much nicer and more sutble ways.

  6. I have been anxiously awaiting your report. Seeing the posts on the FB group have given me some serious reminders of last year's Mega...and actually made me miss it. Congrats to you and Nicole!

  7. I think My buddy and I were the 2 dudes from Florida you might have ran into a few times. I also recall you taking our picture, while running backwards (wow) in the beginning of the race. This review is awesome!! Hope to see you again next year!

    1. Hey Cory! So great to put a name with the face. Thanks for sharing the trails and I will hope to see you at nex year's event. It is one that should be an annual on the race calendar!

  8. Great race report- I even blushed a little seeing my name in it!! Anyways, it was amazing meeting you and getting to share the last handful of miles on such awesome trails in your company. I know that as time pressed on and my legs rebelled more and more, you were the perfect cheerleader and companion to push on with! Thanks again. Hopefully I get to share the trails with you again in an upcoming ultra!! -Melissa

    1. Thanks for being such inspiring company on the trails. I hope we get to share some again soon. Did you get that photo? The website has an even better one. Those crossfitter folks were hardcore!...just like you!

  9. Awesome race report. Glad you and Nicole had such a good time out there!

  10. This race sounds really fun! I'd love to do this next year!

  11. Wow! That looked amazing (and HARD!) and I can't imagine how difficult it was for that man to carry the video camera the entire time! Great job and good for you for waiting for Nicole. Its more about the journey than the finish time, isn't it?

  12. Oh my gosh--that boulder field!!!! You are amazing for conquering this. I hope you now KNOW how strong you are!! Congrats you ultra stud!

  13. What an awesome report. I have done a few shorter trail races and reports like these make me start to consider longer distances. Those boulder fields look so fun and challenging!