Megatransect (http://ultrahike.com) 2013 is in the books. 28 miles of insane trails spread across the mountains, rivers and rocks of Bald Eagle Creek. This year was another brilliant day with glorious weather and tonnes of eye candy. What a day! It’s so hard to capture the feeling from an event like this but I will try to hit a few points.
I ran again with my brothers-in-law, Michael, Chris and Brad. We drove the 3hours down the night before with a fantastic sunset leading the way. Packet pickup/check-in was simple and again a great packet containing map, some swag and a Mega sweatshirt. I’m always impressed with the freebies at Mega.
I woke at 4AM the next morning. After a small breakfast in the hotel, we got to the starting line with plenty of time to spare. Again a big line for the porta-johns but I snuck in as Dave Hunter was warming up the crowd. Unfortunately Dave is not one for big speeches and I heard the countdown whilst I was in the bathroom. 3-2-1 GO!!! I burst out of the bathroom and immediately joined the line running.
The initial group was fast but this year I resolved to avoid the log-jam where the asphalt trail hits the woods so I kept up running about a 9minute pace. It’s taken a year of training but I’ve finally figured out how to make the best use of my Polar RCX5 watch. Not because the watch is hard to use, it’s not, but because I am a casual runner figuring things out on his own. This time around I primarily used my Polar to keep my mental composure, keep my heart rate down and my pace up. It was a big help…more on this later.
We hit the first climb and the group thinned out. I paired up with Brad and we climbed the first uphill. This was the first of many quad-busting challenges that is the Mega.
We started running and I was reminded how challenging the terrain is in Pennsylvania. It’s not like any trail I’ve run in training. Most of the trails are not really trails but more like approximate directions you head through a stack of rocks. This makes it fun, dangerous and incredibly challenging. The rocks are shifting underneath your feet, you can’t get into any rhythm, eyes down on the trail constantly and even with 100% focus people were wiping out.
The boulders this year were amazing. The sun had not yet burned off the fog from the valley so by the time we hit mid-way up the hill we were truly above the clouds. I reached the top, took off into the woods and on we went. Still feeling great.
My goal this year was to run whatever I could run, no walking and definitely no stopping. Some of the trails are 50% gradient or higher so you are climbing more than running but I knew I needed to fly through these as much as possible. I latched on to a few other runners and tried to keep up, letting them set the pace and passing or dropping back when I needed to.
Based on last year [LINK] I fully expected to bonk, loose energy, loose focus or just generally slow down. I was literally waiting for it to happen. But it never did. I don’t want to give the wrong impression – I was hurting. Bad. My legs and lungs were crying out during some of the climbs but I remembered Scott Jurek’s mantra; “Let the Pain Go Out Your Ears” and I kept going.
I flew through the aid stations, had no idea of my overall time but kept checking my point-in-time pace on the Polar.
On the down-hills I let my legs go. Trusting my quads and knees. I knew if I ran softly I could get some free speed and avoid injury. I was much more used to the trails than last year and tore down the hills. On the downhills I might’ve hit under 7mins/mile at some points. If you can imagine just piling down a steep incline with rocks cracking off all around you, your feet just rolling on a substrate of rocks, mud and roots, yeah, it’s a bit like that.
At one point around mile 18 I grabbed a stick from the forest floor and carried it as a hiking pole for a few miles. It helped a lot with balance and took some pressure off my legs so I recommend keeping this as an option. Use the trail around you.
At about mile 20 my watch got caught on a tree and the buckle popped off so I was no longer with a pacing device.
After 22miles or so I hit the Raw trail, knowing this was the test. The Raw trail goes about 70% gradient, straight up, for what feels like about a mile. It’s brutal. You’ve run 22miles by now in 5hours or so, your whole body is shot. Just like last year I struggled but this year I knew where the end was so I kept going. It was long, high and steep. I was reduced to pulling myself up using trees and even bear crawled a little to take pressure off my quads. I got to the top and collected myself, focused on getting my heart rate down and again was surprised my quads were holding up so I hit off down the hill. Rocks. Mud. Rocks. You got it.
This downhill went on forever but I didn’t care. My legs felt good. I left the forest and hit the road in 6hours dead and was ecstatic. A full hour ahead of last year.
I reached the green mile and was overtaken by a father and son (never got their names) – as they passed I yelled “great job guys” – the father turned and with a wild look in his eye he said “FLY….FLY!!!”. I was not able to fly exactly at the time, but that moment really summed the whole experience up for me. The Mega is a leveler. You will be tested, you will be humbled and you will meet incredible unassuming people who will inspire you. Again, hard to put into words.
I finished in 6hours 34mins and placed 78th overall (~683 finished, >1000 registered). I burned 5397 calories!!! and ate fairly little, just a wafer or two. Still a bit sore but no injuries and nothing like last year. Training and prep definitely paid off.
As for the event – huge thanks again to Dave Hunter, Brian Newcomer and all the team who put so much of themselves into this day on the mountain.
And now the philosophy lesson – why do I love trail running over road running? I will steal from Larry Welkowitz [LINK] who said it perfectly:
“In trail running “every step is a decision.” And those decisions are important. Unlike marathon or ultra marathon races on roads, trail runners have to watch their feet at every step, working to stay on soft ground as much as possible (easier on the knees and joints), avoiding roots, rocks (or not if you decide that one rock or root might help propel you more efficiently). So in road running you just keep running, while in trail running you look and decide, look and decide for hours and hours…and, of course, you don’t stop.”