The Megatransect trail marathon (approximately 25.5 miles, but I'm counting it as a marathon) takes place in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. This race is about 10 years old and has become extremely popular in the area. Registration opens the beginning of January and it sells out within a week. This was my first year running in it, but it certainly won't be my last. This may be my new favorite local trail race.
There were about 600 runners/hikers that showed up on race day this year, with the temperature in the upper 40s and calls for rain throughout the day. The race starts early (7am) but is only about a 45 minute drive for me so I didn't have to get up too early. The pre-race staging area is a picnic grounds with a large indoor hall so it is possible to stay relatively warm until the race start.
I had no idea how my legs would react coming into this race, because of running the Dam Full trail marathon two weeks earlier and the Vermont 50 mile trail run six days earlier. I figured my legs would probably go dead about halfway through and I might have to struggle to get home. I felt relatively good on race morning, however, so I decided to give it a pretty good run and see what would happen.
The first three miles are on paved road (one of my least favorite parts of the course) so I went out at a pace close to 7 minute miles. It was drizzling at the start but not raining too hard. There was a stream crossing to gain access to the first trail so my feet got soaked. I figured there would be more so it wasn't worth trying to stay dry. I hit the trail in about 14th place in a group of about 5 runners. The first climb was steep and I tried to settle into a quick walking pace. I was able to pass everyone in the group pretty quickly and my legs felt good. I hit the downhills pretty hard and started to put some distance between me and those behind me.
At about 6.5 miles I came to the signature climb of the course, a long scramble over boulders, straight up the mountain to the highest point on the course. It is a visually intimidating sight. I had heard about this, however, and thought it was towards the end of the course, so I was actually quite pleased to be encountering it this early when my legs were still good. It takes awhile to get up this and the rocks were wet so it was a little treacherous. Occasionally I would turn around and take in the view of the Susquehanna River below, which was quite impressive. I passed one runner on the way to the top.
After the boulder field, the trail took me across Rattlesnake Ridge, which was definitely treacherous. This was under tree cover and it was raining harder now and there were a lot of lichens on the rocks. It was basically a long horizontal traversal of boulders, and then suddenly there was an arrow pointing over the edge. After scrambling down I was finally on a runnable section again. At mile 16 or so, I caught up to another guy and quickly passed him and put him behind me. I was still feeling good and running well.
There are definitely a lot of rocky trails in the Mega. It is as technical as any other central PA trail run, if not more so. There aren't many flat sections either. I felt pretty good and kept knocking off the miles. At the beginning of the race, I had decided not to carry a water bottle, because it was cool and they had water about every 5 miles. This is the first trail race that I haven't carried water. I just took 3 gels with me for sustenance and hoped I would be okay. Up until about mile 19, I felt fine. In the next mile-and-a-half, however, I began to feel woozy and became concerned about staying vertical. I'm not sure that carrying Gatorade would have made a difference, but who knows.
The last aid station at mile 21 could not have come too soon. The stretch into it was downhill, which was a good thing, because I had no energy left to expend. I needed calories quickly. I hit the aid station and never have I ate so much junk food at an aid station. M&Ms, Peanut Butter cups, chips, pretzels, Gu, Gatorade, water: I just started stuffing it in. I knew I may pay for it in my stomach later but I needed the calories.
About a half mile out of the aid station the final brutal climb began. It was steep and then another boulder field began. The good thing was that this allowed me to walk and I could digest the sugar and started feeling better. At the top of the boulder field, the trail headed down and I began the last descent. I was drenched and cold at this point and ready for the finish. My least favorite part of the course was ahead of me, however. There were three flat miles to the finish and I knew I didn't have the legs to hammer them out.
The last three miles basically mirrored the first three, except that they went off the road and onto a grassy section along the highway. The grass was about a foot high, and there were only five people in front of me, so the grass was not worn down and it was difficult running. I could barely manage a sub-9:00 pace at this point. I was still gripping a banana from the last aid station, just in case I would need it, but I threw this into the bushes a half mile from the finish.
I ran across the finish line and went straight to the food line and loaded up on pulled pork barbecue, macaroni salad, a Sheetz smoothie, and then Hot Chai. I was looking around for pizza but they were out of it. I talked to a few of the other guys that finished in front of me, watched a few more guys cross the finish line, and then started shivering and chattering my teeth. It was time to go home. I grabbed some cookies for the road and headed out.
I was pleased with the way my legs held up. I finished sixth overall in about 4:51. The race was well supported and the pre-race and post-race food was very good. I will be back. The next time I will try to avoid running a 50-miler the week before and hope to improve my time in dry conditions.