Hyner Trail Challenge: Equal parts myth, hardcore reality, and fun
By Tyler Wagner
On April 21, 2018, over 1,200 runners and hikers from all over the U.S. were welcomed by crisp temperatures and the beauty of the Pennsylvania Wilds in Clinton County as they toed the line to take on the Hyner Trail Challenge 25K & 50K, one of PA’s premiere trail events.
Four years ago, this event was my formal introduction to trail running and although I have a good idea of what to expect at this point, I still get nervous and excited every time I pull into the parking at the landing strip and prepare to enter the starting line corral.
As part of the Rocksylvania Trail Series, the Hyner Challenge is equal parts myth, hardcore reality, and fun all crammed into the winding 16-ish or 32-ish mile courses. Each course has features with views that will take your breath away as well as literally leave you breathless – S.O.B. and Humble Hill just to name a few.
The race starts and finishes at the Western Clinton Sportsmen’s Association (WCSA) just outside of Renovo and down the road from the entrance to Hyner View State Park. After leaving the WCSA, runners cross the Susquehanna River on the Route 120 Gold Star Mothers Bridge and head past Huff Run to fall in line for a little over a mile of the aptly named Cliffhanger Trail leading to the first of three summits – the first being Humble Hill, a roughly mile long climb with nearly 2,000 feet of elevation change. Conquer Humble Hill and you are greeted by cheering fans, an aid station, and arguably the best panoramic view of the entire race, appropriately named Hyner View. Seize the moment, but remember to keep moving because the race has really only started.
What goes up, must come down and after summiting Hyner View runners are granted a little break as the next two miles are mostly downhill stretches weaving through Reichert Hollow. Taking advantage of this brief respite pays dividends as the next six miles are some of the most challenging and grueling of the race.
Over the years I have learned that only one thing is guaranteed during this race – YOU WILL GET WET as you climb Johnson Run (miles six through nine and 1,100 feet of elevation). This section of the race is a true natural gem and highlights the beauty the trails of northcentral PA have to offer with multiple spring crossings and abundant lush greenery (even during early Spring). Best advice is to embrace it, take in the surroundings, commiserate with your fellow runners, and wear good socks. This is the point in the race when I remind myself, there’s an aid station awaiting you once you emerge from the valley and you will have conquered summit number two meaning you are more than halfway there. But, it also means that one of the most challenging parts of the race lies ahead.
I am a firm believer that miles nine through 13 are the true test of Hyner. By this point you start to feel it in your legs and throughout your whole body. The switchbacks are going to seem endless even though they are only about a mile long, and when you finally think it’s over you are faced with the nearly vertical and roughly 200 yard S.O.B. hill climb. These features will break you down and make you question why you are out in the middle of nowhere putting yourself through the experience, but it is these tough miles that define the spirit of those that come back year-after-year for the challenge.
The summit of S.O.B. is the last of the three summits for the challenge. Runners are greeted by the final aid station and then another mile of relatively rolling access trail before starting the final descent to the finish line.
Depending on ability and whether you are hiking or running, or maybe a little of both, you can expect to cross the finish anywhere from the course record of 2 hours and 9 minutes (set this year by elite Zach Miller) to over 9 hours. But no matter what, you can look forward to being embraced by the trail community with cheers, great food, and a cold beverage at the after party.
A big thank you every year is due to Craig Fleming, Race Director, and the PA Trail Dogs (winners of the 2017 PA Wilds Conservation Stewardship Champion Award), the WCSA, Joel Halsey and the Falcon Race Timing team, as well as all the vendors, donors, and volunteers who support the race. It takes a monumental effort and year-round planning and work to make this event a reality.
Hyner is a legend and it has its own mystique. Those who have completed it know what I am talking about, while those that have not are still intrigued when they hear about it. There is a reason the race sells out every year within hours of registration opening up.
Hyner is a challenge, it’s a test, and for those who conquer it, we are embraced into the trail running family. Our family is made up of people from all walks of life, often complete strangers, who wander around the woods for several hours determined to cross the finish and “embrace the suck” along the way. We share a spirit that flourishes in the great outdoors while still being humbled by what nature has to offer.
To check out 2018 race results, click here.
About the Author: Tyler Wagner
Hailing from the coal region and now residing from the home of Little League, Tyler is an outdoor enthusiast, trail runner, and sportsman from South Williamsport. On the weekends and in his free time he swaps out his corporate attire for his favorite trail shoes and running gear, camo outfit, or fishing gear. Follow him on Twitter @TyJWags13 or on Instagram @ tjwags11.