It was oddly warm for a rainy and dreary December Sunday, but a bunch of us felt it necessary to run in the woods along some of the gnarliest, muddy, hilly, soggy, soul-crushing trails in York, Pennsylvania in a 6.66 mile race known as the Hex Hollow Half. The race is held at Spring Valley County Park, in Glen Rock, PA.
Now it’s called a half since it is a 13.1 mile race if you decide to run the 6.66 mile loop twice. But let’s be honest, only the crazies attempt that. Since this was my first year, 6.66 miles was just enough for me to handle. So I guess I technically ran the Hex Hollow Half-Half.
Did I mention it was muddy?
The race begins on a downward trail that run along the border of the park’s woods. You feel great, the air is cool and damp, your footing is strong and the slight drop in elevation teases you into thinking Hex Hollow is a nice and easy quick race. I saw my 9:30 pace and chuckled as I jumped over some course obstacles. I left my Ultimate Direction hydration pack in the car, I mean it’s only a little over 6 miles, did I really need it?
The answer was yes. I’m an idiot. And it’s not because I needed hydration per se- it’s the fact that I started the race wearing too many layers. The pack would have been ideal for toting all my junk versus me awkwardly carrying everything the entire race.
Mile 1 was a freaking tease. The course never got any easier after that. What’s the saying? “What goes up, must come down.” Yeah, we went up alright and some sections we came down, but it never was easy either way. Going uphill seemed to be the theme of the day, and my heart rate was at maximum threshold the entire time. I would walk when the incline was just too much, but it didn’t seem to help the mental games the course played. I doubted myself in some spots, stopping was never an option because if I did I was calling it quits.
Miles 2-3 were tough. Coming down to the aid station at mile 3 was tricky. The trail was wide and looking inviting, it was a downhill section that was asking for trouble. The leaf covered ground hid rocks, twigs, and ankle twisting moss covered roots just salivating at the sight of runners. My quads burned as my internal Jake-brakes kicked in and I jarred and jolted my way down the hill. I’m not sure if I drank the water or just poured it all over my face, either way it was ice cold.
Most of the race was single track, sopping wet and muddy with no room for mistakes. The mud did everything it could to suck the shoes off your feet.
Miles 4, 5, and 6 weren’t any better. The stream crossings were refreshing and fording the knee deep water at one point was the highlight of the race. The air was cold, damp, and foggy, but as soon as your heart rate increased you could feel the humidity and weight on your chest. At mile 6 in a sharp incline an older woman passed me and grumbled something to God that there were no more hills. She hexed us, as we rounded a corner the hill only kept rising and if I had a rock I would have thrown it at her.
This race was a humbling experience. Beyond humbling if that. As I ran up to the finish line at 1:30:05 the race director asked if I had fun as he put his arm around me and matched my weak jog. I looked him in the eyes and said, “how do I politely tell you that I hate you guys? I’ll see you next year, I’ve got unfinished business.” He laughed and told me that is what he loves to hear, so many people have a love-hate relationship with the race that it draws them back for more. He’s right. I’ll be back, it was an awesome race and a great experience I’ll remember until next time.