Race Recap: My 50 Mile Strugglefest

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I didn’t really plan on running a 50 miler this fall but when the MCM turned into a virtual race I knew that I needed to see if I could find a new challenge, and preferably something that was an in-person race.

I looked around on Ultrasignup.com and found the Pine Creek Challenge which takes place in Northern PA. They offered several distances including a 100 miler, a 100k, 50 miler, and marathon. The 50 miler sounded like a good challenge considering the race was just 7 weeks away.

Fortunately I’d kept a strong running base over the summer and was able to gradually increase my mileage before a good taper. I got up to a 70 mile week and thankfully stayed healthy. My sister Autum signed up for the marathon so we decided it would be a fun race/sisters weekend.

Pine Creek Challenge 50 Mile Race Recap

The Pine Creek Challenge is put on by the Tyoga Running Club which is a non-profit organization formed for charitable purposes. September 12, 2020 was the 9th annual event. They describe this race as,

“this endurance challenge is well suited for the first time ultra runner utilizing the Pine Creek Rail Trail which stretches 63 miles from Wellsboro Junction to Jersey Shore, PA. It is listed as one of the finest bike rides in the Northeast.”

Starting area/social distancing measures:

Packet pickup was held at Wild Asaph Outfitters in downtown Wellsboro. It was very easy to go in and get our race swag (bibs were given out on race morning). I wasn’t feel that great pre-race since my menstrual cycle had started the day before. My legs were feeling heavy and I was having some cramps and GI upset. I figured that I’d be visiting a few of the port-a-pots along the course.

The race capped registration at 200 runners and had staggered starts for each race. They also offered refunds or deferrals in case anyone didn’t feel comfortable doing the race. The 100 miler started at 6am, the 100k at 7am, the 50 miler at 8am, and the marathon at 9am. They required participants (and spectators) to wear a mask near the start and aid station volunteers wore masks and gloves. Once the race started runners naturally spread out along the path, which was wide enough to accommodate out and back traffic.

The weather was absolutely perfect for running. It was overcast most of the day and morning temps started in the mid-40’s and got up to mid-60’s max. It was one of those scenarios where you weren’t ever too warm or too chilly.

The Course:

The course was an out and back course using 25 miles of the upper canyon section of the Pine Creek Rail Trail. This section is through the “Grand Canyon of the East” the Pine Creek Gorge. The Gorge stretches for 47 miles and is nearly a mile wide and 1,450 feet deep at its deepest point. This section of Pine Creek is listed as a National Natural Landmark. It’s a level packed limestone surface with 2% grade.

I got to meet a podcast listener named Melissa out on the course. She was doing her first 50 miler to celebrate turning 50 this year and was running strong. In fact, she turned out to be the 1st female finisher with a time of 8:32!

The 50 milers started out with a 5 mile out and back toward the North end of the trail and then did a 20 mile out and back going South.

Missing the Turnaround

The course should have been idiot proof but I must not have listened well enough at the pre-race briefing.

The race director said that he was worried that his signs might get stolen but that they were located just after the 25 mile trail marker. If we got to mile marker 26 then we had gone too far and got “free bonus miles.” So when I got to the turn around spot there was a sign that said “100k turn around” and “100 mile turn around.” Nothing was said about the 50 mile turn around so I decided it must be just ahead.

So I kept going thinking it was just around the next corner and not wanting to cut the course short. Finally I arrived at mile marker 26 and realized that I was one of the chumps getting “free bonus miles.” I laughed at it then but I wasn’t laughing by mile 50 when I should have been done. In fact when I got to the finish line my watch read “53 miles”. 🤦‍♀️

Aid Stations:

There were six aid stations spaced around 5 miles apart which were staffed by friendly volunteers and featured many different food and drink options. There were normal fueling products, electrolytes, cookies, candy, pickles, chips, pretzels, made to order sandwiches, Ramen noodles, coffee, and much more. Since there weren’t any spectators along the course seeing an aid station was a welcome site.

My Gear:

  • I wore tried and true gear for the race including my Hylete Iris shorts (very comfortable with great pockets), compression socks, gaiters (to keep out dirt and debris),
  • For shoes I wore On Cloud Venture trail shoes,
  • I brought my Nathan VaporAiress hydration pack.
  • I also have to brag on my Coros Apex running watch. When I started the race it had a 95% battery charge and when I finished (over 10 hours later) the battery was still at 60%.


Unfortunately my feet swelled a lot during the race causing pain on the top of both feet. I had to stop several times to loosen my shoes. Finally they were so loose that they felt sloppy but that was all my feet could tolerate. The feet swelling had happened during races a couple times before while I was on my period so it must have been extreme fluid retention due to hormones.

Overall I felt mostly good for the first 18 miles or so by mile 20 I was experiencing some upper hamstring discomfort which sent shooting pain down my left leg. Between that issue and my swollen feet I did a lot of walking between miles 20-35. Finally at mile 35 I got really upset because I knew if I continued at that pace I’d be out there another 4 hours. So I made myself start running again, taking brief walk breaks at each mile when I took a drink.

Notice how puffy my hands were by the time I finished. 😱

The Finish Area:

At aid stations volunteers took down our bib numbers. They had a timing mat and finish arch set up to cross at the end. Over at the awards table they gave you your medal (or buckle and mug for 100 milers).

By the time I reached the finisher’s area I was so ready to be done. I was physically hurting, not feeling very strong mentally, and even a bit emotional. I was so tired that I didn’t even care about the finish line food (which is a first for me). I just wanted to get out of my wet clothes and sit down.

Here’s how the numbers broke down for the various race distances.

  • Marathon: 24 total finishers.
  • Autum finished in 4:17:31, was the 2nd female and 7th overall.
  • 50 Miler: 36 finishers
  • I finished 17th out of 36 with a time of 10:07:36 (the winner finished in 8:05).
  • 100k- 18 finishers (winner finished in 9:22).
  • 100 miler: 54 finishers, 19 DNF’s (the winner finished in 16:40).

I didn’t even get any sound-bites of the finish or recap Autum’s experience because I was so zeroed out mentally. Fortunately she drove us to our sister Amy’s house where we were staying the night. It felt amazing to shower and relax! This was my 65th marathon and/or ultra.

Processing a Disappointing Race

If you’ve had a disappointing race or running experience you’re not alone. If you run long enough and continue challenging yourself it’s sure to happen. This is definitely not enjoyable and it can be tough to process. Sometimes this phenomenon is referred to as post-race blues. Post race blues or even mild post race depression is not something that gets talked about in the running community that much but it’s very common.

People are more likely to talk about feeling like a rock star crossing the finish line, having a sense of euphoria or super powers post race, having pride in their accomplishment, and experience a generalized relaxation, calmness, relief and a mental high. But those feelings are not always there and if you do experience a post-race high these good sensations start fading anywhere from a few hours to a few days post race. This can leave you feeling anything but great. You’d think that post race blues might only happen after a disappointing or horrible race but it can also happen after conquering a new distance or getting an amazing PR. It can also happen to some people during periods of injury or hitting a plateau in training.

Like most cases of post-race blues or mild depression there’s usually a physical as well as psychological reason behind it. Many athletes describe it as a hollow feeling, a lack of purpose, coming down from a high, feeling low, grumpy, irritable, getting back to reality, a loss, sadness, lack of motivation, and guilt. Some people feel very emotional and may start crying and can’t seem to stop. It can also be accompanied by physical sensations such as fatigue, listlessness, generalized achiness, a desire to sleep a lot, overindulgence in food and/or alcohol, and avoidance of social situations and other activities.

I recommend . . .

  1. Acknowledge all your feelings and thoughts, even if they seem irrational.
  2. Take plenty of time to recover physically.
  3. Put the experience into perspective.
  4. Talk about it and don’t be afraid to get help if the post-race blues linger more than two weeks.

Also Mentioned in This Episode

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