Try All By Fire: 17 miles of trails, challenge and friends

Welcome to Try All By Fire!

The first tidbit to note was this: There was no cell phone service. No 3G coverage. No access to text messaging or Facebook or Twitter or email. No phone calls. I was in Renovo, Pa., located basically in the north central part of the state (also, and I say this lovingly, known as the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania). I made the journey by myself on late Friday afternoon, anxious and eager to get to Western Clinton Sportsman Association and start my weekend event. I would be shut off from the rest of the world, immersing myself in the adventure while trying to let go of the notion of things I “should” be doing.

The event was called Try All By Fire sponsored by the guys at TRYChips (and if you haven’t tried the all-natural freeze-dried fruit snack, seriously, check out them out). They wanted to create an event that was about people getting out, being active, trying new things. They wanted to create a finish line, but not have a race. Races separate people. These guys are about bringing people together, about celebrating the journey — each persons own unique journey, whether that be a multi-day 200-plus mile bike ride or a mile walk from the car to the finish line. Instead of taking who you are and trying to fit it into the confines of a race structure (5K, marathon, triathlon, century bike ride, etc.), the event let you be who you are. The actual doing would flow from there. And all of it was cause for celebration.

I traveled with no exact plan in mind other than the notion I had a long run to get in for my marathon training and thought it would be cool to do it on the trails. I also went alone, not knowing anyone else who would be there other than a few of the event organizers. Welcome to pushing myself out of my comfort zone. And this was just the beginning.

Friday night I sat down with Jackie, one of the TRYChips gang who just recently finished her first 100-mile ultra and was leading a 27-mile hike the next day. I didn’t want to do 27 miles of hiking. I needed to do about 18 miles and I wanted to do some running, not just hiking. So Jackie kindly went over the trail map with me, giving it a healthy does of annotations to navigate the trails so that I could do the run by myself. Her descriptions and instructions were detailed, yet I was a bit nervous about attempting to navigate myself.

On the trails, feeling good, adventurous and sweaty.

Turns out, I didn’t have to navigate it by myself. Instead, life brought me some really cool folks to share my 17 miles with. There was Shelley, a native of Pittsburgh who now lives in Oregon and loves to seek outdoor adventures, and the hiking duo of Peggy and Anthony who drove in from State College, Pa. While Peggy and Anthony started out ahead of us (and apparently scared away a few rattlesnakes for which I am deeply appreciative), Shelley and I alternated some trail running (see: light jogging) along with a good clip of hiking. We caught up to Peggy and Anthony (who were slowed down by the rattlesnake encounters) and the four of us journeyed forward. The state of the trails and the terrain varied. While some of the event organizing group went out to try and clean up some of the trail, they couldn’t work miracles. Parts were overgrown and we kept on the trail by searching for the blazes on the trees. Other parts were rocky. One part had switchbacks on the side of a mountain which made me nervous since there wasn’t much land between my feet and falling off the side.

In places where the trail was good and solid, I jogged on ahead and waited for my three new friends, but to be honest, I spent most of my “long run” doing an aggressive hike instead. At times, my mind started to engage: You’re supposed to be doing a long run this weekend, Amy. Sure you’re getting a good workout and have time in on your legs, but is your coach going to be happy with this? Is this going to help you at the Wineglass Marathon? Are you really serious about running well at this marathon? 

Yup, my mind can be such a treat sometimes.

So I tuned my mind out because my body was totally disagreeing with its long run, pace-based mentality. While I enjoy hiking and have had some interesting adventures with Mark, I don’t hit the trails all that often and hilly road runs are vastly different from scrambling over rocks, trees and roots (while paying attention for rattlesnakes and bears). The downhills were steep and relentless and my toes were in pain from hitting the shoe box of my trail running shoes. My hamstrings and calf muscles ached. I was good with my hydration and nutrition but still was losing steam by the time we hit Hyner Run Park. While there, we met up with Shelley’s friend Matt, who did his first sprint triathlon earlier that day then came out Try All By Fire to add some extra mileage. Spent, we decided to skip the last trail portion and instead jog in the final three or four miles on the road to the finish line.

The finish line was a celebration, complete with a drum circle, hugs, smiles and cheers. Oh, and there were finger puppets, smoothies from Sheetz and beer from the Yorkholo Brewing Company. There was plenty of food, two bands and lots of story telling. In fact, I was talking with so many people, I never did quite make it over the pavilion for the bands where, apparently, members of the Lancaster (Pa.) Bicycle Club were totally getting their groove on. I learned a lot from the people I shared the trail with on Saturday, and from the rest of the 200-people gathered in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Pa., to celebrate activity, adventure, health and life. More thoughts on that to come tomorrow. Right now, I have some quality time scheduled with my foam roller. Seriously Peggy, Anthony, Shelley and Matt — you all kicked my ass in a very, very good way.

One of the best parts: Making new friends! Matt, Shelley, Me, Anthony and Peggy near the end of our adventure.

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