Last weekend I had the privilege of running my first 12-hour race at the Red Barn Challenge in Lykens, Pennsylvania. Together, race director Nikki Marzella and other members of the local running community started the Red Barn (as just about everyone calls it) event in 2020. It has 24-, 12-, and six-hour categories and takes place entirely on the idyllic Marzella Farm. Comprised of a one-mile track carved out of the grass, dirt, and gravel of the farm property, the Red Barn course twists and turns its way across the countryside in one of the most pastoral settings I have ever had the opportunity to run.
Limited to 100 participants distributed over the three distances, the Red Barn is an intimate affair. The 24-hour runners begin at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, with the 12-hour folks starting at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, followed by the six-hour people at noon. The loop is by no means flat as it has about 70 feet of climb on each lap. While that most certainly doesn’t sound like all that much it tends to wear on you as the hills that seemed insignificant in the morning seem to grow as the day drags on.
Starting in the pre-dawn darkness, the first five miles of my adventure were calm and peaceful. As I settled into a rhythm and the sun rose over the nearby mountain ridge, I began to carve out my plan for the day, determining which sections of each lap I would run and which places where I would strategically walk. It was a tactic that worked well for about 40 miles.
One of the coolest things about the Red Barn is that the race organizers allow the athletes and their crews to set up their “camps” anywhere along the course. And so, as day broke, it was fun to see all of these encampments scattered across the countryside where friends and family gathered, sipping coffee, and enjoying what turned out to be a beautiful, fall day on the farm. It also meant that I had a steady cheering section throughout the event and by the end of it all felt like I knew these folks.
Having never run a 12-hour race before, even after all my years of ultramarathons, I was curious about how to pace myself. For the first six hours I remained steady, running about 11:30- to 12:00-minute miles with little breaks here and there to avail myself of the splendid fare at the aid station which included made-to-order grilled cheese, bacon, quesadillas, three different kinds of soup, and even hot dogs and bratwursts! If you ever run the Red Barn, then you will not go home hungry. After six hours, my pace began to slow and it was then that I realized I should be counting hours rather than miles. I was still on pace to run a sub-10-hour 50-mile split until mile 40, when the heat of the day and the grinding hills eventually took their toll on me. I hit the 50-mile mark in 10:20, took a 10-minute break to stuff my face, and then shuffled through six more miles over the last 90 minutes to finish with 56 miles and third place.
The end of the race was perhaps the best part. Since it’s a timed event and everyone finishes at the same time, there was a “Golden Hour” type feeling at the start and finish area as the clock wound down and runners rolled through, contemplating whether they had the time or motivation to do one more lap. Then, at the stroke of 6 p.m., the race was over. Within a few minutes Nikki and her crew rolled out a delicious post-race spread of food and beverages, and a few minutes later they began the awards ceremony. During that time, while swapping stories of the day with all the new friends I’d made throughout our journey together, I realized once again the power of the ultrarunning community and how much we’ve all longed for connection over these past two years. The Red Barn Challenge does an incredible job of nurturing those connections and, along the way, I learned that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Tröegs Independent Brewing, one of the most popular craft breweries in Pennsylvania. Sunshine Pilsner is a bright, crispy pilsner with a flowery finish. This beer is perfect after a hot day on the trails or just about any time you long for a light, tasty brew.
Call for Comments
- Have you ever done timed event?
- If so, what do you think of this type of race in comparison to the more common distance-based events?