“On your left!” My hilly, frozen experience at the PHUNT 25K

Female runner, bundled up and running on wooded trail in the winter.
I ran the PHUNT 25K for the second time on Jan. 15, 2022. Photo by RunningMadPhoto.

I walked into the activity hall at the Fair Hill National Resources Management Area on Jan. 15 for the PHUNT 25K to hear Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did It Again” playing. I’m not sure whether this was coincidence or not, but I found the song funny, as it was true. Oops — I’d signed up for a tough race… again.

Runners coming down a wooded hill, including Vanessa Junkin.
Here I am making my way down a hill during the PHUNT 25K. Photo by Joe Andrews.

I signed up for this race the same day I finished the 2020 event. At the time, I was signing up for the 2021 race, but there was no in-person event last year because of the pandemic, so I deferred to 2022. I was impressed by all of the covid precautions at this event and it made me feel safe.

The ability to start the chip-timed race early was one of this year’s covid precautions. I drove up with three friends — Carla, Elizabeth and Michaela — and we also took our own precautions, each testing negative before the early morning drive to the Elkton area from Salisbury, which is more than two hours, and wearing masks in the car.

We decided to start early, at about 8:30 a.m., instead of 9 a.m. I appreciated the ability to spread out — however, I don’t think I’d do the early start again. I remembered from the 2020 race that the first four miles or so were pretty congested on the singletrack trails. After that, it spread out a lot.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin sipping from small cup with M*A*S*H character cutout.
Here I am enjoying a beer at the first aid station.

However, most of the race is actually singletrack trails — and this time, I was constantly hearing “On your left,” getting passed and having to move over. I completely understand that I’m not that fast, and I didn’t want to block anyone with my slower pace, but it still wasn’t ideal having to keep moving over and stopping to let others pass. It would probably make more sense for me to do the mass start and be near people similar to me in pace, or start late, if that were a possibility. I did get to see several friends along the way who passed me, so that was fun.

It was a bitter cold day — 16 degrees at the start, according to my phone. I had two soft flasks in my hydration pack instead of the bladder, which each had tubes to drink from. By the time I made it to the first aid station, which was around Mile 4.5, the tubes had frozen and I wasn’t able to drink from them. However, since I had brought the flasks instead of the bladder, I was able to open the lid and drink water as needed.

I was planning to start the race wearing a thermal hoodie (a running-specific hoodie), a vest, pants, mittens and a hat. However, when we arrived, it seemed much colder than it had been in Salisbury. So, I added another light jacket as a layer. I also wore the neck gaiter that participants received as race swag.

As in 2020, my first mile was the fastest of the day, at 12:16. This part isn’t as technical, and it’s wider, so for a mass start, it allows people to spread out. I was going to see how long I could stay with Carla and Elizabeth, but they quickly got away from me, so I ended up doing my own thing. My general strategy was to run when the course was flat or downhill and walk the uphills.

Female runner, Vanessa Junkin, smiling as she crosses bridge.
Here I am coming off a bridge, about to start another loop. Photo by Alissa Norman.

I’d ideally wanted to beat my prior time at this race, 4:05:50, but in seeing my times from the first few miles, I figured that likely wouldn’t happen. That was pre-pandemic, so I was probably a little faster in general, and I had also been running hills to prepare for the Publix Atlanta Marathon. This season, I haven’t been running hills at all.

Around Mile 2, I saw a runner pulled off to the side taking off a layer. I’d already started to get warm — somehow — so I decided it would be a good spot to pull over and shed a layer. I took off the jacket I’d added at the last minute, and as it was lightweight, I was able to stuff it into my pack.

The first aid station was again a M*A*S*H-themed aid station. Last time I ran this, I’d been doing Dry January, but this year, I decided to partake in the beer, where I had a mini cup of stout and one of IPA. The IPA was actually Three Floyds — not your typical aid station beer. I also had my water refilled, although it wasn’t that low — it had just frozen in the tubes — and had some M&Ms. I brought Clif Shot Bloks and ate some at each aid station.

Female runner, Vanessa Junkin, struggling to make it up steep, wooded hill.
Here I am making my way up the steepest hill of the course. Photo by Joe Andrews.

I got to see my friend Joe near this aid station — I think he was stationed just before it. He was taking photos. I’m definitely impressed by all the photographers, and all the volunteers, as it would have been so cold staying still (as opposed to moving as a race participant).

I continued to run and walk along the course, and came across a bridge, which was an entrance to a loop. Once we finished this loop, we’d be at the second aid station.

Along the way, the ground was hard because it was frozen. There were frozen footprints and hoof prints to make our way across.

At the second aid station, I had a pierogi and a grilled cheese with bacon, and I also had my water bottle refilled. This station had a fire going, too.

Female runner, Vanessa Junkin, smiling as she comes up a steep, wooded hill.
Here I am smiling once I saw Joe. Joe Andrews photo.

I knew the hill titled “Carl’s Torture Chamber” on Strava was not too far from this aid station, and soon after leaving the aid station, we went up a steep hill. However, I remembered the hill being even more steep, so I didn’t think we were there yet. I was correct. After heading down, we headed back up again for this extremely steep hill. There, I saw Joe again, who got my photo heading up the hill, which Strava logs as a 24.3 percent grade for 0.07 of a mile.

I needed a little recovery time after that hill, and I walked some. I’m not sure exactly where, but along the way, the bottoms of my feet started killing me. The pain was pretty bad, and I felt like I was changing my gait to avoid putting pressure on my feet. I still tried to keep going and run when I could. I’ve been having serious pain on the bottom of my feet after long runs, but it goes away after a couple days and is usually worse after the run rather than during. However, this time, it was bad both during and after the run. I finally decided to get it checked out this past week and the doctor did think it was plantar fasciitis; he gave me some suggestions.

The third aid station had a “Braveheart” theme, and I got a photo with the volunteers, who were dressed up and speaking in accents. I felt like I needed salt, so I had some chips. I also had a cookie. I grabbed a few cups of water to refill my bottle and one had a frozen circle of ice on top.

Steep, wooded hill nicknamed Carl's Torture Chamber.
Here is the most steep hill of the course: Carl’s Torture Chamber.

For the last bit, my pace was slipping, and I was just trying to see if I could stay under 20:00 miles. This was harder than it sounds. That aid station was around Mile 11, which took me 22:56. My remaining miles were 20:21, 18:10, 20:15, 19:24, and for the last bit, which I had 0.94 of a mile, 17:36 (18:43 pace).

The last part in the woods was not terrible as far as hills, but I knew there was a steep hill coming on a crushed gravel road toward the end. I ran a little bit of that, but then walked the rest of the hill. At the top of this hill, with another smaller hill on paved road to come, there was a skeleton wearing a PHUNT shirt with a bib that said “PHUCK CARL,” referring to the race director. I got a photo, as I felt like the skeleton, and continued along to the finish line.

I crossed the finish line after running and walking for almost five hours, with a time of 4:52:11. As I mentioned, I was toward the back, finishing as number 304 of 330 25K finishers. I kept giving myself different goals to finish under — such as finish under 4:30 and finish under 4:45. But it came to a point where I just wanted to make it to the end.

I got my finisher Phuckle and headed back to the activity hall, where I enjoyed some chili, the famous Phries and more grilled cheese with bacon. I also had a beer. It was nice to sit after all the pounding on my feet — and it was also hard to walk.

Vanessa Junkin takes a selfie with aid station volunteers dressed up for a "Braveheart" theme.
Here I am with volunteers from aid station three.

The elevation on my watch is always wrong, but the elevation corrections on Strava and Garmin logged 1,829 feet and 1,993 feet, respectively — either represents a lot of climbing for someone who lives and trains in Salisbury.

I mentioned the covid precautions earlier — in addition to staggered start times, people had to wear masks in the activity hall when not eating or drinking, and all participants had to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The race is $40 for 2023, and I’m assuming I paid about the same for this year’s race (I signed up in 2020… that was a long time ago!) The swag includes a neck gaiter, and for finishers, the medal. Additional swag is available for purchase. I have so much race swag that I appreciate the lower entry fee with less swag included.

Skeleton sitting on the ground with PHUNT hat, shirt and a bib reading "PHUCK CARL."
Here is a skeleton near the end of the course, which symbolized how I felt.

I’m going to take a break from this race for next year, as I want to mix up my races, but it was a great event, and if you’re looking for a challenge, this would be a good one for you! There is also a 50K, and for the first time this year, there was a 50-mile option. The race is already on a wait list — learn more here.


Mile 1: 12:16
Mile 2: 15:10
Mile 3: 18:53
Mile 4: 15:30
Mile 5: 18:54
Mile 6: 16:29
Mile 7: 17:42
Mile 8: 17:37
Mile 9: 22:08
Mile 10: 18:53
Mile 11: 22:56
Mile 12: 20:21
Mile 13: 18:10
Mile 14: 20:15
Mile 15: 19:24
Last part (watch had 0.94): 17:36 (18:43 pace)

Final time on watch: 4:52:19 for 15.94 miles / 18:20 average pace
Final time on results: 4:52:11 / 18:44 average pace

Read my BibRave review, and write your own, here.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin holding PHUNT 25K race medal.
Here I am with my medal (Phuckle) after finishing the PHUNT 25K.

4 thoughts on ““On your left!” My hilly, frozen experience at the PHUNT 25K

Comments are closed.