Race Report: Coventry Woods Trail Running Festival

by Kelly Ammon

After running Dirty German 50M in May, my plan for the summer was just to take it easy. No goals. No training schedule. No races. The plan was going smoothly until one day a notification popped up on my Facebook feed. (Damn you Targeted Ads!) Big Woods Running Club was having a Memorial Day special on their TrailFest. I could now suffer just as much but for less money! Perfect! 

I immediately texted Andy Styer, fellow Pacer and one of the race directors. 

[Actual transcript]:

Me: I can’t decide if I should sign up for your 10k or do the 3 hour one. Lol.

Andy: Well…the 6 hr sounds like fun : )

Me: Hahah. I’m trying to be responsible/take it easy

Andy: Well…then 3hr!

Keep in mind, my plan for the summer was just to take it easy. No goals. No training schedule. No races. Also keep in mind, Andy Styer is the most wonderful kind of crazy that will run World’s End 100k and Laurel Highlands 70M on back-to-back weekends

I compromised and signed up for the 3 hour.  

The morning of the race, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. I mean, I guess I could have, but it was mid-June in Pennsylvania and the humidity was less than 300%–in other words, ideal. Jokes aside, the weather for race day really was perfect and made the day much more enjoyable. I arrived at the course about 45 minutes before start time, made my way to check-in, got my race bib, and was handed the softest t-shirt I’ve ever owned. After moseying around for a little while before start time, I made my way to the port-a-potties and then the start line. The line really was magnificent: someone’s heel dragged across the ground to indicate a clear “start” and “end.” 

“It doesn’t need to be fancy. If you’ve got a love and appreciation for nature– and at times like to saunter, walk, jog, hike, run, dance through it–that’s what matters.” –Kelly Ammon

I know my tone does at times lean towards sarcastic, but sincerely, the dirt drawn start line really was one of the best things about the day and a great reminder of why I love trail running. It doesn’t need to be fancy. If you’ve got a love and appreciation for nature– and at times like to saunter, walk, jog, hike, run, dance through it–that’s what matters. 

My goal for the race was to complete 3 laps in 3 hours, and I knew the course would make that a challenge. In the early spring I did a group run at Coventry with the Big Woods Running Club, so I was familiar with the course. There is a lot of climbing in the first half (~900 feet of vert/lap) and the second half, while downhill, has plenty of rocks and roots to keep you on your toes. I really, really love this particular type of course.  I knew if I could make it through the first part with its challenging climbs, then I’d be able to make up some time on the latter half of the course. Since it’s a time-limit race, I knew my biggest challenge would be the clock. In order to complete 3 laps in 3 hours, I’d have to push it each and every lap. Typically, I like to ease myself into a race–start a bit conservatively, get faster gradually, and then, if all goes well, hammer at the end. With a 3-hour limit, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to ease into it. What if my first comfortable lap made it impossible to run 3 in 3? I decided the best strategy was to hammer from the start until the wheels came off, and that’s exactly what I did. 

The first lap of the race I ran as much as I could, only power hiking on the steepest climbs. I definitely pushed, making sure to set myself up with enough time to finish my third lap. On the last half of the first lap, I shared a few paces with the guy who would go on to be the first male overall for the 6-hour race. (Important to note first male overall, because our very own Karin Tursack was the real OVERALL winner for the 6 hour race! #goals #You’veBeenTursacked)  

He mentioned how he wasn’t usually into “racing” but, damn, he really wanted to get the dinosaur trophy. At that moment, he perfectly summed up my feelings towards this race. I usually race against myself: I have my own personal goal I’d like to beat. Then I have goals B,C, D, E, F etc. if/when the wheels fall off. Never do my goals for a race include finishing before x # of competitors or in xth place. It’s always me against me. Except maybe when there’s a 3-D printed trophy of a velociraptor on the line, and, in that case, hot damn, I wanna win. 

“When there’s a 3-D printed trophy of a velociraptor on the line…hot damn, I wanna win.” –Kelly Ammon

I made it through the first lap comfortably under an hour. I knew I had set myself up for success for the second and third laps, but I didn’t want to relax too soon. I cruised through the aid station and on the next climbs, tried to toe the line between all-out aggressiveness and being too conservative. It’s usually the mid-race miles that I struggle with the most. The first few miles, I am high on the energy of the crowd and the event. The last few miles, I am driven by the idea of being over this sh*t. The middle miles can be a cesspool of pain, doubt, and stomach agitation. This is usually the point of a race where I begin reciting a mantra. Science extols the benefits of a positive mantra. Sometimes mine is “happy pace, happy face, happy race.” However, more often during this point in a race, my mantra is “pick up your feet, dumbass.” In these middle miles it becomes so easy to get lulled into complacency and tiredness with your feet; the next thing you know you’re doing a Superman sprawl into the rocks. (I always seem to fall during the “easy” parts of a race. Give me a technical downhill and I’ll send it; I’m much more likely to trip over my own feet on a marginally bumpy gravel section of trail.) Fortunately, my only fall in this race came as I was slowly walking uphill and only resulted in some slightly skinned palms. Shout out to fellow Pacer, Fred Foose, who fell, finished his 6 hour race, got beers, and ONLY THEN got four stitches in his finger. What a BEAST!!

I finished my second lap well under 2 hours and was feeling pretty good. Even if I resorted to power hiking every single climb of the last lap, I was pretty certain I’d be able to finish 3 laps in 3 hours. The little voice in the back of my mind kept me from taking it completely easy, but I was able to finish my third lap within 3 hours. As I crossed the finish line, I double-checked with the race director and he assured me I was done with the race and confirmed I was the winner of a dinosaur trophy!!! I wish I didn’t care so much about a plastic velociraptor trophy, but I’m sorry, dinosaurs are cool, and I’m glad I have a trophy commemorating them. Without dinosaurs, we couldn’t drive. In all seriousness, Coventry Woods Trail Fest is an amazing event that I would recommend to anyone. The race directors, volunteers, and members of the Big Woods Running Club are some of the best, friendliest, most caring people you will ever meet; the course is great, but the people are what make this race truly special.  

“Dinosaurs are cool, and I’m glad I have a trophy commemorating them. Without dinosaurs, we couldn’t drive.” –Kelly Ammon

Double Race Report: Worlds End 100k and Laurel Highlands 70-miler

by Andy Styer

I never intended to do these two races the same year, since they take place on back-to-back weekends. The plan was always to just do Laurel Highlands and that’s it. Well, I had my name on the waitlist for Worlds End, just in case I didn’t get into Laurel for some reason. I actually forgot about it, and since I was pretty deep on the list, I never removed myself once I was officially registered for Laurel Highlands. The last 3 weeks before the race I catapulted from 93rd down to single digits. It wasn’t until a week before Worlds End that I actually got in. I had a little help, too, but that’s not for public knowledge : )

So, the real question was, could I actually pull this off ? Worlds End is a course that always had my number. I finished in 2020 @ 18hrs 4 minutes, and in 2021 I DNF’d at mile 35. Laurel Highlands I did in 2019 with a finish time of 17hr 13 minutes. No crew, no pacer. 

For Worlds End, I quickly assembled a team of pacers and crew. I secured a camping spot where my good friend and training buddy Kyle was renting a yurt. The race started off great–I wasn’t trying to kill it, just trying to finish it! All was well until my stomach turned south and my pacers & crew had their hands full with a runner in the “pain cave.” They all had explicit instructions from me to not let me drop unless I broke a leg. They didn’t, in spite of my whining and fits. They kept me going and I was able to finish in 18 hours and 55 minutes. 5 minutes to spare!

At Laurel, this time, I just had my crew of Kim (my partner) and Nathan (my son), who met me at every crew access point. No pacers, but the race went well. Laurel Highlands is a similar course in elevation gain, but it has many more flowing, runnable sections. This race went rather well, and I finished in 17 hours and 52 minutes. 

Andy finishing the Laurel Highlands 70-mile ultra just a week after running Worlds End 100k!

I was rather surprised that I could do these back-to-back. There was little to no recovery coming from hard 70-80 mile training weeks to Worlds End, and then really no recovery time head into Laurel Highlands. I really cherished this feat and the support I got from my family and friends. 

What’s next on the race calendar you say? Nothing,  just rest and having fun on the trails!

Race Report: The Seneca7

by Lisa Domeshek

In the early morning hours of Halloween 2019, I sit at my computer, stretching my fingers, preparing myself for the frenzy of the Seneca7 race registration.  The race is known to sell out within minutes, so I have to move quickly if I don’t want to miss out.  True to form, my friend Emily types faster and fortunately secures our spot.  We’re excited and have no idea that we won’t embark on this adventure for two and half long years.

The Seneca7 is an annual relay race held in April that spans 77.7 miles in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  Teams of seven runners complete three separate legs ranging between 2.5 and 6.2 miles on roads surrounding beautiful Seneca Lake.  The format is similar to a road Ragnar Relay with the team riding in a van during off-legs.  The exchange points are often at local wineries and breweries, which the region is known for. There is also an option to form a bike team where you cycle opposed to riding in a van during your non-running legs. This would be quite the challenge as you are self-supported in either case. 

Fellow Pacers Donna and Blair introduced me to the race.  They had been participating for a few years and Donna had already formed a team, so I rounded up six other running friends. (The list of teammates ended up changing so many times before we actually got to run the race!)  We name our team “Pour Choices” and make cute matching hats. We meet several times to plan the logistics, including renting a house and a van, planning what we want to eat, and exploring which wineries we might want to visit after race day. 

It’s now March 2020.  Our grocery lists are ready to go, we requested time off work, and we spent a decent chunk of change. But you know what happens next – everything is canceled.  Our excitement quickly fades to disappointment.

The race offers a virtual option, but we decide not to participate.  We receive the option to forfeit our money, with a portion being donated to charity, with an automatic entry for the following year, avoiding the morning registration frenzy.  2021 comes and the race is once again held virtually, which still isn’t how we want to participate.  However, we still have automatic entry for the following year. 

2022 rolls around and it looks like we are finally going to get to do this! But for various reasons, three of our team members have to back out.  This shouldn’t be too big of an issue though; we have a great local running community, and this race sounds awesome.  Donna’s team is going through something similar and is also looking for teammates.  At this point, the race requires participants to be fully vaccinated.  Also, we need runners who can get away for a weekend, preferably a long one, as the race is on a Sunday and takes the full day, and ughhh Hyner is the same weekend. Donna and I are both scrambling and asking the same pool of runners.  By the beginning of March, we finally have our team together.

We found a house again, but no cute matching hats this time.  My energy for planning and replanning this trip is really starting to wane. Two weeks out, a team member gets injured, which was way worse for her than it was for us. We double-checked but Seneca 7 won’t let us start the race with six runners.  Desperately, we try to secure one more runner and with a stroke of luck we find the perfect fit three days before we must submit our final roster. Game on! 

Our final team includes Karla Reppert, Jackie Snyder, Kate Willis, Jenn Guigley, Emily Trudel, Blair Hogg, and myself. Maybe we could have come up with a much funnier team name, but it’s too late for that now. 

We get ourselves up to Seneca Lake and it’s finally race day with a 6 a.m. start and I am runner #1 — Eeekkk! The teams start in waves, and we are in the first. The race starts at the top of the lake in Geneva and runs counterclockwise around the lake ending back in Geneva.  My first leg is beautiful.  The temperature is in the low 50s, and I get to watch the sun rise over the water while I run 3.8 miles over a few rolling hills. When I finish running, I hand off a slap bracelet to runner #2, Jackie, and get on a shuttle to rejoin my team at the second exchange. Legs 1 and 2 involve a shuttle to help alleviate traffic; after that, you are in the van. 

Our entire team is running well and having a great time. Then it’s time for my second leg. Now I am fully awake and ready to go. My second leg is 3.3 miles, and I am running my heart out. The first mile is straight downhill, and I am passing the very few runners that are ahead of us.  We are all running better than expected. I get to a turn and some lively spectators partying on their porch yell, “Wait for It!!!” and sure enough I round a sharp turn to a very steep uphill. Ughhh — I was not prepared for this, and I don’t want to become “roadkill.” (Teams are tallying their “roadkill”–the number of runners they pass–and it is recorded in the results.)  So straight up I go for a mile, finishing this leg on the flat main road and now it is HOT! The temperature rose to the high 80s with no clouds and a “real feel” of 90. Two years ago, it had snowed right before the race. 

Everyone proceeds to run their second leg just as well, and it’s time for my last leg. I was originally a little nervous about being stuck in a van for such a long time but the day has flown by. Something was always happening.  My last leg is 3.7 miles and feels flat, but is slightly downhill. I am very thankful that I have not been on a bicycle between legs at this point, as it feels so brutally hot. I finish, and it’s finally time for a beer! Blair is our last runner and we all meet up to run the final part of his leg as a team to the finish. Little do we know, he has finally passed the guy in front of him, and he plans on really running it in, so we chase him down, unprepared, which is a little comical. 

Overall, this race was very well organized and a lot of fun. I can see why it sells out so quickly every year. Pour Choices placed 109 out of the 211 teams, at 12:31:17. Not too bad considering that we just wanted an excuse to have fun, drink wine, and visit the Finger Lakes.

Race Report: Hyner 50k

by Jason Karpinski

April 23, 2022

To say my first Hyner 50k experience was unique is an understatement. My day started bright and early around 3:45 a.m. with a shower. Michelle and I left at half past 4 (as planned) with an ETA of 7:27 a.m. All was going smoothly, and my mind was at ease…until my low tire pressure light switched on somewhere in the neighborhood of Minersville. One quick stop at a nearby Sheetz turned quickly to panic when their air pump was out of order, and I was able to put a dent in my tire with little effort. Frantically, I found a nearby Sunoco which was a mere 2.5 miles away. Unfortunately, as many of you may know, Pottsville’s roads are fairly unforgiving. Every bump in the road felt like a cramping hamstring (more of that to come later in the day). After paying $2 to attempt filling my tire, I faced the seemingly daunting task of changing my first flat tire. Luckily the donut was in good shape, and we were quickly back on the road. 

Our ETA was now 8:02.

Did I mention that the race start was scheduled to start at 8:00??

Several deep breaths were needed to calm myself down to a reasonable level. The temptation to hit the gas was overwhelming; however, the desire to arrive safely was even greater. All was well, and I was confident I would be able to start a couple minutes late, even if it meant pleading graciously with RD, Craig Fleming. As our trip progressed, I proceeded to calm further, that is, until we hit a stretch of 45 miles on US-220. Since we had to limit our speed to 50 mph on the donut, we realized the ETA on my GPS app wasn’t accurate, as we saw it tick later and later. I felt my anxiety growing and growing.

By the time we arrived at 9650 Renovo Rd in North Bend, PA, it was nearly 8:30. By now I was significantly less confident I would even be given the chance to start the race. My saving grace was that the 25k started at 9 and there were already designated cut-off times which would force me to switch my race regardless.

Upon scrambling to find the appropriate personnel to get my bib (#1913), I was sent to find my way to the start line and officially start my race day. As the miles ticked away, I traversed the many named trails along the way: Carl’s Way, Humble Hill, Post Draft, Johnson Way, S.O.B., and Huff Run. During my miles I had the fortune of seeing many familiar faces and meeting many others. Luckily, my legs carried me through the miles with general ease until a downhill of what seemed like miles. During this downhill my right hamstring felt like it would either cramp until my heel touched by backside or simply tear in half. Small steps lend relief from danger, and I made it to the bottom. Mile 24 and I saw my car in the distance, with a brand spanking new tire, courtesy of our very own Pagoda Pacer President, Michelle Henry. Relief swept through my mind, and I was greeted by the joyous smiling face of Michelle. 7 miles to go and one more long climb to reach the finish line. Upon finishing, I checked to make sure my time was official (6:20:23), so that the quest for the Black List could continue.

There was one person missing from this race weekend, and this was unfortunately a result of his passing at the top of the first climb during last year’s race. This man was Carl Undercofler, a Hyner legend, and someone I unfortunately never got to meet. His presence was felt by everyone, however, as his face was appropriately plastered on every race bib. Throughout the day I was reminded how awesome the running community is. From volunteers and spectators to fellow runners, my day was filled with smiling faces and words of encouragement. It all culminated in a unique experience which I will never forget, and a race that I would highly recommend to all trail runners.

Race Report: Devil Dog 100-miler

by Lou Donofrio

On December 4th, I raced the Devil Dog 100-miler in Prince William Forest Park, Virginia, having also finished 4th in the race in 2019.  

This year was warm during the day, and I was comfortable running in shorts and a t-shirt. However, racing a trail 100-miler in December meant that most of the race would be in the dark.  Once the sun went behind the hills, I added layers, and ran with a head lamp and a waist light. The added lumens were key to navigating the rooty, leaf-covered single-track trails in the dark.  

I finished 8th overall in 24:21:11, enjoyed another buckle, ate, slept, went to work, and began planning for the next training block.

Happy trails!  

North Half Fjallakofans (Iceland) 25k Race Report

August 26, 2021

by Michael Whalen

Our Iceland trip was originally planned to compete in the Road Marathon on Reykjavik. As in most places, the race, sports expo, and city celebrations were postponed. The initial six days of the trip were filled with hiking, casual running and viewing icebergs, waterfalls, and a volcano. I really was not disappointed that the marathon was cancelled.

On day six we arrived at a quaint fishing town that appeared to have some trails on a really big mountain range. After lunch, I decided to walk the town, find a trailhead and determine where I could run 12ish miles and get some elevation. I easily found a trail that appeared to be an out-and-back with some good climb included.  I phoned my sister and we decided to meet at the Segal Brewpub. The 3 of us arrived from different directions at the same time. There was a fair amount of people outside and there was a line to what looked like the hostess stand. Here is where things became fun.

We walked up to Helga and my sister noted she had a laptop and race bibs! We looked at each other and Jodi knew what my next steps would be. I quickly learned that tomorrow morning there was a 25k and also a 50k race, starting in the next town, 30 minutes away. I stayed in line and asked Helga for more info. “The race is sold out, and we are not allowing day-of registration.” Using a bit of persuasion and some begging, pleading, and appearance of sadness, I managed to convince her to give me her email address so I could follow up with her after all the bibs were picked up. I sent an email, basically adding all the info that you would put onto a race application, my Strava name, and screen shots from the week’s runs/hikes. I am guessing that my begging, knowing what info to send, and my Blues Cruise hat and Labor Pain 55-mile vest sealed the deal. In 16 hours, I would be running a 25K!!!!  Since she was not equipped for payment, Helga reported there would not be a fee for my entry. (I did slip her some cash on race day.) 

My excitement was off the charts. Let’s drink some local beers and figure out the next steps. I found the race photographer (from California) and his “crew”, including a road marathoner, doing her first trail race. I was able to arrange a ride to the starting line with the marathoner. Jordan’s wife was not racing but helped mark the course and reported that there is a varied terrain and snow on the course! I was also told to expect a few big climbs. A few more beers and something kind of healthy for dinner, back to the hotel to do race prep. Hokas, shorts, race shirts….check. Running vest, water bottles, gels, fuel….NOPE! I have never been less prepared for a race.

Race day: The race started at 11:00 a.m., allowing time to sleep in, enjoy 2 coffees and a good breakfast. I was in the lobby early and the ride to the start was uneventful. There was a hotel at the starting line and it appeared that all rooms were booked by runners. Why was registration at the finish line and not here? Karma for me! The music was playing, a few professional-looking podcasters were recording, and 50K runners were passing through. My pre-race happiness was kicking in. We lined up and a very long pre-race announcement was delivered. I was hoping that it was more nothing important, since the speech was not in English! 

We lined up and off we went! The initial 1.5 miles were on street and the marathoner I met was at a 6 min/mile pace. I settled in before the first hill. No need for poles for the rolling initial 3 miles. Then things became real. I found a few English-speaking runners and learned there was only 1 aid station and it would have drinks and maybe a piece of candy.

For the next 3 hours, I ran in mud, crossed 12 streams, had wind that blew us sideways, 3 snow fields (one that was on a slope that caused many runners to slide about 100 yards off course), moss bogs that were like running on a soft mattress, several 4 foot straight up climbs, fields with no markings (often not knowing if we were on course), a river, and a few climbs that were similar to the Leg Destroyer. I passed the marathoner at mile 6 and she was struggling with the PA-style rocks but having fun. I made good progress on the uphills (thank you Leki) and was feeling pretty good for the duration of the race.

Not knowing the course had the disadvantage of not knowing how hard to push for an 18 mile race. I went at it aggressively and after the mile 13 river crossing noted that the course was dirt road and street into the finish line. Time for the after burners for a 8:02, 8:42, 9:15 final 3 miles.  

The town was packed with cheering fans: a Norwegian style band was playing and the excitement was better than awesome! 3 hours and 15 minutes for the 16 miles with 3,719 of ascent. 36th place and 2nd in my Age Group.

In closing I am grateful for having the Karma of finding this race, being permitted to compete, having enough gear to “wing it”, finishing uninjured and not lost in the August snow and using the great advice from my fellow Pagoda Pacers to figure this one out.   Bless Bless! (Icelandic for goodbye)

Race Report: Rock Your Socks 5k

by Robert Stichter

I ran this race on March 20th at Cairns University. The track club held its annual Rock Your Socks 5k. This was a benefit for World Down Syndrome Day. My son, Hunter, who will be 1 on April 6th, has Down’s. This was his first race! (Well, I pushed him in a running stroller.) The race was just a little longer than a 5K: 3.21 miles. 3/21 is World Down Syndrome Day. “3.21” also signifies the Trisomy 21. Trisomy 21 is the most common chromosomal anomaly in humans, affecting about 5,000 babies born each year and more than 350,000 people in the United States. If you look at the shape of the chromosomes of Trisomy 21, it looks like a pair of mismatched socks (hence, “Rock Your Socks”). So each runner was asked to wear a pair of mismatched socks, which Hunter and I did. We completed the 3.21 rolling hills race in 36 minutes. Not too bad for having fun, pushing a stroller, and oh yeah–taking a time-out to change a diaper. LOL!

Two Race Reports by Blair Hogg

Run for the Elk

(5k, 10k, and Half-Marathon)

With everything being canceled due to the pandemic, it was surprising that these races were able to be held. Fortunately for the group of us from the Reading area that went, the pandemic had subsided in August allowing smaller gatherings, and the races went on. 

We had heard about these races awhile back, and a group of us thought it would be fun to rent a lodge in Elk County, run some trail races, and enjoy the outdoors and time with our friends. The initial group was about 10 people; unfortunately the pandemic brought us down to 6. It worked out well, as we were able to keep relatively socially distant even though we were sharing a lodge together. 

The races were held in Elk County, near the town of St. Mary’s. It is a beautiful part of PA, with gorgeous vistas where you might actually get a chance to see elk grazing in the fields. We were excited about the races, and for visiting this area and experiencing what it had to offer. 

Our group arrived on Friday evening, and our first stop was the famous Straub Brewery in St. Mary’s. Dinner was excellent, and the beer was rather good as well. Might as well pick up a few six packs of beer for later! Straub has a decent variety, and the lo-cal IPA is pretty tasty!

We arrived at the lodge we rented, got settled in, and relaxed. Some stretching and foam rolling was needed to prepare for the races in the morning. Once everyone had gotten prepared, the group turned in for a good night’s sleep.

We got up on Saturday fairly early, as the 5k and 10k races were approximately 30 minutes away at Parker Dam State Park. It is a lovely facility, with fishing, boating, camping, and, of course, trails for running. The races were primarily held on park roads which were a mixture of dirt, gravel, and pavement. The races were chip timed, and a “rolling start” allowed for social distancing during the race. Once you picked up your bib, you proceeded to the starting line and began the race. 

The 5k was held on the main park road as an out-and-back course, with some hills. What’s a race without hills? (We’ll answer that later). The course ran past the lake and boating area, and was very well-run. Race times and results were to be posted on the Internet after the race and awards would be mailed. All of the fast runners in my age group must have slept in, as I finished in a little over 29 minutes and took first!

The 10k was held on the 5k course, but was extended on another park road for 1.55 miles. This was not the originally intended course, but trail conditions had forced the change. And the best part was that the extra 1.55 miles was all uphill! Nonetheless, we all managed to complete both races, with several of us bringing home age-group awards. Unfortunately, the fast guys showed up for the 10K, and I settled for third. 

We returned back to our lodge for some breakfast and showers, then went off to tour the area in search of elk. The Elk Visitor’s Center is an excellently maintained facility, with walking trails and benches where visitors can watch for elk. Unfortunately, no elk were to be seen. We checked out other areas looking for these majestic creatures, saw some beautiful countryside, but unfortunately, no elk. Tomorrow is another day. 

Back at the lodge we had the typical runner’s meal of pasta and meatballs, hoping to replace some calories for tomorrow’s half marathon. After dinner it was a beautiful night, and I had brought along a telescope, so the group was able to see some nice sights in the sky, including the rings of Saturn. We couldn’t stay up too late, though, as there was a race to be run in the morning!

On Sunday, we all got ready and headed to Emporium for the start of the half marathon. The course was originally a point-to-point race from St. Mary’s; however, with the pandemic still rearing its ugly head, the course had to be changed to an out-and-back on a rail trail. It would have been difficult to pack runners into buses and shuttle folks from the finish to the start under the existing conditions. 

Off we went on the 40-minute drive to Emporium. It was a pleasant ride, and along the way we saw elk! They were just hanging out in fields beside the road having breakfast on the grasses. Finally, after being in the area for nearly 2 days, we got to see elk. 

The half marathon was also a rolling start, so as soon as we arrived and got our numbers pinned on, we were able to start. Bottled water was available along the course, and we carried water with us and refilled as needed. The rail trail was flat and rather uninteresting, which made for a bit of a boring race. It was probably good, though, as we were still recovering from the previous day’s races. We all finished, and after the races we were treated to wine slushies and live entertainment! All in all, it was a good weekend, and something to be considered for next year. Having a decent group in a rented lodge made the experience even more rewarding. 

End of the Road Half Marathon

Up for a little adventure? Looking for interesting races? That about sums up me earlier in the year with most everything being canceled. Then I see something pop up on my Facebook feed about the End of the Road Half Marathon. Well, this looks interesting. The course is on an abandoned section of the PA turnpike near Breezewood, and includes running through two tunnels! This could be cool! Or, it could be awful! Well, only one way to find out!

Donna Hey and I signed up for the afternoon race. With the pandemic still being a concern in mid-October, the race directors came up with the idea of having a morning race and an afternoon race, to allow more people to experience the event. Since it was a 2-hour drive, the afternoon start would allow us time to get there without having to get up at 4 in the morning. Sounded like a win-win, with the only drawback being that even in mid to late October, there could be some warm days, and a morning start could be preferable. 

Race day arrived with near perfect running conditions predicted. We began our journey with enough time allowed to get to the event, pick up our packets, loosen up and stretch after the ride, and run the race. It was looking to be a great day. 

I had gone into this race with a tentative goal of completing a half marathon in under two hours. I wasn’t sure that I was up to the challenge yet. I had been running intervals on the Muhlenberg rail trail hoping to improve my pace. I had initially started with 8 repeats of 2 minute intervals which got ’em about a half mile per interval. I had started increasing the interval length to 3- and 4-minute intervals, but thought I might have started too late to get to my goal. Only one way to find out!

The race started normally, with cones 8 feet apart to allow for social distancing at the start. Chip timing was used so starting back a bit wasn’t a concern. At shortly after 2pm, we were off.

The race began with a modest uphill climb, not terribly steep but nearly a mile long. At the top of the hill we entered the first of the tunnels. Headlamps were needed, as the first tunnel was over a half mile long and the second tunnel was over a mile long! I reached the first mile in under 9 minutes! I was surprised at that given the uphill start and wasn’t sure that I could hold that pace, but might as well give it a try. Coming out of the first tunnel was a decent downhill, might as well bank some time! And, since it is an out-and-back course, each downhill turns into an uphill on the return. 

At about 4 miles, the course began another uphill climb towards the second tunnel, and we got there a little after mile 5. The tunnels were rather neat to run through with graffiti on the walls and the floor. And the road surface in the tunnels was in pretty decent shape, so you didn’t need to pay too much attention to footing!

Exiting the second tunnel brought you to the turnaround. I was under an hour! I might actually achieve my goal! Can’t get too excited, though, as there was still a decent uphill climb going back towards the first tunnel. At the turnaround, I grabbed a water, and ventured back through the tunnel on the return trip. Even in the dark, I managed to pick out Donna to give her encouragement. 

The uphill going out to the second tunnel was now a downhill,  so I could bank some time and catch my breath at the same time. That uphill going back was going to be a challenge. I checked my Garmin at mile 10 prior to starting up the hill and thought I had a bit of time to spare. 

And that hill was a challenge. It was the steepest part of the course, and I even stopped and walked a bit. Today may not be my day. I finally made it to the top and entered the first tunnel going back the other way. At least there was a downhill to the finish!

With a little help from gravity, I pushed toward the finish. When I got close enough to see the clock, it was at 1:58! Come on, I can do this! Crossed the mat at 1:59:41, and the start delay gave me a chip time of 1:59:30! I did it! And also managed to achieve a 3rd place finish in my age group!

The proceeds from the race go to help the efforts to develop the area into a park, providing for maintaining and improving the old roadways. Running through the tunnels is a blast, and I highly recommend to keep an eye on this race for next year. You won’t regret it!

The View 25k (11/08/2020)

by Jason Karpinski

The author and Penelope-the-Pup; photo by Michelle Henry

Over 300 runners gathered at the start line with “The View” looming overhead. Race Director Craig Fleming briefly addressed the participants and quickly gave up the mic because “he worked too hard not to run the race.” The gun goes off and the shuffle of feet begins. This was my first time at the heralded Hyner Challenge course in North Bend, PA. The misfortune of the Hyner cancellation earlier in the year became my fortune to enter this “once-and-done” race. A course which featured many of the staples in this area, including: Humble Hill, Cliffhanger, Post Draft, and the seemingly vertical SOB Hill.

As the first couple miles unraveled, I somehow ended up immediately ahead of previously mentioned RD, Craig Fleming. This unique experience gave me an inside look into the preparation taken to make the course race-ready. Such preparation involved cutting downed trees, re-routing the usual course to add a mile and more elevation (because the regular course simply would not cut it), and even leaf-blowing several miles. While learning of the work put into the course, I had my first Humble Hill experience, which will certainly not be forgotten. Shouts of joy could be heard from a select few runners picking their way up and up and up. Approximately 1900 feet of elevation gain and we reached the first aid station around mile 3.5. Crews at this aid station and the 2 others were quick to help the runners and offer words of encouragement.

The miles continued, as did the hills. Around mile 8 we hit a section of the course which was believe it or not, downhill. However, this downhill was unlike any I have ever run–approximately 3/4 of a mile steady downhill marred with large, grapefruit-sized rocks (an absolute ankle destroyer). Moisture on the course was nearly non-existent, which in my opinion made for a great race day, but it was almost too clean. That is, until we reached mile 10 and were faced with SOB Hill–a hill which is wrought with loose dirt and stones, and what seemed like a 70° pitch. Luckily this was the last of the hills, and we were told at the third aid station that the last 4-5 miles were flat or downhill.

The last several miles flew by and before you knew it you were crossing the finish line to a round of applause, cheers, and cow-bells from the on-lookers and those who run just a bit faster than I. Hot food and cold beverages awaited, as did a beautiful mid-day ride back home where the memories of the day were relived with others and stored for later runs. The Hyner course and surrounding area is one that should not be missed and added to trail running fans’ wish lists. I know I will certainly be back in the future.

Keep running, smiling, and being kind to others.

Race Report: Worlds End 100k, September 26, 2020

by Elaine Cook

I have wanted to run Worlds End for several years, after hearing Joanne Van Horn, Lori Johnson, Tom Chobot, Jess Gockley, April Zimmerman, and other rock stars talk about its beauty and ruggedness. After two years of fighting nagging injuries, I felt I’d turned the corner and signed up for the 100k in 2020. However, I continued to struggle with minor nagging tendonitis that never totally went away. I watched my calendar and training log with a growing sense of doom. THEN Covid hit and everything was cancelled or postponed. I took a hard break and started at ground zero with training. In April I was running 9 slow flat miles per week without pain, but I was sure WE would have to cancel.  

Fast forward to September, and the rescheduled race was a go!  I’d been running lots of mountainous 20 milers at Hamburg, but on an August training weekend at WE it took me 11 hours to run 50K–much too slow to stay ahead of the cutoffs. Worlds End allows 19 hours for the 100K.  I went into the race with the audacious goal of being able to run for 18+ hours, but knowing that unless everything went perfectly, I would likely get pulled at one of the later aid stations for missing a cutoff time. The late September start meant 7 hours of dark running on wild terrain for the back-of-packers: a real concern for me in keeping on pace.  

Since the 50K had been cancelled, and some runners deferred to 2021, only 109 runners started Saturday in the misty dark at 5 AM. Jogging across the starting line and through the park with Fran Mahalak, Joanne, Lori, and Laura Yoder, I wasn’t too worried about the first couple hours of dark–I knew there’d be runners around me. And there were–for half an hour or so. WE puts small reflectors on the ends of the ribbon used to mark the course, but I really wished for a lot more flags. I kept getting into gaps where I was alone, and then I’d fear I’d lost the trail and I’d slow to a walk while I searched for flags. Someone would catch me, but I was too nervous on the very rocky terrain to keep up in the dark, so I’d be right back in trouble. I kept tamping down panic until the sun came up, and I found myself running with Fran and Lea Becker, 2 veterans. Lea told me, “I’m going to finish, but I’ll be near the cutoff.  Anyone after me, even now, probably isn’t going to make it.” I took that seriously, but I lost her when my husband (Alan) was unexpectedly at Sones Pond aid station #2. I dropped off my light, got updates on the Pacers running ahead of me, picked up some food and water, and set out on a mission to catch Lea. 

The early morning was stunning! Golden light made the yellowing ferns glow along the rocky and low Loyalsock creek. Leaves were starting to turn, and there were purple asters everywhere. Rocks and waterfalls, up and down. There weren’t many runners around me at all. Up to Devil’s Garden, down to Worlds End, a small cluster of runners here and there passing me on technical stretches or falling behind me on runnable parts. I was focusing hard on those flags! I knew I didn’t have time to get lost and still keep ahead of cutoffs. At Worlds End my crew was cheering as I came off the Link Trail behind the Visitor’s Center and crossed the road.  I got a huge lift seeing Mike Whalen and Matt Brophy and knowing they were ready to run some miles with me! Alan was waiting with a chair and my gear laid out:  quick change of shoes and socks, some pickles and potato chips, water refill and a bag of gels, and I was off up the steep climb toward Canyon Vista. This section overlapped with the half marathon going on at the same time (the ultra was rescheduled to the half marathon date due to COVID).  Different colored flags were everywhere, and runners were going both directions.  It was confusing! I was grateful to finally branch off and onto ultra-only trail again. 

The view at Canyon Vista takes your breath away!  I was starting to believe I could finish, 20+ miles in and feeling great!  Still chasing Lea though.  I fully believed that if I could catch her, I would finish.  

After Canyon, the Pacer Aid Station is next at Coal Mine. I was gradually passing some other runners and listening hard for the horns and the yelling. The Pacers pampered me and got me in and out fast, with a bellyful of soup and grilled cheese and some sage words from the ax bearer, Jess Gockley. And surprising news: I was ahead of Lea! I knew I was close to Joanne, Lori, and Laura and on pace to beat cutoffs. Eight miles to High Knob at mile 35 where Mike Whalen would pace me the next 15 miles. I consider that stretch the most beautiful and most difficult. It’s also the longest gap between aid stations, but in return you get some amazing vistas and gorgeous waterfalls. When we trained here in August, this part was slick and treacherous, but on race day it was dry and I felt like I was flying. Even the wooden ladder and eroded trail at Rode Falls didn’t scare me. I got to share some miles with Laura, and before I knew it we had popped out onto the road, and I was rolling into High Knob, over 90 minutes ahead of the cutoff.

Alan had a well-trained pit crew by this time! New shoes and socks, a quick stretch and pack refill, and Mike and I were off, butt sliding down the first steep drop and then rolling along comfortably down a long, runnable descent, up an endless climb, and back down to Dry Run.  In and out, head lamps ready, another long climb and we were trying to cover miles. I was still feeling good, but getting tired and stiff and I knew I’d have trouble negotiating the rocks in the dark. Mike assured me I was on track to finish, but he kept me moving and made sure I ate and hydrated on schedule, entertaining me all the while. The woods at dusk were beautiful, but we were losing daylight.  We almost missed one turn as darkness fell, but were saved by some campers, and we made it into Brunnerdale mile 50 a little over an hour ahead of the cutoff.  

The pit crew was ready, and Alan got me in my last dry shoes and socks, fresh headlamp and flashlight, fuel and water, and Matt guided me out into the last leg of the journey in full dark.  I was stiff and sore and growing concerned that I was losing ground against the final cutoffs.  There were two big climbs after Brunnerdale; everything was rocky and difficult, and it wasn’t just dark, but also a little misty making my glasses fog up. Mike got a perky and talkative Elaine, but Matt got an exhausted, fretful, mostly silent Elaine–sorry Matt! Matt found me the flags and talked books with me–everything to keep my mind off my complaints. I know he was getting worried that I was moving too slowly. At the last aid station, Fern Rock, the volunteers told us we could make it but NO WALKING! It is entirely runnable for that last 6 miles…or would be if I hadn’t already covered 58 treacherous miles since 5 AM! 

So we ran (mostly) and ran and ran and ran, and where the HELL is that last steep drop?  FINALLY we were dropping down the last steep trail. I was bleeding time off the clock, too stiff to run the steep parts and scared I’d fall and in a terror of getting this close and missing the deadline. Matt was calm and measured every step. At last the trail flattened out, and there were Stephan Weiss and Dan Govern cheering us onto the paved path to the parking lot and the finish. 

18:49:41, 60th of 64 finishers.  As she’d predicted, Lea was the last finisher a few minutes later!  A belt buckle, a hug from Alan, a blur of congratulations, and an utter crash of nausea, exhaustion, and almost cramping muscles. I missed everything that happened for the next hour, a far cry from the celebration I imagined I would have if I somehow finished that thing! BUT I had the time of my life! Epic, hard, agonizing, breathtaking, magnificent! Every single person crewing, volunteering, running, and cheering was a part of making that day great! I loved everything about it. I could never have finished without my husband, my crew–especially Mike and Matt who gave up a fall weekend–and the advice and support of my training partners and the Pacers! I would absolutely do it again, if I am fortunate enough to get the chance. Don’t ask me to tell you about it unless you are ready for an earful!