Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chief Wetona Challenge Half Marathon (Race Report)

After racing well at the Mutt Strut 5k Saturday morning I was lucky enough to be able to keep the good vibes going on Sunday at the 2nd Annual Chief Wetona Challenge which for the first time added a half marathon (actually 14 miles) to the slate of races. At 14 miles it is currently the longest running race available in Bradford County, and also the toughest with 2,800 ft of vertical gain according to my GPS

The race begins within the confines of Mt. Pisgah State Park near Troy Pa (about 20 miles from home), and also utilizes the Mt. Pisgah County Park trails which climb to the second highest point in Bradford County. The course designers used the available elevation gain well, even clearing some new (or old and unused) trails to squeeze out nearly 3,000ft of steep climbing. 

With a relatively arid spring up until this point there was some worry that there might not be any mud left at Mt Pisgah for the race, but mother nature delivered right on cue - a heavy downpour the night before, giving us enough slick and sloppy spots along the course to keep things fun while upping the challenge factor. Throw on top of that the warm and muggy air which settled into the area and you've got a recipe for AWESOME!

The first few miles of the race are the easiest - a rolling circumnavigation of Stephen Foster lake. This section favors the fast, and if you are inexperienced you might make the mistake of going out too hard, which you'll pay for later when the climbing begins. I did my best to keep things pedestrian through this section, while the field sorted itself out, and before I knew it we were crossing the road to tackle the more difficult final 10 or 11 miles. 

The fun starts at the bottom of Ridge Trail. The course feigns beginning this monster climb, and instead diverts to Mill Stream and then up, steep but short Avery Crossover before rejoining Ridge Trail briefly to bring runners to the foot of Snowmobile Trail. Snowmobile trail is a steep, straight climb (no switch backs) that gains (easily) 800ft in a quarter mile or so. Once at the top there is an insignificant downhill to rejoin Ridge Trail, at one of its few flat points. After a hundred yards or so the course veers right down Hick's Hollow, quickly losing all the elevation gained on Snowmobile Trail. This downhill is very runnable, and a great place to make up time if you are willing to let it all hang out.

At the bottom of Hick's Hollow trail the course enters a field. On the near side you'll find Aid Station #2, This AS was manned by fellow Valley Running Club member Walter. As with the first AS, i blasted through, without stopping.

After leaving AS #2 the course crosses a field via a mowed path. As the trail veers left runners find themselves staring directly up one of Bradford County's many gas pipelines, constructed in recent years to transport natural gas out of the Marcellus Shale formation. The course begins up the pipeline, then hangs right into the woods to begin the biggest climb of the day.

I've run at Mt Pisgah many times, but the next few miles of trail were all new to me, and in fact newly cleared in recent weeks by race organizers specifically for the event. In true Pa Trail Racing fashion, when you think you're done climbing, the course designs manage to find one or two more uphills to challenge you. But there is in fact a top to Mt Pisgah, marked by a large wooden statue of the legendary local American Indian Chief Wetona who on race day presides over Aid Station #3.

I stopped for the first time at AS#3 to refill one of my bottles. From here the course wanders in and out of the woods surrounding the summit of Mt. Pisgah (yes, with a few more small climbs), before rejoining Ridge Trail for the 3 mile, exhilarating, (mostly) downhill to the finish.

This downhill is a run local trail junkies know well; long and gradual enough to allow you to really open it up. Once you reach the bottom its a simple matter of crossing the road again, skirting along the near shore of the lake, and cruising up the gradual incline of the State Park yard to the finishing arch.

Despite never feeling all that great physically on a hot and humid Sunday morning, I managed to drag my body around the approximately 14 mile look in 2:36 - good enough for 16th overall in a field of about 100.

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