Sunday, July 31, 2016

Allegheny Front Trail Run - Seneca 50K Race Report

July 30, 2016

Show up unprepared and you've prepared yourself to suffer. That's just one of many lessons I've learned from ultra running. I've also learned that suffering isn't necessarily a bad thing and in ultra running it comes in many manifestations and always results in personal growth. The sooner you realize that ultra running is nothing more than maintaining forward movement through highpoints and lows, the better off you'll be.

This was the fifth year for The Allegheny Front Trail Run. In previous years the event has conflicted with Janice's State Softball Championships so I've not run it. This year they fell on opposite weekends so a week ago I got to watch Janice and her Ridgerunners Softball teammates take 3rd in their ASA Class E Women's tournament. The heat the women endured was immense. That heat lasted into the week to follow and finally broke at week's end. Race morning it was in the 60's, a welcome change from the 90's we had been living with. While I'm talking about weather, I'll just cover it all and get it out of the way. The temperatures weren't bad, but the humidity was an obvious reminder that it was indeed July in the Pennsylvania mountains. Around 10am it started to rain lightly and all that seemed to do was contribute to the humidity. A couple hours later a legit thunder storm blew in and the large rain drops and breezes provided a little relief from the humidity. The thunder storm passed and the humidity returned and it even got warmer for the end of the day.

My running in preparation for this event has been a mess. I'm not one to follow any training formula, I've always refused to take it that seriously. I run for fun and the stuff I experience along the way. I know all the words that runners use, how can I ignore them? Fartlek, Tempo Run, Hill Repeats, Recovery Run, etc. are terms I hardly understand so I certainly don't use them. Speed work out? Intervals? You have fun with that, I'm just going for a run. I'd rather spend time talking about the deer I saw during a run than regurgitating my PR's. I guess I do sort of have a simple formula, I try to run a lot and in the past few months; that formula has been interrupted quite a bit. Life in the form of family, work and health stepped in and made sure I couldn't get in the runs I've needed to show up at Black Moshannon State Park prepared to run a 50K. It's ok though because I knew that going in,  I had zero delusions. I also knew that I'd learn nothing from not showing up. Running the Seneca 50K would be a fun training run on a new-to-me trail and I'd get a nifty t-shirt too.

Black Moshannon State Park is part of the 43,000 acre Moshannon State Forest and it's located in the next valley over from State College. The park is 3,394 acres of forest with stream fed bogs and Black Moshannon Lake. The natives named this watery place “Moss-Hanne,” which apparently means “moose stream”, couple that with the blackness of the flowing bog waters and you've got the park's name.  Driving to the start in the morning I could see the valley was filled with a magical thick cotton ball fog. I stopped three times for deer in the road. The third stop the deer wasn't much of a deer at all, in fact it was just a tiny fawn. It was unique in its markings as well, it's entire hind end and back legs were white. After checking me out for 30 seconds it finally bounded off into the brush.

The race is truly a grass roots event. Information on the web site is sparse and participation has been just as sparse. Last year only 29 ran the 50k and in the prior years, the largest field of runners was only 18. More folks need to check out this mid-summer run. It starts and finishes at the Mid State Airport and circumnavigates the park on mostly single track trail I would describe as 100% runnable. There wasn't much info listed about the aid stations, in fact they're called check points. With support on the course being questionable, I used a hydration vest ample enough to carry everything I needed to complete 31 miles. I carried ClifBar Shot EnergyGels, Bloks Energy Chews and a couple Organic Energy Food packages (THANKS CLIFBAR!), just like I would if I were running 31 miles back home in Stony Valley. Knowing the area was networked with flowing streams, I even packed a pre-measured package of Tailwind if I refilled my bladder. I basically prepared myself to run self supported. Upon arrival I heard other runners asking about  the aid stations and there was a map showing that the longest distance between aid was about 6 miles. It really could be run with a handheld. It was going to be hot and humid and I knew to survive I'd need to keep hydrating so I stuck with my self supported plan. It might've been over kill, but I wanted to finish.

Two cars were parked over the chalk on the parking lot that read "50K Start" so we started next to them and with little fanfare we were off. The connecting trail leading to the Allegheny Front Trail was a mellow grassy path. The Allegheny Front Trail offered passage through all the different environments that make up the park. I consider the majority of it runnable with just enough climbing and technical stuff to make it challenging. I started out feeling fine, but after a fall I took on an extra-cautious approach and really backed off my pace. It was probably for the best anyway, in my poor state of fitness; that slow pace was my sustainable reality and probably ensured I made it to the finish line. The last mile offers a boardwalk through a bog filled with Blueberry bushes and yes, it's July and the berries were ripe for the picking. Single loop or point-to-point ultras are tough to find and this one's a gem, it's one big loop that brings you right back to the airport for a lunch and cold beer afterwards. I couldn't be happier with the result of my training run in Black Moshannon State Park. Everything I do between now and October is targeted at finishing the Oil Creek 100 and this was my first step in that preparation.

My Father passed away two weeks ago. Someone told me, that the busy time that surrounds a loved one's passing negates your ability to grieve, to really take it in, to come to grips with it. I didn't grieve, hell no I celebrated my Dad's incredible life, but I probably needed some time for taking it in and coming to grips with it. This 31 mile run in the forest would be the time I needed with my Dad, my thoughts and our memories together. Moshannon State Forest is a beautiful place, I'm not sure if my Father ever visited there, but I know he would have been in awe as I was with the diversity it presents. I started my day there getting stung by a bee. It didn't just sting me, it clung to my leg and continued to do its thing. Instead of stopping and pulling the angry little guy off my leg, I tried to do it and continue to run. I'm sure you know where this is leading, yes I caught a toe and face planted. I landed heavily on the ribs already aching from a bruising fall a week ago. While on the ground the little bugger continued to sting or bight me. My Dad would've been shaking his head, laughing and saying, "all you had to do was stop a second and pull it off your leg...". Yeah my dad appeared every where along this course. There was even a rock that was in the shape of a classic head stone that someone has scrawled R.I.P. on it in chalk. There were neat little sections where the forest canopy was so dense with a cloud cover that matched that the result was near darkness on the trail. I once visited Lithuania and there I was told a tale that these dark spots in forests were havens for the little people(Elves/Fairies), spirits and especially spirits of loved ones. While the little people were there for mischief, the spirits of your loved ones were there to safely guide you through that dark region. Dad loved ferns and the trail cut through numerous stands of tall pines and the forest floor was filled with beautiful ferns growing in a carpet of Pine needles. In that setting Dad had me surrounded. The perseverance I learned from my parents got me through a tough day. I can't recall anything my Father ever quit, he was a firm believer in keeping commitments and follow through. If you start it, finish it. Give it your best and be certain not to miss the lessons any endeavor provides. Dad wasn't a runner, but he is now as he's keeping pace with me every mile; in my heart, in my head, right over my shoulder. Sweating, stumbling, laughing and bleeding right along with me.


  1. Loved the post. Sorry to hear about the passing of your dad, but glad you got to enjoy his memory and presence throughout this run!

  2. Sorry to hear about your dad.

    Good luck at Oil Creek. I ran it last year and it is wonderfully hard. Start walking some of the downhills on the first loop or you'll walk all of them on the last!

  3. Thanks Phil, I'll heed that advice. I DNF'd Oil Creek two years ago and I'm going back to fix that. :-)