During the race briefing, Ethan, in green, foreground, just wants to run.

I spent the night at a friends place in State College in order to get a head start of 45 minutes. I woke up 5am, had a quick breakfast on the run and headed up Route 192 toward Mifflinburg. Driving up, I was greeted with the first light behind the mountains and the occasional Amish buggy as I made good time. I arrived at R.B. Winter State Park at 6:30am, just before dawn. I was one of the first 25 to arrive. Within 15 minutes or so, the parking lot slowly filled and saw Ethan Imhoff pull up in his Element. We found some other friends we knew who were racing that day as I tried to figure out how much clothing to wear. It was in the low 40’s and I brought two different tech shirts, a zip jacket and this new space age thermo thing that I have not tired yet. I decided to go with just a long sleeve tech shirt, abiding by the “15 plus rule” than the current temperature.

After a 15 minute delay due to people begging to registered even though the cut off was a week ago, we were off and running!


The race begins!

The race starts out on a dirt loop within R.B. Winter State Park to spread the crowd and then onto a nature trail which takes you westward to the park boundary. We were all crowded together and it was a cluster as everyone jockey for position. It was rather a slow start (10:38 pace for mile 1) and I estimate I was around the 75th position. We then cross over Rt.192 and turn south on the West Boundary Trail, which winds downward to Rapid Run. After crossing a little bridge over Rapid Run, came the first climb of the event, a nice rocky section of single track on the north face of Brush Mountain. We all slowed to a walk and went up single file. After the summit, I conservatively went down the well-defined single track down the south face of Brush Mountain. The climb and then the decent really spread out the runners. I skipped and leaped down the side until I picked up the Mid-State Trail at the bottom.

Runners on the Mid-State Trail


There were four of us in a pack as we all got into a good 10 minute pace (Mile 2-3 = 10:09 and 10:25 between mile 3 and 4) over the rocks and moss that the MST is known for. I was last in the group of four runners. There was a kid in green in front of me and a guy in his middle thirties in the middle. The four of us were able to catch up with another group of three and slowly passed each one. Here the MST climbed very gradually with plush single track climb for the next mile where it then plateaus for a while. After mile 3, the Mid-State got pretty rocky in a few places and we had to do some pretty fancy footwork to keep up the pace.
After another gradual climb and plateau with rocky sections, there was a quick right as we head north on Douty Mill Trail just after mile 4. While cresting a small ridge, the kid in green made his move and ran out of sight. The guy in his 30’s, and I were able to overtake the forth man in the group as we head down into a dense white pine and hemlock glade with some fast switchbacks. We came to a stream and the guy in his 30’s paused while I charged through full steam over the creek and easily overtaking him. Then it was a short dirt road toward Route 192 once again. The Route 192 crossing was at mile 5. (10:11 pace between mile 4 and 5)

Ben makes his move at the stream crossing


Immediately after Route 192 I hit two semi-short, but very steep climbs right in a row on Frederick Gap Trail, crossing over both Hough Mountain and McCall Mountain in just 3/4 of a mile! I was able to overtake two runners on each climb. Then came the steep descent down the north side of McCall Mountain. I came close to wiping it even though I tried be conservative down the very steep hill with loose rocks that either were sticking up like daggers or those that rolled under my feet like marbles. My thighs were burning going down the ridge. (Mile 5 – 6: 15:32) Toward the bottom, the trail became more twisty and I tried to overtake as many as possible which was very difficult on the single track and rubbery legs. I hear cheering ahead and finally we came to an aid station. This is where the Dam Halfers and the Dam Fulls part ways. From the aid station, I head east on Jamboree Trail which continues as a gently rolling grassy jeep trail to rest my legs on. With the gentle uphill grade and all the training I have done, I was very surprised how many other runners I past here. Ahead about a fifty yards ahead was the kid in green. I begun my chase. (Jamboree Trail: Mile 6 through 7 = 8m 49s).


Stream bed at Black Gap Trail

After about one mile, we turned onto the eastern end of Black Gap Trail. This part of Black Gap Trail is a singletrack defined by a streambed with lots of pointy rocks at the beginning. After a while it turned into nice plush singletrack through a hemlock stream valley. Even though it was singletrack, we blasted though this section, (Mile 7 to 8: 8:32) with me chasing after the kid in green. The kid and I were able to overtake a few less brave runners though the wet and rocks. I was unable to catch him until we ran out of the woods and we hit Black Gap Road, a dirt road that heads downhill to another aid station. I am not sure why so many runners seemed to slow down here. We are on a road, people! Anyhow, I used this as an opportunity to put my legs into high gear and advance my position as much as I could. (Black Gap Road – Mile 7.9 to 8.4 = 7m 10s)
After the aid station, we turn east off the road and onto White Deer Creek Trail which is a mixed bag of smooth and rocky single track, gently rolling and slightly downhill. Here I would leap frog runners. All those days this summer working on speed work finally paid off! I seem so many times someone would try to pass but not have the sudden thrust to pull it off. Speed work helped me to run up behind them, make a move, then immediately sprint 50 to 100 years ahead before decreasing to my normal pace. At one point, I was running alone, no one in sight ahead of me or behind me. I finally did catch up to another runner in the hemlocks. Again we come to another small stream crossing and for some reason the runner pauses. Why do they always pause before the stream? Advantage Mazur. (Miles 8-9 and 9 to 10; 8:32 and 9:06 respectively)

I turn right (south) on McCall Dam Road (paved road? What the?) down the hill and see the final aid station and then take the road up a small hill. Why is everyone walking on this hill? I was so tired and my legs felt like they were balloons about to pop but again I try to pass as many people as I can. (8:50)

A runner climbing the Stairway to Heaven


Then suddenly on the right came the final climb of the event…. the dreaded Stairway to Heaven on Rocky Corner Trail, straight up Naked Mountain, 700 feet climb in less that a half a mile. Despite starting off very steep in the beginning, and….. pretty much stays that way for the next half mile until the top, I was pumped and cleared the rocks at a pretty good clip again overtaking a few runner, one of which I remember beating me in the SnowFest race back in February. I felt better on this climb than the three climbs earlier.

I have learned that trail racing is a game of feet, not miles. If you can run up a hill a dozen more feet further than the other guy, or maintain your speed over the rocks for a few feet longer than the other guy, then those feet turn into yards. Yards become minutes. Minute become miles. I hit the top with beautiful but dangerous field of white Tuscarora boulders to greeting me. Now, it’s all downhill from here! (16:21 up the mountain.

I start heading down the south side of Naked Mountain and hear loud thumping footsteps behind me. Rocky Corner Trail is a very narrow, winding single track to the bottom with rocky sections at the top and bottom, fairly reasonable in the middle. Hearing the steps behind me, I just let it go and I was going much too fast. In front of me was a guy in a blue tech shirt and he was matching my pace. So far I have been able to catch everyone I chased – but this guy is good! I started to dig deep, physically and mentally. Near the bottom, we turn on Boiling Springs Trail which is a rutty piece of single track that will take us to the finish at the pavilion. I gave it everything I had but I had no juice left in the tank and I could not pass the guy in blue. We take the final turn to the finish line. The guy in blue crosses the line six second ahead of me.

Finishing the Dam Half Marathon

My time: 2 hours 16 minutes 17 seconds. #40 overall out of 312. % ranking at 12.5%. I am extremely pleased with my effort and overall I don’t think I could have done it any better.

Photo credits to Mike McNeil and Josh Levitt.