Here is a pre-race report. On Sunday, July 29, 2012, the first Allegheny Front Trail Race will be near Black Moshannon State Park. I have been talking to the race directors off and on for many months. After some hang ups with the state and forestry departments, they have been able to get the green light and are now accepting registrations. I am excited to see another trail race in the region. So on June 30, I took an hour drive north to run the trail and see for myself. There is a 20k Hemlock Course and a 50k Seneca Course. Since I am not ready to do another 50k after Laurel Highlands, and I have a lot of friends interested in doing the 20k course, I decided to scout out the shorter Hemlock Course.

Hemlock Course: Part 1: Blue, Part 2: Light Blue, Part 3: Red

Registration will be at the Mid-State Airport Terminal

Registration and Start: The registration and packet pick-up will be at Mid-State Airport inside the airport terminal. It will be a little quirky to be beginning a race at an airport terminal. It is like you are embarking on a plane trip. Near the terminal, there is a short Blueberry Trail for non-runners to explore while the race is on. This trail is about a mile long. The startling line for the Hemlock and Seneca races are about a third of a mile below the terminal on Airport Road.

Mile 0 to Mile 1.25: (Blue) The first third of a mile of the race is on pavement and then you turn right onto a dirt service road as you hook around the mile-long runway. As you slowly climb, you pass two fields on both sides and merge onto a former power line right-of-way. The power line road a mix of rocks and moss and offers a nice running surface. You will climb a tiny hill and down the other side, you will see a section of stony gravel at the bottom of the hill – the intersection of the Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) is about 75 yards before you get to the gravel.

Even though it was a power line, the forest is starting to grown in on the sides on top of the hill.

The pipeline. Note the gravel at the bottom of the hill.

Mile 1.25 to Mile 1.6: Allegheny Front Trail. (Blue) Making a left off the power line, you are now on a great section of single track. The trail takes a very gentle climb through the forest. Note that the AFT has yellow-blazes. The ground is very soft with occasional rocks but is relatively smooth running and you are not staring five feet in front of you all morning. That said, please enjoy the scenery!

Mile 1.6: Grand Central Station: (Blue) This is the name of the five-way intersection on the course. You will be crossing this intersection THREE times in the race from 2 different directions. In this case, you will make a very tight left onto a snowmobile trail. (50K runners will go straight and continue on the AFT!!)

The first section of single-track of the Allegheny Front Trail

Mile 1.6 to Mile 2.6: (Blue) Here you will be running on a snowmobile trail – red blazes. On the day I ran this, sections of grass obscured the ground which was very rutted and uneven. I been told this section will be mowed prior to the race. Also keep an eye out for watery bogs and mud holes along the trail. At two miles in and the trail being slightly downhill, you should be starting to pick up speed here. Ferns and pines offer a primitive view.

Snowmobile Trail

Ferns growing along the snowmobile trail.

Mile 2.6 to Mile 3.6: Shields Dam Road. (Blue) You will merge onto a wider, unimproved state forest road. Damp clay and gravel surface. It’s all downhill which makes for some fast running.

Crossing over Six Mile Run which is a High-Quality Cold Water Trout Stream.

Mile 3.6 to Mile 5.6: Six Mile Road. You emerge onto a major intersection. Here you want to continue across the bridge and make a right on Six Mile Road. This is a major state forest road with a crushed gravel surface. Though I rather be on single track, the road does provide some rest and gives your legs a break. It is all downhill and this should be your fastest two miles for the entire race.

Crushed stone surface on Six Mile Run Road.

Mile 5.6: Route 504. (Blue) You will come to a hard road – Route 540. Make a right onto the road since you will need to use the bridge to cross to the other side of Six Mile Run. Watch for traffic. After the bridge, make a right on what looks like a driveway to a handsome looking cabin. You will cross a very short bridge and look for the AFT trail and it’s yellow-blazes on the left. The trail will go into a dark thicket of pines and rhododendron.

Dark section off of Route 504 on the Allegheny Front Trail

Mile 5.6 to Mile 6.6 Allegheny Front Trail. (Light Blue) The second half is my favorite part as it is all singletrack from here to Mile 9. I would say 98% of the trail is runnable but there are two to three very short climbs in this section that most runners will have to walk. However, the climbs are only 50 to 100 yards or so as the trail takes several climbs and drops along Six Mile Run. This is also the most technical portion of the trail but only moderately so. There is also abundant rhododendron in this section as well as some large pines.

Rhododendron along the AFT

Rhododendron pedal. Mountain Laurel have “pointed pedals” while rhododendron are rounded.

There are two small climbs on the AFT. Here is the second.

Mile 6.6 to Mile 8: (Light Blue) This is some of the best Singletrack you will find in PA. The AFT makes a final climb out of Six Mile Run Hallow and into a dry hallow on your right. This section the race directors call “The Enchanted Forest” as you run on soft pine needles amid a wonderful grove of hemlock and pine. It’s an awesome section of the course. Around mile 7.5 you will cross the power line and now you will be on the same section and running in the same direction of the AFT single track you did at mile 1.25! At Grand Central Station, instead of making a left onto the snowmobile path, you continue straight on the AFT.

The trail bears to the left along a dry hallow.

“The Enchanted Forest” along the AFT

Soft singletrack as you head towards Grand Central Station

Mile 8 to 9: (Light Blue) You are still on the ART singletrack as you begin to go toward Six Mile Run again. The 50k already went through here at the beginning of their race. At first it is a fast, winding downhill and then it levels out as you run almost parallel to the creek on what looks like an old logging road. Take note of the tree plantation on your left. At the bottom, you will cross a dry stream bed and make a left on Shields Dam Road.

AFT before the downhill

The tree plantation after the downhill on AFT.

Mile 9 to Mile 11.2: (Red) Take Shield Dam Road and then the snowmobile route you took at the beginning but now you are running in the opposite direction and uphill.

Snowmobile trail again but in the opposite direction

Mile 11.2 to Mile 12.5: (Red) Make a right at Grand Central Station and back onto the AFT in the opposite direction, take a right on the power line, over the hill and onto the service road. Then make a right on the paved road to the finish.

AFT between Grand Central and the power line.

Summary: The run would be a great race for anyone who just started out trail running this or last season and if you have one or two trail races under your belt and like to take your trail running to the next level. Experienced runners should enjoy the beautiful course as well and it will be probably be one of your fastest races. When I ran it I took it slow, taking photos along the way and still I ran it in less than a 10-minute mile. There will be a few runner running a 6 to 7 minute per mile average pace on race day. The technical level is low to moderate with hardly any rock fields and tricky feet work to perform – but like with any other trail race, keep an eye out for rocks sticking out of the ground and some exposed roots on the course. I would rate the difficulty as more than The Dirty Kiln, Dandelion Run, Run of the Deer Flies but much easier than the Mile Run Challenge, Dam Half, Mega, Hyner and Rothrock. But it is still not a walk in the park so be careful. There are no major hills to climb as well. With the mix of single track, snowmobile trails, dirt roads, etc. the surface is always changing so it doesn’t get boring too quickly and it always lively. Even though I love single track, the occasional change of surface prevents it from getting monotonous or boring. However, and by far, the best reason to do the race is the northern PA forest with its lush vegetation and tall pines. There will we a few “perfect” moments along the course. The Hemlock Course really lives up to its name. I hope to see you there!

Here is AFT race registration via Active.