Stumbling through Rocksylvania

Stumbling through Rocksylvania

Somewhere I've seen the Eastern States 100 referred to as "Massanutten on Steroids." While I'm not completely sure how the chemistry behind steroids work, the moniker holds true: everything at Eastern States is bigger, harder, and more remote.  The course is a work of art, one giant loop through the Tiadaghton State Forest with a scenic lakeside finish area in Little Pine State Park.  Pine Creek Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania” cuts through the center.  At only a 4 hour drive this race is bound to grow as a Blue Train destination.

I agreed to pace my friend and training partner Erick Kuhlmann, who I met at Old Dominion in 2016 where he edged me out in a strong debut 100 mile finish.  Even after somehow churning out consistent sub 3 marathons, he admitted to losing sleep over this "real" mountain Ultra challenge.

As a newer hundred (103.476 miles to be exact) I had some concerns over support which were quickly put to rest.  Lots of enthusiastic volunteers manned 17 well stocked aids stations.  Pacers were encouraged to eat and drink as well which I took full advantage of. This almost felt like overkill in a year with relatively mild weather, but considering the potential for severe heat, frequent aid may be necessary.

Then there were the climbs and inevitable descents.  Elevation gain is a funny thing and it’s not just a pure numbers game.  Straight gravel roads have habit of feeling "not that bad", but the listed 20,000 feet of gain at Eastern States felt like an understatement.  Wet roots, unstable rocks, and steep grades had us wondering if those climbs would ever end.


[Slate Run at Sunset]

These mountains reminded me of childhood camping trips to the Pennsylvania wilds.  I remember backpacking trips with my Dad covering 40 miles over a long weekend. This may sound like child's play by Ultra standards, but I find it unfair to compare UltraRunning and hiking.  The smell of a campfire, the satisfaction of carrying everything on your back, and the simplicity of taking your time does wonders for the psyche.  Admittedly there is something lost with UltraRunning compared to traditional backpacking trips. 

The last sections of Eastern States seemed to lighten up a bit on gentler grades of grassy jeep roads, but the race had one last punishment left in the form of a steep, rugged descent.  We passed some vistas and interesting rock formations which I snapped pictures of, Erick focused solely on getting down the mountain and crossing the finish.

 

“Eastern States was everything that trail running and Ultra-Marathons embody.  Runners and volunteers helping each other mentally and physically, and the incredible feeling of elation when it all comes together and you accomplish something so difficult that there were often times of self-doubt. Proof that if you keep pressing forward, eventually you will see the finish line.” said Kuhlmann after the race.

Kathleen Cusik was 13th overall and first among the women, earning her a 3rd win at the race (27:51). Other strong finishes from VHTRC regulars included:

Danny Mowers (4th - 24:40), Joey Cohen (5th - 25:01), Scott Ulrich (50th - 31:50), Patrick Vaughan & Eric McGlinchey (tied for 56th - 32:29), Jason Long (84th - 33:44), Scott Lee (90th - 33:53), and Mandy Pierce (105th - 34:42).

With his finish, Danny Mowers completed the Pennsylvania "triple crown" of UltraRunning, taking the winner's title of “King of the Mountain.”


[Erik Price and Erick Kuhlmann at the finish - Erick was 34th in 30:49]

Eastern States has a 36 hour time limit and the 60% finisher rate was double the previous year, perhaps due to the milder weather conditions.  Only 3 runners broke the 24 hour mark.  Despite only pacing the 2nd half, my legs felt like they had just raced a tough 100 km.  When I finally sign up for this beast I'll be wise to coordinate a crew and pacers of my own.

[Editor's Note:
Below are the axes that Kathleen Cusick has taken home after winning the Eastern States 100 Miler three times (out of its four years of existence). She missed the 2016 race while recovering from a bout of Lyme Disease.]