Holy Cowan's Gap 50k+

The 2020 running of Holy Cowan's Gap has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entry limited to 75 (Watch this space - may be more for 2020)
Date: May 24th, 2020 (Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend)
7:30 am start at Cowan's Gap State Park

RDs: Alisa Springman and Sue Malone  (Contact Alisa)

Entry for the 10th (and FINAL) running of the Holy Cowans Gap 50 km will open on Monday April 20, 2020.  The link to sign up online will be posted near the bottom of the event's description below.  So read the details to ensure this event is for you, and then use the link near the bottom of this page.

Those applying should know that alternate race names suggested were: "Screw the Switchbacks", "Tuscarora Trail Terror", and "FIT (F***ing Insane Trails)."

Because of the difficult and challenging nature of much of the course, all interested runners must have completed at least one ultramarathon prior to registering.  This requirement is in race directors' permitting agreement with the state of Pennsylvania.

Brad Hinton set the men's course record of 5:17 in 2015.  Martha Nelson set the women's course record of 6:11 when she won the race outright in 2011.

Description: The course will primarily travel the Tuscarora Trail, with use of many side trails (including the Standing Stone and Link Trails) to make sure there is enough elevation gain. A few intersecting trails will be marked, but you will need to know how to follow a turn sheet (and read a map). There are some rocky sections on the Tuscarora, but much of the trail will be non-technical. Therefore, there are many wonderfully runnable and scenic sections to the Holy Cowan's Gap 50k. The course is very challenging primarily due to its epic climbs and descents. Most notable will be the absence of switchbacks to get up or down Cove Mountain (the first big climb in the second half of the race); and the park boundary climb straight up on the very steep Bird Knob Trail.

The course was shortened in 2011 (bringing it closer to an honest 50K) but the elevation gain and loss remained approximately the same as the original course.  It has been run the same way, south loop first, north loop second, since 2011.

The course will be marked, but participants will need to carry a turn sheet and map. There are two cutoffs employed for this race, meant to give the runners plenty of time to finish this tough race, but to also ensure that the volunteers can wrap up the proceedings by late afternoon. The cut-off at the 15 mile "half-way" point is five hours (12:30 PM).  There is an additional cut-off of 8:30 (4 PM) at Aid Station #5, which is 23.9 miles into the race.  Runners who are turned back here will miss the last two big climbs in the race, and have a direct and fairly easy run of about 3.5 miles back to the finish.

Aid will be provided at a total of seven stations on the course. Pavilion #4 has been rented for the start/finish, and is also utilized as the mid-point aid station. Please plan on sticking around after the race to celebrate your achievement with a great barbeque.

The traditional race start/finish is at Pavilion #4, with parking at the adjacent Lot #5, all located at the southern end of Cowans Gap Lake.  The closest camping can be found in Camping Area A, which ranges to the south of the start/finish area. ​Individual campsites can be reserved at Cowan's Gap.  Make your reservations early, as the campsites have historically sold out prior to race weekend! See Park Map here

Now that you have reviewed the event's details, are you ready to join us for this year's race?  Look for a signup link here in late April!

2019 Entrants List

In 2010, Brian McNeill wrote:

"Congratulations on your inaugural Cowan's Gap ultra. There were a few minutes where I stopped to second-guess my navigation choices, but I was never off-course. It was minimally but very effectively marked. More than one should ever expect for a FA run. The aid stations were superb and the volunteers cheerful and helpful. It shows that a great ultra can be put on without W$ sized entry fees.

"For those of you who weren't there, here's a synopsis: The course was a broad mix of trail-running conditions. There were sections that reminded me of Laurel Highlands (ferns and more ferns), Catoctin (rocks), MMT (wet rocks), Highlands Sky (blooming mountain laurel and azaelas), and Buzzards (we don' need no stinkin' switchbacks on our climbs) all packed into 33 and a half miles.

"This was a PR for me, i.e. it was by far my slowest 50K ever, and close to my best times for 50 miles. I mentioned the course design to Sue's husband at his aid station. His comment was 'you have to understand that the course was designed by two crazy women.'

"Thanks again for your hospitality and for calling our attention to your home course."