On October, 12, I ride 62 miles from Connesville, PA to Pittsburgh, PA on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). The reason? 321ride, a bike-friendly event made to support the Woiner Foundation which mission is to fight melanoma and pancreatic cancer by increasing awareness, supporting patients, survivors, families and fundraising for research. I completed the event in a team with three friends and my partner in crime. The team’s name “In Memory of Beth” was chosen by one of my friend that lost her cousin last year because of cancer. I was very glad and proud to be part of this journey and I know that this adventure really matters to them.
You do not have to ride that long to support the Woiner foundation and when joining the event, you can choose between a 7, 25 or 62 miles ride. I choose the latter (metric century ride) because it goes on a beautiful trail and this was a good reason to cross train. You start in downtown Pittsburgh at 600am, where breakfast is provided by Panera Bread. Then, buses bring you (and your bike) to Connelsville. Once you get there, you just follow the trail all the way to Pittsburgh.
The buses arrive in Connelsville around 7:45am and you are ready to go around 0800am (time to get the bike stocked in the buses). Depending on the weather, it can be really cold so it is highly recommended to have many layers with appropriate gear (gloves, socks, etc.). This can be a real safety issue, several people had issues. If you have difficulties to stay warm, consider taking hand warmers. After one or two hours, the temperature increases significantly and you can then remove one or two layers.
The trail go through different cities: West Newton, Mckeesport or even Boston. Most of the trail is in the nature, without any other traffic. The organizers set up aid station every 20 miles where you can put air in your tires and refuel the machine (usual race food is available: bagels, bananas, orange slices, etc.). During your journey to Pittsburgh, you will cross many beautiful areas (the waterfalls around Boston are wonderful!). Considering that the race takes place during the fall, seeing the leaves falling makes this ride colorful! Finally, once you get in Pittsburgh, you enter the post-race party. Food is provided (full lunch!) and there is an expo where you can hang out.
Should you do the next edition? Definitively! This is a great opportunity to do a long ride with support so that if you have any mechanical issue on the way, you will get help and will probably able to continue your ride to Pittsburgh (Trek of Pittsburgh, a sponsor of the event, provides support along the route)! Also, having aid station stocked with food avoid to carry too much stuff in your bagpack.
Finally, when signing up for the race, you can make your own fundraising campaign for the Woiner foundation. In case you do not want to do it, you will have to donate $50 to the organization to be able to ride! Being a runner and participating regularly to road races, I was interested to start a fundraising campaign since a long time. So, I set a goal of $500. This goal has been reached within a couple of weeks and, the total of the donations summed to an amount of $1025, which makes me the top individual fundraiser! This was a real challenge to do it but also a real pleasure. I will probably consider to do it again, for the same organization or another. Thanks again to the Woiner foundation!
This is a very cheap race: $16 per person. For this price, no bag filled with goodies but a water stop at mid-way with pretzel, water, a bus trip from the finish to the start and a finisher medal. Obviously, it is difficult to beat such a good deal. Being in August, this is a great time to discover this part of the trail at a very reasonable price!
Where to stay
I stayed at the Trail Inn in Frostburg. Very convenient, this is located next to the finish line and where the bus pick you in the morning. The Inn has a lot of bedrooms for different budgets: shared beds (for about $35) , private rooms (about $100) or bunk beds (about $120 for a room with 4 bunk beds). It includes breakfast as well. While I had a good experience from the previous year, I have mixed feelings on this one. The Inn is pretty good and the owner very accommodating. On the other hand, the staff from the Cafe (Olive Cafe) is terrible. But it turns out that the cafe is operated by a different company than the Inn. In fact, we asked before coming if having breakfast was possible in the morning and we had confirmation that is was totally possible. In addition, the documents from the Inn states that you can request to have a breakfast basket if you are planning to have your breakfast outside the regular hours. However, the Cafe staff complained about us for asking too much and, the morning of the race, complained that we were too demanding (reason invoked: “This was too early”). That sounded just inappropriate and rude considering that the request that (1) made weeks ago before coming and (2) the Inn documentation insisted that having early breakfast was feasible on request.
Another people reported that the Cafe staff complained when the train came at 8pm the night before and discussed about closing their space. In fact, this place is close to an old train station, so, old trains sometimes show up (and bring people and potential business). Very confusing to see business owners complaining for having potential customers. It sounds like this place is not very friendly and does not welcome new business. You would probably better walk away and go somewhere else.
The takeaway: go to the hotel but do not give your business to the Cafe! The owners of the Inn are definitively nice persons and accommodating (thanks for the late checkout!) but the Cafe staff is just not worth it!
The race itself starts around 0730am but you have to take a bus to go to the starting line. The bus leaves at 0640am in the morning from Frostburg to go to the start at Meyersdale. The commute takes about 40 minutes and the race starts right after the bus drops everybody. We started the race at 0740am. Then, you go along the Great Allegheny Passage, part of the trail that goes from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. For information, there is some bathrooms at the start if you need. There are some also along the course but I do not remember how many.
As last year, the race is wonderful. If the weather is collaborative, it is a great experience to run through the bridges and the trails in the morning, see the sun shining and continue your journey to the finish.
At mile 8 (half way), there is a water stop where you will find water, snacks (pretzels) and the usual stuff you can expect at a aid-station. Pretty simple but efficient. When stopping, I was chocked to see the Race Director. As there were no volunteer, the guy did the water stop himself.
Then, you continue and go through several tunnels. One does not have any light which can be confusing after a couple of miles. But nothing really important.
The elevation profile is not terrible. In fact, you have to be prepared to go mostly uphills for the first eight miles and have a more easy race for the second part. So, you have to push a little bit more in the first part of the race and finally keep the same pace on the downhill (which is more easy for most people).
Something that might help: the aid station/water stop is just at the end of the up-hill section. So, you can push, rest for a sec and head to the finish without any stress and/or need for food!
To go to the finish line, you have to make a turn and go uphill. There as a big discussion last year because there was no sign to turn. In fact, it turned out that I missed the turn last year, which was unfortunate because it cost me a place in the results (bummer!). Hopefully, the race director, Kevin, took into consideration our proposition to put a sign to alert runners to turn and there was a simple sign so that nobody can get lost.
When you finish, you have a nice wood medal. That was requested by other runners last year and the race director followed the runners recommendation! Last year, there was only awards for people that placed in their age group, which can be frustrated for slower runners, especially for a race like this where the emphasis is more on the training. This year, no matter your pace, you got a medal, no matter how you did.
Also, at the finish line, there is food (pretzel, bananas, apple) and beverages (water and Gatorade). Definitively enough to refuel and come back home happy with a nice training in your running log!
Several volunteers took pictures over the course. Some before the long tunnel, other (like the Race Director) at the finish. The pictures are posted for free on the race website. So, even with such a cheap event, you do not have to purchase expensive pictures! You can for sure purchase the high definition of the pictures but the Potomac Highlands Distance Club lets you use the low-def at no price. And they do not add any copyright or noise on the preview so that you can use them. This sounds very fair: you can get a picture of you to post on social media or your website and, in case you really want to make a poster or a print version, you can still pay a reasonable price. If other races could do the same, it would be really appreciated …
If you are looking for the links for the pictures, you can access them here:
To my Steel City Road Runners for being part of this journey. Also, special thanks to the race director, Kevin. The guy took into consideration all the concerns expressed by the participants of last year. He made everything possible to make a good race at a very affordable price. He improved the race, without him, this race would not have been the same.
Run for Gold 2015?
It seems that the Race Director will not continue this race but some folks are planning to continue it. So, if you want to run this race, I recommend it. For less than $20, having a timed course over the Great Allegheny Passage with a finished medal: you cannot beat that.