We all do stupid in our life and I get my share when I signed up for a March half-marathon when the temperatures were still ok in January, just two days before getting a fracture with multiple contusions (special injury combo!). At that time, this sounds easy and was hoping to run it fast and run it under 2 hours. But after a serious injury and recovering for more than a month, what was a simple half-marathon became a challenging hilly/snowy post-injury race.
The race is in Youngstown, Ohio and organized by the Youngstown Road Runners Club (YRRC). The race is very affordable ($30 with a tech-shirt and a post-race pasta dinner!) and all profits of the race support YRRC charities: YSU Cross Country Scholarship Endowment and a Shoe Program for High School runners in need.
To get there from Pittsburgh, this is a 90 minutes drive. But with Snow Alert, this can take more than you expected. This was actually the case for this 2015 edition. So, if you plan to run this race, plan accordingly to be at the race site on time (race starts at 08:45). On my side, I drive safety and fast enough to be at the race site 5 minutes before the race. You have access to indoors (yaisse!!!) bathrooms before the race. Packet pickup is also indoor and the packet contain a long sleeve t-shirt and your bib. Nothing fancy, just what you really need.
The 2015 edition of the race took place on March, 1. The weather is really unpredictable at that time of year, so, do not have any expectation. During this 2015 edition, the course was totally covered by snow, which exhibits two interesting characteristics
The entire course is scenic and beautiful. After not running outside for more than a month, this was exactly what I was looking for. All the race takes place in the park and you run from one scenic area to the other. Tree are covered with snow, rivers seem to rest: this is the perfect environment for people who like nature.
You must push more than expected. With the snow, you do not get as much traction as you expect so that it requires more efforts from your legs. In addition, these conditions make the downhill part hazardous.
The course can be challenging if you are not used to running hills. There are about 19 hills (according to the race description). While they are not really though, they can be challenging in snowy conditions. For people used to steep hills (Pittsburgh runners anyone?) or on trails, this should not be an issue. You would highly recommend to use special assistance in case the course condition is hazardous. Putting screws on your shoe or using a Yaktrax would provide more traction (uphill) and stability (downhill) and potentially avoid falling!
There are a lot of volunteers to check on you and give directions all along the course so that you cannot get lost and will get assistance if you get injured. Also, there was four (4) aid stations along the course, providing water and gatorade. Once you finish the race, you get a medal and can refuel indoors with different types of snacks (bagels, peanut butter, fruits, etc.). There is also a post-race pasta party (Penne with meatballs/tomato sauce) in a restaurant located few miles away from the course.
Let’s do it?
It all depends on your objectives. If you are looking for a simple and easy race, forget it. The weather can make you miserable and the course condition will make you forgetting any desire of getting a PR. This is a challenging course, not because of its elevation (obviously, the hills are not so though) but because of the potential condition: going uphill in the snow require way more efforts and attention in snowy condition than on a sunny day. This can be exhausting and mentally challenging. On the other hand, if you are not obsessed with your time and love running in a scenic course, go for it: this is a cheap and wonderful race to try!
Very scenic, especially with snow!
Good support for directions along the course
Good test on hills
Cheap (about $30)
Potential hazardous conditions
Difficult course if you are not used to hilly races
After running more than 3500 miles and a few races in 2014 (including 7 half-marathons, 5 marathons, 1 50K and one 50M – complete list here), there is a list of good races in the Pittsburgh area. As many running friends are asking for good race, I hope such a list could be useful! This is definitively not complete and you might find your perfect race elsewhere. However, I am hoping this might help some runners out there!
Happy new year 2015 and run happy!
5K & 10K
There are a lot of small races: easy to organize, they do not need to much administrative work (compared to half-marathon of full marathons) and many folks can join (you can even walk a 5K within a hour). There is a good choices for 5K and 10K around. The following are particularly recommended:
Run Around the Square (August): very friendly 5K that includes a beer stop and hot dogs at the finish. The race go into Frick park and can be challenging for beginners. Even if the race can be seen as expensive (almost $30), Forbes Magazine reported that you can eat for two days after running so it pays off. See the race website and the 2014 race report.
The Steel City Road Runners “Flash 5K” (several races during Summer): the Steel City Road Runners club organize Flash 5K. These are a series of 5K around the city. Races are free of charge and very friendly. You need to be a member of the club, but considering the membership price, this is definitively not too expensive. It gives you an opportunity to gauge your performance without paying an expensive entry fee. See http://steelcityrrc.org/
The FAAP Fall Classic 5K or 10K (September): yes, the website sucks but the race is fun! With a registration of $20 that supports a charity, this is a fun race in North Park. Different from the hype of many other race, it can be also challenging for runners not used to trails! See the website http://faap5krace.yolasite.com for more information and the race report of 2013.
Marathon week-end 5K (May): yep, the highlight of this week-end is definitively the marathon on Sunday. But the marathon week-end has also a fun 5K, a great way to get started for the week-end! At $40, this is definitively an expensive race but if you are just looking for a first race and discover the marathon events, this is a good event to go. More information on the race website.
The Great Race 5K or 10K (September): never run it so far but heard a lot of good things inside the running community. The route is not too difficult and the event is really big. More information on the race website.
Dirty Kiln (April): dirty kiln is not a race, this is a real challenge! There are two options: a 5 miles and a half-marathon. This is a very challenging course on muddy trails. Very cheap (between $25 and $30), friendly with Pizza at the finish, this is a must-do if you are looking to run trails! More information on the race website or the 2014 race report.
Pittsburgh Half-Marathon (May): looking for a half-marathon and not running the Pittsburgh marathon? Do the Marathon! And if you are a member of the Steel City Road Runners, you will have access to a pre-race breakfast and finisher area! More information on the race website.
Run to Read (January): a very low-key half-marathon in West Virginia in January that benefits the Volunteer. More information on the race website on the race report.
Pittsburgh Marathon (May): of all marathons I have done so far, the Pittsburgh marathon is probably one of the best experience. The race is very well organized, go through many different neighborhoods and let you discover the city. More information on the race website or the 2014 race report.
Richmond Marathon (November): probably the best marathon I ran after Pittsburgh. The route is beautiful, the support across the different neighborhood is fantastic. One issue: it is far from the Burgh, so, you’d better make a week end of it rather than driving on race day! More information on the race website or the 2013 race report.
Erie Marathon (September): flat course with two loops, it can be boring if you expect to have different views during your race. However, Erie is a very easy and scenic course in Presque Isle. Plus, this is a Boston Qualifier race, so, if you want to qualify to go to Boston, this is a good candidate! This event used to have a half and full marathons but, because it is a popular Boston Qualifier, it will be only a full marathon for 2015. More information on the race website, the 2013 race report and the 2014 race report.
Columbus Marathon (October): I never run the Columbus marathon but heard many good thing about it! If you want a wonderful fall race, this might be the one for you! More information on the race website.
Laurel Highlands (June): a challenging 50K or 70 miles race. The first 8 miles have more than 1500 feet of elevation which are very hard to climb. The support is limited (not as many aid stations as in other races) but this is definitively a wonderful and scenic course. If you are in love with trails, this one should be on your list! Be careful, the races have a hard cap and are sold out every year! More information on the race website.
Groundhog Fall 50K (May): The biggest surprise of 2014 with Dirty Kiln and Rock’n the Knobb. One of the most friendly race, a lot of support with aid stations about every 5 miles (with people baking cookies for the runners!) or so, a very affordable race ($25 for 25K or $50 for 50K), support of veterans and team RWB. Very good first ultra (if you do the 50K) or trail race (for the 25K). The race director is very friendly (however, a new RD will take over in 2015). More information on the race website or the 2014 race report.
EQT 10 milers (November): there are not so many 10 milers races in this area. The Pittsburgh 10 milers is definitively a good race even is the route is not so scenic. For the price, it provides a good workout and provides the ability to log a long run on a Sunday. If you like to run in the city, this is worth to have a look at this race. See the race website for more information or the race report for more information about the race.
Rock’n the Knob (September): a trail run organized by the Allegheny Trail Runner group. Very hilly and challenging course! There is a 5 and 20 miles option to accommodate different running needs! This is a very friendly race and there is a beer brewed just for the race! Definitively a good one if you plan to run on trails! More information on the race website or 2014 race report.
During a recent training run, Katelyn, a fellow runner in Pittsburgh told me she signed up for the Nittany Valley Half Marathon! This is a low-key marathon in State College, PA. As I love State College, I wanted to do it. After a long discussion (2 minutes) with my partner in crime over google talk, we were all set to go to this race. We did not take a hotel and drive directly from Pittsburgh to the race. An e-mail was sent the day before the race to indicate where to park. Also, the e-mail reported that this was a low-key race and there was no bag, swag or goodies as in other races.
We parked at 0950am (the race starts at 1000am), head to the starting line and realized that … people have a bib on their shoes and you have to pick up a packet! The website or the e-mail never communicate anything about packet pick-up and we were picking our packet 2 minutes before it starts. Hopefully, the issue was clearly minor and were able to start. The race director took our packets so that we were able to run the race without having to carry our tee-shirts and get them at the finish!
The race took place on December, 14 2014 and started at 1000am close to the Snyder Agricultural Arena. The course starts with two loops for about 2 miles and continues on the road until the end. It is mostly rolling hills with more incline sometimes but nothing really serious. Around mile 10, you pass by some beautiful areas with water spots (Spring Creek). If the weather is great, you can have a really good time there.
Do not get me wrong, this is a very simple and basic course. Nothing really special but the Race Director is friendly, there is not a big crowd and if you are looking for a easy relaxing course, this is definitively a good option to finish the year!
There are three or four water stops that offer mostly water and gatorade. I did not pay attention at what is offered because I do not take anything for such short distance. If you are worried about stopping to the bathroom, there was bathrooms located at the aid station around mile 8. On the other hand, one great surprise during this race was the (probably unofficial) beer stop at mile 12. I saw some friends from the trail community and I was pretty happy to see these guys! I did not take any nutrition or fluids during the race except at this stop!
Once you finish, you can go to the packet pick up site (Snyder Agricultural Arena) where the award ceremony/post-race party takes place. Food is available (Subway is a sponsor) and you can hang out for a while with fellow runners. There are also bathrooms available at the finish line in case you want to change your clothes.
Let’s do it?
Well, this is a very simple and friendly race around State College. You never go off the road but you hit some beautiful spots on the area. Even if this race is not very special, you can do it as a good supported training run. Considering the price, this is definitively reasonable and, if you never visited State College, this might be a good opportunity to visit the city as well! If you end up doing that, consider passing by Happy Valley Brewing, they have a good draft list and good food options, perfect to replenish the batteries!
The Grand Canyon, PA half-marathon and marathon races were held on July, 26 and July, 27. You can do the half, the full or decided to “rock the canyon” which basically means you are doing both races. I decided to “rock the canyon” and signed up for both! The races are not very expensive considering what you get: about $80 for the full, $45 for the half and $110 for both. Considering the price of some events, this is definitively worth it: you can enjoy the fresh air of the mountain and have some space to run. Nothing to compare with events like Disney which charges you more than anybody else to run on roads open to traffic packed with people stopping every two steps without going on the right side of the road!
My partner in crime and I drove to Wellsboro, PA on Friday, the day before the race. As we wanted to support the event sponsors, we stayed to the hotel that sponsored the race, the Penn Wells Lodge (which was a huge mistake, more on that later). The drive was 4 hours from Pittsburgh, not too bad at all. The hotel has a swimming pool, a hot tube and other facilities you will enjoy. But, as the Walt Disney Marathon, this hotel was a mess, but I will discuss that later. After getting there lately, we decided to go for dinner early. Most of the places were closed and we ended up in a Steakhouse in Main Street. Our experience was almost as good as the one with the hotel: I would get better service and food at McDonalds. If you are looking for a good place, I would rather recommend the Wellsboro House, not too far from the hotel (if you are willing to book in that place …). They have a great service, are accommodating with special diets and very friendly!
Heading back to the hotel, I asked if this was possible to get a late breakfast on Saturday. The race started at 07am and after completing, we had to come back with a shuttle, which might take about one hour total. After all, if they are the official hotel for the event, they should be “runner compliant” and accommodating? However, the staff reported they had no intention for doing such a favor and the service will end at 10am no matter what. I asked also if it was possible to extend the hours a little bit and explained why (the half marathon started at 7am but you need to take a bus to go to the starting line and come back) but again, they were not willing to do so. Apparently, “customer service” is not something well known in that place. About the hotel itself and the rooms: the walls are so thin that you hear your neighbor pretty well and surprise, the bathroom have mold! Not the best place to stay.
Packet Pick up
Packet pick up was held on a School, where the shuttle to the race started. It was well organized with a swag that contains all the necessary information to go to the starting line and visit the area. There was not so many vendors but anyway, do you really shop a lot during race expos? On the other hand, there was a nice local chocolate/candy vendor. I was not able to refrain myself from buying some of them, pretending I cannot go there without trying the local specialties.
The race started at 07am but you have to take a shuttle to get there. The last shuttle leaves at 0545am and it is really better to be there before to avoid congestion. By taking this last one, you are on the course at the latest by 0630am. There is a lot of port-o-potty when you exit the buses but … none next to the starting line. Which is a big issue because people had to go back and forth between the pick up location and the starting line.
The race started on time with a friendly weather. Part of it is on the road but most on dirty road. Elevation is not too steep, but, having trained in Pittsburgh, this might not be the best reference. The course go through the Grand Canyon and you have one or two great views (see below).
There are water stops every 2 miles or so, so, you will not be dehydrated as long as you keep taking a sip at every stop. There was no “real food” at the water stops, only gels but nothing else. On the other hand, this is not a big issue on a half-marathon, as such a distance can be completed without food. On the other hand, this might be an issue for the marathon (more on that later).
The big issue was the port-o-potty: there was almost none on the course. While I do not really care because my GI system is made of titanium, this can be a big issue for other runners who are more sensible. I have seen only one port-o-potty on the half-marathon course while there was 10+ of them at the starting line. This is a real downside for the half. Some might argue that you can go in the nature but this is clearly not an option for others. The elevation profile is not too difficult. There is no steep hill but no “flat part” at all. So, you just alternate up and down hills. Just have to be used to this type of course, which is not an issue when you come from Pittsburgh.
Once you finished, you received a medal. The results are updated regularly during the party on a board. You get a nice box for food, extra fruits (apple, banana) and pretzels are also available. But not having a port-o-potty at the finish (they are at 0.5 mile so you need to walk) is really inconvenient. This is very unfortunate because all the rest (transportation, course, schedule, results) is well executed and makes this event a great one!
Once you are done and if you did not shit your pant, a bus service takes you from the race to the parking lot so that you can bring your car. It takes about 30 minutes to come back.
We came back to the hotel at 10:02. Fortunately, the hotel staff was wrapping up the breakfast area. Just on time to try to grab some stuff to take as a post-race refuel. At that time, I had no t-shirt, I took it off after the race because if the heat and having blood on my chest (you know, this runner issue …). While I thanked the staff for letting the breakfast a little bit lately, I got the following friendly reply: “put a shirt: no shirt, no service, this is the law”. I was just amazed how unfriendly with their customers.
The afternoon was the opportunity to visit the area around Wellsboro, rest and prepare for the Marathon the next day. The bib, t-shirt and other stuff were included in the packet I took on Friday, so, no need to come back to the expo. To sum up, the area is great and this is definitively worth to drive around and look at great lookouts. If you planned to go there, consider to take a GPS or a map: you have no cell service at all the the directions are not clearly mentioned. So, this is easy to get lost quickly.
On race day, after waking up at 0430, I saw the hotel staff preparing the breakfast area and asked if I can get a bagel as I was preparing for the day (coffee, breakfast, etc.). The staff told me that: “breakfast will be served in 20 minutes” (in other words, when the shuttle was leaving … so convenient when racing!) and that it is not the rule to serve breakfast before the time. The staff also mentioned that if they give me something, they have to give to all hotel customers. Surprisingly, this does not seem obvious for the hotel to give to their customers what they paid for. I can understand such a service from a normal hotel that is not prepared to accommodate needs for customers with special constraints. But considering they sponsored the event and claimed they were runner friendly, I do not know why they were not more accommodating. The manager might be french or just rude and unfriendly.
As for the half, the marathon starts at 0700am. You have to get a shuttle as well to go to the starting line. As being said before, the main issue is the port-o-potty that are not next to the starting line. There are 10 next to the buses but this is 0.5 mile from the starting line to that, if you want to make a break, you have to come back and forth. Definitively not convenient.
The marathon route go through the same area as the half. Basically, the first part covers the half marathon (except the road part) and go further. There are some hills, while they are not too steep: the biggest elevation is 200 feet, which is not to difficult. What might turn you down is that there is almost no flat area. So, you will constantly go either up or down. Just have to deal with it.
The course is an out and back, so, one you get to the 13-ish miles point, you just turn and hope that your pants are still clean. For an obvious reason: there are no more port-o-potty than for the half! On the marathon, there is only 2 places you can get some rest! So, if you ate the fettuccine alfredo the night before, pray for the best. Otherwise, pack some toilet paper and prepare yourself for a great experience with mother nature.
There are water stops every two miles as well, so, the race is doable without an hydration pack. On the other hand, the food available at the water stop is really limited (same as the half): gels at miles 4-ish, gels + banana at mile 14-ish. I am glad that I packed energy bars and asked my partner in crime to bring some extra! This is also definitively a big downside and could be easily fixed (get a costco card and buy some packs of candy or pretzels would be more than enough!). If having limited food for a half is not a big issue, this can be inconvenient for a full.
Once you finish, you receive the medal and, if you completed the half the day before, get an extra-medal for completing both races. On my side, I received an additional reward for having finished 3rd in my age group in the marathon. As for the half, you get a box with food when you arrived and the selection is actually very good as well.
As for the half, a shuttle gives you a ride back to the parking lot (it takes 30 minutes). But be quick: the hotel that sponsored the race allowed a late checkout at 1pm instead of originally … 12pm! In other words, if you completed your marathon in 4:30 or 5:00 (which is common for many runners), this is almost impossible to check out on time! And do not even think about taking a shower!
Many runners asked before to get a late checkout 2/3pm and the hotel previously acknowledged. But upon arrival, they distribute a paper indicating they changed their mind and asked for a checkout at 1pm. This issues with the hotel also impacts the overall week-end experience. Considering that you pay almost $130/night for a room with mold, no breakfast and rude and unfriendly staff, you just feel that these folks just make fun of you.
Course well organized: timing was available, results posted quickly
Schedule on time: at the latest during the afternoon
Bus shuttle from the start to the parking lot: lots of shuttle, pretty quick to get there
Packet pick up and expo was simple with just what we need!
No car, scenic and offer the opportunity to discover a scenic area: this is a unique opportunity to race in this region.
Suggestions for Improvements
Put several port-o-potty at least every 5 miles: Having limited space for them is understandable. On the other hand, having only 2 for 26.2 miles is definitively not sufficient. Having at least 3 every 5 miles would be more than appreciated.
Sponsor the course by Scott: is the organizers cannot put more port-o-potty, I suggest we replace an existing shitty sponsor (Penn Wells Hotel) by an appropriate one.
Have a real runner-friendly hotel: the Penn Wells Lodge was everything but friendly and accommodating for runners.
Having a Rock the Canyon results: for those who completed the rock the canyon, having some specific rankings would be useful. Making the half or the full is though but completing both is another story and knowing there you placed among the participants could be useful.
More food option on the road: the food at the finish is more than enough (the package is great!). But having more options on the road (especially for people who do not like gels) will be greatly appreciated. This might be easily fixed by making a trip to costco and buy candies, pretzels and other high-carb food for runners.
This race is definitively a great one. Not having portable toilets might be an issue for some but most of runners would not have any issue at all. I would just recommend to be prepared (wither not to eat anything heavy and/or take baby wipes with you). But this is a minor issue considering the race, the nice lookout and the unique opportunity to run in these mountains with adequate support. If you like the nature and are looking for a great race, I definitively recommend it. Just do not stay at the Penn Wells, there are better and cheaper places in the area!
In need of some time away from the city, I decided on Thursday to register for the Cook Forest half-marathon that would take place the next Saturday. Some of my friends at Steel City Road Runners were also doing the race, so, it was a good opportunity to join these happy runners! The race is cheap and you have what you asked for: a simple run in a state park with a scenic view. No more no less!
At a glance
This is a nice and low-key race in the cook forest state park. Do not expect any big swag: there is nothing – all you get is a bib (that you have to return after the race) and a t-shirt. The race started at 11:00, is pretty flat and is all next to the river. This is an out and back race, so, you just have to turn around at 6.5 miles and come back. The race is timed by runhigh.com timing services which offer chip time and the results are posted online. Once you are done, no big post-race festivities, some normal post-race food with fruits.
Driving from Pittsburgh & Parking on site
This is a 2 hours drive from Pittsburgh. The drive itself go through the country side and is very beautiful.However, the road is hazardous and I would recommend to drive carefully. Also, in this part of the country, you may not have cellphone service all the way. So, take a map: in case of a cellphone crash or battery issue (what happened to me!), you can still figure out what road to take. Also, be sure to have enough gas because there are not too many gas stations on the way (it happened on the way back!).
Once you get there, parking can be challenging. In fact, there are two main parking spots: the one next to the starting line and another further. It turns out that the first one fills very quickly so you have to park at the second one. There are shuttles to drive you to the starting line but I rather jog/run to it. This is almost 1 mile, so, this is not so bad.
The race started at 1115am after some delays, probably to wait to last guys that wanted to register on race day. All the course is pretty flat an go along the river. Hopefully, the weather was really nice: some sun with a mid-temperature so that you can have your t-shirt and not be too sweaty. Some cars use the road during the race so you have to be carefully but in 2 hours, I only see one or two, so, this is pretty safe.
There are two water stops and, as this is an out and back race, it makes 4 opportunities to have a sip! Water and gatorade. Unfortunately, the water was so cold that all I got was a bunch of ice. Not a real issue and volunteers cannot control the temperature! On the other hand, for a half, having 4 water stops is a real plus so that you do not have to carry anything.
There are some fruits available for the happy runners at the finish (banana, apples, oranges) so that you can refuel. Awards are available for the fastest guys but also for each age group. On my side, I did not have any award, which is normal considering that I have a fatty ass and am a slow runner. So, as usual, a terrible time, but who cares? Once you finished, to get to your car, if you are parked in the further parking, a shuttle get you to the other parking lot as well. To sum up, the race is well organized, beautiful and let you discover a wonderful state park while enjoying a scenic Saturday race. There is nothing more you can ask and this was definitively a nice experience.
Just signed up for the 30th Cook Forest Half Marathon. Time to see how I feel on 13.1 miles. After some tough days, this would be nice to run around the nature and just clear my mind.
Also, last weeks, I am running with the Hoka One One Stinson Evo Trail. Got a pair on sales for $90 on LeftLane and they are just magical. I used them since two weeks and never feel any pain or issue. I will probably stick to these for the next coming races. If you are considering trail running and are prone to injuries, I would recommend to give a try.
I registered to the Run to Read being held in Fairmont on January 5, 2014. The registration fees were $30, which is pretty cheap for such a distance.
The race is in the middle of West Virginia. In January, it can be really cold here but hopefully, the weather was on our side! This is an afternoon race (started at 2pm, the organizers are thinking to switch the start at 1pm) so, it let some time for the sun to shine! The race itself in on a single road. Pretty simple. Very flat, not so much hills, so, very nice for starting the new year.
The organization was basic – but efficient. The packet pick up is simple: the pack contains one pair of gloves, you bib, a hat and … that’s all! This is a really low-key race, so, nothing fancy in the packet. Also, the event is only timed with gun time. Which is more than enough for most of us. There are 3 water stops as far as I remember but did not take any. In fact, as you take the same road to come back and forth, there are really 2 water stops but the first can be used on your way back as well.
After the race, there is some food prepared by the volunteers. Chili, cookies and other pastries offered to refuel after the race. The food was really good, I suspect it was home made with some secret recipes!
Pros and cons
Organization: simple and efficient
Trails in January
Friendly and very affordable
Some people might expect more stuff in the packet
Also, the start time might be too late for some runners
Let’s do it ?
If you are looking for a low-key and nice race to start the year, this is definitively the one to pick! Please join and enjoy a nice January run: as long as starting in the afternoon do not mind you, it would be perfect!