This should have been written up a long long time ago! The holiday season got in the way…okay…that is a lie. I have been downright lazy since Thanksgiving. Without any further ado may I present to you…….The McConnell’s Mill to Moraine Fatass Run!
For the last two years November has meant one thing to me in regards to running, the Marshall Mangler 50k. The Mangler is a 25k figure 8 loop on North Park’s Green, Orange, and Red trails and it was my first 50k.
The race registration page wasn’t up and it was drawing close to the fall so I contacted the RD, Michelle. The race was off for this year with plans of bringing it back bigger, stronger, better in 2017. That left a hole in my race plans and in many others here in Western Pennsylvania. Cristin and I were talking about this problem and looking for other fall 50ks that were local without luck. If we couldn’t find one then we could have our own run, a Fatass run. It was on!
A Fatass run is not a race. It is more like a group run which is self organized. There may or may not be aid stations, there are no bibs, no medals, but ultimately one can do what one wants. Come out and run as many miles as you want and go home with a happy soul because that is what nature time does for humans.
I had been looking at maps of the North Country Trail scouting areas I wanted to run. After taking on a 20 mile out and back from Hell’s Hollow in McConnells Mills State Park to the edge of Moraine State Park the wheels began churning. The beauty and difficulty of the trail in McConnells Mills is captivating. It turns out running each park end to end plus the connecting few road miles in between would make for 26-27 miles. This would be the course. While not 50k one could always out and back or go a little further on the North Country Trail to hit that distance. Everyone could organize their own shuttling as a point to point course isn’t necessarily the easiest setup for a Fatass.
I threw the idea out on the Runderful page and immediately a few people volunteered to help out providing aid. Then Tammy and the Butler Babes found out about the plan and offered to throw up an aid station at McDanel’s boat launch (mile 12.4). I had never met these wonderful ladies and men before and they enthusiastically wanted to help. That is the magic of the running community, and all the more so the trail running community. We were off to a great start!
Back in October I came off of a PR Marathon in Steamtown and was ready to hit trails in preparation for the big run. Four days after the marathon I went for a run. After 2 miles my knee started hurting in a bad way. I have never had a pain like this from running. I turned around and went back home. Two days later I ran the Trail to Eagle 10k and after 2 or so miles my knee was raging and the rest of that race was painful to say the least. I stopped running for a few weeks and went into diagnostic and cross training mode. More about that is on my link from the 10k and EQT race above. Needless to say I was not going to be in any shape to run 27+ miles of technical trail. Instead I opted to provide support and a mobile aid station. Never having volunteered at an ultra this was the perfect opportunity to do so.
I picked Edward and Lauren up early Sunday and we motored northwards. There was a light snow falling. We were the first to arrive at Hell’s Hollow followed shortly by Victor and then Vicki. Due to the weather a number of folks were running late or had cancelled altogether. Still, there was around 20 runners who braved the elements. It was 28 degrees at the start. The trees and forest were floor were clad in white and no foot had yet disturbed the snow that was still lightly falling. Tammy and the awesome Butler Babes crew headed out around 7:15 followed by the next group around 7:30 and a few others shortly after that.
From here Vicki and I drove out to Alpha Pass to meet Keana and set up. As we approached the parking area there was a mechanic walking down the road. It was no mechanic, it was Keana. She was in coveralls against the cold and it was a good thing too. Her car battery died after reaching Alpha Pass. We set up quickly piling food, water , and a camp stove onto the picnic table. I grabbed the pot to heat water for cocoa….where is the pot? Yes, I forgot to bring a pot or pan. I headed off in the car hoping to find someplace to pick one up before the runners came through. Halfway to Butler there was a Dollar General that had everything we needed. Back at the pass we were ready.
I headed out onto the trail to scratch my running itch and to meet folks coming through. Within a half a mile the first group was passing. Tammy and the Butler Babes, Tim, Jamie, Aaron, and Calvin were moving quickly on the snow covered rocky terrain. I fell in behind the group as we made our way up to Alpha Pass.
Keana, Vicki, and I handed out cocoa and chatted with the folks coming through and soon they were on their way. Alyssa came up out of nowhere. She had started at least 20 minutes or more after the front pack and was now only a few minutes behind. I bounced around out on trail meeting folks and coming back to Alpha Pass. After Suzanne and Cristin came through we waited for the last few folks.
The time passed on and still no runners. When we neared 3 hours from the start time we figured that the missing folks had likely taken the first side trail to a different parking lot and missed our aid station altogether. There were a few seasoned trailrunners in that group so I felt confident everyone was okay.
After a brief stop by the McDanels to say hi to Dave, who along with his wife, volunteered to run the aid station there. They had it stocked better than many races I’ve been at! Hot soup, coffee, soda, snacks…what a spread! Soon Vicki and I were setting up at Mt. Union Road at mile 16.8. Jamie, Tim, Aaron, and Calvin had already passed before we arrived!
I suggested that Vicki take some food and water to the Rt 528 crossing to see Calvin, her son, and to support the speedy runners. I busied myself back at Mt. Union by running out and backs meeting runners and providing hot vegetable broth, food, and hopefully a little cheer.
After Aubrey and Laura came through I headed to Rt 528 and then finally to Jennings leap frogging those still running and getting a few miles in myself in the process. I found our missing runners had some GI distress and took their time coming through. Everyone was safe and in good spirits.
Afterwards a small group of us met up at North Country Brewery for food, trail stories, and delicious adult beverages. All in all the day was a great success thanks to the amazing folks that volunteered and the runners that came out to enjoy a beautiful day in some of Pennsylvania’s finest parks.