More than 60 runners attempted to conquer more than 60 miles of forest and mountainside trails across Blair and Huntingdon counties in a 23-hour window over the weekend.
The 100-mile Ironstone Ultramarathon began Saturday afternoon from Canoe Creek State Park and ended at Greenwood Furnace State Park, linking two of the historic iron furnace operations of the region.
The route used sections of the Standing Stone, Midstate, and Lower trails; every six to eight miles, runners could stop to refuel and freshen up at one of the marathon’s aid stations.
Janice Hartkorn, captain of Aid Station No. 4 at the Alexandria end of the Lower Trail, said ultra racing requires a touch of “crazy and stupid” but ultimately comes down to very determined individuals.
Hartkorn said trail culture is big-hearted, a sphere where caring about each other is more important than winning.
“These riders are very humble, very nice and very kind,” Hartkorn said. “They really help each other.”
As John Zavatchan from Connellsville reached the aid station, he was cheered on by his wife Kristie and their 11-year-old daughter Abby, who held up an encouraging sign and then greeted him with a big hug.
Kristie said the whole family runs, even Abby whose longest distance so far is 10 miles.
“I love being in the woods,” she said, adding that she prefers trails to athletic tracks.
When Jessica Weinman reached Aid Station No. 4 where she was greeted by her daughter, Brooke, a one-woman supply team who were ready with a new pair of sneakers and water. The Weinmans are from Allegheny, New York, near the New York-Pennsylvania border.
“We are a motocross family,” Jennifer said, adding that years of racing dirt bikes have helped prepare them for the support needed to run a tough race.
Brooke was a high school hurdler and cross-country runner. Inspired by her daughter, Jennifer started running about five years ago with Brooke’s encouragement. The family lives along a snowmobile trail, which was Weinman’s first course to conquer as a racer.
Runners from 13 states showed up at the start line at Canoe Creek. The course beyond Station No. 4 – along the ridges of Huntingdon County in a heavy mix of heat and humidity – was bound to be brutal, Hartkorn said.
Working behind the scenes at Ironstone, from aid stations and along the trail, volunteer ham radio operators monitored runners, trail conditions, weather and more in an effort to keep the challenging ultramarathon as safe as possible. possible.
Carmine Prestia, a retired Center County District Judge, and his wife, Elaine, are both licensed radio operators, as is Greg Guise, a former CBS reporter who worked in Detroit and Washington, DC. The trio were among the mix of volunteer radio operators who watched for runners during the weekend race.
Prestia said the course adopted by Ironstone contains many areas where mobile phone service sucks. Communication during any sporting event, but especially a 100 km race in the summer heat, is essential for the safety of the participants. Roving operators, he said, show up at aid stations to make sure a distressed or injured runner gets the attention they need.
Prestia and Guise said the group of volunteers assembled to cover the Ironstone race used two repeaters to maintain group communication: one located atop a mountain near Boalsburg, Center County, and the another atop a mountain near Hollidaysburg, Blair County.
One of the benefits of radio, Prestia said, is that when two operators are communicating, the whole team can hear the conversation and stay in the loop at all times.