When an Indiana resident stumbled upon White’s Woods and the Co-op Park 5K a few years ago, he knew the “massive” hills would make for a challenging race.
So, Kyle Ward has been planning the Western PA Endurance Fest to unite “the strong running community in western Pa. and growing ultra and trail running community,” along with Matt Gaudet, an owner of GingerbreadMan Running Company in Indiana.
There’s a tight-knit group in Indiana County that participates in events like these, called ultramarathons — races and events that are longer than a 26.2-mile marathon.
Kory Hubbard, of Indiana, explained that ultrarunning can be on- or off-road races, though the sport is primarily an off-road one.
“It’s exciting to see that Indiana is hosting an ultra event because there’s such a small community of people here that do it and it has an opportunity to grow,” Hubbard said.
What makes the March 29 Western PA Endurance Fest unique is the challenging course that White’s Woods and the Co-op Park 5K has to offer. The course, according to the event’s sign-up page on ultrasignup.com, boasts 600 feet of elevation gain for a total of 3,000 feet during the 25K and 25K relay races and 6,000 feet during the 50K and 50K relay races.
During the 50K (about 31 miles), runners must first run 3.1 miles, then loop the course four times counter-clockwise and five times clockwise. The order in which the loops are completed is up to the runner. There is an eight-hour time limit.
Upon reaching the 3.1-mile mark, those racing in the 25K event must run two loops counter-clockwise and two loops clockwise. The order of those loops is again up to the participant, with a five-hour time limit.
Relay teams consist of two or four runners. Each must complete five laps per direction. There is no required amount of laps per relay member.
“People can run 50Ks in three hours and some change on a flat course, but this 50K is going to run like a 50-mile,” said Hubbard, who will participate in the 50K race. “There’s going to be a lot of hiking and a lot of slow running in it.”
Events like these, he said, are more mental than physical. Training for an event like this, for Hubbard, consists of more than just running every day — he runs, does cross training and strength training.
“Everyone has their different opinions and their different strategies, but a lot of people say there’s no reason to run more than 30 miles (when training). After that you’re just training your brain.”
Hubbard said he looks back on when he started running six or so years ago, after he graduated from college, and “couldn’t run four miles.”
“I thought that was so hard … but it’s just perseverance. You have to stick with it.”
Now, he’s run two 50-mile races, and running is a way of life for him.
Julie Williams, also of Indiana, said that the Endurance Fest will be a “warm-up” to the Pittsburgh Marathon that she’ll be doing on May 4.
Training for the marathon, she’s been following a training plan that consists of several short runs during the week, a long run on the weekends, and cross training in between.
She began running three years ago, she said, as a way to “get back in shape and lose a few pounds.” While living in Georgia, she participated in different races, including a half marathon and a 15K trail run.
“I enjoy the high I get from a good workout, (whether) running, or spinning or lifting,” Williams said. “My body and my life have been transformed since I started running and I do not plan on stopping anytime soon.”
She’ll run the 25K individual run, about 15 1/2 miles, during the Endurance Fest.
Participating in the 50K relay is Indiana resident Janice Ozimok, who said that she’s excited to see the event come to the area.
“The Co-op/White’s Woods is a wonderful, but challenging course. … They definitely picked a great location.”
A hiker for many years, Ozimok began trail running with what she called “the best personal trainer anyone could ask for”— her 4-1/2-year-old chocolate Lab, Brinkly. As part of her training, Ozimok and Brinkly run three to 10 miles per day.
According to Hubbard, “there’s been a huge explosion of ultrarunning in recent years.”
“I think the community for trail running is probably bigger than people realize.”
Sites like UltraRunning.com provide tips on getting started in the sport, plus fitness, training, health, nutrition and other features that can help a runner on their journey to their first ultramarathon.
Registration for the Western PA Endurance Fest will close on March 26. To register for the event, visit http://bit.ly/1fyN5y8.