[Published in the Huntingdon Daily News, July 6th, 2023]
Runners representing a half-dozen nations will hit local trails this weekend to compete in the area’s first and only 100K footrace.
The Ironstone 100K Ultramarathon will start at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 8, at Canoe Creek State Park. Runners will have 23 hours to cross the finish line at Greenwood Furnace State Park. The race officially ends at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 9.
The event is a collaboration between Eastern State 100 and Allegheny Trailrunners Inc. and incorporates sections of the Standing Stone, Mid-State and Lower trail systems.
Race director Benjamin Mazur said the 63-mile course covers ground in Huntingdon, Blair and Centre counties and presents runners with unique challenges and incredible views, especially from along the ridge line atop Tussey Mountain.
“It’s a very rugged, technical section, which makes this race unique,” Mazur said. “A lot of participants are very surprised that there is this try of rocky, technical terrain in this part of the country.”
The course also encompasses the Lower Trail, Spruce Knob, Jo Hays Vista, Bear Meadows and Broad Mountain.
Mazur said one of the race’s attractions is that it flows through an area rich in cultural, industrial and geological history. Sections of the course follow the route of the old Pennsylvania Canal and wind through old iron-forging sites at Canoe Creek and Greenwood and cut through the old-growth forest at Alan Seeger Natural Area.
The Ironstone is not an entry-level race; each applicant has to have at least one 50K trail race under their belt to qualify.
Mazur said registration for this year’s race shows the Ironstone is attracting endurance runners from farther-flung places compared to 2022.
“What’s exciting is that we’re attracting runners from six different countries, all parts of Canada and 13 states,” Mazur said. “It seems like it’s growing geographically.”
Registration closed July 3 with 85 runners signed up.
“It’s a very rugged, technical section, which makes this race unique. A lot of participants are very surprised that there is this try of rocky, technical terrain in this part of the country.”
The inaugural race in 2022 saw 31 people cross the finish line — roughly half the number of runners who joined the race.
“We have a lot who didn’t finish last year who are returning,” Mazur said. “They said it was an incredible experience and want to give it another go.”
Mazur said Ironstone’s ultramarathon runners come from all walks of life.
“Anybody could do this type of endurance sport” if given enough time, Mazur said. “It’s just (the Ironstone runners) know that they can do this event in a specific amount of time. They feel conditioned enough in training and ability that they can complete it within the 23-hour time limit.”
There are 8 aid stations along the way. In addition, Mazur said the Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. has made arrangements for runners, crew members and volunteers to grab a free ice cream from the Lower Trail Creamery in Williamsburg.
Mazur said the vast majority of the race is contained to the area’s trail systems but noted there are a few road crossings the runners will navigate. He said volunteers are staffing their crossing to ensure safe passage.
Mazur said the Ironstone is thankful for the support from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Mid-State Trail Association. He said association volunteers spend weeks ahead of the Ironstone clearing trails ahead of race day.
“This would not be happening without the Mid-State Association,” Mazur said, adding that the Ironstone’s official trail boss, George Conrad, led those pre-race efforts.
“He did a really great job getting the trails coordinated,” Mazur said.
For more information about the Ironstone 100K, visit www.ironstone100k.com.