8 min read

From the Dark Skies to Worlds End

From the Dark Skies to Worlds End

Leading into my first 100k trail race, I wanted to be well rested, healthy, and feeling confident. Unfortunately, the only thing that went according to plan at the start was a pretty day ahead of us for the race. I pushed through some pain, some GI issues, and some tired legs to make it to the finish. A story that's very common to those that have toed the line of an ultra. But this one's a little different for me, and for those that venture to the Wilds of Pennsylvania for this race; there's a reason this race should be respected and dreamed about.

Creating Worlds End (and a dream)

Back in 2015, I was still fresh to the sport of ultramarathons, and still pretty fresh to the trails of Pennsylvania. Having moved here in the spring of 2014, and having gotten off the waiting list for The Rut 50k, I had to put in some emergency miles in this new home, and start getting accustomed to serious singletrack.

By 2015, I started to feel more experienced, and I was starting to look towards longer races, and seeing what more PA had to offer. As I was browsing UltraSignup, I came across Worlds End 100k. I happened to be near the race course in my travels for work, so I stopped by to see if the park looked as pretty as the pictures showed, and as cool as the name sounded.

I got there the day before the race, and ran into the RD, David Walker. I remember the conversation pretty well actually (or at least part of it). He said that initially, he wanted to do well at the Laurel Highlands Ultra (a well known, 70.5 mile, PA race), and consequently used the trails around Worlds End as training grounds. I recall him mentioning being disappointed there was nothing that traversed the beautiful trails of the Northeast part of the state... so he took it upon himself, with the help of Jeff Calvert, to craft the Worlds End Ultra.

After running around the park a little, I was convinced this would be my race to come back to once I had sufficient training!

The Race

Crossing the Loyalsock about 10 miles in. Photo credit: Tania Lezak

Fast forward to 2017, and the week before Worlds End Ultra became an adventure in itself. Because it was the week of Memorial Day, I decided to use some vacation and take a camping trip with the girl where we traveled around the central part of the state until race day. While the trip and sights were rejuvenating and beautiful, I began to feel ill (headache, fever, chills, upset stomach...). I slept a lot, took some medicine and hoped for the best.

I had the chance to stay in a friend's cabin close to the park, which was a nice way to commune with friends and swap stories, race strategies (or how we were going to wing it), and sit around the fire in the oddly crisp June night. The morning of the race greeted us with a nice drizzle and cool air, and left me with a large wave of anxiety.

Elevation Profile of Worlds End

As we started, I began to think about the day ahead, the beating my legs would take, how tired my feet would be, but at the moment, in the first few miles, I was feeling good. Time went by quickly, but I kept thinking about how many more feet of climbing there would be, how many more rocks I'd have to avoid, and how many more calories and carbs I'd have to consume... the answer to all of these was way too many. I even made a detailed spreadsheet to try and estimate out times between aid stations with as much climbing information as possible, but that just turned out to be a nuisance to think about.

WE Aid Station Pace Sheet

The day went on as we passed across streams, ran next to waterfalls, and climbed and descended in short bursts whether among boulders or on nice groomed trails. There were sections that left you wondering how anyone could run in this terrain, and other areas left you in awe with how beautiful some of the trails were. There was the aid station at mile 28 which was the point where the 50k racers (who started 2 hours after the 100k) split, when I saw the first 50k runner go past me. I was also impressed how the folks at the aid station got back where they did, and how they were loud enough for me to hear them over 2 miles away.

I made it to mile 36 aid station at the High Knob Overlook, feeling a bit defeated but still had a positive attitude. I knew there was a long downhill which immediately turned into a long uphill. I began counting the large hills we had left, which left my feet and legs to feeling weak. I was chugging coke like it was my job, and feeding myself dates on a tight schedule to keep the calories up. At one point, I found myself taking an extended break on the side of the trail just sitting and hoping my body would move without me needing to do anything.

Overlook at High Knob Aid Station

By mile 50, I had hit my low spot. I was beat and the trail had taken its toll on me. My feet hurt from stepping on all the rocks I could no longer avoid, and my muscles ached like I had just run 50 miles. I began to look around and saw the crowd I was with was in the same situation as I - pain. There's no escaping it, only pushing through it to the end; that's the only way out.

After I had my pity party, some pep talks and nourishment from the girl and my friend, and now pacer, Garrett, I was ready for the last 14 miles. The aid stations were more than aid at this point; they were beacons of hope - a way to get closer to the finish and mentally overcoming a hurdle each time. I was running much better at this point. Maybe it was having a pacer, maybe it was the advil I took, maybe it was smelling the barn? I got my confidence back and was ready to be done.

As night set, the trail turned from its endless green mountains and thick forest to a dusty and rocky trail in front of me surrounded by trunks of trees. The final push from the last aid station brought a lot of runnable ground that seemed to go on far too long, quickly followed by a very nice gift of a descent right before the finish. I ran the final section (the flat, not downhill) in with a smile growing wide as I crossed the finish line.

I had done it. I conquered the 64 miles, earned a belt buckle, and completed race number 2 in the Triple Crown.

Crossing the finish line brought an incredible amount of respect for the course and Dave Walker, who was the there standing at the finish greeting me (and everyone else that finished too). He asked me a question, and asked those that came after me, and I can only assume those beforehand as well - "How was it?", with a huge smile on his face. He truly wanted to know how each runner felt and how the course treated them. The sign of an RD that cares not only about the trails, but also about each runner too.

In the end, there were some badass and awesome volunteers, a dynamite Jeff Calvert and Dave Walker RD duo, and some terrain that left my legs torn up for days[1], but was pretty solid and everything I had hoped it would be.

The Endless PA Wilds

View from Colton Point into the PA Grand Canyon

Throughout the race, as I ran through Worlds End or parts of the Loyalsock Forest, I started taking note of how gnarly the rock formations are, and started questioning why so many of them ended up on the trail. I also realized how dense the forest can be at times as I rarely needed my sunglasses since we were constantly covered by the green canopy.

If you look at the shirt for Worlds End's race, or just the prizes the winners get at Worlds End or Hyner, you'll notice a theme - trees.

The ridiculously awesome prize for first place male and female. Photo credit: Mountain Peak Fitness

On my way to the start of Worlds End, I got to experience something truly wonderful: a week of camping in the heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds. I learned about the history of this state, and how trees made Pennsylvania so valuable in the late 1800s. The lumber that grew in PA was so desirable, the logging industry went on a rampage and turned a once lush region into a desert of rock and stumps. This past of Pennsylvania is now remembered through the Lumber Museum on Route 6 (which I highly recommend).

A viewing of the dark sky at Cherry Springs

The PA Wilds was created as a way to let the earth rebuild itself, and escape from human hands. Slowly, more and more natural areas were being developed to preserve and promote exploration, until there became a state forest in nearly every county of the Wilds region. While Worlds End isn't technically part of the Wilds, it benefited from the same restoration and wildness as the other regions experienced. I was lucky enough to travel from the dark skies of Cherry Spring State Park on the West side of the Wilds, to the PA Grand Canyon (where Eastern States will take place), all the way to Worlds End.

I could go on about the Wilds and the beauty within, but that's part of what the triple crown offers - a chance to explore it with your own two feet.

Nerd Note

Below is my pace and how it varied with the terrain. You'll notice how my pace slows once you get past a certain grade whether that's up or down. The other thing to note is if the race were all at a -5% grade, I may have finished with the top 3.

![Pace varying with grade]PaceByGrade

  1. I did the math. In the 17 hours 42 minutes of movement, I spent 7:33 climbing uphill and 5:39 going downhill. The average gradient while climbing up was 11.5%, while going down was 11.0%. This may seem easy, but climbing down some steep grades in tough boulders is quite tough. Overall, 12,786 ft of vertical feet climbed, and 12,790 descended according to my watch. ↩︎