The Baker Trail is a 132 mile foot trail featuring roads, dirt roads, old jeep trails, and single track trails in wooded lands and farmlands located northeast of Pittsburgh. Each year a group of knowledge, experienced trail/ultra runners put on an ultra run. They separate the run into three segments: northern trail, central trail, and southern trail. This year was the central portion of the trail, which consisted of about 70% road/dirt road and 30% trail.
The night before the race, I went to the finish. The finish was someone’s home. Yes, someone’s home, and it was a farm. The GPS stated that I had arrived at the destination on the left. I looked left and there was a corn field. I drove about 100 yards further down and saw the sign that said Baker Challenge Ultramarathon, and pointed in the direction of a farm. When I pulled up and parked, an older man asked if I was pre-registered. I said yes, and he said to mosey on down to the house to pick up my bib and get something to eat. There were tents set up by fellow runners. This was where the bus would pick us up and take us north to the start the following morning. I didn’t want to mess around with a tent, so I decided to book a room in Punxsutawney about 20 minutes away. Yes, I knew I was going to see my shadow the next day, multiple times.
As I entered this nice, old farmhouse, the first thing I noticed was spaghetti, salad, and Italian bread spread out across the kitchen area. On the dining room table was where to check in and get our “goodie bag” and bib. I then asked if I was included on this dinner feast and she had said yes, to help myself. I did, then went out back onto their deck to a beautiful view of open farmlands with the other participants that were there. They had Dogfish Head beer and water that we could help ourselves to as well! So far, this race was an A+, and it hadn’t even started.
The next morning, the race director said “go” and we were off. We started on paved road and continued for some time. Normally, ultra events are on single track trail or at least in wooded areas. Seldom around these parts of the country do you find road ultras. The second(middle) leg of the Baker Challenge is just that…rolling farmlands and roads.
I’m not going to say that the first 26 miles of the event were boring. There were brand new views and scenery that I experienced, but it wasn’t anything special for the most part. I will stress that throughout this whole event, the aid stations and the volunteers, were great. The participation was small this year I was told. It was mainly due to other ultra events in PA the same day. I’ll tell you this, the aid stations and the people manning them, were spot on and great. And knowledgeable, caring people at aid stations help a great deal. This race had both.
Around mile 26 or so, the trail entered the area of Mahoning Creek Lake, which included a nice view of a large dam that created the “lake”. It seemed like a small version of Raystown Lake, a winding body of water for miles. I turned to my right and this is what I saw….
The trail was a single track trail at that point. I was told that part of the trail was just created a few months prior. I was not surprised. It was on the side of the mountain and the trail was not built up at all. The main issue was the slanting of the mountain. Each step was at an angle. And there were some rocks. I’ve been traversing the NJ and NY portions of the A.T. in recent months, so this part was no issue. Afterwards, however, other participants said they hated this part. I loved it. It showed since I must have passed 10+ runners in that section.
At the aid station around mile 34, I was feeling rather good. I had a specific time I wanted to finish the race in and I was well ahead of that time at that point. From the elevation chart, I had gotten through all the major climbs. I also knew that there were a few miles left on some shaded, jeep type trail, before I reached mile 40. The rest of the race was then open and susceptible to the open sun, and paved roads.
The last 10 miles were a struggle. I had run low on my salt tablets and it was showing. I must say, I have to thank a participants’ husband for helping me through those tough miles. He was following his wife throughout the event and I would see him throughout the race. He offered cold water when he drove by during the late miles .He’d give encouragement and would offer water, Gatorade, or salt tablets to me. Most of the time I declined, but at one point I took up his offer and had some Gatorade and a dump of ice water on the head. At the last aid station at mile 44, he stuffed ice in my hat to put on my head for the last few miles to help keep my body temperature down. I thanked Lloyd, and his wife, who blew past me at mile 43, after the race. They have run local races including the Hyner Challenge and Rothrock, and are from Pittsburgh. They are obviously originally from another country with their accents. I’m pretty sure they said New Zealand when talking to someone else. I hope to see them again!
The last 5 miles I dealt with is what I like to call, “the run/walk thing”. I’ve always used that terminology when I run out of gas/energy during the end portion of a race mostly during marathons. Both of my calves were cramping when I would attempt to run, so mostly it was a shuffle.
The last mile was interesting. I was expecting to finish on the main road and then turn back to the farm that I had been at the night before. Instead, they had us turning right, into a green pasture, up over a hill, down the hill, then through a wooded area, to the finish. It was quite a capper to a different type of ultra for me.
I received 1/3 of a medal. Yes, one-third. Here’s a picture of a participants’ medal prior to this event. She completed it and is now a full medal. Awesome!…
For me, to get the full medal, I have to go back and complete the first portion and the third portion of the Baker Trail.
Sign me up!