Eastern States 100 Mile | Pennsylvania | August 15, 2015
Go East, Young Man!
By Gary Dudney
The name “Eastern States” certainly invites comparison of this 100 mile, summertime, wilderness trail run to California’s classic Western States trail run, though the organizers at Eastern States didn’t play up the connection much.
But if their intention was to create a counter balance to Western States in the East by offering a well organized, well supported 100 miler that both challenged runners and delighted them with the stunning natural beauty of the “PA Wilds” region of Pennsylvania, they succeeded in spades.
Prerace info announced, or more like warned, that “only the hardiest of runners will complete this circumnavigation of Pine Creek,” and indeed a starting field of 154 was whittled down to just 57 finishers for a 37% finish rate, roughly half of the typical finish rate at Western States, and this despite Eastern having a generous 36 hour time limit to Western’s 30 hour limit.
There is no doubt that Eastern States is the tougher of the two races. Western has its share of rough, technical, rock strewn trail but the rugged trails in the wilderness area of central PA (no one bothers to say the whole name of the state) are particularly tricky and inhospitable. Narrow, cambered and covered in shifting, loose, moss-covered rock, the trails require a full body workout to negotiate and they often hang over the edge of a steep drop into a stream or ravine. You run at your peril and even walking requires considerable effort.
The amount of elevation gain and loss at Eastern is comparable to that at Western but the similarity stops there. Trails charge directly and up and down the steep slopes of the hills at Eastern States with nary a switchback in sight in many cases. So while the magnitude of the climbs at Eastern never reaches the awesome proportions of the climbs up to Devil’s Thumb or to Michigan Bluff, they are brutally steep, slow and punishing. They are also relentlessly scattered throughout the entire length of the single loop course so forget about a relatively easy last 25 miles like you get at Western. And Pennsylvania brings the heat as well with temps in the mid-eighties, so laboring up and down the steep slopes is hot, slow business, although there are lots of streams (called “runs” here) where you can douse your hat or soak your head.
The PA Wilds scenery is spectacular and diverts your attention somewhat from the flailing the course is giving you. The trails, the Mid State, the Black Forest, the West Rim, the Tiadaghton, the Long Branch, and the Donut Hole, pass through hardwood forests of maple, box elder, oak, ash and hickory with a scattering of aspens and pine thrown in. Deer leap through the trees around you and rattlesnakes go slithering off the trail angrily shaking their tails. There are streams and little waterfalls everywhere, carpets of moss, wildflowers and acres of ferns under the forest canopy.
At night you hear things crashing through the brush, possibly bears, and the morning light comes up to a chorus of birdsong, although one tiresome bird loudly repeated the word “REET!” about one thousand times in the minute it took me to pass by. I wanted to teach it the words “meet” and “greet” to possibly give it a leg up in the corporate world.
A slew of experienced race directors from around Pennsylvania joined forces to create the Eastern States 100, now in its second year. Their combined talents were evident in the website info, the run up to the race, the prerace meal, the volunteers, the great support during the race, the excellent and extensive course markings, and the welcome at the finish line, which were all first class. The bountiful swag measured up well to what one receives at Western States.
Eastern States has a relaxed, local race feel to it in contrast to the enormous hoopla you get at Western. There is also no struggle to get through a lottery to get into the race. If you qualify by having run a 50 miler under the time limits, you can sign up and run.
The logo for the host facility, the Happy Acres Resort, is very innocuous baseball-capped, yellow smiley face with skinny arms and legs. It’s not exactly the image that comes to mind when you’re trudging straight up the umpteenth steep climb in the heat the second afternoon of the race and needing to throw up to keep going, but a week after the race when you’re starting to recover and your hard earned buckle is sitting on your shelf, that yellow smiley face starts to seem a little more appropriate.
Starters at Western States can figure that for every three runners only two of them are likely to finish. It’s time to take up the challenge of Eastern States where only one of the three runners is likely to make it.