By Mike Casper, RD
Serious rains cut through the forest the night before the race and super-mild temperatures kept up for race day in central Pennsylvania’s Moshannon State Forest for the sixth annual Allegheny Front Trail Runs.
This was the third year for the Seneca 50K course (almost 32 miles), which features steep climbs and technical descents, including a northwestern part of the legendary Allegheny Front Trail. The event also includes a half marathon option.
Buckets of rain in May and June made the vegetation grow like mad, but pre-race trail care made the lush, green route passable.
Josh Litofsky, of State College, hammered over the rolling miles to the Seneca 50K victory, within four minutes of the course record set last year. A peppy front group kept Litofsky’s early pace honest.
“I started the race by keeping a rather conservative pace since I wasn’t quite sure how technical or hilly the back part of the course was going to be. I was running with people for about the first eight miles, and having them right behind definitely made me set a decent pace from the get-go. We weren’t necessarily pushing the pace super hard, but we were running faster than I would have been if I was just out for a weekend long run.”
“At about mile eight, we hit a climb and I was able to put some separation between myself and them, and because I knew that they were both good runners, I had to make sure that I kept my effort and pace up so that they wouldn’t catch me towards the end. Miles 15-25 seemed a bit more technical than the rest, so I had to work a little bit harder than I was anticipating to keep my pace going appropriately,” recalled Litofsky. “There were a couple climbs in there that I wasn’t expecting, so I had to power hike a bit to make sure that I wasn’t going to blow up. At about mile 25, I realized that Adam Russel’s record from last year was still in reach, so I tried to push myself through those last 6-ish miles, and even though those miles are pretty fast, I wasn’t quite able to do it.”
Twenty-two minutes separated Litofsky from William Huber, of Zelienople, at the finish, and the first female and third overall, State College’s Nicole Yokum, came through just ten minutes later. State College’s Charlie Vasey was the third male. Yokum came in knowing only the front end of the course.
“I tried to start out the race at a pretty swift pace, since I knew that the first six or so miles would be flat. For the first 45 minutes or so, I had Cheyenne [Albert, of Morrisdale] and a rather tall man [Charlie Vasey] right on my heels. I was feeling good, strong, fast and confident, although I had a really hard fall on a slippery wooden bridge just about one mile in. After the initial flat part and until about mile 18 or so, I just felt that I was having a bad day because so many things were going wrong.”
Among them, Yokum had donned almost brand-new trail shoes and kept falling. Then a little further in, things shifted, and her confidence and power returned.
“I caught and passed Cheyenne on a long, slow grassy uphill. From there, I just tried to cautiously gain speed and have a strong last third of the race. I felt really good at the end, like I actually had a lot left and could have pushed myself harder. That’s not a great way to feel at the end of a race, but it’s a funny thing about ultras that you sometimes don’t know if you’ll suddenly run out of steam so that the last 4 or 5 miles, which should seem like a short distance to go, might become an eternity.”
In the end, Albert finished just five minutes back of Yokum and fourth overall, and Kristen Gonyaw, of Julian, was the third woman.