The Fall season is a great time to run outdoors, especially when it comes to stepping away from the road and stepping onto the trails. The vibrant glowing colors of the changing leaves, the crisp cool air inhaled during each breath, and the sound of footsteps as runners navigate over dirt, tumbled rock, and technical terrain. Yes, running during the Fall season is my favorite time of year, especially at the marathon distance and beyond.
Growing up in Maryland, I’ve always been drawn to certain parks that are well known for having great trails, and the Patapsco Valley State Park is one of those parks that has a national reputation. Nestled just a few minutes outside of the city of Baltimore, this park extends along 32 miles of the Patapsco River and encompasses 16,043 acres where people can go to hike, mountain bike, fish, camp, or just take in the scenic views. Another great aspect of this park is that for the fourth year in a row, the White Oak Running Company, hosts the Patapsco Valley 50K, which is a trail ultramarathon in the Avalon area of the park.
The race features plenty of scenic dirt single track with a few short sections on paved bike trail. The terrain is challenging but runnable with rolling hills throughout. The course has a handful of small creek crossings and can often be muddy in many places, which adds to both the thrill and the challenge of the course. Some of the course highlights include Cascade Falls, the soon-to-be-removed Bloede Dam, the ruins of the Orange Grove Flour Mill, as well as the Avalon Nail and Iron Works ruins. There are also plenty of locations on the course to view the Patapsco River.
As an endurance athlete, I loved every aspect of this race from the very start. When it came to parking at the race venue, I only had to walk twenty yards to the race registration, and was able to enjoy the sound of good music as I signed in and picked up my bib number. The excitement was building at the starting line, and you could feel a true sense of community among all the runners.
Once the race started at 7am, the sun had not risen yet so the first few miles were about navigating the path with the help of flashlights and headlamps. It was a pretty amazing sight to see a steady line of runners weaving throughout the trails as their lighting sources helped illuminate the path in from of them. I could hear other runners chatting with their teammates and friends about their preparation for this event, while other runners quietly reflected as they took each careful step over the technical terrain.
As the sun began to rise, the dew on the leaves shimmered like tiny diamonds throughout the surrounding trees. The warmth of the sun began to awaken the soul as runners continued to find their rhythm and pace.
As we made our way from aid station to aid station, we were always welcomed from a very enthusiastic and welcoming group of incredible volunteers and spectators, which added fuel and motivation to the next part of the course. The group that I was running with early on during the race, ended up being the group that I finished with, which was pretty interesting because there were moments throughout the race where we had gone minutes or even miles without seeing each other.
There were many points throughout the course where I wish I had brought my camera so I could capture the true beauty of this location – the trees, streams, trails, valleys, and the journey itself. In the final few miles, I was able to reflect back on what a great experience this race was, and promised myself that I would definitely be back to race in this event again. Crossing the finish line and receiving a handmade mug by One:Eleven Pottery with the Patapsco Valley 50K logo was a very proud moment, and being given a delicious cookie made by Wicked Good Cookies for finishing in the top 100 was also quite nice.
A special thanks goes out to the White Oak Running Company, their great team of race directors, the volunteers, and everyone who helped put on this fun event. Whether you are a beginner or veteran runner, I highly recommend this ultra for any runner who is interested in doing an ultramarathon. This race definitely lived up to its reputation as being one of the most impressive trail ultras in the entire country.