It's an out-and-back on rocky, slow, difficult and demanding (but yet run-able) trail. Starting at the Tea Room in Gambrill State Park we run down the hill to the trail head for the Blue trail. Once we get on the Blue trail we follow it through Gambrill State Park, through the Frederick Watershed and into Cunningham State Park where we then turn around at the Manor Area of Cunningham State Park.
There are a couple of favorable points to this challenging yet entertaining run: (1) Shade. The course is almost entirely covered with luscious tree foliage. (2) Streams. there are several stream crossings where you can twinkle your toes in cool "beer commercial" type of mountain water and cool down. If we don't have a lot of rain and it's a hot summer the streams will wither up and dry and will tease you with the thought of what they once were. If rains hard during the race (2001) then the trail becomes a major water way and it's... hello, where did I put my goggles.
Since this is an out and back on an established trail and has been permanently blazed with light blue blazes on a fair number of trees. The trail will not be marked with the customary engineering ribbons or chalk. No trail maps or orienteering seminars will be conducted. Simply follow the runner in front of you. This should work as long as they don't get lost or take a wrong turn.
Once you reach the half way point its simply a matter of turning around and retracing your steps and facing the hill back up to Rick's overlook and on to the finish line. Getting lost is always possible but let's hope for the best. Sixty percent of the runners get off course at least once. This course will penalize any runner who runs "heads down". The Catoctin 50k trail run requires that you slow down/stop and look around at each intersection. If you think you know the way without looking around then we wish you good luck and hope your detour is minimal. If you have a habit of not following directions then please don't run. There's no search and rescue which means race management and volunteers have to cover the course and surrounding areas. This is a very unpleasant situation and makes us very "unhappy".
Course questions will be answered at the pre-race briefing. Unreasonable complaints, criticisms, and selfish attitudes will be ignored and race management and/or the appropriate volunteer will administer humility to the participant in question.
Race day will be hot, the rubber on the bottom of your shoes gets really gooey hot, melt synthetic clothing hot, sweat buckets of H2O hot.... then again, it might rain bucks of water.. The summer of 1999 the temperature dropped 20 degrees on race day. The over abundance of rocks will be sizzling and the dirt will turn into throat choking dust. Along with the heat is the humidity. It gets, "cut it with a knife" humid. You'll feel like your swimming in the open air. No matter how acclimated you are this run demands that you carry water. In fact it's mandatory! ALL RUNNERS MUST CARRY AT LEAST ONE 20 oz WATER BOTTLE and TWO bottles if you want to finish the race. In 2007 one bottle runners had an extremely hard and difficult race. An equipment check will be conducted prior to the start to ensure safety and fashion. The Hagerstown Almanac (which has an unnatural record for predicting race day temperatures) predicts that race day will bring us temperatures worthy of ultra lore... hot, humid, hazy, possibility of rain and frustrating. You'll curse the day they created the Catoctin Trail.
First Time Ultra Runners and Hikers :
I'm not going to discourage anyone from trying but... this is a slow and demanding course and not necessarily the best venue to run your first ultra. It has been known to make grown men weep and woman to curse the day race management was born. Once the race starts sympathy is not displayed to anyone regardless of the circumstance. This is an ultra event and it will be conducted accordingly.
If you're using this race to train for anything else but an ultramarathon of 50 miles or longer then you're wasting your effort. If you're trying to get in shape for that special Triathlon, Ironman or marathon we strongly suggest that you choose road courses for training.
For you hikers if you think you can walk it and finish in the time allowed you can't. It's been tried on numerous occasions and everyone has failed. Besides this is a run, not a hike. If your dressed like some hiker in the Swiss alps then be prepared for some humiliation from the runner police. Walking sticks... leave 'em home. We'd rather you not impale other runners as they race by.
There are three aid stations along the course making a total of 6 aid opportunities during the race, not including the start/finish area. The stations are fully stocked and supplies will consist of water, soda, sport drink, cookies, pretzels, Pringles, candy, bananas, Succeed! Caps (1 Gram Buffer/Electrolyte Nutritional Supplement) and many other assorted goodies. Pharmaceutical needs are the responsibility of the runner.
What You Don't Get:
Since this race is geared towards ultrarunners, and 44 bucks only goes so far, we would rather concentrate on what you don't get rather than what you do get. After all, this isn't a plush left coast ultra with goodie bags, race shirts, massage practitioners at every aid station, and impeccably groomed trails that you could run on with wing-tip shoes. So keep the following in mind when considering if you want or would be able to run the Catoctin 50k:
- No engineer ribbons to mark the course (we don't want to have to set it up and take it down)
- No personal assistants at aid stations (leave that for the high $$ races)
- No sympathy (remember it's "only" a 50k)
- No rides back to the start/finish line (we don't want to embarrass anyone)
- No credit for going off course and adding mileage.
- No trail sweeps to pickup after you or get you moving if you take an extended break.
- No credit for completing the race if you approach the finish line from any direction other than the official course . Can't finish the race if you can't follow the course.
Crews are only allowed at the Start/Finish, Hamburg Road. Aid Station and the Manor Aid Station. Crews are NOT ALLOWED at Delauter Road Aid Station. If you crew your runner from any other location then your runner will be DISQUALIFIED. We don't allow pacing, companion runners, mountain bikers or friends keeping you company. You must be able to complete this 50k on your own motivation.
Pre-Race Briefing and Check-in:
The briefing will be held race morning at 7:40 AM sharp near the Tea Room at High Knob in Gambrill. Check-in and number pickup is from 6:45 to 7:30 am.
Parking is located around High Knob area. Spaces are at a premium. Gates will open at 6:00 am. Car pooling is strongly recommended and would be greatly appreciated by race management.
There are bathrooms at High Knob and the turn around point (Manor Area). Please remember that the race trail is on public land, so leave no litter of any kind, biodegradable or otherwise, on the trail. Other organizations have been permanently banned for environmental abuse. We don't want that to happen to us.
All we give out is a wink, smile, handshake, and the prestigious Cat Card. This professionally hand crafted wallet size card entitles the barer to bragging rights and a rightful place in ultra running history.
Post Race BBQ:
Around 1:00 the rogue chef starts grilling. We have burgers, veggie burgers (for non meat eaters) hot dogs, chips, water melon, ice cold water, soda, ice tea, lemonade and a local favorite... the "exploded potato" from a.k.a. Frisco's. There will be other assorted stuff depending what's on sale at Costco and Sam's Club and what Rogue Chef Bob Fabia decides to do. There's plenty of trees for a shady comfortable post race collapsing experience. A setting in which to ponder why you ran a race on what could be the hottest day of the year. The deck on the back of the tea room over looks the last stretch of the course and it's a perfect place to cheer, heckle or console other runners as they finish the race. The Park service allows beer in and around the "Tea Room" which is race HQ. So its BYOB if that's part of your post race recovery plan.
Rick and Nancy Hamilton conceived and held the first run on Saturday March 5, 1994. The first run was considered a "fun" run with no "official" race results retained or distributed. In 1995 and 1996 it was run as an "official" race. During those two years there was also a 30k race for those unable or unwilling to run the full 50k distance (this option is no longer available). For those three years the course was a point-to-point, which started at Chestnut Picnic Area in Catoctin Mountain Park and ended at High Knob in Gambrill State Park. Due to logistics and remodeling of the Tea Room and time commitment for the Hamilton's the race was cancelled in 1997 and 1998. After intense negotiations between Ric Hamilton and Kevin Sayers (current race director) the race was revived on Saturday March 13, 1999. That same year a second race was held in August when the race date was permanently moved from the frigid month of March to the hot, humid and intolerable month of August. It has subsequently been moved to the last Saturday in July.
Local time: 8:03 AM