If you want to get an up close look at Cook Forest in northwest Pennsylvania, stepping up to the starting line of the Cook Forest 25K Trail Challenge is the best way to do it.
Why? In this race, runners...
But there's even more to like about this race, says Brynn Cunningham, who's stepped up to the starting line of the Cook Forest 25K Trail Challenge more than once...
Here's 11 things to love about this race...
For every race I run, I like to familiarize myself with the flora, fauna and local history. So, in 2021, I read all I could about Cook Forest.
Here’s one thing I found…
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Cook Forest State Park brochure:
This was all the information I needed to log into ultrasignup.com and sign up for the 2021 race.
And then again in 2022.
With so many evergreens, you may have already inferred the following:
In other words, the Cook Forest 25k does not do justice to Pennsylvania’s nickname, “Rocksylvania.”
Where I come from (Ohiopyle State Park), technical, rocky, rooty, trails make up the majority of my local routes.
This may seem ideal, yes?
As a result, here’s what happened:
The 2022 race course was nearly exactly the same, except that the start/finish area was moved, making it an even 17 miles, which the race description clearly explains.
Before 2022, it was closer to 16.5 miles.
If you want a little more than the exact 25k (15.5 miles), look no farther than Cook Forest.
WeeViews founder David Moore and I camped with our families next to a trail that took us directly to the start line.
It was a one-mile run, mostly downhill, an ideal warmup and situation for our significant others, who were spared driving to the start line with four kids.
Even more, a friend who also ran the race camped in a different section of the same campground and took another trail of the same distance to the start line.
Not too early, not too late, 9 a.m. = a sweet spot, especially after driving three hours and camping the night before.
And the finisher’s medal?
The Cook Forest Fire Tower is a nearly 90-foot watch tower built in 1929.
In the 2021 race, we ran by the tower in the first couple of miles.
In 2022, with the start/finish area change, we ran by it around mile 13 or 14.
No, I did not run up the tower during the race, but we climbed up afterward with family and friends.
Running beside bodies of water is always a delight, isn’t it? Cook Forest racers run along the National Wild & Scenic Clarion River around mile 10.
For those making a weekend of it, canoe rentals, fishing and swimming abound.
Road tripping to run a trail race is always fun.
Road tripping to run a trail race with friends? Even better.
What’s more, I met some awesome women and ran alongside them during the race, rotating who was second, third, fourth female, which kept changing until the last mile or so of the race.
It was empowering. We:
🏃♀️👊Here’s to my Trail Run Tribe and all the women I met and ran with in 2021 and 2022 along the course.
Keep running and lifting each other up!
Remember in number two when I talked about how the smooth, non-technical terrain had me running faster than I had anticipated, and the fuel I packed just didn’t jive with that pace?
🏃♀️🤮With two miles to go, the nausea crept in.
I willed it away.
By the last mile, I was surging to a six-and-seven-minute pace, for mere seconds, just enough, eager to reach the end.
The last stretch toward the finish line was a parking lot straightaway, which took me back to my sprinter days.
I sped up as if I were sprinting the 100-meter dash, the first race I fell in love with back as an 11-year-old.
After I crossed the finish, I came to an abrupt stop.
🤮That’s when everything came up…
We laughed and laughed some more when my husband said he saw it coming by the look on my face.
Not only is the race director awesome, but so are the volunteers.
The aid stations were packed with so many happy, cheering people. Who could ask for more?
👊Furthermore, the aid station captain who took care of me after I dropped out last year at mile five due to a strained adductor hallucis (big toe muscle) gave me the loudest, best cheers.
It was a surprise that gave me a burst of energy.
When things began feeling hard around mile 15, I dug in and “faked it,” smiling and waving as I ran through the last aid station.
It felt as if I had a responsibility to keep the vibe high for those around me in the final push, and by smiling.
I knew it would inject some positive feelings not only outward but inward as well, making the tough feel not so impossible.
In the end...
I was giddy and stoked to have finished.
Why? Because I really wanted to run this course...
2022 Cook Forest 25k, you were everything I wanted and more.
Race day gear