Just Keep Running: One Runner's Pandemic Plans to Race Again

Sign up for a race, only to have it cancelled by a global pandemic. Been there, done that?

  • Some advice...just keep running.
Sign up for a race, only to have some major life event force you to cancel. That ever happen?

  • Some advice...just keep running.
Set a goal to run a race, but not really sure when it will happen.

When runner Kristen Muscaro-Winters set a goal to run an in-person half-marathon for a couple of unique reasons, she wasn't going to let anything stand in her way...even if it would take more than a year to get to the starting line.

  • Her strategy...just keep running.
Here's what happened...

First, a vocabulary lesson...

Perfidy (noun)
  1. the quality or state of being faithless or disloyal; treachery
  2. an act or an instance of disloyalty
You’ll understand the significance of this word in a bit. For now, let’s remember the definition, from Miriam-Webster. 

Before we get to perfidy, let me tell you about Kristen

Were you one of the many runners whose race was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Kristen Muscaro-Winters was.

In fact, she had a special celebration planned for her 30th birthday on April 28, along with her sister, Jess Muscaro, who also had a birthday at the end of April.

The two sisters signed up for West Virginia’s Coopers Rock Half Marathon trail race so they could be together for their birthdays, run together and celebrate afterward together.

But none of that happened. 

Kristen Muscaro-Winters signed up to run the Coopers Rock Half Marathon in 2020, but the global pandemic had other plans. Without an in-person race on her calendar, there was only one thing to do...just keep running.

As Long as the Moon Shall Rise, Just Keep Running

Kristen kept running despite the letdown of a cancelled race and having to make the most of turning 30 during the height of an international health crisis.

She ran throughout the spring and summer and signed up for another race, the 2020 Warren YMCA SuperKwik Challenge Half Marathon, which takes place in Warren, Pa., the town where she grew up.

With fingers crossed and the pandemic seeming to lighten, the race was set to happen. 

Kristen was ready.

However, another circumstance outside of her control squashed Kristen’s dreams of making it to a start line.

Her husband’s grandmother died, and all funeral events occurred on race weekend.

Kristen signed up to run the Warren YMCA SuperKiwk Challenge Half Marathon in Pennsylvania in 2020. But she had to cancel...again. Her response...just keep running.

As Long as the Rivers Flow, Just Keep Running

Again, Kristen kept running, throughout the winter, spring and summer.

The two sisters still wanted to run a race together.

They were determined to make it happen.

So, come 2021, Kristen once again signed up for the Warren YMCA SuperKwik Challenge Half Marathon, held on Oct. 9. 

Her sister signed up, too.

After a year of cancelled races, Kristen decided to sign up for the SuperKwik Half Marathon Challenge...again.

Half Marathon: As Long as the Sun Will Shine, Just Keep Running

Kristen runs consistently, year round, whether it’s on her treadmill at 4:30 a.m. before going to teach art at a public elementary school or on the roads with her husband between their work schedules or on the single-track trails in the mountains with her friends.

On June 13, 2021, she got a taste of racing when she ran 12 miles as the last leg of a three-person 50k relay team in the Laurel Highlands Ultra and won first overall female team.

For the SuperKwik half marathon, her longest training run was 16 miles on trail.

She was more than prepared and hoped the day would actually come, that nothing outside of her control would thwart her efforts to run her first solo race.

Kristen ran the Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K relay on a three-person team, running the last 12 miles of the race. And she helped her team with First Female Overall Team.

The SuperKwik Challenge Half Marathon Course

According to the race website:
  • The SuperKwik Challenge Half Marathon begins east of Warren in nearby Mead at Kinzua Beach, near Kinzua Bay on the Allegheny Reservoir. 
  • Runners then head west along Kinzua Road (Highway 59) for the first four miles, which roughly parallels the river as it heads toward Warren. 
  • Around mile four, the course crosses the Kinzua Dam and continues west along the other side of the river.
The race winds along the river nearly all the way until mile 12, when runners head into the city toward the finish line at the Warren YMCA.

At some point, runners race over the longest bridge in Warren County, the Morrison Memorial Bridge.

It is also known as Cornplanter Bridge for the Seneca chief who once occupied the territory beneath the area flooded by the dam.

The Seneca people dubbed that area Lake Perfidy.

Perfidy.

Remember what it means? 

The SuperKiwk Challenge Half Marathon runs by Kinzua Bay on the Allegheny Reservoir in Warren, Pen..

The Kinzua Dam

In 1965, the construction of the Kinzua Dam, located in Allegheny National Forest, was completed as part of a system of reservoirs on the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers in northwestern Pennsylvania. It was meant to control flooding.

Despite the dam’s good intentions, as a result of its construction, the Seneca Nation lost nine communities and 10,000 acres, according to Environmental Health News.

Singer/songwriter Peter La Farge describes the historical events, wrought with disloyalty, treachery, perfidy, in the lyrics of his song, As Long As the Grass Shall Grow, famously performed by Johnny Cash:

Listen to Johnny Cash sing "As Long As the Grass Shall Grow."
As long as the moon shall rise
As long as the rivers flow
As long as the sun will shine
As long as the grass shall grow

...

The Senecas are an Indian tribe of the Iroquois nation
Down on the New York/ Pennsylvania Line, you'll find their reservation
After the US revolution, Cornplanter was a chief
He told the tribe, these men they could trust, that was his true belief
He went down to Independence Hall and there was a treaty signed
That promised peace with the USA and Indian rights combined
George Washington gave his signature, the Government gave its hand
They said that now and forever more that this was Indian land

...

On the Seneca reservation there is much sadness now
Washington's treaty has been broken, and there is no hope, no how
Across the Allegheny River, they're throwing up a dam
It will flood the Indian country, a proud day for Uncle Sam
It has broke the ancient treaty with a politician's grin
It will drown the Indians’ graveyards, Cornplanter can you swim?
The earth is mother to the the Senecas, they're trampling sacred ground
Change the mint green earth to black mud flats as honor hobbles down

...

The Iroquois Indians used to rule from Canada way south
But no one fears the Indians now and smiles the liar's mouth
The Senecas hired an expert to figure another site
But the great good army engineers said that he had no right
Although he showed them another plan and showed them another way
They laughed in his face and said, no deal, Kinzua dam is here to stay
Congress turned the Indians down, brushed off the Indians’ plea
So the Senecas have renamed the dam, they call it Lake Perfidy

...

Washington, Adams and Kennedy now hear their pledges ring
The treaties are safe, we'll keep our word, but what is that gurgling?
It's the back water from Perfidy Lake, it's rising all the time
Over the homes and over the fields and over the promises fine
No boats will sail on Lake Perfidy, in winter it will fill
In summer it will be a swamp and all the fish will kill
But the Government of the USA has corrected George's vow
The father of our country must be wrong, what's an Indian anyhow?
Listen Here: Johnny Cash, Live at Madison Square Garden, New York

Running for Inidigenous Peoples’ Day

“Running over the Kinzua Dam was my favorite part of the race because of the unique opportunity it presented. This is probably the only road race I’d ever run,” Kristen stated. 

It was a way for her to recognize Inidigenous Peoples’ Day, which fell two days after the race.

“Running over the Kinzua Dam was my favorite part of the race because of the unique opportunity it presented. This is probably the only road race I’d ever run."

—Kristen Muscaro-Winters
October 11 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

What's Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

United States President Joseph R. Biden has proclaimed October 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

In A Proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Biden states:

“We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today.  I encourage everyone to celebrate and recognize the many Indigenous communities and cultures that make up our great country.”

Even though the dam stands as a harsh reminder of how our government has treated our indigenous peoples, Kristen and her sister ran as a way to celebrate and recognize the Seneca Nation who came before them in their hometown.

“We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today. I encourage everyone to celebrate and recognize the many Indigenous communities and cultures that make up our great country.”

—President Joe Biden

SuperKwik Challenge Half Marathon: Race Day

“It was a perfect, beautiful, rolling hills, fall foliage kind of day with limited spectators that were dispersed randomly,” gushed Kristen. 

The weather was ideal for her - overcast, cool temperatures, rain that ranged from a light mist to a (not so preferred) heavy downpour. 

She toed the line with her sister, sister’s friend, Drew, and her husband, Travis.

“I had a couple goals in my head. I thought, if it’s a really hot day, I’ll be slower, so 2:15 would be a perfectly reasonable time. If I’m feeling really good, then 2:06 would be my goal.” 

Racers lined up at the Kinzua Beach swimming area, the gun fired and, finally, Kristen took her first running step in an official race.

From left: Drew Thabault, Kristen Muscaro-Winters (bib 50), Jess Muscaro and Travis Winters.

SuperKwik Challenge Half Marathon: The First Mile

Kristen and Travis began the race side-by-side.

“In less than a quarter mile, he took off. He was like a bat out of hell!” 

She didn’t see him again until the finish line, when she learned that he had finished in 1:41:21, winning second male in his age group. 

Kristen Muscaro-Winters with husband Travis Winters.
Kristen and Travis began the race side-by-side.

“In less than a quarter mile, he took off. He was like a bat out of hell!” 

She didn’t see him again until the finish line, when she learned that he had finished in 1:41:21, winning second male in his age group.

Travis Winters wins second male in his age group. Photo by: Joe Muscaro
But much to her surprise, her high school best friend, whom she hadn’t seen in years, was running, and they stayed together for the first six or seven miles. 
Kristen (right) surprisingly gets to run with her high school best friend, Jessica Pierson (in blue).

Then Kristen felt it...

...the deeply human desire to break away, to run her fastest.

“I was really trying to go as fast as I could when I realized I had a chance to break two hours. The last two miles were really fast splits for me, and I went all out in the end.” 

Kristen runs toward the Kinzua Dam.
“When I saw my watch, I was like, ‘Yes!!!!’ I never tried to run that fast before.” She finished in 1:59:44.

Her strong finish led her to win third female in her age group.

Kristen runs as fast as she can in the last couple miles of the SuperKwik Half Marathon. Photo by: Joe Muscaro

The SuperKwik Challenge Finish Line

Kristen was there to see her high school friend, Jessica, finish fourth female in her age group in 2:05:29 as well as her sister, Jess, sixth female in their age group, in 2:28:06. Drew had won second in her age group in 1:56:20. 

Kristen’s two brothers and brother-in-law were there as well. Joe, her eldest brother, has still run the fastest SuperKwik Half Marathon of all the Muscaros in a time of 1:32, set long ago when he was an avid runner. 

Perhaps one day Travis will steal Joe’s record and set a new bar for the Muscaro family. 

Kristen finished in 1:59:44. Her strong finish led her to win third female in her age group.

What's Next for Kristen?

She has no future race plans to date, but as long as the grass shall grow, Kristen will just keep running, through pandemics, family deaths, rain, snow, hail, and even her least favorite, heat and humidity.

Elated that she had bettered her “A” goal as well as her “B,” goal, she’s more excited than ever to push herself.

It’s that innate curiosity that resides within all of us when we achieve something we never thought we could do. When we surpass our own expectations, we surprise ourselves, then we question ourselves, ‘if I could do that, could I do this, something bigger, better, faster, farther?’ 

So…

As long as the moon shall rise
As long as the rivers flow
As long as the sun will shine
As long as the grass shall grow

Kristen will keep running, recognizing the important things in life, like Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and celebrating the fun things, like sister/sister birthdays, family and friends. 

This one’s for you, Cornplanter

After Cornplanter's lineage died off, the Cornplanter Tract, given to him by the U.S. government on a “forever” basis, according to WIkipedia, “was planned by that same government to be flooded as the site of a man-made reservoir after 1965 by completion of the Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River. 

The remains of Cornplanter, his descendants, and an 1866 monument to him were relocated. 

Most of the remaining residents were forced to relocate to the Allegany Reservation of the federally recognized Seneca Nation of New York; they lost much of their fertile farmland.”

The fate of the Cornplater was sealed by the Kinzua Dam.

SuperKwik Challenge Swag

Racers received a long-sleeve technical shirt while age group winners were awarded a black metal water bottle plus a small plaque.

Kristen’s Gear
SuperKwik Challenge Finishers received a shirt, water bottle, and finisher medals.
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Brynn Cunningham 234
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

Comments

David Moore Congratulations on the sub 2 hour finish Kristen!! It's funny, I was actually in Warren the day before the race and on the reservoir (Chappel Bay) for the weekend. I've spent time there on several occasions but never knew of the history between the Seneca Nation. A harsh reminder indeed. Thanks for sharing Brynn!

Brynn Cunningham Such a fun/sad history to research. Thank you, David and Kristen, and congrats again!

Lauren Worrell Congrats Kristen! It was fun to read about your race and the history!

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