Run Uphill: How to Survive the Mount Summit Challenge

Think you're tough enough to run uphill for 3.5 miles and climb 1,270 feet? Step up to the starting line of the Mount Summit Challenge.
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The calf-burning, cardio-crushing vert has been drawing runners to the race for the last 41 years.
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Want to know how to make it to the top and survive this race?
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👉Check out this race report from Brynn Cunningham and members of the WeeViews community who hammered their way to the top...

Friends gather at the start line of the 2024 Mount Summit Challenge. Clockwise from left to right: Casey Koza, Wil Walmsley, Amber Smith, Kim Roy and David Moore all ran the race for their first time.

Fun facts about Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Mount Summit Challenge road race:

  • Established: 1983
  • Race directors: The Fayette Striders 
  • Registration: Mail-in or same-day 
  • SWAG: Cotton, heavyweight, crew neck sweatshirt with a different color combo each year
  • Date: Held at 9 a.m. on the last Sunday of April; in 2024 it was April 28
Mt. Summit Challenge elevation profile: 3.5 miles with 1,270 feet of gain.

The Mount Summit Challenge race course

  • Distance: Despite its single-digit length of 3.5 miles, Pennsylvania’s Mount Summit Challenge is not a typical 5k jaunt around town. 
  • Elevation: It’s straight uphill, a point-to-point road race that gains approximately 1,270 feet of elevation on Route 40, the National Pike. The single-digit total feet of descent occurs after the final right-hand turn toward the finish line.
  • Start + Finish: Runners and walkers line up in front of the Hopwood Volunteer Fire Department at the base of the mountain and cross the finish line at the Historic Summit Inn Resort, the top of the mountain.

Five Runners Recap the 2024 Mount Summit Challenge

2024 start line (Photo/ Amber Smith)

What did you like most about the race? 

  • Too many to name just one!
  • First, I liked that both of my sons, my husband and I were all running, plus a friend of my oldest, and it was our youngest son’s first time.
Eric Harder (left) ran the Summit with their youngest son, Grey, seven, who ran it for the first time. Far right is Avie Harder, who ran the race for his fourth time, accompanied by his friend Max, new to the race.

Other favorite things:

  • That friends David, Casey, Wil, Amber, Kim came in from Ohio to race
  • Seeing all the people I see here year after year
  • That this was my first first place finish in a race as a 40-something, an achievement I’ve had lots of self-doubt about 
  • The final stretch from the overlook to the finish line - the crowd always makes me happy
  • Winning first overall female for the fifth time, a long-time dream fulfilled 
The right-hand turn to the finish line (Photo/ Marci McGuiness)

What was the most difficult part for you?  

  • The penetrating sun and humidity! Temps reached the low 80s that day - not sure what it was during the actual race. 
  • I felt dehydrated and had a very dry mouth from the start - too much talking and running around socializing (no regrets) and not enough attention on hydration! 
  • It was the first time I ever took water from Joe Everhart’s aid station at Lick Hollow - thank you UHS runners! 
Cunningham has won first overall female in the Mount Summit Challenge with times of 31:02, 31:04, 31:24, 33:13 and this year, 31:45. She placed second once in a personal best of 30:29 and missed the podium by two spots once with a time of 32:39. (Photo/ Tara Morris)

What shoes did you use? 

The Fayette Striders hand out awards at the Historic Summit Inn post-race party, where music is played and pizza is served by the Uniontown Area High School cross country team. Photo (Chuck Morris)
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Why did you choose to run the Mount Summit Challenge?  

  • My dad told me about it when he was in the hospital dying in 2012. 
  • We made a commitment together—he’d get better, I’d run, he’d be there, but God had other plans. 
  • He passed, Eric and I got pregnant with our first, so it was a couple years before I could race. 

When I showed up to my first Summit Challenge in 2015, my bib number was randomly my dad’s birth year, 52. 

  • The next year, it was his birth date again, 152 (Feb. 15, 1952). Since then, it’s happened more than 15 times in different races… 
  • So, I run this race for him and always will. May he rest in peace. 

Read more about my dad and the Summit in previous recaps: 

Casey ran the popular gate-to-eight-to-gate out-and-back segment on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail (LHHT) the day before the Summit with David and Wil (recaps below) and Kim and Amber, who also ran the Summit. 
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The 15-ish mile trail run consists of more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

What did you like most about the race? 

  • The low-key start with no real start line, just a lady on a mega phone saying 3,2,1 go!

What was the most difficult part for you? 

  • Everything but the one part that’s slightly downhill, 3.5 miles of all uphill on a warm day is no joke.  
  • Also maybe running gate-to-eight-to-gate wasn’t the best day-before activity.
In order to qualify for the Cruisers Division, runners must weigh between 175 and 199 pounds and weigh in the morning of the race.

What shoes did you use? 

Why did you choose to run the Mount Summit Challenge?  

  • Group of friends all decided to go out and do it, so I just followed the group.
Rik is a cross country ski coach with the Pennsylvania Cross Country Ski Association and coaches fellow Summit participants Grey and Avie Harder’s teams during the winter months. He also competes in ski races all over the world, including Italy.

3. Riccardo (Rik) Monaco

  • Rik: Pennsylvania Cross Country Ski Association Coach & Competitor
  • Time: 27:14
  • Place: Second Overall Male

What did you like most about the race?

  • The organization is excellent, and I enjoyed the pizza party, but I'd say the course.
  • The first kilometer is easy and fun. Then the climb begins, and the race to the top becomes challenging and exciting at the same time.

What was the most difficult part for you?

  • No surprise: the last 500 meters was the most difficult. 
  • Max heart rate and stiff legs, but the last right-turn toward the finish line always brings a big smile.

What shoes did you use?

Why did you choose to run the Mount Summit Challenge?

  • Running uphill is part of my cross-country ski and rollerski training, so this is a great opportunity to stay active when the ski season is over and the rollerski season is about to begin.
David at the turn around point of gate-to-eight-to-gate on the LHHT the day before running the Summit.

What did you like most about the race?

  • That it was entirely uphill! Honestly, ‘like’ would be a strong choice of words while running the race. 
  • It was grueling, but the opportunity to climb elevation on a road course for 3+ continuous miles is something we don’t have in Ohio. 

What was the most difficult part for you?
 

  • Keeping a consistent pace without walking breaks. 
  • I felt like I had enough cardio endurance but just not enough strength in the legs.  
  • Running 16 miles of trail the day before probably wasn’t the best preparation. 

What shoes did you use?

  • I ran in a pair of Brooks Ghost 15.  
  • These are my current daily trainers on the road, and they felt like a good balance with plenty of cushion while not being overly heavy or stiff. 

Why did you choose to run the Mount Summit Challenge?
 

  • Brynn Cunningham invited me to sign up.
  • We put together a group from Ohio to run some of the Laurel Highland Hiking Trail on Saturday and then complete the Summit on Sunday. It was a great weekend spent with friends!
Wil running gate-to-eight-to-gate on the LHHT the day before the Summit.

What did you like the most about the race?

  • It was a local race with mail-in entry forms. 
  • The atmosphere on race day felt very friendly and welcoming. 
  • Bonus: the race had a Clydesdale division for runners over 200 pounds.
In order to qualify for the Clydesdale Division, runners must weigh 200 pounds or more and weigh in the morning of the race.

What was the most difficult part for you?

  • Sustaining a high effort for the entire race. 
  • The uphill and heat made it a challenge, for sure. 
  • I haven’t done many short races or threshold runs to get used to pushing my heart rate for that long.
The Summit awards top three overall for runners, Clydesdales, Cruisers and Walkers, plus top two in age groups.

What shoe did you use?

  • I went with the Hoka Clifton 9 since it was on roads. 
  • My legs were sore from running the previous day on trails for the Gate-to-8 in Ohiopyle. 
  • I went with a shoe that would be more comfortable versus a lighter, faster shoe.

Why did you choose to run the MSC?

  • A few friends of mine signed up for Laurel Highlands in June, wanted to get a training run in, and had signed up for the Mount Summit Challenge. So why not?
Cunningham’s sons Grey Harder, age seven, ran the Summit in 48:00 with his dad, Eric, while Avie, age 10, ran it in 52:32 with his friend Max. They are wearing the 2024 sweatshirt, which all participants received.

The race results

(because they aren’t posted online anywhere!)

  • In order to remember your time, it’s best to take a photo of the results at the post-race party. 
  • I apologize for not capturing the Walkers division. 
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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, triathlete, cross country and backcountry skier...

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