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One-day Rachel Carson trail trek grows in popularity

Mary Ann Thomas
| Monday, June 14, 2010

Longer than a marathon but without the nagging competition, the 34-mile Rachel Carson Trail Challenge on Saturday is sold out for the third year in a row.

Popularity continues to grow for the grueling, one-day trail trek from Harrison Hills Park in Harrison to North Park in Pittsburgh's North Hills, now in its 14th year.

There still are some slots open for the shorter 8-mile Rachel Carson Trail Friends and Family Challenge from Hartwood Acres to North Park.

Over hill and dale, the intensely vertical walk or run -- whichever participants prefer -- attracted 600 participants who, by the end of April, filled the slots for the 34-mile walk/run.

The 200 slots for the shorter 18-mile course sold out 10 days later, according to Steve Mentzer, events coordinator for the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, based in Warrendale.

Last year, the long trek sold out by the end of May.

"More people want to do it," says Mentzer, a McCandless resident.

"It seems to be a trend these days for these extreme activities," he says, noting the increased popularity of ultra marathons and endurance runs.

"It is not a race, but an endurance race," Mentzer says. "People will do it because it's noncompetitive. It gets them out. It's kind of an adventure. And it's convenient. They don't have to stay in a hotel."

About 80 percent of walkers and runners are from the region, but a number of out-of-towners from Maryland, West Virginia, New York, and even Wisconsin are making the date.

"People move away, and this gives them an excuse to come back," he says. "There's word of mouth, and we put on a good event. There's a nice cookout at the end."

Many of the participants are return customers, who have become wise to the ways of the course and the event, he says. That wasn't always the case .

Sometimes, in the earlier years of the challenge, only half of the walkers saw the finish line. Now, more than 80 percent complete the course.

Years ago, some people got lost.

The trail is in much better condition and marked, groomed by a cadre of trail stewards, according to Mentzer.

"At first, people didn't know what they were getting into, and now, they train better and train earlier," he says.

"And, they figured out what gear works best for them." Uncomfortable shoes and chaffing from wearing the wrong clothes took many contestants out.

Besides the training and the right gear, the challenge is about endurance. Hikers start as early at 5:20 a.m. with participants covering a little more than two miles an hour. They typically finish in 12 to 14 hours, according to Mentzer.

There are four checkpoints, with Gatorade and sandwiches for refueling. The event is staffed with from 80 volunteers to 100 volunteers.

"The best thing is to get what you need at the checkpoints, and keep moving," Mentzer says.

The Rachel Carson Challenge is a fundraiser for the trail group to maintain the existing Rachel Carson Trail and the Baker Trail, a 132-mile trail from Freeport to Cook Forest in Clarion County and blaze new trails such as the Harmony Trail in the Wexford area.

Additional Information:

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge

Presented by: The Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy

When: 5:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Along the Rachel Carson Trail

Admission: The 34-mile and 18-mile challenges are sold out. But slots are left until Friday for the 8-mile Rachel Carson Trail Friends and Family Challenge: $75 for a group of as many as 5 people; then $90 onsite registration. Call to see whether slots still are open.

Details: Steve Mentzer, 412-512-4544 or online , or visit .

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