David Elliott
Contributing Writer

The second annual Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge – Half Marathon and 5K trail races will take place Saturday, August 12.  The 118 runners who took part last year had high praise for the beautiful Watoga trails and the welcome they received from race volunteers.
 
The winner of the half marathon, Daniel MacDowell, wrote, “I can’t even begin to say enough about this event, the volunteers, and the entire crew who had a part in making this event happen, absolutely unbelievable down to the last detail. Watoga State Park is an extraordinary jewel and having a half marathon and 5K to highlight some of its appeal doesn’t even begin to show all that this area has to offer.”

The Half marathon and 5K start in the cool of the morning – 8:30 and 8:40 a.m., respectively, and both use the grassy airstrip at Beaver Creek Campground to let the pack of runners spread out, but once they enter the forest, the challenges presented are quite different. 

The 5K course is the perfect introduction to trail running for those who’ve been wanting to try it. It’s Watoga in a microcosm – stream-side tunnels of hemlocks, colonnades of pines along the edge of the airstrip, hardwoods on a ridgetop, and dense green rhododendrons along Beaver Creek – all designed to be accessible. There is some elevation gain, but much of the course is flat.  There is no rock-scrambling or bushwhacking required. This 5K is a challenge for road runners to leave pavement behind and discover trail running. It’s cool, literally, and, it’s a race, with professional timing, age groups, and prizes.  Runners bring their own level of competitiveness – some people choose to do it as a pleasant hike to support the park.

The half marathon is the big picture.  This is the way to see Watoga, and there’s a lot to see.  The park has enough trails for three different half marathon courses, and this may be the best selection.  Again, it’s run on beautiful park trails – no bushwhacking here either – but let’s not mince words, it’s 13.1 miles with a couple or three mountains in the way – a true mountain trail challenge. 

This year the number of aid stations is increased to six, with water, electrolyte drink, and both sweet and salty snacks for contestants. 
At the finish line back at Beaver Creek there will be lunch for racers and volunteers.

Race maps, elevation graphs and registration links can be found at http://www.watogafoundation.org/race.  Early discount registration is available in the month of June, and runners can save more by using the mail-in registration form.  All proceeds benefit the park through the Watoga State Park Foundation.