This weekend more than 400 people from 25 states and provinces have gathered, in spite of a dreary weather forecast, to face a challenging trek of up to 100 miles on the trails of Oil Creek State Park, starting.
The race has become a hallmark in Titusville over the last decade, as some of these athletes have grown to adore the community here through the race.
“I love the town, I love the people, everyone here is so nice,” said Mary Dauberman, of Bellefonte, who first came with her boyfriend, Brian Newcomer, of Williamsport, in 2014. The couple have been a staple pair in the race ever since.
Their visits to the town have been much more frequent than an annual trip for the race, however. Dauberman and Newcomer believe that they have each been to Titusville 20-30 times in the last 8 years, since Newcomer’s first trip.
“We were out here last December, January for Sally’s birthday,” said Dauberman, referring to a friend of hers. “Then June, and were were just here in August. Oh, I have been here six times this year.”
Newcomer said they keep coming because of the community and the friends they have made.
“I came out here in 2011,” said Newcomer. “I came out here in June of that year. I posted on the Oil Creek site and said I was coming out and Katie Gilbert said, ‘I will run it with you.’ She didn’t know me from anywhere. Her and her husband came out and we ran the full course and we have been family ever since.”
This tight knit community is the heart of the race, according to Race Director Tim Jennings.
“The most amazing part is the sense of family and community. When you are training, you might go out with someone who is a complete stranger, but then you spend hours out on the trail and over the course of months of training and years of doing this, they become like members of your family.”
That same race community emotionally charged, according to Jennings.
“I got goosebumps just now thinking about that Sunday morning,” Jennings said. “It’s so emotional. Some people, it just breaks them down. They come across and just start sobbing.
Jennings waits for 26 hours for every runner to cross the finish line.
“I even moved a porta-john so I wouldn’t have to miss people!” said Jennings. “I used to run [into the middle school] and I would miss a runner every once and a while, so I moved a porta-john over to the finish line so I wouldn’t have to miss anyone.”
Some of the town visitors think Titusville’s community has become central to this, making mention of the quality of service from local businesses and the friendly atmosphere of the town. For Dauberman and Newcomer, one Titusville small business, rather than a race, is sometimes the draw to Titusville.
“Part of the whole thing of why we come up on the off season, sometimes, is the Blue Canoe,” said Dauberman. “We have friends from Punxsutawney, and we are like, ‘We have to go to the Blue Canoe.’”
The Blue Canoe is one example of a local business that has benefitted from the race.
“The race is amazing for Titusville,” said Bill Zimmer, one of the Blue Canoe’s owners. “I’ve met people from Brazil and Europe. We see people all year around from the race, because they have to train. If you are going to run for 100 miles, you have to have a plan. I am glad we are lucky enough to be a part of the plan.”
Meanwhile, the majority of the 370 volunteers needed to make the race happen come from Titusville and are second to none, according to Jennings.
“We’ve got the best around,” said Jennings. “Our volunteers here in the Titusville community, they are the best.”
Jennings says the community is very supportive of the race. The use of the middle school headquarters is emblematic of that.
He found the site online, and his contact in Titusville called Karen Jez, the school superintendent. She has been very supportive ever since, and has even worn snowmobile outfits in the cold and fog to volunteer at the various aid stations of the race, according to Jennings.
Runners, like Daniel Burke, 24, of Ontario, will not have the luxury of snowmobile outfits as they brave the weather— some for over 24 hours. For him, the challenges of Oil Creek State Park will be all new in his five years in distance running.
“The elevation is close to 18,000 feet,” said Burke. “I don’t think my other races have come close to that. That’s probably going to be the toughest part. And also, I don’t think I have really run a race in the cold weather like this.”
Burke, who travelled with his mother, Mary Burke, is running the OC100 mile long race for the first time. He has his eyes on the Canadian National Team and this will be his fourth race over 100 miles this year. He finished top five in one, second in the next, and won his last.
“He started out with a 5K in our little town, then that wasn’t enough, so he went to a half-marathon, then he moved up to the marathon,” said Mary Burke. “Then, we he found the ultra, marathons weren’t enough.”
An ultramarathon is any footrace longer than the traditional 26.2 mile marathon.
Daniel Burke, and his mother, are camping in Oil Creek Campground, as well as friends who introduced them to the race. On Friday, they waited for the race by scouting out the track and exploring the area on a trip on the Oil City and Titusville Railroad.
Three concurrent races, a 50K, 100K and 100-mile race, have all sold out as runners, with the support of their families, take the opportunity to run in the forested hills of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
Runners will start and finish at the Titusville Middle School. The starting times will stagger from 5 a.m for the 100 mile race, 6 for the 100K race, and 7 for the 50K. The shortest race will end at midnight tonight, but the longer two will end by 1 p.m. Sunday.
Brown can be reached, by email, at email@example.com.