(Course Description, history, points of interest, and fun stories)
THE BELOW DESCRIPTION IS NOW ANCIENT AS THE COURSE CHANGES OVER THE YEARS. However, that being said, many of the same highlights and stories still apply. So go on if your new and read below to get a feel. NOTE THAT AID STATIONS HAVE COMPLETELY CHANGED LOCATIONS, but the distances and the number of aid stops are roughly the same.
None of the course has changed from 2014’s running. Two sections of course have changed since the 2013 running. We have added nearly a mile of new trail, near the Hilton campground just before the Buzzards Rock climb. “The Wall” remains at the end of the course, and the major river crossing has been removed at the parks request - there are still a dozen small creek crossings to cool yourself at!
You start out at Shelter 105 and head around the baseball field, another shelter and playground in order give us a ¼ mile loop in order to sparse people out before heading onto the same road you drove in on for 400 ft. You take Gun Rd across the Patapsco River on a small automobile bridge. Interesting fact: The Patapsco river used to be deep and bring ships up to pick up rolls (hence Rolling Rd) of wheat or crops. Now it is silted up from human development and barely deep enough to float a raft on.
You immediately get onto dirt trail (on your left) once on the other side of the bridge. Next you hit Lost lake, where youngsters can fish. You go by the lake and you get onto the paved 'Grist Mill' Path. Its a wide concrete path. You follow grist mill for ~1/3 mile.
While on grist mill, on your Right you want to look for the Vineyard Springs Trail, that goes under the railroad tracks. Up this trail is the first hill of the race. Next is the dreaded (to race directors) 4-way crossing. Two separate parts of the course intersect here and go through the same 4-way. This first time, go through the 4-way and take a right. It will be marked well. Continue on down hill for a mile, making a number of sharp turns. This is the most confusing part of the course. Watch our signs and flags. Also note that a trail (that we used in 2012) was Closed in this section. We take a small detour onto a small park road, and then off to a fireroad that catches up with the same trails from prior yrs. Signs and flags will get you there.
Hit the bottom of the hill at a paved parking lot, cross it and go over a stream. Back up hill. First HARD climb up into Bull Run Trail. Do part of the Bull Run Loop and then head off marked trails to what I call the “Bike Jumper” trail. Watch out for flying bikers here. At the top of Bike Jumper you hit the 4-way for the second time. Say hi to the HAM radio guys who will be bravely posted here! Again, take a right (you go a different direction).
Follow Santee Branch trail for a few miles and hit Aid Station 1. Awaiting you is a misfit crew of volunteers ready to jump at your bark and order! This aid station is a bit off the trail. You pass over a baseball field, and then after the station, get onto a road that takes you back to the same Santee Branch trail.
Now you continue on Santee Branch, ignore Pigs Run turnoff, and cross a road twice. Turn onto Charcoal trail and then left onto SawMill Branch. Rockiest section in the park, straight downhill. Lace up those shoes and pay some attention to your ankles. I always twist one here. Now that you have gone straight down the hardest hill, we will send you straight up the hardest uphill, Buzzards Rock! There is rock climbing involved here. Have fun. I have trained on it and did it running up and down 3 times. Yeah - give that a try. You will probly die after this one go BUT its well worth it. The best view in the park is at the top of Buzzards Rock trail. Dont miss it on your left and down about 20 yards.
Continue uphill and hit a gravel road, then take a left to go towards Illchester Viewpoint. Make sure to check out this view too. Rockclimbers go here and it overlooks the former “HellHouse”, an old school that was said to be haunted. In fact, a guard there shot a kid back a few years and nearly killed him. Ive seen the newspaper clipping. Continue on down the hill and hit pavement. Ew. This is another part of the Grist Mill path.
You are right in front of Bloedes Dam. We used to go swimming there in College - you can swim behind the ‘waterfall’. The damn is scheduled to be removed this year, so enjoy it now while it exists here. Bloedes was the first underwater hydroelectric plant back in 1906. Now its a shell of its former glory. Down stream from Bloedes you will see a fish ladder - I call it the Salmon Ladder, but I dont think there are Salmon in the Patapsco.
Part of that silting is due to the dam. Damn dam. So they are getting rid of it soon. It will also allow fish to get up stream easier, so in the long run, its better. Some teenagers were telling me they would be sad to see it go
Take a left onto the large paved bike path (Grist Mill Trail). After 3/4 mile on the paved path, turn RIGHT onto the SWINGING BRIDGE!
Hit Aid Station 2 and say hi to the volunteer peeps at the swinging bridge and head straight up the hill behind the aid station. There are some turns here at the start so watch them. If you hit waterfalls, you went the wrong way. You want “Root Hill” instead. Lots of roots.
Do a loop in the Cascade Falls area, and then head over to the Ridge Trail, which follows the Patapsco river, but way up on a ridge looking down. Careful again not to take the wrong trail in the following section. After a mile and a half, you take the “Connector Trail” to your right. There may be HAM radio people out here on the trail. Its kinda way out there, but the HAM people will mountain bike or hike in. Don't go past the connector trail, or you will hit mile 15 of the course! Again, all of this is marked very well.
You will pass some farm ruins of old dilapidated houses, then head to some large open fields which you skirt. These fields are the Belmont Estate, recently purchased by Howard County Parks. I wanted to hold the start/finish here, but they wanted thousands and they were also still abating for chemicals in the ground. Dont drink the water here! Now onto the Morning Choice trail sections and approaching to Aid Station 3.
At Aid Station 3, say hi to these brave folk - they had to hike-in your water! It is the most-remote aid station. If you get here and its past 6 hrs, or nearing it, consider dropping. You can continue on, but it is AT YOUR OWN RISK. This section of the course (the Southern Section) is much more gentle and kind compared to the Northern. Enjoy the nature.
Now you get onto some private land, which took some mighty good convincing and contract writing. Phew. Its a nice section that they let people use the trails to cross their land. The trails are getting rutted and the owner may have to close or reroute them. Please keep this land-trust section trash free and quite. The owner of the Rockburn land gave me a 2 page sheet on its history. Thomas Jefferson and Francis Scott Key may have been to this area, along with other high falluters. Take this private section on over to Rockburn. Cross some streams and your back in the park.
Loop around rockburn trail, turn right at the 4 way stop, and get back onto the other end of the Ridge trail. Since you did not take the short cut before, you are now on the other side of where you came before (near the connector trail). Maybe you can say hi to your HAM radio friends again, as they will simply walk 200 ft over to this section from where they were posted before. If you hit the connector trail, youve gone too far and have gone backwards on the course. Make sure to make a hard right onto the first white trail (there are 3). We will sign it well, but just make sure. Now you are on a hiking only trail that is very windy and gets rocky at points. Curve down this and you are 1 mile from the finish line!
Cross the road and you will see the Patapsco River again! Now… you hit “The Wall” - both literally and figuratively. Get over this 12 ft rock sucker, and your in like flinn. Think outside the box, look for ways around, or just POWER THE F OVER IT. Use help from other runners! After the wall you will wind your way through a beach with MANY picnickers and fisherman. Be courteous as you pass people.
Cross that finish line and relish the personal achievement!! Well done. Now go enjoy that food and beer you worked hard for - give me a big HELLO if you see me.
911 and 301-219-6149 (Nick) if anything is serious
The large river crossing was removed at the request of the park. They did not want us encouraging a common crossing point that would turn into a future crossing point by hundreds of others. Also, fisherman complain. There will remain a dozen smaller creek crossings, some of them 1-2 feet deep. Usually you can tip toe on rocks over them.
Be warned that the aid stations will be manned by volunteers and could become vacated before you arrive at the final ones. Water will continue to be stocked as best as we can, for as long as we can. Hikers expecting to take more than 6 hours, should bring water bottles big enough to supply themselves after Aid Station 2 (mile 8).There is a water fountain and bathroom at Aid Station 2.
Each persons effort will be timed and placed. We will be timing and recording and officiating and posting throughout the race. The goal of this challenge is to FINISH. Timing is secondary. Despite this, we want to encourage vigorous activity - but no prizes for top race finishers.
You will receive a bib which has a number and a bottom strip with multiple tearable sections. The timers will remove this bottom strip. Part of the bottom strip will go up on a leader board, part is a coupon for YOU, and part is entry into a raffle. Give us the portions we ask for, or the whole thing. Finishers can use the raffle part to enter for free goodies. Prizes will be given to those in attendance - so stick around and party