Love Your Enemy

The 2019 Baker Trail UltraChallenge - August 24

Most runners arrived at the Youssef-Slak private farmhouse on Friday evening, in time to set up tents and enjoy a spaghetti dinner and a gorgeous sunset. The generosity and hospitality of Rebecca Slak and Hisham Youseff was exceptional. They opened their doors for the pre-race dinner and again in the morning for coffee and bagels. When I bemoaned the fact that I had forgotten my tent, Hisham was quick to loan me one of his.

My husband joined me this year. The night before the race, the two of us crammed into the loaner tent, which gave me the opportunity to remind him that packing this item was supposed to be his job. At various parts of the night, we heard the clomping of horses pulling Amish buggies on a nearby road, as well as coyotes in the distance

Race day weather was close to perfect: temperatures began in the 50’s and climbed into the low 70’s. Seventy-nine solo runners toed the line. 71 finished inside the 14-hour time limit. Brenner Burkholder of Pittsburgh grabbed the first-place male slot with an impressive, record-setting time of 8:04:25. Bill Huber and Mark Frey, both top-notch runners and Baker Ultra veterans, came in shortly after Burkholder, taking second and third respectively for the men’s competition. Lauren Jefferson of Rockingham, Virginia, was a top-ten overall finisher and the first-place female, clocking in at 9:39:39.

I chased Richard Cook for the last couple of miles, securing the second female slot and 20th place overall. Rachel Eritz finished as the third-place female. As for the relay component, “Team Beer Trail Edition” took first place honors over nine other teams. (I assume they did not hydrate in accordance with the team name.)

The race started on a dirt road with scenic views of farms and rolling hills. I’d heard about the “cliff” at mile five, which warranted a rope-pull to negotiate. As we first approached mile five and climbed a steep slope, I couldn’t see any such apparatus. Upon reaching the actual cliff, there was indeed a rope swinging, thoughtfully installed by Dewaine Beard. The course was peppered with unique, picturesque foot bridges. The nine aid stations that spanned the course were staffed with dedicated volunteers and satisfying food options, including Hostess Twinkies!

Despite a relatively well-marked course, I managed to miss a turn. (I hate when that happens.) Two extra miles on top of the course’s 50 is a matter of both physical and mental anguish. Equally unfortunate, I led a running partner with me on this little detour. The last 20 miles I ran solo and encountered almost no one. I had ever-increasing visions of consuming large quantities of sheet cake at the post-race picnic.

Like many others, I participated this year as part of a larger goal. I aim for the coveted “rolling pin,” awarded to those who race all three sections and finish each within the 14-hour cutoff. In 2020 the course follows the North section, arguably the most scenic of the three sections. It winds through beautiful Cook Forest and boasts a challenging cable-wire bridge near the halfway point. We look forward to a large, enthusiastic slate of runners!

—Amy Nelson

Thanks to our fabulous volunteers for making it all happen: Alex Baker, Joanie Baker, Zach Bare, Lisa Beers, Stephen Beers, Charlie Brethauer, Paula Brethauer, Lloyd Clarke, Tom Davis, Tim Deily, Hal English, Steve Fazekas, Kate Fissell, Matthew Fleeger, Larry Fuksa, Lincoln Griffin, Mike Griffin, Tirzah Griffin, Doris Hicks, Paul Hicks, Jerry Hoffman, Betty Hovland, Andrew Karnavas, Janice Keib, James Kicielinski, Keith Klos, Alynn Kramer, Vera Krekanova, John Krofcheck, Rhett Landry, John Lewis, Eric Longwell, Jennifer Malinowski, Steve Mentzer, Karen Muirhead, Bob Mulshine, Robert Reiland, Cindy Rogers, Jack Rosenberger, Kevin Schuetz, Ed Scurry, Kevin Snyder, David Syiek, Ace Vanmeter, Mike Waldvogel, Brenda Wolfe, and Ivan Youssef.