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Rattlesnakes, Brambles and Axes: Pennsylvania’s Eastern States 100

Meet the Eastern States 100—the East Coast’s answer to the popular ultra in California.

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Will a new race in the wilderness of Pennsylvania be the next Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run? The Eastern States 100—the East Coast’s answer to the popular ultra in California—has experienced fast success in one of the country’s trail-running hotbeds.

“A few race directors and I had been throwing around the idea for years, but we couldn’t decide on which trails to use,” says Craig Fleming, the Eastern States race director, who has over 10 years of experience directing ultras. “Then co-founder Denny Colegrove came forward with a course plan that incorporated some of the best trails Pennsylvania has to offer. To everyone’s surprise, I had already purchased the domain name for Eastern States a few years back—so the Eastern States 100 was born.”

The 100-mile course—a single loop, 95 percent of it singletrack—travels through the Wilds of Pennsylvania, one of the state’s most remote wildernesses. The ups and downs are relentless—the total vertical gain is over 20,000 feet—and switchbacks are scarce.

“There are no sections that let a runner relax and zone out,” says Fleming. “One minute you’re running through an open hardwood forest, and the next you’re in a tunnel of mountain laurel and rhododendron. Vistas are spectacular on the ridge tops, and stream crossings are around every turn in the deep hollows.”

The event has quickly gained popularity since its inaugural race in 2014. The nearby town of Waterville, population 295, has embraced the race; locals welcome runners, volunteer at aid stations and help with trail maintenance.

“What is special or unique about the course—besides the rattlesnake den in the last few miles?” asks Michael Wardian, an elite ultrarunner who won the 2015 event. “The climbs are pretty epic—you wouldn’t think to find so much vertical in Pennsylvania. Also, I love the award for winning—an axe. For chopping wood! How cool is that?”

Eastern States recently earned its status as a qualifier for Western States. Now, its race directors are setting their sights on making Eastern States a qualifier for the Hardrock 100 and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, as well as a  “must-do” ultramarathon on the East Coast.

“I would love to see more athletes from around the country and world come to Eastern States and challenge themselves on one of the toughest and most well-done 100-milers that I have run,” says Wardian.

Eastern States 100

Waterville, Pennsylvania / Mid-August / easternstates100.com

95 – Percentage of singletrack in the ES100

18:23:47 Course record in hours, minutes and seconds, set by Wesley Atkinson in 2019

47 – Number of finishers (out of 154) in 2015, for a finishing rate of 37%

This article originally appeared in our March 2016 issue.