If you’ll be running races near Johnstown in 2022, it’s time to start signing up for your favorites to make sure you don’t get elbowed out. If you’re a local runner, you may be familiar with the remarkable stories and meaningful causes behind some of our best-known courses. And by now, you certainly know the topography, and you either love or hate the steep inclines and gradual drops on the trails. If you’re from out of town, you might be looking to mix it up with our spectacular views and to take in some history along the way.
We talked to some of the area’s most experienced runners to learn about Johnstown’s top running club and get their thoughts on some of our area’s races.
If you’re a lone wolf looking for a full-time or part-time pack, one place to start is the Johnstown Running Club.
Johnstown Running Club
Some runners have no problem slipping off into the frozen darkness at 5 am to pack their miles in. For others, knowing that a group of friends is waiting for them a mile or two down the road makes a 5-20 mile run far more enjoyable. We spoke with Howard Bernstein and Stephanie Daniels to learn more about their contributions to area running via the Johnstown Running Club. Bernstein founded the club as a Facebook group in 2011 to schedule meetups for Johnstown area runners. Over time, it’s grown into a 1,300+ member page that’s become a hub for running Q&A, race info, motivational posts, challenges, and meetups now coordinated by Daniels. The group even has its own line of branded JRC gear.
There are usually around 30 active runners joining the meetups, which take place anywhere from downtown routes out to local parks. Daniels will often hit courses before upcoming events so that members can practice if desired. The club has a running master list of ’22 events around PA, WV, and VA pinned in the discussion area.
Bernstein and Daniels take great pride in how many people have picked up a passion for the sport after joining the club. From the beginning, Bernstein wanted the group to afford people, not just runners, an opportunity to build community and make friends. If you look at the group’s always humming Facebook page or join one of their runs, it’s clear that he achieved his goal.
We feel that athletics have always been one of the best ways to make friends, and if you can’t make a friend while you’re both staring down an 18 wheeler barreling down a narrow country road, then we’re not sure how the heck you can.
If you’re looking to find new races and continually step up your game, they’re the group to help with that.
Now to some of the best races in the area.
Healthy Kids Running Series (April 10th- May 15th ’22)
This one’s for the kids (and parents)!
Healthy Kids Running Series is a five-week program for kids aged pre-k to 8th grade held in the spring and fall. Races are held at Highland Regional Park in Richland, ranging from a 50-yard dash for the pre-k kids to 1 mile for the 6th to 8th graders. After the series is over, the highest-ranking racers receive medals. Some of Johnstown’s future finest will be sprinting around the track here, and if you’re looking for something to keep your kids busy this spring, don’t miss it.
Attendance has exploded over the last year, so if you plan to sign your children up for the spring session, do it asap!
On The Dam Trail (April 23rd, ’22)
On the Dam is the newest ultra in the area, spearheaded by Johnstown Running Club’s Stephanie Daniels. Runners can choose a 34-mile solo, two-person 34-mile relay, or 34 miles 4 person relay.
We all know running can be a painful pursuit, and sometimes logging long miles can get you a little bit antsy even with that race-day adrenaline rush. There is no better place to distract you from those burning quads and blistered feet than the Que. There are rolling hills, pine forests, and waterfront views to break things up on this two-lap race around the reservoir which features a 3,100 change in elevation.
Path of the Flood Historic Races (May 28th 2022)
If you’re looking for a mix of history and beauty, you’ll get it here.
Path of the Flood Historic Races founder and director Mark Voelker believes any great race should “do something for the people and show them something meaningful.”
Voelker is a well-traveled retired Marine helicopter pilot who has always felt an attachment to the Johnstown area and a kinship with its citizens. After flying the Path of the Flood trail by helicopter to confirm it was the 13.1 miles that mark the distance of a half-marathon, Voelker felt driven to turn it into a race. With the first race in 2014 turning out an unheard of (for this area) 497 runners, the Path of the Flood’s participation has doubled in size.
So why the high participation? As Voelker points out, it’s a race that stands for something inspiring and shows participants something meaningful. Participants honor the flood victims of the past while enjoying the beauty of the present. The races have broad appeal, with a 14 miler, seven-miler, and 5k featuring a significant downhill action. Each race has both an adult and youth version. It’s also a well-organized race that adds various improvements every year based on participant feedback. To that point, 2022 will feature chip timing and a new 1.75-mile stretch that more accurately reflects the movement of the floodwater.
JAHA and Cambria County Friends of The Trails members receive a discount on registration fees.
Laurel Highlands Ultra Races (June 11th, ’22 and registration closed)
The Laurel Highlands Ultra is a beast of a race through a beautiful area and is considered one of the most challenging races in the country due to its elevation changes (8,763 ascent, 8,624 descent) and rugged terrain. It’s a relatively well-established race, with 2019 marking the 40th running of the 70.5-mile race. It’s a tough slog and a big-time memory maker!
The 70.5-mile race covers the entire Laurel Highlands hiking trail from Ohiopyle to Seward, and 90% of the course is offroad. There is also a 50k race, which is considered one of the most challenging races in the country. 50k’s can see over 100 starters at times and usually finish about 80-90% of the participants. Relays are available for both distances.
Registration instructions are here, and you can follow them on social media here and here. You now register by sending in a postcard from your hometown. If you did not get your postcard in by December 15th, 2021, you could not participate this year. Make a note to get your postcard in by mid-December this year to join in ’23. If you are participating in the ultra this year, let us know how it goes!
If you are looking for other ultras to participate in this year, read on for two more.
Ghost Town Trail Challenge (June 18th, 2022)
A relatively new option at seven years old, the Ghost Town Trail Challenge is an opportunity to explore 32 miles of history and well-maintained outdoor beauty here in western PA for a great cause. As the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority hosts the event, all proceeds enhance, maintain, and preserve Cambria County trail systems.
The GTT Challenge is a 50k on Pennsylvania’s recently awarded Trail of the Year., which starts at Saylor Park in Black Lick and wraps up at the Young People’s Community Center in Ebensburg. There’s a full challenge of 32 miles, a half challenge of 16 miles, and friends and family challenge.
Learn more about the event and register here for this mid-summer event.
Rock N The Knob Trail Challenge (September 17th ’22)
Rock N The Knob is ranked the #1 toughest trail marathon in Pennsylvania. Ascending 250 feet per climbing mile, participants race up Blue Knob in Pennsylvania’s highest trail race. Offering a 10k, half marathon, and full marathon, this 11-year-old race is not to be underestimated. If you are an experienced trail runner looking for a challenge or if you’re an actual mountain goat, this race is your jam. Rocks, roots, inclines, slopes, this one has it all. And taking place in mid-September, you may end up with some harsh weather too—all part of the fun.
With trail names like Tree-odge, Devils Hairpin, Throat Punch Hill, and Soul Sucker Slopes, you’ll head home with some blisters and some great stories to tell. Sign up here if you’re ready for a beatdown.
Morley’s Run (’22 Status Uncertain)
Morley’s Run is a Johnstown fall favorite, run at the beginning of November. Morley’s is a family affair with a ten miler, five-miler, and fun run/walk.
One of the unique aspects of running in Johnstown is its varied topography. Being tucked into the Laurel Highlands, Johnstown provides challenging hills and beautiful scenery to break up the monotony of a long run. Morley’s 10-mile course takes full advantage by starting at the inclined plane, winding through old Westmont, and dipping down through Stackhouse Park. Mountain and valley views and fall foliage combine with the cold weather to provide the real fall Johnstown experience.
The course embraces Johnstown’s culture by taking racers through the west end and winds past the old mills and rivers before looping through Cambria City. After an exciting finish at People’s Natural Gas Park, participants ride the incline back up to Westmont with colorful race shirts in tow!
As it has been canceled for the last two years due to covid and the incline is out of operation, here’s hoping Morley’s will be back sometime soon!
Que Classic (2022 Status Uncertain)
The Que Classic is a straightforward 5k run, 5k walk, and kids fun run held in late September at the gorgeous Quemahoning Dam. The race is mostly downhill, so if you’re looking for a personal record, this might be the place to do it. With fall foliage peaking, you’ll have plenty to look at on the drive down to the starting gates and throughout the 3.1-mile course.
There’s a great post-race atmosphere with plenty of people sticking around to congregate and enjoy coffee and cinnamon rolls from The Pie Shoppe.
The Classic has been canceled two years in a row due to Covid, so here’s hoping it’ll be back in 2022!
Wings of Hope, an organization that benefits cancer survivors, hosts two runs per year and should be doing at least one in 2022 (we will update). Stackhouse Park has hosted a challenging race since 2015. Suppose you expand your horizons out another 100 miles or so. In that case, you’ll find dozens of races this year from Johnstown to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
If you’d like to learn more about the Johnstown Running Club, you can reach out to them by joining their Facebook page and attending one of their runs.
Thanks to Mark Voelker, Stephanie Daniels, and Howard Bernstein for their contributions to this blog!