Holy Cowans Gap

Switchbacks are a crutch.

Date
  • Sun May 28, 2023
Start location
Start time
  • 7:30 am
Distance
  • 31.9 miles
Total ascent/descent
  • 5,800 feet
Aid stations
  1. Aid Station 1 (7.0 miles)
  2. Aid Station 2 (11.5 miles)
  3. Aid Station 3 (14.7 miles)
  4. Aid Station 4 (17.7 miles)
  5. Aid Station 5 (23.3 miles)
  6. Aid Station 6 (27.8 miles)
  7. Aid Station 7 (28.8 miles)
Entry
  • Entry opens on Monday April 24, 2023 at 9:00 am. Entry will be limited to 75 runners.
GPX file
Print or download
In charge
Reports
Course records
  • Brad Hinton
    5:17 (in 2015)
    Martha Nelson
    6:11 (in 2011)

Entry for the 11th running of the Holy Cowans Gap 50 km opens on Monday April 24, 2023. The link to sign up online will be posted near the bottom of the event’s description below. So read the details to ensure this event is for you, and then use the link near the bottom of this page.

Those applying should know that alternate event names suggested were: “Screw the Switchbacks”, “Tuscarora Trail Terror”, and “FIT (F***ing Insane Trails).”

Because of the difficult and challenging nature of much of the course, all interested runners must have completed at least one ultramarathon prior to registering. This requirement is a requirement of the permitting agreement with the state of Pennsylvania.

Brad Hinton set the men’s course record of 5:17 in 2015. Martha Nelson set the women’s course record of 6:11 when she won the event outright in 2011.

Description

Aid StationSplitCumulativeCutoffNotesMap
Aid Station 17.0 mi7.0 mi
Aid Station 24.5 mi11.5 mi
Aid Station 33.2 mi14.7 mi
Aid Station 43.0 mi17.7 mi12:30 pm 
Aid Station 55.6 mi23.3 mi4:00 pm
Aid Station 64.5 mi27.8 mi
Aid Station 71.0 mi28.8 mi

Notes

  • This is the start/finish (Pavilion #4).

The course will primarily travel the Tuscarora Trail, with use of many side trails (including the Standing Stone and Link Trails) to make sure there is enough elevation gain. A few intersecting trails will be marked, but you will need to know how to follow a turnsheet (and read a map). There are some rocky sections on the Tuscarora, but much of the trail will be non-technical. Therefore, there are many wonderfully runnable and scenic sections to the Holy Cowan’s Gap 50k. The course is very challenging primarily due to its epic climbs and descents. Most notable will be the absence of switchbacks to get up or down Cove Mountain (the first big climb in the second half of the run); and the park boundary climb straight up on the very steep Bird Knob Trail.

Elevation profile for Holy Cowans Gap
Holy Cowan’s Gap elevation profile.

The course was shortened in 2011 (bringing it closer to an honest 50K) but the elevation gain and loss remained approximately the same as the original course. It has been run the same way, south loop first, north loop second, since 2011.

The course will be marked, but participants will need to carry a turnsheet and map. Two cutoffs are employed, meant to give the runners plenty of time to finish this tough run, but to also ensure that the volunteers can wrap up the proceedings by late afternoon. The cut-off at the 15 mile “half-way” point is five hours (12:30 PM). There is an additional cut-off of 8:30 (4 PM) at Aid Station #5, which is 23.9 miles into the run. Runners who are turned back here will miss the last two big climbs on the course, and have a direct and fairly easy run of about 3.5 miles back to the finish.

Aid will be provided at a total of seven stations on the course. Pavilion #4 has been rented for the start/finish, and is also utilized as the mid-point aid station. Please plan on sticking around after you finish to celebrate your achievement with a great barbecue.

The traditional run start/finish is at Pavilion #4, with parking at the adjacent Lot #5, all located at the southern end of Cowans Gap Lake. The closest camping can be found in Camping Area A, which ranges to the south of the start/finish area. ​Individual campsites can be reserved at Cowan’s Gap. Make your reservations early, as the campsites have historically sold out prior to event weekend!

Now that you have reviewed the event’s details, are you ready to join us for this year’s event? Look for a signup link here in late April!

Last updated June 6, 2022

Club Event Participant Medical Policy

This is an event with very real risks to your well being. The VHTRC does not provide medical care for runners at this event. Runners are responsible for their own health, safety, and well being at this event. No doctors, nurses, or emergency medical technicians, or anyone with any medical training are available along the course, at any aid station, or at the finish. The club does not supply any medical goods or services, including bandages, splints, antiseptic, or Ibuprofen or any other drugs to maintain the health of runners. Physical, medical, and emergency care is the runners' responsibility. In case of an emergency, we will endeavor to get local emergency personnel to an injured runner as soon as possible. Since most of our events are in remote areas, medical care may be far away in distance or time. Each year, runners finish — or are forced to drop out — with scrapes, deep cuts, hematomas, dislocations, and sprains. Runners have experienced cuts, bruises, bee stings, and asthma attacks. This is an event with very real risks.