A trail runner looking for the “real deal” need look no further than Mt. Penn in Reading, PA, for the annual running of the Half-Wit Half Marathon Trail Run in mid-August.
What makes this event memorable is not only the incredible variety of terrain, but the commitment of the ever-enthusiastic race director Ron Horn who clearly enjoys entertaining his “guests” from start to finish.
“Before we start, repeat after me the race oath,” bellows the venerable Horn from his makeshift podium at the start line, “I are a half-wit…” and downward and upward the oath spirals mentioning Hillary Clinton, Sarah Pallin, Gary Coleman, and World peace.
On the well-marked course (runners still need to pay attention and look up for markers now and again), there are a few water stops (many runners smartly opt to carry a hydration system with their fluid of choice), but also the strategically placed beer stop which runners pass through at the nine and eleven mile marks. The beer continues to flow at the post race party at the Liederkrantz. Yep, you are in the part of the country that boasts polka music, Distelfinks, and Amish horse-drawn carriages.
Let’s get back to the course, one that is certifiably crazy (a.k.a. lots of fun) with twists and turns and out and backs boasting nearly 2,400 feet of vertical gain over the 13.1 mile route. From steps akin to the Dipsea (albeit not nearly as many, but coming at just under the mid-way point, certainly distressing to the lower extremities), tree limbs scattering the trail as well as being suspended overhead, mossy and super slippery rocks of all shapes and sizes – some exposed, others covered by a carpet of fallen leaves – nettles, grassy paths, single track terrain, wide gravel sections, two creek crossings (there were rocks to step and slip over, but the water was higher this year due to a few days of thundershowers which continued this year throughout the race), the threat of bee hives, and just enough pavement to tease the road running coverts, this was one tough trail race.
Horn and his race staff have encountered some opposition from locals, who consider the trails around Mt. Penn their personal property, and must check and recheck the numerous trail markings on race morning to be sure they have not been removed or misplaced.
For this year’s edition of the Half-Wit on Sunday, August 14, the markers stayed in tact. The nearly 400 finishers (there is no entry limit, but the race typically attracts between 300-500 runners), were treated to cooler-than-normal temperatures, but dealt with rather rainy conditions on course from start to finish. John Wallace was the top finisher with a time of 1:34:28. Mary Braverman was the women’s top finisher posting a time of 1:59:06. Complete results at this link.