Route: Rachel Carson Trail (PA)

Location
Pennsylvania, US
Description

The Rachel Carson Trail is a hiking trail north and east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, spanning 45.0 miles (72.4 kilometers) between Harrison Hills County Park in the extreme northeast corner of Allegheny County, and North Park in the north-central area of the county. The trail is extremely varied, traversing several county parks, following power and gas lines, skirting suburban homes and farms, crossing creeks, meandering through woods and fields, and passing along the edge of steep bluffs. The terrain along the route ranges from paved roads to some areas that are quite primitive and rugged. A spur connects to the mansion area at Hartwood Acres County Park in Indiana Township, and the trail passes in front of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale. Continuing urban development along the route of the trail brings disruption and requires rerouting from time to time. There are no camps or shelters along the way, meaning the trail is intended for day hiking. The trail is relatively primitive and steep in places. Few bridges have been built, so many streams have to be crossed as-is.

Note that the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge takes place on 35 mile segment of the trail each year.  The race website keeps course records for that.

Comments

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge 35mile route is a supported race that has been taking place every year since 1998.

FKT for that route

Male:  Luke Badaczewski / 26 / Gibsonia, PA / 5:49:13 (June 23, 2018)

Female: Makenzie O'Connor / 23 / Pittsburgh, PA / 6:56:34 (June 24, 2017)

I'm unsure of the right interaction between the official RCT Challenge and this FKT, for two reasons:

  1. The Challenge is "on nearly the entire rugged Rachel Carson Trail" (https://www.rachelcarsontrails.org/events/challenge, emphasis added). My understanding from the RCTC site and my own experience is that the trail begins in the west at the terminus sign at the intersection with the Harmony Trail and ends in the east at the triple blazed telephone pole and intersection with Freeport Road and Bakerstown Road, for a total distance of approx. 45 miles. The Challenge is substantially shorter at approx. 35 miles, beginning in the west inside North Park just off South Ridge Drive and ending in the east inside Harrison Hills park but not going all the way to the terminus at Freeport Road.
  2. The FKT guidelines (https://fastestknowntime.com/fkt-guidelines) say "[w]e generally don’t track FKTs for race routes, since the race websites do that, and race results aren’t normally reported to us." To me, this sounds like the Challenge course itself is not something that has an FKT because the folks at the RCTC curate that record already, but the whole RCT "is notable and distinct enough so that others may be interested in repeating it", so it can have an FKT. There's a little bit of a grey area here because the Challenge describes itself explicitly as not being a race ("unlike a footrace, the "challenge" is not to win, but to endure, to finish the hike in one day") but as OP points out, the RCTC does carefully track of people's performance each year and also over the years.

I am not an unbiased observer here by a long shot: I have not run the Challenge, but I have run the whole trail and recently submitted a trip report for consideration for this very FKT. That said, I only did so because I think that there are two different ways to meaningfully engage with this trail. I'm interested in making the interaction between them clear; I am in no way trying to demean the Challenge and its history, the folks that love it year after year, or the RCTC.

I'm an experienced hiker and runner but I am new to the FKT and ultra running communities: I don't really know what the standards are for this kind of thing or how these questions have been settled in the past, and I could very easily be thinking about this all wrong. I'm trying not to misrepresent myself or irritate anyone, so I apologize in advance if I have by accident.

Ian,

I appreciate the respect and humility here you express! And I think, for what is worth, that you are in the right place submitting this unsupported running as an FKT. It will inspire others to come give the trail a go on their own, just as you did.

I think it is important to recognize race efforts as supported FKTs when the race follows an entire trail system that an FKT is on, but unsupported is different than supported so it warrants its own Time.

I imagine that he posted the race times more out of the fact that he was doing research than as an attack on your effort and contributions here

jason

Jason,

Thank you for your kind words; it means a lot. I really don't like to be a part of the negative internet vortex, or worse to trigger it, but in this case I felt like I ought to speak up and at least try to make my thoughts and intentions clear. I'm glad (and, frankly, a little relieved) that it read that way.

For what it's worth, Andrew's comment was *well before* I submitted my trip report so I definitely didn't interpret it as an attack. I think that the current course records for the RCTC are important context for this FKT and route--and that's in line with your guess that he was doing some research and recording what he found.

--Ian