The Mt. Summit Challenge returned last Sunday after a year hiatus because of the pandemic as runners and walkers came back to the route that starts in Hopwood and winds 3½ miles up to the historic Summit Inn.
Smock’s Logan Maust, a 2020 Uniontown graduate, led for most of the run, but Jesse Irwin, of Connellsville, made the most of a slight hesitation by Maust in the final half-mile to surge ahead.
Irwin’s winning time was a personal-best 26:44. Maust was second in 27:16 and Bunola’s Emery Strotman was third with a time of 27:52.
“Just before the lookout I caught him,” explained Irwin, who placed second overall three years ago. “He bent over a little and I caught him.
“He ran hard, but I thought it’s now or never.”
A thick fog enveloped the course over the last couple miles, which Irwin didn’t mind.
“The fog was cool. It was nice to see not how far the finish was,” said Irwin.
Irwin said the two runners pulled away at the start and Maust then pulled slightly ahead of him.
“We went out at the start. He pulled ahead about 100 yards for the majority of the race,” said Irwin.
Irwin credited his strong finish to his dog, Tyson.
“I owe my motivation to my dog, Tyson. He kept me motivated all winter,” said Irwin. “I’d take him running in Casparis. It’s all straight up and straight down. He makes it look easy.
“I wish I would’ve had Tyson with me today.”
Though the turnout was down from the usual gathering for the race that began in 1983, Irwin was pleased to see folks show up for the event.
“I was happy to see people getting out with what’s going on,” said Irwin.
Cunningham was the defending champion, of sorts, winning the run in 2019. She also finished first in 2016 and has a second-place showing.
“I love the Summit!,” said an enthusiastic Cunningham. “I did miss it last year.”
Cunningham’s winning time was 31:02. Jenna Shumar, of Morgantown, W.Va., was second in 31:58, and Irwin’s Lisa Cimbala placed third in 34:41.
Though Cunningham has been successful in the annual race in recent years, it’s the only road race the 2001 Uniontown graduate runs.
“I’m a trail runner,” said Cunningham. “I starting doing Fastest Known Time runs last year.”
Cunningham’s inspiration for running up the Summit comes for her father, who passed away before her first Challenge.
“I always loved running up hills. I did my first Summit the year after he died and my bib number was his birth year,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham didn’t mind running through the fog.
“Aww, it was beautiful. That was the best part. I felt I wasn’t next to anybody. I felt like I was in my own little bubble,” said Cunningham, adding, “I really liked it.”
As with Irwin, Cunningham was happy to see the unique road race return. And, the field included her son.
“I am very happy (the race returned). I love to see the people I only see once a year at the race,” said Cunningham. “My son, Avie Harder, he’s seven, ran for the first time. He ran with two close friends and then I ran down to him after I finished.”
Hopwood’s Chris Martin won the Cruisers division with a time of 34:16. Uniontown’s Brock Rowan ran to first place in the Clydesdales division in 35:40.
Glassport’s Lee Stough won the men’s walk with a time of 35:46. Carl Kondrach, of Barnesville, Ohio, was second in 40:05 and Connellsville’s Jim Downey placed third with a time of 46:58.
Washington’s Gina Baugh was the fastest female walker, covering the 3½-mile course in 44:28. Markleysburg’s Pam Wheyl was second in 45:50, and Sarah Donley, of Bethesda, Ohio, was a close third in 45.58.