‘Wissahickon Wanderers’ race off the beaten path

As Dennis Crowne’s running sneakers glide through mud and pound tree roots he speaks between breaths, “it’s amazing… to be in the city… and running on trails like this!”

Since 2003, Crowne has been driving from his home in suburban Upper Darby to Philadelphia in order to participate in trail runs with the Wissahickon Wanderers running club.

To trail runners, streets are just too boring. As he adjusts his knee brace outside the Valley Green Inn after the race Crowne says, “it’s just nice getting up into the hills.”

Last week the Wissahickon Wanderers concluded their yearly “King and Queen of the Wissahickon” race series with a 4.4 mile trail marked with pink ribbons and chalk arrows.

“We each have a region of the park that we know best,” says Louis Secreto, who finished the series as “King of the Wissahickon.” He designed this course, and added a little twist.

Describing the route to the 29 competitors he told them, “Today anybody that picks up a piece of trash gets 20 seconds off their time – up to a minute.”

The organizers stress how informal their runs normally are, when they aren’t holding their annual May race series. Holding a computer at the finish line, Fred the scorekeeper self-consciously explains, “Its casual, we just look like we’re more official today.”

In general “you’ll notice the trail running scene is a more relaxed atmosphere,” Secreto believes. “I mean, you’re in the woods!”

The atmosphere may be relaxed, but the exercise is quite grueling. The sarcastic motto of the Wissahickon Wanderers is, “no slackers need apply.”

Secreto encourages all runners to come try their first trail run with the Wanderers. “It’s free and it’s open to everyone interested in getting their feet wet doing a trail race.”

He adds, “sometimes literally.”

Before starting the race, Secreto tried his best to explain the directions to the runners using trees and rocks as landmarks.

Standing on a bench and holding a pink ribbon over his head he told the crowd, “it’s impossible to get lost.” But as Louis spoke one runner joked, “I got lost 15 minutes ago.”

After drawing a starting line with his foot, the runners assembled and began the race.

Forbidden Drive was avoided as much as possible. Chris Moore has been with the Wanderers since they began 11 years ago. He believes that trail running is all about finding “the less trodden path.”

He enjoys the risks to injury that go along with running over hiking trails. This way, “it’s just more interesting.”

Secreto tells Moore about one of his fondest moments jogging in Fairmount Park when he ran right past a red fox. “Where else could that happen in a major city?”

After all the runners had crossed the finish line, the organizers handed out trophies, prizes, shout-outs, and pats on the back.

Helen Cheung, who came across the line in third place for women, was recognized for having just returned to the trails after recently giving birth.

Nathan Sports, a sporting goods company from Sharon Hill, provided prizes such as water bottles, reflective vests, and backpacks.

Many of the runners ended the competition with a stop at the local watering hole, The Valley Green Inn, which is tradition of course.

Saturday, runners from the Greater Philadelphia region, will be competing at the sixth annual Wissahickon Trail Classic, the largest trail race in Philadelphia.

For those that don’t wish to compete in the 10K run, there will also be a 5K scenic hike. The events begin at 9 am, and all proceeds go to the Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers.

The Wissahickon Wanderers meet three times a week, in all types of weather.

To see their schedule, go to www.wanderersrunningclub.org.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.