Runners go the distance at Mount Nittany Conservancy Marathon

A.J. Kelly channeled his inner Road Runner as he barreled down Curtin Road toward the finish line Sunday.

The Altoona man, who has the speedy cartoon bird tattooed on his leg, crossed the line at 2 hours and 45 minutes, winning the inaugural Mount Nittany Conservancy Marathon in State College.

He described the first 16 miles of the 26.2 mile, scenic course as an old wooden roller coaster with rolling hills allowing him to get into a rhythm, but the last 10 miles included steeper inclines that were tough to overcome.

“It was definitely one of the tougher ones I’ve run,” he said, adding that this is his 16th race.

But Kelly never hit a wall and was able to cruise to victory against the more than 150 participants who started the race.

He was happy that a marathon finally came to State College because it’s a short drive from his home.

“I’ve never been able to sleep in my own bed and run a marathon, so that was nice,” he said.

Conservancy President John Hook said bringing the marathon to State College was almost a no-brainier. The group was brainstorming ideas on events to raise awareness for the preservation of Mount Nittany, and all the local running groups pushed for the marathon.

Hook said many people organize 5K races or golf tournaments, but State College didn’t have a marathon.

“It’s the only thing we don’t really have locally,” he said.

The event wasn’t about raising a large amount of money, Hook said. He just wanted to drum up interest for volunteers to help with the preservation efforts.

He said the main job of the conservancy, which has been around for 30 years, is to maintain the trails through the mountain. That effort doesn’t cost much money if they are able to get volunteers out to help.

The race event also needed volunteers to help mark out the course and run water stations, and many people were happy to help.

Dina Liberatore volunteered for a water station because one of her friends was helping to organize the event. She said she thought it would be fun at cheer on the runners and help keep them hydrated.

She never plans to run a marathon and will stick to shorter races, but she said she has admiration to the people who make the long run.

“I really admire the people that have the discipline for this,” Liberatore said.

For Kelly, it’s just the competitive drive and will to win that keeps him going. He has already run four marathons this year and plans to do one or two more in late 2013.

He said a common mistake among first-time runners is starting too strong and losing energy toward the end, but he warned that the opposite could also be a problem.

Runners should get off to a strong start to provide a good baseline for the run, while their legs are fresh, he said.

“It’s going to hurt either way at the end,” he said.