The Devil & The Diamonds


An old proverb cautions: “The Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t know.”

But the 103rd “Run for the Diamonds”—the oldest footrace in Pennsylvania—provided two sides to that argument.

If there is, in fact, a true Devil on the Run for the Diamonds course, most would agree that the Berwickian variety of Beelzebub dwells somewhere along the mile-plus ascent to the village of Summer Hill—a twisting climb so diabolical that it hardly seems coincidental that there is a cemetery conveniently situated at the summit.

But back to knowing what you want to know—or think you want to know. With that idea in mind, Derek Nakluski—a Canadian standout running his first “Diamonds”—decided it made sense to see the course. So—on Wednesday—Nakluski (who arrived with his former high school coach and sage advisor Ian Atkinson) went out and ran the 9-mile route, including “the Hill.” Not your average taper, but considering his PRs for 5K and 10K hover just above 14 minutes and 29 minutes respectively, the Ontario native is not your average runner.


Nakluski seemed content early in the race to tag along with defending champion C. Fred Joslyn, but moved into the lead on the notorious climb. On a sunny, mild, and wind-free morning, Nakluski maintained the lead over the rest of the race—although Joslyn (a two-time Diamonds champion, including a split-second winner in 2011 over Nick Hilton) was always close enough to provide incentive to the frontrunner—and, at halfway, in fact, very close.

“I had figured Joslyn was done and I had the race won, but after a long downhill and a sharp turn at halfway, I heard footsteps and Joslyn had pulled right up on me again,” Nakluski revealed.

And, the punch/counter-punch of the next miles continued to unravel like that—Nakluski pushing to small leads on every “up” and Joslyn pushing hard to gain much of it back on the subsequent “downs.”

The thick crowds—most of whom were in typical Berwick “party mode”—were paying attention enough to occasionally inform Nakluski that he held a “50 meter” lead over the final mile-plus.

And, charging into the Market Street finish, Nakluski dug down enough to keep Joslyn at bay—winning by about 11 seconds, perhaps 60 meters, at the tape.

Nakluski’s triumph gave the Canadian contingent their first champ since Matt Kerr (who now coaches at Boston College) turned the trick for the Maple Leaf men back in 2005. The Canadians have a storied history at Berwick, dominating the race between 1927 and 1937—including five wins in that stretch from Scotty Rankine, who represented the Old Dominion in both the Olympic and Empire Games.


Behind the spirited Nakluski-Joslyn duel, the next five diamond rings were earned by former Susquehanna University standout Paul Thistle (3rd 47-flat), who just held off Dickson City’s Kevin Borrelli (4th, 47:03); Scranton road warrior Matt Byrne (5th in 47:13, despite coming off the Philadelphia Marathon just days before), Lancaster’s Tim Getz (6th, 47:25) and former Muhlenberg College captain Bobby Torphy (7th, 47:35).

To argue the other side of the devilish debate of the “to know or not to know” question, former Penn State star Kara Millhouse chose not to peek at the peak—if that makes sense. Apparently it did for Millhouse, as the State College resident pulled away to a comfortable victory in her Diamonds debut. Her climb up to Summer Hill, however, did not pass without notice.

“I didn’t know about ‘The Hill’ until I started running it,” said Millhouse, a former Big Ten champion for 10,000-meters on the track. “I never raced a hill that long before and I was just looking for the top. It was more mentally challenging than anything; I had no idea when it was going to end…”

Millhouse pulled away for a comfortable victory in 52 minutes, 58 seconds, with 2011 winner Katie O’Regan of Lebanon placing second (54:26, 13 seconds faster than her winning time the previous year).

Rounding out the top seven diamond winners were: Meghan Ecker of Pittsburgh (3rd, 55:01), former Bucknell standout Carly Shea of Cambridge, MA (4th, 56:03), Brenae Edwards of Hazle Township (5th, 56:24); Jennifer Stevens of Laceyville, PA (6th, 56:43) and Elisabeth Reitz (7th, 57:01) of Lewisburg, PA.


Perhaps one of the strongest performances of the day came from Scranton’s Paul Leonard. Leonard—who always seems to come up with a sparkling effort at Berwick—clocked 52 minutes flat to win the “Veterans Division” (50-plus) diamond. To put his race in perspective, consider that Leonard’s time would have won both the 40-44 and 45-49 age-group brackets.

Other diamond winners included John Johnson of Ulster, PA (1st, 40-plus Masters in 52:13) and Mark Sherlock of Benton, PA who clocked 1:00.31 to clinch the 60-plus division.

Wendy Calarco of Berwick surprised herself with a first place in the 40-plus women’s Masters, churning out 1:02.06—despite recent training injuries. Dianna Golden of York (1st, 1:04.50, 50-plus) and Nancy Werthmuller of Scott Township (1st, 1:13:18 in 60-plus) also snagged diamonds.

With literally thousands of their fellow townspeople out lining the streets, Berwick runners always dig deep to be the “first local.” The 2012 honors went to Gettysburg College junior Alexandra Bull (first local woman, 1:00:19) and the always-tough Tony Lawson (53 minutes and change), who nailed down his 14th local men’s crown. Berwick Marathon Association president Bill Bull still leads the men’s pack, however, with 18 local titles—while Wendy Calarco has notched an even 10 for local women.


That Race Indulgence We All Know as 'Diamonds'

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

No doubt some of you have been called "obsessive" or handed some other moniker for the discipline it takes to train consistently. Rarely are we called "committed" and when someone hangs the “o” word on me, I simply say that I am a running "enthusiast." We do have indulgences, which family and friends know as races. The trip to Berwick each year has become the beacon of late fall for many of us up here in Ottawa, Canada since 1993. As I declare this, I still feel like a “Joe come lately,” compared to the clan of “Whitey” Sheridan and others from southern Ontario who began the trek long before I even knew of the “Run for the Diamonds.”

I first found out about this race in 1992 when reading a short feature by Bart Yasso in Runner’s World magazine, “My Favorite Race.” There was a picture from the 1912 event and instantly I knew it had to be worth looking into. It was not possible to do the race that next year but it gave us some time to get all the details. There was no quick query possible back then with no Internet.

There was one slight detail that had to be worked out before we committed. Explain to anyone who cared why it was logical to take two days off work to travel six hours to a place that is somewhere past Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. “Just to run nine miles,” stated someone incredulously. The “o” word came up once or twice. Almost twenty years later such a notion is an afterthought and never a deterrent from making the trek.

Of course, like most things these days, names of cities, teams, or events acquire a nickname. It’s almost too much effort to refer to such things in their entirety. Our crew simple calls the race “Diamonds.” Like, "Hey, man, you going down to Diamonds this year?” (rhetorical question). People do ask, “Why do you keep going back to the same event? You guys do the same thing every year.” Well, that is why we keep going back. The Run for the Diamonds is everything I want in a race but there are things that make it special.

The race is the star attraction, the route with all its undulations almost sacred. There is no gimmickry, nothing is contrived. It oozes tradition and holds a status to its patrons based on the founding premise; it is a footrace, where the swiftest get the prize, the rest savor the joy of effort and fellowship. Organizers with the task of staging the event year after year make that willing sacrifice of time, effort, and creativity so that the presentation is seamless. They make it look like the pleasure is all theirs. These same people also privately know they are merely caretakers of a jewel that goes way beyond its name, long before their existence. They entrust the next crop of new blood to maintain the canons that keep it special.

One has to experience the atmosphere that comes from all age ranges, both genders, who come to run. I am simply astounded at the youngsters of elementary school age whose enthusiasm of being in the race is infectious. I see them at the start, during the hard miles, and at the finish. It makes me beam inside with the thought, “yeah, the event is in great shape, these kids get why it is special.” And of course there are the same faces we see year after year, ones we actually stop, exchange a few words before moving on, others we greet with a friendly smile or nod. They are the backbone of the race, the ones who keep at it and will run it until no longer able. We visitors from the north are made to feel welcome on the most treasured of U.S. holidays, Thanksgiving. Organizers respectfully precede the playing of the “Stars and Stripes” with the Canadian national anthem, “O Canada!” performed fervently by Ed Livsey in the final minutes before the race start. And more than once, I have been acknowledged by a friendly “thanks for coming down,” by a runner who catches the name of my club and city on the back of my race shirt. Canada has a long and storied history at Berwick and it is heartwarming that this has been maintained. Author Mark Will-Weber’s book about the race’s history, Run for the Diamonds–100 Years of Footracing in Berwick, Pennsylvania pays tribute to this heritage, something that is not lost on us "Canucks."

Finally, I love the pockets of spectators who are out there on a holiday morning to cheer on family, friends, or make it part of their Thanksgiving tradition. The occasional wiff of cigar smoke or some alcohol induced enthusiasm are almost welcomed sensations. The great house party going on as we hit Market Street for the final stretch to the finish line never gets old, nor does hearing one’s name and home town over the loudspeaker as we hit the finish line. And the relief of a hard effort finally put to bed.