So Gregg Holst and I headed over to West Virginia for this inaugural 50 mile race. He ran it, and I volunteered. I guess I’ll let Gregg give his opinion on the course as a whole. But I thought the race was very nice. It started at 9 PM and went overnight, with a 13 hour limit (10 AM). The course started with a big uphill as you run up the mountain, then was rolling for the middle 30 or so, then went back downhill to return to the start. The beginning and end were the same,but there were a couple loops in the middle. It was mostly single-track forest road, with a little asphalt in the first/last mile and some substantial trail sections in the first two thirds.
I ended up working at an aid station that was passed twice, around 23 and 33 miles, pretty much at the top of the mountain. It was one of the two with possible crew access. We got up there with a truck full of drop bags a little after 9, and the captain had set up the tent and lighting and then headed off to run part of the course, activating the glow sticks at the turns and stuff. So we unpacked the rest of the stuff and then went for a walk as the runners weren’t really expected until midnight. It was a clear night and the sky was UNBELIEVABLE — more stars than I’ve ever seen. You could see the Milky Way! Plus the occasional shooting star. I’m kind of glad I didn’t run!
Anyway, we got back to the station and the captain and crews straggled in. It was a cool night, so we started a big fire by the side of the road and then laid out all the food and stuff. The first runner shot through around 12:30, and the second-place guy was about 15 minutes behind. The last two or three runners missed the 3 AM cutoff for the 23-mile visit, so they were pretty spread out already. (One of them was pretty grumpy — he said he ran like hell for the last mile and only missed it by a couple of minutes — but the race director had made the call.) When the leader got back around 2 AM, he didn’t even stop, and he had opened it up a bit more on the second place guy. Everyone who had made the 3 AM cutoff for 23 also made the 6 AM cutoff for 33 — in fact, the last group passed around 5:30. The slowest people were actually the sweep crew, who didn’t make it to 23 until 4:30 AM! We gave them a lift to the next trail turnoff a mile down the road, but they were still running pretty far behind.
It was a long night, but lots of fun. We had a good crowd between the volunteers and crews (who all pitched in), and it was really nice to have the fire to sit around. I hear one of the other stations had grilled cheeses, which we didn’t, and another had Christmas lights (we turned our generator off because it was too noisy), but I still think ours was the best. The home brewed beer might have helped. It certainly helped *some* of the runners! There was only one little dead point where things got a little slow, but just about the time we noticed, another group came along. It was always neat to see runners coming, because we’d see the bobbing lights through the trees a bit before the runners actually made it to us. Though it was hard to get a count, because some of them only had a headlamp whereas others had a belt or hand light in addition, so sometimes it looked like there were more people until they were right on top of us.
We packed it up after the last runners at 5:30, but it turned out that our van was the transportation for the sweep crew, so we were going to have to wait there for them to come through — and we knew they were hours behind the runners. Rather than wait, I started a little after 6 AM and ran the last 17 from the aid station to the finish (though sadly, all the trails were in the first 33). I was fresh and therefore running fast relative to the official runners; it was nice to stop and talk to the “real” runners on the way in. I caught some minor up and downs and then the huge downhill off the mountain — complete with switchbacks and all. The only problem was one intersection where the markers had been vandalized the night before. The race director had re-marked it, but the markers were clearer going out than coming back. I turned the wrong way but didn’t go very far at all before I decided there weren’t any markings and doubled back. Sadly, not everyone was so lucky.
Of the runners I passed, some were just making their way in at their own pace. A few were really hurting, particularly in the last mile where there was one last substantial uphill. One woman very close to the back was running her first 50, and was really worried that she wasn’t going to make it under 13 hours. She was running with a friend and they were desperately calculating the miles and time remaining — but I wasn’t wearing my watch or GPS so I didn’t really know where we were on the course. Their math sounded a little off, but still, what do you say? She asked if I thought the race director would give her a finishers shirt even if she didn’t make the deadline. I told her she could have my (volunteer) shirt if he didn’t give her one. (At the time, I didn’t realize they were different shirts.)
It was nice to see the 4-mile remaining sign, because until then, I hadn’t really known how far along I was. But that downhill off the mountain was really amazing — I’m sure glad I didn’t run it the other way first! I definitely got the easier part of the course.
When I got in, there was a breakfast going at the race HQ (a 4-H camp), and showers too. Can’t complain about the amenities! They had space for sleeping bags inside and tents outside. Guess it would have been smart to bring one. But by the time I ate and cleaned up, I got to see some of the finishers, and then there wasn’t much of a wait before the pasta brunch and award ceremony, so I found Gregg and we stuck around for that. Sadly, neither of us came up for door prizes — or awards. But everyone who left our aid station at mile 33 made it to the finish — and earned a shirt.
Finally, Gregg and I drove home, which involved a lot of caffeine and driver switches, as neither of us had slept before getting in the car.
Overall, I thought it was very nice, especially for a first-time event. The only nits I can pick are the route markings on that one turn, and the fact that the brunch entree was pasta (ick). But I can’t even really complain about that since I was full from the free breakfast!
I would definitely recommend this next year for anyone who wants to do a little stargazing. I’ll let Gregg comment on the course as a whole,but the last 17 miles was sure nice. I will say that some of the runners were really happy to get to the trails, while others were really happy to get to the roads *after* the trails — so… I guess the course has something for everyone!
And in closing, here are some photos:
P.S. What’s the area like? While running between 6 and 7 AM, I passed probably 8 pick-up trucks that were all heading up the mountain, each with 2 or more dogs barking in the back. I’m guessing it’s not just the world’s biggest kennel up there.
Author: Aaron Mulder