To all that have asked, I am sorry for keeping all of you in suspense for the past couple of days. For those of you that only want to know one thing, yes, I am now an ultra runner. Finish time was 9:11:29 (only 7:02:15 of that was spent running, but we will get to that later). I was running with my brother Nathaniel and my brother-in-law Justin.
First, the course. The course was the Kanawha Trace Trail, 31.6 miles long, with just over 5,100 feet of elevation climb. We had the privilege of learning about the trail the night before the race from one of the Scouts who designed and built it when he was 17. He advised us that his two requirements were, “don’t die,” and “don’t make me drag you back in out of the woods.” We also heard from the race director, Cory, who has directed the race since he started it in 2011 as a benefit to the trail system and the Boy Scouts who maintain it (all proceeds go back to the Scouts). The trail runs almost entirely on private land and was built by the Boy Scouts in 1962. This certainly made it unique in that there were many obstacles of private land owners to be navigated. There were several bridges built on the trail, but in addition, we climbed over barbwire fences (on tripods built for that purpose), ran through bull pastures, shimmed under an electric fence, and navigated other terrain features that did not exist in 1962 when the trail was finished. Even with all of that, the trail is still full of breathtaking views and fascinating woodlands.
Race morning started with a little bit of fog in the air, a mid-60’s temperature, and very humid. There were just over 60 people running the 50K distance and as at the runner’s meeting the night before, the mood was very relaxed. After taking a bus 40 minutes from the trail head at Boy Scout Camp Arrowhead, we arrived at the end of the trail and the start line for the race. After arranging our gear and throwing drop bags in the back of Cory’s truck for retrieval in 16 miles, we congregated in the road to wait for the start. A couple minutes before 0730, Cory called on one of the runners to say a prayer and then we waited for 0730 to start with a 3-2-1 and a click on Cory’s stop watch.
We started out on a paved road, but took it pretty slow in anticipation of hills to come. The plan was to take on the course by thirds, going easier than we felt we should for the first ten miles, a little harder the second ten, and whatever was left for the last ten. After a short run on pavement and a left onto gravel, we took a sharp left and were in the woods. It was still cool, and it was great to be out running. Somewhere in the first few miles we passed through a tunnel under US-35 and ran down a slick creek bed.
After several more transitions over different running surfaces, fences, gates, etc. we somehow ended up at mile 18. That is when things started getting rough for Nathaniel. As we later determined, he had been drinking too much water and not taking in enough electrolytes and had ended up in a hyponatremic condition. We moved slower over the next couple of miles, making frequent stops to alleviate Nathaniel’s condition. During this time, we passed through one of the bull pastures, where Nathaniel managed to contact the electric fence (really hilarious).
Nathaniel continued with us through mile 26, where the determination was made that he would have to come back and try another time as he had become very nauseous and had lost a lot of fluid. Justin ran ahead to the next aid station (2-3 miles) to give them the situation and then went on to finish out in just over 8 hours. While I waited with Nathaniel, a good number of runners passed, and then the volunteer who was picking up the marker flags after the runners, Chris, came by and stopped to help. After determining that Nathaniel could not go forward to the aid station due to the narrow trail and the steep inclines, Chris took him by the shoulder and walked him back to the last road. As luck would have it, the race clock was only around 8:20, and I had plenty of time to run the last 5-6 miles before the ten hour cutoff time. I started off again, which was a bit rough after sitting around for over an hour, and ran through the last aid station towards the finish at a brisk pace. I passed five other runners on my way to the finish and ran through to find Nathaniel already waiting at the pavilion beyond the finish. He was still pretty out of it, but vitals were good and he was recovering slowly (he is all better now).
Overall, everyone had a productive experience and I plan toattend the race next year if I am able to run with Nathaniel as he conquers the Kanawha Trace!
Author: Daniel Minnick