By Jaret Seiberg
The Martha Moats Baker Memorial 50K is destined to become one of the highlights of the VHTRC running scene. This is an incredible run in the vicinity of the Wild Oak Trail. It includes tremendous climbs and a seven mile downhill that is almost entirely runable. Plus the scenery even exceeds what you get at TWOT.
A small group of us gathered for this Dennis Herr masterpiece. Working with Dennis was Quatro Hubbard, who seemed to delight in our misery as we battled the hot and humid conditions.
The run started in a familiar spot. We met at 6 a.m. in the parking lot off FS-95 where the TWOT runs start and finish. Our group was surprisingly small. I expected at least a few dozen runners. Still we had a great group consisting of Kerry Owens, David Snipes, Marty Lindemann, Bill Wandell, Mitch Goodman, Adam Matheson, Charlie Miracle, Natalie Kennedy, Tony Escobar and Bryan Banning.
The 11 of us were off a bit after 6 a.m. on the TWOT trail running counter clockwise. That meant we had a seven mile climb to the top of Little Bald. At 4.2 miles on Mitch's GPS we crossed the trail that we would take back up Grindstone Mountain from the last aid station. If the mileage was correct, that would mean that we would have to gain in 1.8 miles what we just climbed in 4.2 miles. That seemed highly unlikely, which was our first indication that the course might be a bit longer than 31 miles.
We had a pretty big lead group consisting of myself, Snipes, Kerry, Mitch, Adam, Bryan and Marty. At times we spread out a bit, especially after we turned onto the fire road on the top of Little Bald and headed toward Reddish Knob. The first few miles were slightly downhill before we began the gradual climb to FS 85. We hung a right on the dirt road and started climbing some more. At the spring, we took a hard right and climbed a steep trail to Reddish.
These first 13 miles took us 3:12. I'll concede we were not pushing the pace and we stopped for pictures around mile nine at the memorial for Martha Moats Baker, who froze to death a century or so ago trying to cross these mountains. I'm sure Dennis can enlighten us with the full story. Still, 3:12 is a long time for 13 miles.
Dennis and Quatro were waiting for us. In terms of aid, this exceeded the even high VHTRC standards. Quatro brought the kitchen cupboard with him, offering up everything from canned peaches to Fig Newtons to Cheetos. Dennis countered with his family's famous butterscotch squares and endless tubes of chips.
The view from Reddish exceeds anything you see from TWOT. Effectively you have a 360 degree view of the mountains and valleys. One even can spot the secretive Navy radar facility.
From Reddish we essentially ran downhill for eight miles. We started on the Timber Ridge Trail before bearing right on to the Hearthstone Trail for four miles. We went downhill almost the entire way and the footing was surprisingly good and the trails were nicely shaded. We emptied out on Tilghman Road and we took a left for a mile of slightly uphill dirt road running. This led us to the pet cemetery and another great aid station. Our lead group had shrunk. Snipes and Adam were about a minute ahead of Kerry, Mitch and myself. We all met up at the aid station, though Adam and Snipes were off first.
The results will say that we need 1:58 to get to the second aid station. That is an overstatement and we hung out a bit too long at Reddish. So our total travel time was closer to 1:45 to 1:50. We were moving pretty well down the mountain, which made it hard for me to believe that the nine miles could take so long.
That was our second warning that this course might be a bit longer than advertised.
For me, the next section was the biggest surprise. I had no idea one could gain some significant elevation on this side of Tilghmann Road. Of course, this was nothing like climbing Reddish. Yet it was like adding the climb up Sugarloaf Mountain to the course.
We quickly caught up with David Snipes and Adam as we crossed an old sand quarry that the local rules for target practice. (At least that is what we hope all the spent cartridges were for.)
This turned into a nicely shaded single track that slowly went up the small mountain. We crested at a tower and followed a fire road for about a quarter mile until we descended down the mountain on steep single track to Tilghmann Road. Then we hung and left and ran past Hearthstone Lake on our way to the Grooms Ridge Trails.
By this point, our lead group of five had broken into three groups. Snipes left us on the downhill and was far ahead. Kerry, Mitch and I were chugging along and we saw Adam fall behind.
We made it to Grooms Mill faster than Dennis expected as we beat him – and the aid station there. David had run past the trail and was forced to turn back. We saw Dennis about 100 yards before the trail so we didn't have to worry.
Dennis warned that it could take three hours to do what was supposed to be six miles. We loaded up on water and headed out. Mitch dropped at this point, noting that his GPS put us already at 26 miles. (This was before the route was entered into the computer, a process that typically adds a mile or two to the course.) Then we saw a sign suggesting it was four miles to TWOT.
So that means it was four miles to TWOT and at least 4.2 miles from TWOT to the finish. And this was supposed to equal six miles.
The climb up Grooms Mill could only be described as brutal. It is steep and some type of blight must have damaged the trees as they had few leaves. David once again gained on Kerry and I. Eventually Kerry and I separated as well as I caught up to David after 2.5 miles or so.
We climbed multiple ridgelines and followed through various peaks and valleys on a trail that was not well blazed but pretty easy to follow. When we hit the TWOT trail the thunderstorms were getting closer and the sky getting darker.
Kerry was right behind as we regrouped at the intersection. Snipes once again was off first while Kerry and I followed a few hundred yards behinds. Kerry had some stomach issues and at the side trail to FS 95 she told me to scram. I caught David on that final climb and just beat the rain to the parking lot. Kerry followed a few minutes later with David close behind.
Only two other runners finished the whole course. Marty and Bill Wandell came into the parking lot in just over 10 hours.
Dennis later told me the course was 36 miles, which seems about right. It was quite a challenge, though the views were incredible and the course challenging. Overall, it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday.
For those interested, Dennis said he intends to hold the run again next year on the same weekend. See you all there.