The Wild Oak Trail 100
Sue Johnston and Gary Knipling led 33 starters at the Wild Oak Trail 100 Miler (TWOT). While no one finished the 100 miler, Sue and Gary did complete 100 kilometers. Bill Wandel was the only other person to do more than one loop.
The Wild Oak Trail is a rugged, beautiful 26 mile loop in the George Washington National Forest southwest of Harrisonburg. Dennis Herr has been hosting runs on this trail since the 1980s. Each loop of the trail has three brutal climbs to about 4,000 feet. While much of the trail surface is runable, there are also rocky, difficult stretches that make smooth running impossible. This trail is not for the faint of heart.
The standard TWOT is held in February when the trail's difficulty is enhanced by cold weather and, usually, snow. As the participants stood around freezing after the February 2004 TWOT, someone asked, "Why don't we do this when the weather would be warmer?" The idea of a "Hot TWOT" was born.
While no one expected "hot" weather in late October, the weather for the first Hot TWOT was unseasonably warm. It was t-shirt weather complete with perspiration and dehydration. It was never cold, even at night. So was the Hot TWOT easier?
"Easy" is not a word you ever use in the same sentence with "TWOT." While there was no snow on the ground, there were many dry leaves. The leaves were as hard to negotiate as the snow. So it was yet another challenging run/walk/trudge on the Wild Oak Trail.
Before the start, there were several runners who planned to do more than one loop. No one would be so bold as to state that he or she was going to run the four loop hundred miler. But several were going to take it "one loop at a time." (What a great sports cliche!) The trail, however, had other plans. Only three people went out for a second loop. None of the others wanted to face the big hill that awaited the start of a new loop no matter which way direction you ran the loop.
The three stalwarts who started second loops were Sue Johnston, Gary Knipling, and Bill Wandel. Sue and Gary ran together and did the second loop counter-clockwise. (Everyone did the first loop clockwise. You can do each loop whichever direction you like.) Bill went clockwise. They passed each other at about the halfway point.
At 1 AM, Gary and Sue came into the parking lot that serves as the start/finish area. Gary was, as always, bubbling with enthusiasm. He was, however, a bit tired. There is no aid at TWOT, but several one-loopers gave the duo soup, fruit, Pringles, etc. Somewhere in there Bill Wandel came in. He looked great. He had achilles issues, however, and stopped at the 50 miler. Bill did his second loop about as fast as Sue and Gary did theirs and, frankly, he looked better. It is possible that he looked better because he knew he did not have to go back out there.
After about an hour in the parking lot, Gary and Sue got up the nerve to leave. They were about to start a 2500 foot climb at 2 AM. It was pretty impressive that they left at all. So impressive that all the helpers went to bed.
At 5:30 AM, a caravan of Mike Bur, Carolyn Gernand, and Anstr Davidson drove off to the runners' first road crossing -- 10 miles from the start. As the group drove up to the trailhead, Sue and Gary sat on the ground, having arrived just minutes earlier. They immediately announced that they were quitting. Suggestions that they reconsider were not entertained. Had they continued, they would have had the steep climb up to Big Bald ahead of them. They were not doing it.
The group did agree that Gary and Sue and completed the "TWOT 100 km." Had they done the next five miles, they would have completed the "TWOT 69."
Sue and Gary were certainly an odd couple. Sue is the Vermonter who is a member of Team Montrail. Gary is a Virginian who is a member of Team Yoohoo. At least it looks as if he is sponsored by Yoohoo. He drank gallons of the stuff and ran the event in his official Team Yoohoo socks. Additionally, Gary had just celebrated his birthday. Sophie Speidel, one of his many female admirers, brought him Yoohoo and cupcakes.
Sue, Gary, and Bill's impressive performances should not detract from efforts of the other runners who did one loop. One loop of TWOT is hard. Even those who have done the event many times forget how hard it is. The uphills are long and steep. The downhills have, for the most part, poor footing. But the trail is beautiful, and no one complained that he had been out there.
There was some controversy, however, over the best blood award. Bob Phillips clearly had the most blood volume and area, but, unfortunately for Bob, presentation is critical. Bob's blood was on Bob's legs. Sue Johnston's blood was on Sue's legs. Sue won in a landslide!
One thing about the Hot TWOT -- it was far better for the post run social hour. Many tall tales of the trail were told. There was even some sports talk. For example, one University of Maryland alumnus said stated categorically, "There is no way that Maryland will beat Florida State." Since "what goes on the trail stays on the trail," we will not identify who said this, but his initials were "Mike Bur."
At the end, Dennis announced that the regular TWOT, or the "Frigid TWOT" will be held on February 19, near Valentine's Day. Give your sweetheart a Valentine's Day present by getting out of the house for the weekend to freeze your butt off at the TWOT!
Thanks to Dennis for another great day in the mountains! Dennis is still the only person who has run the TWOT 100.
Group Parties at the End while Sue, Gary, and Bill are out in the mountains!
Hot TWOT 100 Results
October 30-31, 2004
32 starters; no finishers