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by Jeanne Christie
The eighth annual women's half marathon trail run was full of thrills, chills, and spills as we hosted our largest event ever. 175 runners towed the starting line on the first cool day of the season. The unrehearsed and nearly tone-deaf VHTRC all-male chorus sang a rousing round of "Happy Trails" following a few introductory words by race director, Jeanne Christie sporting an enormous set of bat wings on her head. If anyone was taking themselves too seriously by this point, they were in for a tough day.
Then they were off. Just over 1/3 of the field was running their first ever trail race. The course on the mountain biking and hiking trails of Fountainhead Regional Park is 99% trail, 100% forested and very, very hilly, particularly the first half. The cool weather provided an added boost for the runners.
The race is a double-out-and-back taking an outbound course along the nature/mountain biking trails to a turn-around and first aid station at approximately 3 miles and returning on the same path to the start/2nd aid station and then traveling in the other direction along the hiking/horse trails to another turn around and the 3rd aid station before returning to the start/finish line.
Deb Leyh was the first woman to arrive and leave the aid station at the three-mile mark at 24:30 followed within the next minute by VHTRC members Coleen Dulin and Selena Smart and Jessica Heiner last year's winner. However, the first runner to reach the first aid station was Tyrel Moxey. Tyrel has the distinction of being the first women's half marathon competitor to explore the infamous "men's special loop." (All male competitors had been warned that any man trying to win the race outright will be sent on the loop) When Tyrel asked which way to go, aid station captain Chris Scott pointed him towards the beginning of the "do loop", well known to competitors of the Bull Run 50-miler. Tyrel took off in the direction Chris pointed. (Would you ask directions from anyone wearing a chicken on his head?) Eventually Tyrel noticed that this part of the "course" was not marked with yellow ribbons and returned laughing to the first aid station to continue the race.
This would be a day of spills for many of the runners and one of the first and hardest was taken by Coleen Dulin on the return leg as she took a spectacular fall running down the steepest hill on the course. Coleen gave up her second place position, but reached the second aid station still debating on whether to finish. However, common sense prevailed and Coleen dropped at the aid station. She would later get stitches for a cut below her knee but was recovering and in good spirits the next day.
Deb Leyh retained her lead position at the halfway point, with Jessica Heiner 20 seconds behind followed by Selina and Diedre McCarthy Gallagher running together a minute behind Deb. Diedre, in her first ever trail run had moved up from seventh place. They were followed by Michele Burr, Sara Noecker, and Mary Catherine Malin. Tyrel's side trip left him 11th overall as he entered the second half of the course.
The trip out to the third aid station is more runnable than the first half. However Deb was having a hard time gaining distance on Jessica, Selena and Diedre. "I kept falling," she said after the race. "I fell three times "(she had scrape marks on the top of her shoulder). "I couldn't get ahead until I stopped falling." By the third aid station, the distance between the lead runners was beginning to lengthen. Deb reached it at 1:21:00 followed by Jessica at 1:22:00 and the Diedre/Selina team reaching the aid station at 1:23:00. Tyrel moving up to eight place was judged to be too close to the leaders and was sent on another "special men's loop" before returning to complete the course.
The third aid station once again distributed Godiva chocolates to the delight of those runners enjoying a more leisurely pace than the leaders. Heat and thirst were catching up with many runners as they covered the second half of the course, but they dug deep and tackled the remaining miles.
Deb maintained her lead finishing 1:54:40. Selena and Diedre passed Jessica and finished with hands joined in a tie for second at 1:57:01. "We had to finish together," said Selena, "She had run so hard and so well the whole race, never letting me get ahead." Jessica followed 1:59:26. Michele Burr finished at 2:00:34 leading Sara Noecker 2:02:12, Tyrel 2:03:30, and Heather Trainum 2:03:31.
Deb had an outstanding run finishing four seconds ahead of last year's finishing time, even though this year's course included an added quarter mile at the start on grass and blacktop to give the field a chance to sort itself out before entering the trail. The truth is that the course has gotten longer over the years as modifications were made in the Fountainhead Trails unaccompanied any effort of the race management to keep the course to 13.1 miles. "However, there is no truth to the rumors that this is really a 15 mile course," Race Director Jeanne Christie stated unequivocally, "maybe 13.5 to 13.8 miles," she estimated. "Some day we might actually measure it."
Selena also had the distinction of being part of the first mother/daughter team to finish the race when her mother, Kathy Smart finished 3:14:06. A second mother/daughter combo, Rebecca and Lisa Moore, completed the first half of the course, but declined to continue the second half. Rebecca is delighted that her daughter is joining her in her trail running, but explained that Lisa was determined from the start to go only half-way this year and perhaps enter and complete the course in 2001.
Coleen and Deb were not the only ones to fall on the course. In the eight years this event has taken place, there were more scraped knees and elbows and sprained ankles than all other years combined. The larger field (nearly double from last year) and increased erosion on the trail may explain this. In general it appears that is was the experienced trail runners that fell. "The roots are bleached out the same color as the trail," one runner speculated, "and they are harder to see." The competitors new to trail running ran more conservatively and fell less. However, a few tumbles did not appear to dampen the enthusiasm of many competitors. In an e-mail this week Vicki Kendall wrote, "I fell 5 times (tripped several more and caught myself), but I felt like I really accomplished something when I finished. I'm really looking forward to next year and the opportunity to run without falling and at a better pace. Thanks again for doing a great job organizing the race/food/shirts. I really had a wonderful time."
All totaled 164 runners finished the course. This year there was a strong showing by VHTRC women with 14 female competitors who are members of the club. Top finishers received medals, and hand painted silk scarves. Age category winners received gift certificates for Fleet Feet Virginia. Other race sponsors included Road Runners Club of America, Runners World, Moving Comfort, lucy.com awards.com and Women's Sport and Fitness Magazine.
And a Special Word and Invitation for the Volunteers---
Special thanks go to the volunteers who made the race possible, including those who did not know they would be volunteers until they were recruited from the small crowd of spectators and put to work. I would like to personally thank the people listed below as well as those who are not named and invite you to our spring Volunteer party. (if you know anyone we haven't listed, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can add them to the list. I don't know the names of some of those pulled from the crowd and put to work). The party is held in late May or early June each year. Those of you who ran are invited as well (but you have to pay $8-10 per head). We hold the volunteer party after the club's 50 and 100-milers in the spring, but volunteers for this race qualify to attend the party. It includes good company, good food and drink and a band of questionable antecedents. It is our way of thanking those of you who are generous enough to donate your time to make events like this possible. Keep an eye on our website in May for details.
Our wonderful volunteers!!
1. Larry DeHof, Pre-race organization, registration, second aid station, finishing line captain (and many, many other responsibilities before, during and after the race too numerous to enumerate)
2. Keith Dunn, First aid station, take down ribbons back to start, finish line
3. Joe Malnowski, Registration, second aid station captain, finish line, photographer
4. Mike Campbell, Registration, second aid station
5. Robert Saranier, Registration, second aid station, first aid administrator extraordinaire
6. Mike McCumber, Registration, second aid station
7. Scott Mills, Trail markings from start to do-loop, first aid station
8. Joe Clapper, Trail markings from 2nd to 3rd aid station, 3rd aid station, finish line
9. Ernie Fiori, second aid station
10. Bill Turrentine, Fill water containers, clean out beginning of yellow trail, 1st aid station, carry stopwatch, final participant list there after race start
11. Chris Scott, 1st aid station captain, ambulance service for Coleen, race habidasher
12. Mary Campbell, Registration (and race compeitor)
13. Lou Jones, Registration, 2nd aid station, take DNF's and extra water to 3rd aid station
14. Monty Johnson, Fill water containers at start, clean out beginning yellow trail, 3rd aid station
15. Phil Young, 3rd aid station captain, purveyor of Godiva chocolates
16. Mike Prescott, Registration, 2nd aid station
17. Pete Hadley, Parking detail, put up signs, standing for hours pointing the way to and from the second half of the course
18. Rob Coyn, Parking detail, put up signs, etc. 3rd aid station, take down ribbons to finish from 3rd aid station to finish
19. James Moore Second aid station
20. Bob Heltibridle, Lookout for returning runners, finish line
21. Jamie Heltibridle Lookout for returning runners from first aid station, human trail marker, finish line
22. Matthew Hoag, Lookout, finish line and photographer
23. Cynthia Harren, assistant trail marker to Joe Clapper
24. Bob Cooper, Bagels and finish line
23. Danny McDonnell who ran the impromptu blue/white trail aid station
24.The gentleman who kept runners on trail while looking after the baby, and anyone I have overlooked
Virginia Happy Trails Running Club
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