West Virginia Trilogy 50K

RAIN! That’s a word that ran constantly through my head as Stuart Brown and I ran our first West Virginia Trilogy 50K last Friday, October 10th. The rain came steadily through the first 20 miles, in downpours at times and drizzles at others.

But beyond the day’s sogginess, both Stuart and I agree that this was one of the finest 50K races we have experienced. The race starts and finishes at The Mountain Institute (TMI), an outdoor education center that also provides the race’s meals, lodging, logistics, camping, and parking. The TMI setting is idyllic. It sits six miles off Rte 28 in a high mountain meadow near the base of Spruce Knob (highest mountain in West Virginia), about three-hours drive from Charlottesville. The TMI “camp” is composed of a series of large and small wooden yurts. It is in the largest yurt that meals are served and folks gather to chat and hang out; smaller yurts are reserved for staff lodging, dormitory-style lodging, and showers and toilet facilities. The night before the race, Stuart and I enjoyed our tasty burrito meal in the big yurt while listening to race directors Dan Lehmann and Adam Casseday brief the racers on what to expect the next day.

The main yurt at TMI Photo: The Mountain Institute

The 50K is part of a three-day race (hence the “Trilogy”) hosted by the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. The Trilogy includes a Friday 50K, Saturday 50-miler, and Sunday half-marathon. About 75 racers were signed up to run the 50K, half of which were planning to run all three days. We really didn’t know many of the racers, but everybody was friendly and welcoming. We did know David Frazier from the CATAss 50K and got to chat with him before the race. David hails from Harrisonburg and set the fastest known time on the Trilogy course back in 2011 (composite time = 13:56:23).* This was his first time back since the 2011 run and he was happy to be back, declaring the Trilogy to be his favorite race.

It wasn’t long after the race’s 7 am start that we began to see what David was talking about. Much of the course is on magnificent single-track through forests of maple, birch, spruce, and fir. The trails are mostly highly runnable and snake through miles of wilderness without significant elevation gain. In fact, there are no big climbs on the course until mile 11 (after Aid Station #2). The first climb is noteworthy, however. The trail ascends steeply for 1-2 miles, ala’ Apple Orchard Falls at Promise Land, with no switchbacks. Once that climb is finished, runners again follow a relatively flat jeep trail for several miles before descending on single track and then dirt road to Aid Station #3/#4 at mile 17. At AS #3/#4, runners are funneled into a five-mile loop for the second big climb, this one tops you out at the highest point on the course, 4250 ft. The descent on this hill is somewhat technical, but eventually follows along a nice creek before bringing you back to AS #3/#4 at mile 22. Coming out of AS #3/#4, there is one more hill to climb. On the one hand, this climb sucks; it is once again steep without switchbacks. But the climb is also through this wonderful open meadow with spectacular views (even on a rainy day) of the adjoining mountains in their full fall-color splendor. It was worth the climb! Next comes five miles of flat but technical and muddy single-track — think Torrey Ridge with shoe-sucking mud pockets — to Mile 27. Once runners are through this section, they arrive at AS #5, from which it’s pretty much smooth sailing through continued beautiful forests and high-mountain meadows to the finish.

Stuart and me at the finish line.
Photo: Dan Lehmann

Stuart and I finished in a not-so-fast 8:25, but we really had a great time on the course and could probably improve our times knowing what we are getting into next time. In any case, it’s a race we would highly recommend. With 75 entrants, the race was small. But the race organization was such that it didn’t feel small. The RDs were well-prepped, we got some great swag, and the aid stations were stocked full of warm soup, quesadillas, sandwiches, and other goodies. . . including moonshine! (WV hospitality at its best) For anybody running MMTR that’s not recovering from Grindstone, the WV Trilogy 50K would make for a great and fun training run.

*David Frazier finished 1st in the 2014 Trilogy, but behind his 2011 record (2014 time was around 15:30) ). His slower time was due in part to a wrong turn he made during the 50K day.

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