Riding That Freaky Crisman Hollow Road

by John Calabrese

The 2023 Chocolate Bunny - A JC Report

I signed up late for the 2023 Bunny because I hadn’t planned on running it, but the closer the run got, the more I knew I needed to get in night practice in the Massanuttens. I am not running the MMT 100 this year, but I am running Manitou's Revenge, which I DNF’d last year (it’s very hard). So I signed up for Chocolate Bunny to see where I was and what I need to train on to be able to finish Manitou.

MMT RD Dan Aghdam with Chocolate Bunny director Larry Tumblin

The beauty of The Chocolate Bunny is that you can use it for many different things. By itself, it’s an awesome run, but you can use it for training for MMT or another race. You can also use it as just a hard thing you want to accomplish.

Chocolate Bunny is considered an MMT training run, but in my opinion it has become something bigger. I last ran it in 2021 as prep for the 2022 MMT. The event had a good amount of people. I cannot remember the number of people who ran it then (and I’m finding it difficult to track down the numbers) but comparing this year to 2021, I was very surprised. This event is growing and gaining a lot of momentum.

In this race report I mainly want to tell my tale but also discuss how great this event is so if you are considering Chocolate Bunny it gives you an idea of what you will be getting into.

Race Day

I am terrible at night races. I always have a lot of problems timing dinner before the race. I got pretty decent sleep though and had my stuff organized. Like everyone else, I’m sure, I had a lot going on this holiday weekend and was very stressed. Also, with all the crazy Spring allergens in the air my throat was hurting. I definitely felt weird but still good enough to do the run.

Runners socialize and prepare in the parking lot, pre-Bunny

I ate dinner, packed my car and left around 4pm, got a coffee on the way to the starting location, and talked to my girlfriend, but reception was bad so the call kept dropping. The colors in the trees looked very pretty and it was a very pleasant drive.


I got there almost an hour early and was shocked to see so many people. It was awesome — just like a party! People had travelled; lots of Marylanders, people from other clubs (Charlottesville’s CATs were there). I made the rounds and said hi, then got ready to go. I got out and we all took a picture together. It was so fun, bullshitting with everyone and I was laughing a lot!

Some of the Fast Bunnies: Heather Dougherty, Paul Jacobs, Dan Fogg, Chelsea Smith


And we’re off. Going into this run I had no freaking idea who I was going to run with. I can run this by myself, I know the course from doing it before, but personally I like running with a partner at night in the Massanuttens (especially on Crisman Hollow, but we’ll get to that). I was feeling people out to figure out what pace I wanted to go and who was going to be moving close to that.

Going back to night races in general, my body is weird at night. I usually have stomach problems and it probably didn’t help with the allergy thing but I was feeling really weird even at the start of this run. I hadn’t run with Rob Tidwell for awhile and he was going at a good pace, just very smart, so we started talking and I did my best to stay with him. Anytime you get a chance to run with Rob you are running with one of the best.

Rob Tidwell

I met Rob when running TWOT 100, I think in 2019. I was lost in that weird part after you climb Hankey and there’s no markings and he found me. Since then he’s always been a great dude and a great resource for all things adventure. His family is also pretty amazing. I’ve sought his advice about balancing my running with time with my daughter and her sports. For any ultra runner out there with kids you know how hard this is. Rob definitely helped me through some patches as I struggled with my daughter getting older and helping me find balance.

Like I said, it had been awhile since we’ve run together, so we were just catching up. As messed up as I was feeling, this definitely helped pass the time. We weren’t really around many people, we just kind of found a pace (I want to say in the middle of the pack) and just stayed there. There was a group of about 5 people behind us were leap frogging but that was it.

The Gap Creek Surprise!

Aid Station 1

I was shocked to find out that there was a Gap Creek aid station on this run! I do not remember one being at his spot back in 2019 I could be wrong on this though! [Editor’s note: Nope. Your are correct, sir. Gap Creek generally doesn’t have a Bunny aid station, in part due to the uncertainty of whether the Crisman Hollow Road will be open or not. But more on the road later … .]

We didn’t stay long. I ate some chips, we took some pictures and headed out,

This next stretch was hard, a lot of climbing and going through Kerns. The pack behind us passed us, I was following Robs pace up there because I am not good on that stuff. I will always say it in race reports and when up there: I am a glorified road runner. I get lucky on some harder ultras and have finished some races I probably shouldn’t have but I really struggle with stuff like Kerns.

Don’t Jump John!

Rob was keeping a good pace though; it was sensible and I was trying my best to keep up with him. Rob is an excellent person to hang with if you are not confident on this type of terrain. He will challenge you to go faster and again this is why I was out there: to prep for Manitou. Part of me was thinking: John you need to be going faster, but its a balance prepping for a race like that. You need to get the technical work in but you can’t get injured prepping.

We plugged away and got through that mess and got to one of the strangest parts of this course that stuck with me.

Crisman Hollow Road

Still looking eerie - Crisman Hollow Road

I have run this road many times in VHTRC events and I never really thought of it as eerie or strange but tonight there was definitely a horror movie vibe out there. There was a lot of graffiti, and random pickup trucks parked there. I want to say it was around midnight or so. Everything about this stretch just had a very creepy vibe to it. I am glad I was with Rob because it seemed very sketchy. There also was a lot of people driving around, too, which I don’t recall from the past or at any of the races I’ve done with the VHTRC.

We ran the whole road. I didn’t went to run but you know how that stretch is, you need to so you can make up time from all the rocky stuff later. We rode that freaky road to the next aid station.

Dan Aghdam and Rob Tidwell at the Visitor’s Center aid station

Aid Station 2

This was like a nice shower to wash off the weirdness of Crisman. We were clowning around. Rob sat by the fire. They had fries and perogies there! And Coke! It was so awesome. Rob and I took a min to hang and eat food before we rolled out. I am amazed they put together such a good aid station for a low key training run. It was so cool. I do remember an aid station here in 2019. [Editor’s note: You are two for two, John! Visitor’s Center is the traditional Bunny aid station.]

10 or So Miles To Go

After Aid station 2 we knew it was just time to get into “get it done!” mode and get home. Again, Rob and I both have kids, so it was time to put this one away. Rob also lives much further away than I do. I felt much better than earlier, but still had some lingering issues. Rob started to go ahead, especially when we started getting to some of the downhills. I just couldn’t run them fast. It’s so funny, I’ve got lost so many times on this stretch I knew exactly where to go while I was alone. I pondered some dumb mistakes I had made running WTF50k and other races with VHTRC.

The Shenandoah Valley view from the Massanuttens

I started to be able to run better and caught Rob, then he would get ahead. It was like that most of this last stretch. Rob got far ahead at one point and someone started coming up behind me. I wasn’t trying to race anybody out here (this is just a prep run) but I told myself to use this to move faster and try to catch Rob. I got pretty close to him but something funny happened. We finished! For some reason I thought we had a mile or so longer but I started hearing people and was like, thank goodness! Rob finished, then I was right behind him.

I took some pictures and talked to friends at the end, and both Rob and I knew we really had to roll to get back home to do Easter stuff and hopefully get a few hours of sleep.

We said our goodbyes and headed out.

This run worked extremely well to show me where I am at in preparation for Manitou. I don’t really like it, but I know I can get stronger before I run it.

Rob Tidwell - proud Chocolate Bunny Finisher!

I’m very impressed by how great this event is. To me this is VHTRC right here. Don’t get me wrong I love the big races that VHTRC puts on, but there’s something about this low-key training run that just makes me happy. In the era of expensive races, personal trainers, and fancy training aids, etc. I am grateful for Chocolate Bunny. It’s basically a great challenge to participate in during the holiday. It’s at night so its easier to fit in and also be able to hang with family. The balance of running ultras and hanging out with family is hard. This race helps though, and I am grateful that I was able to participate.

Amazing event I know in my heart of heart that when I can’t run anymore, these are the runs I’ll always remember most.

Last updated April 11, 2023