For those who had the pleasure of being there for the 2010 “running” of the Elizabeths Furnace 50km, it was truly an epic event that will not be forgotten. The winter of 2010 dropped a highly unusual amount of snow in the mid-Atlantic region, and the Massanutten Mountains/Fort Valley area of NW Virginia was no exception. A week before the Elizabeths Furnace race, portion of the course had still been in under as much as a foot or more of snow, but a warm and then rainy week cleared the course of all but trace amounts of snow pack. This big melt, combined with some steady rains, led to rather wet conditions for the runners on race day.
In some places, “wet” didn’t even begin to describe what the runners were encountering. The runners knew they were in for a bigger challenge than they had envisioned within minutes of the start. While making their initial climb up the notoriously dry and rocky Signal Knob trail, a normally innocuous section surprised the runners with a knee deep stream crossing, at a point along the trail where no one had previously been aware that there was a stream. One runner, Mike Bailey, was reported to have graciously planted himself in the middle of the crossing to assist all the runners behind him safely across. This type of concern for the other runners was to be demonstrated numerous times over as the day went on.
A series of five stream crossings about 10 miles or so into the run, at the end of the Mudhole Gap trail section, were so challenging that the first female finisher, Stephanie Wilson, was moved to describe this section (and the race as a whole) as “Primal Quest 2010.” Every runner had his or her own exciting story to tell about surviving the torrents of water in Mudhole Gap. Fortunately, everyone emerged in one piece – of nearly equal good fortune, some runners were carrying cameras. So we have pictures of some of the conditions, and of how the runners banded together to get across the stream sections and on to the rest of the course.
The eventual overall winner was David Frazier of nearby Harrisonburg, Virginia. David broke away from eventual 2nd and 3rd place finishers Greg Zaruba and Brad Hinton during the infamous Sherman Gap loop over the last 9 miles of the Elizabeth Furnace course. David was also the only runner observed to stay on the course at all times – he exited the last 100 foot section of the Shawl Gap section of the trail at mile 30 after moving through chest-to-neck-deep high water, water that had risen from the Passage Creek that on this day was literally roaring through the Fort Valley. Of the 56 runners for this year’s event, 32 finished the full 50km distance. The other 31 finishers aside from David chose to bushwhack around the flooded section of trail near the end.