The weather forecast for the 9th running of the Martha Moats Baker Memorial 50k was not promising. Forecasters in the DC area warned that the conditions on Saturday August 13th would be, in a word, “unbearable,” with highs in the upper 90s and a heat index topping 110. While the heat in the mountainous area along the Virginia/West Virginia border west of Staunton and Harrisonburg where the race is held didn’t reach those levels, it was likely the hottest race day in the event’s 9 years. The forecast may have taken its toll among the entrants, as there were an unusually high number of late drops and race day no-shows. The heat and humidity clearly did have an impact on a number of the runners who did show as evidenced by some slower times and a lower finishing percentage that last year’s race, held in much nicer conditions. But it didn’t impact the participants spirit and toughness. There were lots of great performances, and finish line Party in the Parking Lot was as festive as ever.
The first finisher among the 41 starters was Sam Rhoads, very much a newcomer to trail racing (perhaps even a newcomer to the concept of racing, as a search turned up no prior race results). Both Sam and the last official race finisher, Jenny Roberts, were running their first ultramarathons at this year’s MMB 5ok. Jenny got the now traditional 5-gallon water jug dousing at the finish to “christen” her as an ultra runner. Sam will have to come back again next year for his christening. It was great to see the return of the christened runner from 2015, William Silverman. Like all the other runners, under the hot conditions in 2016, he likely was envious of the bracing dousing that Jenny got shortly after her finish.
Few runners treat this event as a competitive race, per se, instead running for their own reasons - particularly as a long, challenging, marked and supported run ahead of a longer upcoming target race. So there is little “race” drama to report on. Nonetheless, Sam Rhoads ran a strong 6:25 to finish comfortably in first over the DC-area duo of Leif Van Acker and Dan Luciani. The first woman to the finish was Lara Zoeller, who came in nearly an hour ahead of Amy Brockey-Rogers. Amy’s time to the finish, it must be noted, was delayed by a lengthy detour off-course within two miles of completing the race. No doubt she was led astray by her running companions, fellow Wolfpack runners Jesse Fuller and Rick Bennett.
Despite the Wolfpack trio’s time away from the official course, the general consensus was that the course was once again well-marked by the Harrisonburg Boys. Race founder and RD Emeritus Dennis Herr once again marked the bushwhacked trail section from the Reddish Knob spring up to the top of Reddish Knob and the first aid station, as well as the trail section leading down from the A.S. Vince Bowman and Dave Frazier marked the remainder of the course, coming out on the equally hot race day eve to create the flour arrows and blocking lines in the middle of that scorching Friday. A big thanks to them for taking that time to help keep the runners on course! Dave even went so far to mark the location of the memorial marker for the eponymous Martha Moats Baker, which is otherwise not easy to spot on the side of the section of the course leading from the top of Little Bald down to the base of Reddish Knob, about 9 miles into the race.
And thanks also must go out to the aid station volunteers, who included Vince and Dennis, in addition to the great Bill Gentry, who once again captained the second aid station (formally know as The SLAB, but informally known as the G-Spot), and the equally amazing Chris Pabian, Jorge Astorga, Megan Alvarado, Jack Broaddus, and Sandy Walsh. Sandy did yeoman’s work herding the cats as they arrived from different directions at the finish area in the TWOT lot, getting their times and figuring out whether they ran the whole course or if they did some variation of the “Party Loop” (skipping the last 8 miles of challenging trail with its steep climb and descent on Grooms Ridge) or some other training run that resulted in an out-n-back run or an SUV finish from an aid station. She also got to watch with considerable pride as her husband, Ed Walsh, returned to trail racing after over half a year of recovery from an ankle break during a winter MMT training run in the Massanuttens. Ed gutted out a well-earned sub-11 hour finish on this day - congratulations, Ed!
Any errors in the below results should be not be attributed to Sandy, however, but instead are likely from Quatro’s parking lot calculations. If you see something egregiously wrong, let Quatro know. And the one year experiment with a later (7:30 AM) start time is over. Next year the start will return to 7 AM. Not only to allow the runners to enjoy more trail time before the August sun reaches its height, but also to make that parking lot finishing time math easier to calculate (and admittedly it was more the latter than the former that came into play with this decision).
Next year will be the 10th running of the MMB 50k. Entry will open up in July of 2017 and the race day will be on the standard second weekend, so August 12th 2017 is the day you want to mark on your calendar. See you in 2017!