Coming off a year (2015) when a snowstorm blew in shortly after the start of the Reverse Ring and kept all 13 starters from finishing, the 2016 edition produced virtually an ideal race. There was no precipitation during the event, and the course was, on the whole, relatively dry — except for Duncan Hollow, but more on that later.
All 32 runners still on the entrants’ list on race morning made it to the Signal Knob parking lot at the northern end of the Fort Valley for the seasonably chilly start, at 6:01 AM on Saturday, February 27. Thats right there were no DNSs! Of those 32 starters, 20 made their way around the length of the Massanutten Trail, and returned to the parking lot at Signal Knob under the 29 hour time limit. And of the 20 finishers, 14 were newly christened Masters of The Ring. The complete list the 2016 Class (and previous years finishers) can be seen detailed at the bottom of the Revere Ring webpage.
The runner who had put off completing the Reverse the longest since finishing his initial running of The Ring was also the eventual winner of this year’s exciting race, Justin Faul. Justin, up from Charlotte, NC, finished The Ring in 2009, and was finally in a position to return to take care of this unfinished Reverse business 6+ years later. That wait turned out to be worthwhile, as Justin finished in a sparkling time of 16 hours and 51 minutes, edging out Kathleen Cusick literally in the final mile, and by 3 minutes.
Kathleens time of 16 hours and 54 minutes easily set a new womens record for the Reverse Ring. Kathleen had spent much of the second half of the race in the overall race lead. Justin surged late after downing pizza and soup at the final aid station (Milford Gap, about 12.6 miles from the finish), making up a 38 minute deficit over that span. Kathleen was battling ankle issues that slowed her somewhat, as she repeatedly sprained one ankle on those notorious Massanutten rocks, particularly once it got dark. Congratulations to them both on a great race!
Part of what made this 11th running of the Reverse Ring noteworthy was the number of changes that occurred among the lead runner or runners during the race. The one constant over the first half of the race, through the Crisman Hollow Road (hiked-in) aid station, was Danny Mowers. Danny shared the lead early on with Chris McIntosh; later Danny came in to an aid station in the joint lead with Justin; and finally he ran in the lead at times with Kathleen. Danny eventually began to fall back, falling victim to the lingering effects of an illness that had almost prevented him from making it to the starting line.
Kathleen moved ahead during what should have been one of the easiest, if longest, sections of the course, from Crisman Hollow Road to Camp Roosevelt. However, with the wet winter conditions, and with an MMT Training Academy run the weekend before churning up the same ground, Duncan Hollow proved to be a quagmire. It was the section virtually all the runners were complaining about after this years race. The Ring historian, Jim Harris, offered that he thought a GoFundMe effort to Pave Duncan Hollow was called for, a clear indication of how bad the runners thought this section was this year.
The volunteers were once again the Big Story. From the breakfast burritos at Woodstock Tower all the way around the course to yet another amazing rendition of Steph Danahy and John Stacys Signal Knob Caf at the finish line (with its gourmet brunch fare), the runners received assistance that was stellar under any circumstances, let alone at a race with the less than hefty entry fee required of the Reverse Ring runners. Thanks for providing the funding for that aid once again must go to the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club. And again, a hearty Thank You! to all the volunteers, each of whom made the race not just special but also fun.
And about that entry fee … this race is free, but with a caveat: only members of the Fellowship of The Ring are eligible to enter. So if you are interested in running the 2017 Reverse Ring, make sure you have checked that prerequisite box by finishing The Ring on Labor Day weekend, 2016!