It was a record-breaking year for this 12th edition of the Reverse Ring (held over its traditional final full weekend in February, which in 2017 was Feb 25-26). 37 of the 41 entrants made their way to the starting line at the north end of the Signal Knob parking lot, nestled up against the northern entrance to the Fort Valley. This was the biggest field for the Reverse Ring, breaking the record set last year. Likely this is a trend that will continue - we certainly hope so! It was also great to see 75% of the field make it to the finish. 28 finishers is a new record as well. The conditions could not have been too much better for the race. The unusually warm February leading up to the weekend meant no chance of snow or ice, and the trail was dry. The weather during the race was not bad, particularly when compared to conditions in the surrounding areas. A front came through on Saturday afternoon and evening, and the wind picked up dramatically, particularly for the night running on the east ridge. Temperatures plunged into the 20s then, but the rain, thunderstorms and hail in the region bypassed the Massanuttens, so, all in all, good winter running conditions.
More Records - first, both of the winners set new course records in 2017! Danny Mowers got off to a lightning fast start, and never let up. The Reverse Ring record has been held previously by Dan Rose, with a time of 14:57 (one minute faster than Keith Knipling’s previous record). Danny was shooting for about 14:30. That turned out to be way too conservative of a target, as he finished instead in 13:46. And at the finish he looked energized enough to turn around and do another loop. The first male finisher at the 2016 Ring was the first runner up at his initial running of the Reverse Ring - Jake Rankinen overcame some jet lag after a late flight in from San Diego to just about hit his goal time of 15 hours, finishing in 15:11. Keith Knipling overcame overheating during much of his run to finish third, one hour behind Jake in a time of 16:11. Keith was incentivized to get his Reverse miles done and dusted, as he was booked on a flight TO San Diego on Sunday morning.
On the women’s side, the race belonged once again to Kathleen Cusick. Kathleen was fourth overall and first woman to the finish, with a great time of 16:27, knocking considerable time off her own event record. Kathleen overcame an outstanding effort at securing the Best Blood Award, and to add insult to all that injury, she also had to deal with equipment failure that led to her jerryrigging her shoes at the Camp Roosevelt aid station (mile 46) with duct tape. “Doctor” Jeff Pence got Kathleen’s knees and shoes squared away there, ensuring that she could complete the final 25 mile stretch over the east ridge to secure another Reverse Ring win. Second woman to the finish was a revelation - Jen Jacobs had an outstanding run in her return to trail racing in the mountains after a hiatus of several years. Jen shocked herself with her speed and consistency, and finished in 21:53.
This was a fast year in general, as the first five men to finish all completed the Reverse Ring in times that would have qualified for the Top Ten finishing times in the race’s history. 18 of the 28 runners finished in under 24 hours. There was no buckle to commemorate that achievement - in fact, no swag at all. Hopefully no one felt cheated at the finish! If so, the Signal Knob Cafe’s amazing fare, courtesy of Steph Danahy and her sous chef, John Stacy, likely more than made up for that lack of hardware or race gear. This year’s theme were stuffed potatoes (white or sweet), and they were a delicious and filling as ever.
The weather and trail conditions no doubt played a big part in all these fast times and the high finishing percentage. The usual collection of amazing volunteers were also clearly key. Year after year it is amazing to see the number and degree of support that the VHTRC’s members display at a Fat Ass event such as the Reverse Ring, and again, they came through for the runners in fine style. Thanks so much to the club and to that coterie of volunteers for making this race such a special and successful event.
Other records of note: A glance at the results will reveal a column called “Class” that identifies what year each runner finished The Ring, became a member of the Fellowship, and thus became eligible to run the Reverse Ring. Steve Pero set what almost certainly will be an unbreakable record in the largest gap in time between his running of The Ring and joining the Fellowship, and his completing the Reverse and becoming a Master of The Ring. 14 years had elapsed! Steve was pleased to get this achievement checked off of his ultra list. Hopefully the other 17 runners who are now Masters of The Ring as a result of their finish are equally pleased at their accomplishment. And that they will want to come back for more in the years to come. The final runner to finish, and to become a Master of The Ring, was also the oldest runner to have finished this race. Congratulations to Ed Walsh! The field got to start their run by singing Happy Birthday to Ed, as he turned 68 on race day.
If you are interested in joining the birthday chorus next year, then you will want to be a member of the Fellowship of The Ring in time for the 13th running of the Reverse Ring on Feb. 24 2018.
Jen Jacob’s report at Old City Crossfit.
Steve Pero’s photos | Mik Bur’s photos