In 2016, the initial running of the Waterfall 50k (Bur’s Death March) saw a 24% finishing rate (13 out of 53 starters); 2017 and the finishing percentage leapt up to 67%. What a difference a sticker makes! Keep your eyes open for those green “WTF50k” ovals on a runner’s bumper in the near future; and make your plans to tackle the 2018 Waterfall so that you can get one of your very own. The 2017 runners enjoyed good winter running conditions: a dry day with a few hints of sun in the middle of the day and temps in the mid to upper 30s.
The WTF50k finishers’ sticker seemed to motivate a host of runners to avoid succumbing to the two tempting alternate routes back to their cars in the second half of the run, and to go on up Bird Knob and on to the finish. The WTF50k is the Day 2 run on the VHTRC’s popular MLK weekend of Massanutten runs. Perhaps the postponement of the Day 1 event, the MMT Training Academy #1 run, also was impactful on the finishing percentage in 2017. There were 31 runners signed up for both days. In 2016, only 4 runners completed both runs. So there were a lot of fresher legs in this year’s race.
Speaking of fresh legs, Danny Mowers had them and then some in taking the overall WTF50k win. Danny crushed the course in a new event record of 5:34 (Matt Bugin’s time in the first year was 6:01). Kyle Lawrence was the King of Waterfall, as he was the first runner to the top of the infamous Waterfall Mountain climb after the first 5 kilometers of the race, arriving at the Crisman Hollow Road crossing in 31 minutes and 49 seconds. Kyle’s time was also a record, as Matt was the King in 2016 in 34:17. And as in 2016, Kyle was second overall (5:56), this year in a time nearly an hour faster than his 2016 finishing time of 6:51. Joey Cohen and Eric Harris tied for third overall.
The Queen of Waterfall for 2017 was Kelly MacDonald. Like last year’s Queen, Sara Fanous, Kelly came in 9th overall. Kelly also smashed the women’s event record by over two hours with her 7:11 time. The first woman to crest Waterfall Mountain after the race’s first 5k was Sophie Speidel, who arrived at the Crisman Hollow Road Donut Stop in 41:33. But Sophie immediately abdicated her claim on the Queen title by leaving the course, choosing to run down Crisman Hollow Road to Gap Creek rather than hopping the rocks on the Kerns Mountain and Jawbone trails. This abdication opened the door for Kelly, as the Queen is determined by the first woman to the top of Waterfall Mountain who also finishes the full race distance. Second woman was Grandison Burnside in 8:31, just five minutes ahead of the third woman, Amy Zbikowski. Amy was coming off her first 100 miler a month earlier at Devil Dog, a race she had won. WTF50k 2017 saw a total of 14 woman finishers; in 2016 there were but three women among the 13 finishers.
The Crisman Hollow Road crossing served as the unofficial Doughnut aid station - thanks to the very generous donations of “Dunkin’ Dan” Aghdam and “Krispy Ernesto” Casarez, and the gracious efforts of volunteer Angela Russell. Hopefully a new tradition was born here. A tasty doughnut had to ease the pain after those first 5 kilometers climbing Waterfall, and might have helped provide more lift in the runners’ legs ahead of their trek over the rocks of Kerns.
Additional thanks must, of course, go to the great volunteers who made this race operate so smoothly and joyfully this year: Ryan Brown, Roger Jensen, Keith Dunn, Angela Russell and Brian Schmidt.
Random Race Notes:
- The 2016 Queen of the Waterfall, Sara Fanous, was the only drop from the 2017 WTF 50k race, as she pulled up after 9 miles at the first aid station in Gap Creek with a hip injury. Sara then generously shifted gears from competitor to volunteer for the rest of the race.
- The other 2017 DNF’s ran routes that brought them back to the 211 East finish line under their own power, just via either the connector trail (and thus bypassing a second climb up Waterfall Mountain) or via the direct route back to the parking lot from the Visitor’s Center (by way of the Picnic Area). Those who utilized the connector trail (aka the Watkins Bailout) are noted below with the “shortcut” entry; and those who took the Party Route (aka the Wolfpack Bailout) back to the finish after the Visitor’s Center aid are the other DNF’s below.
- There were three runners who did Crisman Hollow Road variations on the Waterfall theme. Sophie Spiedel and Becca Weast left the course at the Doughnut Aid station, ran down the road past Scothorn Gap to Gap Creek, picked up the course from there, and their only additional course detour was to take the Ant Road after scaling Bird Knob rather than the prescribed white-blazed Bird Knob trail route to the base of the purple trail. Becca and Sophie finished their runs in 6:39. The third roadrunner was Alisa Springman, who had been similarly diverted in 2016. Alisa also ran the course for the first 5k before heading north on Crisman Hollow Road to Gap Creek. After a brief chat with the volunteers there, Alisa went on to run the rest of the road to the edge of the Fort Valley and then returned roughly an hour and 6+ miles after she left. Her return coincided with the arrival at Gap Creek of husband Jim Daniels, which gives an indication of how much slower running Kerns and Jawbone is versus running the dirt road of Crisman Hollow. Alisa then ran the full length of Crisman Hollow Road to the Visitor’s Center, and then the Party Route back to the parking lot.
- David Frazier was not an official WTF 50k racer this year, but he did unofficially take part in the opening Waterfall 5k. Dave was on his own 35 mile training loop in the southern Massanuttens, and timed his run so that he could jump into the 5k field. His time was roughly 32 minutes, which was the second fastest climb, mere seconds behind Kyle Lawrence. After chatting with the volunteers at Crisman Hollow Road for a number of minutes and sipping on some Gatorade, Dave flew south down the road to begin his return to Fridley Gap.
- There were 6 runners who pulled into the Visitor’s Center Aid Station before noon, having completed nearly 20 miles and having summitted Waterfall Mountain twice in less than 4 hours. In 2016 the only member of this “Breakfast Club” had been Matt Bugin.
- There were at least three runners who were sucked into the Purple Vortex, and logged a considerable number of bonus miles as a result. Aaron Ellison left the Visitor’s Center aid station (19.7 miles into the race) in 8th place. He arrived at the finish in 23rd. Aaron tacked on five bonus miles; first by accidentally heading down the Ant Road rather than the white-blazed Bird Knob trail (he honorably returned to the trail juncture to pick up the correct trail), and more notably by missing the tricky left off the purple trail onto pink.
- The other two runners who were victimized by the Purple Vortex ended up being the final two finishers: Ashley and Brian Carr. In 29th when they left the Visitor’s Center, the Carrs finished 44th. Based on their description, they turned around after missing the pink trail turn at roughly the same point as Aaron had; all had tracked their distance off course at four extra miles. To the credit of all three, they were unfazed by the extra mileage when they arrived at the finish. The odds are excellent that others fell prey to the Purple Vortex, but clearly not to the tune of so many bonus miles on the infamous purple trail.