Alan Gowen

Membership: What’s The Attraction?

Our membership now stands at 485. I’m not really sure what this means, but my best guess is that among other things, there must be 485 people who want to run and hang out together on the trails. The VHTRC seems to me to offer different things to different people. Of course our club is all about our big three races (Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, Bull Run Run 50, Women’s Half Marathon). But it is also all about our many and varied fat ass events, our social times together, and that intangible feeling of connection that comes through those shared times out on the Happy Trails.

Two things came along serendipitously, and got me to thinking. The first thing is the sixth running of one of our fat ass low key runs, the Elizabeth’s Furnace Fat Ass 50km (EFA) which is scheduled for March 10. The second thing was opening up the March issue of Ultrarunning magazine and seeing a huge article about Maryland runner Mike Morton and his astonishing comeback to ultrarunning.

Quatro Hubbard and Mike Bur have been sharing co-race director duties for the EFA every year since 2007. But there is some history here that goes back twenty years. Bear with me.

In 1992 the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) moved its one day 50km hike known as The Dogwood Half Hundred to our neck of the woods. The hike started and ended at Powell’s Fort Camp. At that time the camp was open, and hikers could reserve a bunk in one of the cabins, and the post hike food was served in the dining room of the lodge. The course used a few of the trails that now comprise the EFA course, but in 2000, the PATC reconfigured the course to the course we all now know as the EFA course.

Although the Dogwood Half Hundred was billed as a hike, some miscreant runners found out about it, and so every year there would be a small group of people who ran this challenging course while all the hikers did their thing. The field of runners and hikers grew every year, and by 2000 there were about 250 hikers hitting the trails on the last Saturday in April when the dogwood trees were in full bloom.

The hike route in 2002 was supposed to be the same as before but a last minute forest fire caused a re-route of the event, adding quite a bit of extra mileage. It was during this rendition of the hike that runner Bonnie Day tripped and fell on the course. She suffered brain edema, and tragically couldn’t be rescued in time to save her life. After this sad episode the PATC stopped their support of the event, and thus 2002 was the last Dogwood Half Hundred 50km one day hike. But in 2007 Quatro and Mike picked up the ball PATC dropped and ran with it. They started fresh, made it a run, and moved the start finish to the Signal Knob parking lot. The course was the same one the Dogwood had used in 2000 and 2001, and thus, out of the ashes of the Dogwood, the Elizabeth’s Furnace Fat Ass 50km was born.

I know all this ancient history because I participated in the Dogwood Half Hundred every year beginning in 1991. For several years I hiked, but by 1997 I’d begin running and thus joined the small band of runners seeking adventure out on our beloved Massanutten trails, and I was there every year up to the end of the event.

So what does this have to do with an article about Mike Morton? Like I said at the top, I believe a lot of the appeal of membership in our club is that we’re just a bunch of runners who like to hang together. So as I prepared to run the EFA and looked forward to this low key fat ass and hanging with other club members, I thought it might be fun to see who I’d been hanging out with back in the day, when the Dogwood Half Hundred was flourishing and serving as the inspiration for one of our beloved events. So I went to the archives.

I’m not too good with names or remembering who is who, but apparently some guy named Joe Clapper ran most of the Dogwoods and in 1992 he finished in 6th place. In 1996 Clapper was back and finished 4th. Ahead of him that year were Eric Clifton, Mitch Craib, and Andy Peterson. Behind him, Scott Mills finished 5th, and in 9th place was….. Mike Morton.

Some of the top 10 finishers of the dogwood in 1997 were Eric Clifton, Mike Morton, Andy Peterson, Scott Mills, Joe Clapper and some kid named Karsten Brown. This was the first year I ran and although I wasn’t top 10, I finished up in 24th place.

Familiar names in 1999 included Scott Mills, Bill Wandel, Jeanne Christie, Larry Dehof, Jay Finkle, Carolyn Gernand, and Kev and Faye Hawn. Pam Gowen ran in 1999 and finished in 24th place. This was a good year for me, and I managed to finish in 14th place, waaaaaay ahead of some young kid in 74th place named Aaron Schwartzbard. Gee. Pam and I both finished in front of Aaron. and we must have really scared him because he’s never asked for a rematch.

Derrick Carr and Scott Mills seemed to develop an annoying habit of finishing together in first place. Clapper continued to be there most of the time along with other people we know like Bill Vantwerp, Ed Demoney, and James Moore. My personal best finish at the dogwood was 10th place in 2002, the final year of the Dogwood, but in a field of hikers this is really misleading.

The EFA is only one of our great smaller low key events. I think it’s the appeal of these small events, just as much or maybe even more than our big premier events, that keeps drawing runners to join the VHTRC. The fact that our membership continues to grow reflects more than the generic increased participation in trail and ultra running. I’m pretty sure most of our growth comes from runners seeing what we do and who we are and what we are about. They can see we have something pretty special going on here, and they know they just have to be a part of it all.

The Elizabeth’s Furnace Fat Ass 50km is just one of our runs that helps to draw in new members. And as you can now see, those EFA trails have been drawing like minded friends together for a really long time.

If you have any history to share, insights into what our club means to you or anything else at all, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Trails!