The 19th Anniversary Rivanna Ring
2023 Winter Solstice Rivanna Ring Run
I met Rick Kwiatkowski in 2021. He’s an extraordinary guy, and an amazing runner. And not just an ultra-runner, as Rick’s qualified for the Boston Marathon, and holds a Guinness record for a 50-mile run while juggling. [Editor’s note: By gawd, he does! And a stout sub-8 hour “joggling” record, at that!] He puts on a great fall race called Andy’s Backyard Ultra. I was also lucky enough to do a Wild Oak Trail loop with him. In addition to being an RD and all-around talented guy, Rick hosts the Winter Solstice Rivanna Ring Run.
Since I’m a little out of my area here, I consulted a local runner, Dr. Costi Sifri, to pair up with me on this report. Costi is basically the mayor of Charlottesville. If you run with him you’ll have everyone on the trail/road saying “what’s up!”
Some Rivanna Ring History from Costi:
The run’s history traces back to January 2005, when Sophie Speidel founded and took the helm as its first “Director.” She led 66 runners on the inaugural circuit, aptly named the Rivanna Ring (RR), with a nod to The Ring. The RR is 20+ mile, primary trail loop around and through the city of Charlottesville. It is named for the Rivanna River, which courses through the city; some of the original sections of the Rivanna Trails are alongside the river.
Check out Sophie's account of that first run. In addition to a large VHTRC turnout that year, a heathy mix of West Virginia Mountain Trail runners, and area C’villians and Richmonders joined the run that day. It also kickstarted MMT training season before the MMT Training Academy formally was a thing, and many continued their trail adventures in the Massanuttens on the Sunday and Monday of that MLK weekend.
In contrast to this year’s conditions, the inaugural Rivanna Ring run occurred after several weeks of heavy rainfall. Small stream hops were transformed into challenging, waist-high, swift water crossings. Some reroutes were necessary to avoid the deepest river crossings. Nevertheless, nearly everyone finished the entire loop in good spirits. A Fatass tradition was born.
After leading the RR for a period of time, Sophie passed the baton to Rick Kwiatkowski, who was the 3rd place finisher in that inaugural run. The RR has been held annually since, and over the last ten years or so, it’s been held on the second or third week of December, coinciding with the Winter Solstice. Renamed the Winter Solstice Rivanna Ring Run, it’s now a fixture on the Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (CATs) calendar.
Over the last two decades, the trail has also seen some changes. A pedestrian bridge near Woolen Mills now offers a convenient and drier crossing of the deepest section of Moores Creek, eliminating the need to cross through cold waist-to-chest high water or, heaven forbid, run across a high trestle that remains in use for an active train track. Many other trail improvements have been made, new spurs developed, and greenspace restored over the decades, thanks to the vision of The Rivanna Trail Foundation.
Just like in 2005, however, the Winter Solstice Ring Run is not an exclusive event – runners from other clubs, including the road-focused Charlottesville Track Club (CTC) and more recently the Prolyfyck Run Crew, often join the party.
Rivanna Trail — and Back to John:
The Rivanna Trail is definitely a Charlottesville gem. It goes around the city, and is also a very similar urban trail similar to the Potomac Heritage Trail on the Potomac River in terms of technicality.
Rick starts the run at Greenberry’s Coffee Co., which is a coffee chain that started in Charlottesville. The event starts and finishes at the Greenberry’s in the Barracks Road Shopping Center, near the grounds of the University of Virginia. Barracks Road is fairly dead around the 7:30 AM start time, so there’s plenty of parking. If you get a chance, stop in for some delicious coffee before the run starts.
I want to say there were about 60 or so people out on the trail for the 2023 Rivanna Ring. Since some start at different times it’s hard to say with precision, but there were a lot of people. There’s a group in training that goes about 6 miles; there’s Rick’s group; and another group (Prolyfyck), who we ran into as they had started at another location. (Costi Note Here: I counted a total of ~50, but I agree – an accurate count was tough because of different start times and people running only parts of the loop, which is typical for the Winter Solstice Rivanna Ring Run.).
Charlottesville Area Trail Runners Insight from Costi
Modeled after the VHTRC, the CATs was founded in 2011 with a mission to promote trail and ultra running in the greater Charlottesville area. Like it’s big brother, CATs hosts and supports local trail races ranging from trail 5Ks to backyard ultras, as well as a host of informal weekly runs, training programs, Fatasses, and other events.
Reunion!-and back to John
There were a lot of jokes. I love hanging out with the CATs; they definitely are lively, just like the VHTRC. I got lost on this run last year and made up a new name for my run: calling it the Mega Ring. (Costi Note Here: I’d call it the Wayward Ring). We did about 24 miles instead of 20. I told my CATs buddies Costi Sifri and James Hughes that “I am not doing that again this year — I’m sticking with y’all.” They assured me that if I stuck with them, they’d save me from running bonus miles.
I met Marc at Sophie Carpenter Speidel’s New Year’s Day “Rendezvous Run.” He works at UVA and, besides knowing him from running, we are connected through Donald Harms! Marc helped Donald get his robotic arm, which he adores and allows him to do so much more! Marc is a really great guy!
Rick introduced himself ahead of the start of the RR, cautioned us all to pair up, and gave us a quick safety brief.
I headed out with Costi and James. Unfortunately, James had to slow down some, but we made a deal to hang out for a time after the run! I went on with Costi, and early on in the run we talked a lot about races. Discussed MMT, Eastern States, and The Jim! This year has been a lot for me. I’m still really looking at the good and bad from this past year and thinking about what I’m going to do next year. Costi helped me sort through this stuff in my head. (Costi Note Here: Catching up with John about recent races can be a bit overwhelming, but it certainly is a fantastic way to pass the time).
It was a little bit cold, but not too bad when we started. Pretty soon it was feeling really nice out. I took off the gloves and rolled up the sleeves.
Costi and I talked a lot about movies and podcasts. As much as I love running I’m pretty obsessed with film, and everything surrounding it. (Costi Note Here: We both agree - The Bill Simmons podcast “The Rewatchables” is completely awesome. Editor’s Note Here: They’ve got that right!)
At one point in the run, a group ahead of us was looking around, unsure where to go, and Costi had to take charge and lead us all around a closed section of trail by way of a nearby road. After we bypassed the closed section we made our way back on to the official trail.
Extremely Easy to Navigate
The Rivanna Trail is very well marked, and the trailheads have those scanner things (possibly also known as QR codes) that show you where you are on your map. You really have no excuse for getting lost here, which made last year all the more embarrassing …
I had an idea where I messed up last year, and Costi confirmed it when we got to a section where you could make a right over a bridge or go straight. Last year I made that right, which took me directly into a development, and that is what caused my mega loop. (Costi Note Here: WAYWARD LOOP!)
Costi and I were extremely close to the end. We talked a lot about the pandemic. When not logging major trail miles, Costi spends his working hours as UVA Health’s director of hospital epidemiology, the medical director for the university’s immunocompromised infectious disease program, and a professor in it’s School of Medicine. So if Costi is chatting about the pandemic, you will want to listen. And take notes.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about the pandemic lately, and especially about the running that I put in during the Covid years. I ran over 5,000 miles in 2020. I really want to get back to that kind of balance, and log more miles like I was able to do that year. There were so many wild runs and adventures that people participated in during 2020. It baffles me that we don’t talk about more of the positive things that took place during the pandemic. I really enjoy hearing positive stories; they motivate me.
Now the coolest part of this run is the area you started is alive and fully awake when you return from your Rivanna Ring. The Barracks Road Shopping Center area looks nothing like it did when the run started.
Costi and I went to Five Guys after. He got something amazing that I had no idea was a thing. If you get a burger at Five Guys and tell them “all the way” they put everything on it!!! He got that with extra jalapenos, a heaping side of Cajun fries, and a STRAWBERRY shake! I got a burger and fries, but instead of a shake, I went to Ben and Jerry’s for my ice cream fix. We used to have one in Fredericksburg, but they shut it down. Broke my heart.
The post race food in this shopping center is amazing, and it’s a great way to cap off an awesome run.
Thanks to Rick, and to everyone who came out!!! I’m already looking forward to next year, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the Rivanna Ring Run!