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Sunday, July 6, 2003 -- Minden, WV
New River Gorge-ous Trail Run (iPO Event Id#: 5275)
Story and photos by Don Parks

[Details] [Coverage]
[Overall Results] [Results by Class]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6] [Set 7] [Set 8]
[2002 Results]

Race Start
Off and running at ACE
ACE Adventure Center promised, and delivered, a challenging run on their scenic and rugged trails. If seven tough miles wasn't enough for you, you had the option of a punishing 15 mile course. With a great turnout of over 100 competitors, and so many smiling faces at the finish, you'd almost think that folks enjoy this stuff!

Shortly before 11:00 am, the hearty competitors listened to pre-race instructions as a light rain fell. While the event promises, and delivers, dense hardwood forest, expansive vistas of the New River Gorge, and radiant summer colors including pink rhododendron blooms, it also comes with warnings. They inform you on the entry form that "Unfortunately, we do not control the weather. ...cold, snowy, sleeting, rainy, hot, humid, or uncomfortable conditions. We will not delay or postpone the race until it gets better."

Michael Smutko
Michael Smutko tries to chase down Jeremy Bartley
It seems everyone knew that this was not going to be an easy run, whether going 7 or 15 miles. Ready to conquer whatever the vast 1400-acre ACE trail system had to dish out, the start signal was given promptly at eleven from the mountain top campground.

While both races started together, the long course runners were quickly off for a prologue loop around the mountain top while the short course racers were soon heading down the mountain.

At roughly the halfway point for the 7 miler, the runners are heading around Truman Lake (really, more like a pond or a giant puddle) on the H.S.T. Turnpike Trail. They will spend the second half of their run heading back up to the finish.

Melissa Wagner
Melissa Wagner takes third in the 7-miler
At this point, Jeremy Bartley is leading the way followed by Michael Smutko and Thomas Meadows. As they climb toward the finish, in their now thoroughly mud soaked running shoes, their positions never change. At the finish it is Bartley in 51:38, Smutko at 52:40, and Meadows at 54:05.

For the women, the story is similar. Even though Jodi Harris (4th @ 1:09:39) gains time on the top three on the way back up to the finish, she can't catch them. As it was around the lake, it was at the finish podium. Meghan Connelly took first at 1:01:09 followed by Katherine Kapo (1:03:35) and Melissa Wagner (1:09:06), respectively.

The 15 mile runners had a bit more work ahead of them as the loop on the H.S.T. Turnpike Trail only signaled about the one-third point in their journey.

Junior Pullins
The mud isn't going to slow down Junior Pullins
Running strong and setting the pace off the front was Larry Taylor followed closely by Robert Schneider. Trailing behind these two leaders was a group of four, Jared Smith, Junior Pullins, Carl Bruggeman, and Dylan Drinkard, running in third through sixth, respectively.

From here it was a long run heading west across the bottom of the mountain on the Erksine and Arbuckle trails. Then they were sent back east across the mountain a little higher up on the Oather Ridge and Concho Rim trails before the final ascent to the finish.

As the leaders made their way across the mountain, Schneider pulled ahead of Taylor and began to set the pace. As Taylor watched the heels of the race leader, he didn't notice as Schneider headed off course. The extra distance that this error added to their race was plenty to let the second group close the gap.

Race Pic
The sun shines at the finish
This mistake, along with the grueling conditions, took the fire out of the 43-year-old Taylor's legs. Not to mention the fact that he had raced to a 3rd overall finish at the St. Albans Riverfest 5K the day before. However, Schneider seemed more determined than ever as he set out to reel back in the new race leaders.

Taking full advantage of the situation, Pullins was not to be caught as he had moved ahead of Smith and went on to capture the win at 1:48:42. Schneider was still impressive as he was able to move back into position for second overall at 1:50:21.

Rounding out the top three was Smith (1:52:01) with Bruggeman not far behind for fourth at 1:52:47.

Race Pic
Happy to have survived
In the women's race Carrie Haverty (2:15:07) took the win but Maura Kistler (2:17:13) kept it close in taking second. Third place went to Felicia Hershey (2:26:13) who didn't have any competition close, ahead or behind.

For every racer that reached the mountain top finish, the clouds had cleared on what had become a hot and sunny day. With plenty of cool drinks and a big burrito feast waiting, it was a win for everyone that made it. Covered in sweat and mud, swapping stories about their adventures, the smiles consistently crept through the grimaces. Sometimes, it just hurts so good!