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Saturday, December 11, 1999 -- Kanawha State Forest, WV
Snowflake 50K Trail Run
Story and photos by self-proclaimed ultra-journalist Don Parks

[Coverage] [Results] Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5]

Rick Freeman
Running in the cold of Kanawha SF
The 2nd Annual Snowflake 50K Trail Run (see coverage from the 1st) got underway as dawn arrived at the Kanawha State Forest. The crisp mid-December morning brought cold temperatures in the upper 20's for the 7:15am start. The clear skies and promise of sunshine on the horizon had a host of eager racers ready to conquer the two-lap, 50K (31 mile) course.

With several participants working toward their goal of running a marathon or better in all 50 U.S. states and DC, guests from all over made their way to West Virginia. Racers came from far away locations including Washington, North Carolina and Florida. One very special guest, Madonna Bron, came all the way from Arizona. With DC and 49 states down, this was the final challenge as she readied herself for the realization of a dream. Having to battle obstacles in her life that include leukemia and a heart attack, among others, she wasn't ready to let West Virginia's mountains get in her way.

Joe Smindak
There's no catching Joe Smindak
As the signal was given, the journey began for everyone. It was just a short section of gravel road before hitting the first long climb up forest trails. It didn't take too long for Joe Smindak (Dayton, OH) to take up the lead position as Aaron Kaylor (Victor, WV) quickly took up the chase in second. Although Kaylor kept up the pressure well into the race, Smindak eventually pulled away to take the victory in 3:53:17, a new course record. Kaylor, racing in only his second ultra, still won his own race as he bettered his previous year's time by over 15 minutes to take second in 4:05:10.

The battle for third saw Bill Gentry (Waynesboro, VA) jump out early before Robert Guas (Fombell, PA) caught him about a quarter of the way into the race. From then on it was Guas alone in third with a finishing time of 4:15:26, but the racing wasn't over for Gentry.

Martha Drinkard
Martha Drinkard on her way to finishing her first ultra
At the halfway point Gentry was running in fourth with a solid five minute advantage over the nearest competitor. But, it was the two runners Ron Hart (West Alexandra, OH) and Stephen Downing (Sewickley, PA) who were pacing themselves over eight minutes back that would put on the pressure.

The beginning of the second lap had Hart pushing hard and closing Gentry's gap to just three minutes by the 23 mile mark. Downing was content to keep pacing himself as he was still over five minutes back by this point. As they cleared the final check point with four miles to the finish, the final long climb, ridge, and descent had the three closing until they were in sight of one another. As the trio pushed each other toward the finish, no one would give up their position. As they each finished their 31 mile, four and a half hour race, only 100 seconds separated the three.

The quickest female to race through the 31 miles of Kanawha State Forest was Joni Adams (S. Charleston, WV) who easily set a new women's course record with a time of 4:52:14 and a tenth overall finish. Rounding out the top three female finishers were Colleen Dulin (Alexandria, WV), second in 5:12:59, and Maura Kistler (Lansing, WV), third in 5:25:26.

Madonna Bron
Madonna Bron is special
As morning turned to afternoon, many more finishers completed the journey and took home personal awards for knowing they had given their best. But, it is hard to imagine that anyone could push themselves any harder than Madonna Bron. A little over eight hours since the race had started the unstoppable Bron closed on the finish. With tears of indescribable pain mixed with those from the joy of a dream fulfilled, she completed the final chapter. Hugs were passed around as a special award was presented, but what can you say to someone who has done so much with seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them? Then as she begins to leave, in a shaking voice filled with emotion, she says, "West Virginia is special." Yes, West Virginia is special, and even more so to have had the honor of helping Madonna Bron in her pursuit of personal triumph.

If you haven't experienced that special feeling that can only come from completing an ultra, or if you just want more, be sure to get yourself to one of Mickey Jones and Dennis Hamrick's races. You can always count on an abundance of amenities, quality race shirts, commemorative medals, great food (hot & cold), plenty of drinks, and tremendous camaraderie. And, you can count on WVOutside to let you know when and where to find them.