Race Director Bryant Baker worked hard at making the inaugural running of the Rim to River 100, West Virginia’s first-ever hundred-mile race, something special. At packet pick-up, he mentioned that the course visits every spot in the area he would want his best friend to see if they were out on a run together.
The trails, paths, catwalks, roads and bridges of the course lead runners through the history of the area. The railroad opened up the New River Gorge in 1873 leading to coal mining, flourishing towns and the whole saga of the labor movement, and eventually the playing out of the mines. Rusty, mostly buried railroad tracks line stretches of trail invoking the past while across the river, modern trains rumble by, filling the gorge with the uproar of clacking wheels.
The race filled with 200 entrants and the 32-hour cutoff seemed about right for a race with 13,000 feet of elevation gain. The trails were sometimes fairly hard to negotiate, with rocks and roots hiding under a layer of fallen leaves. The finish rate was around 70%, so about every third runner got taken out by some combination of rough footing, cold weather, wrong turns, too much climbing, or succumbing to the heartbreak of being routed right by the start/finish with 3 miles to go and having to turn up a long climb away from the loud music and cheerful atmosphere.
The usual COVID precautions for this odd year were in place. There were temperature checks, facemasks, no touch aid stations, hand sanitizer and social distancing, but getting help at aid stations was no problem thanks to the many volunteers. Plus, the food selection included PB&Js, quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, ramen, and something I am seeing at more and more races: instant mashed potatoes. For my money, they are a big improvement over the cold wedges of boiled potatoes dipped in salt.
West Virginia can be proud of her first 100 mile ultra. The race, as the website promises, was indeed “wild and wonderful.” It was also beautiful, inspiring, challenging, and rewarding no matter how your race ended. The Rim to River 100 Mile should be on every ultrarunner’s bucket list. (And congratulations to me for writing this whole race report without once mentioning John Denver or “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Oops.)