If you want to run the hills of West Virginia, there’s a race for almost anybody — everything from 1-mile (or less) fun runs to full, 26-mile marathons.
There are trail runs and something called the West Virginia Trilogy, a series of long-distance runs over three days that adds up to just under 100 miles. But until last year, West Virginia didn’t have a single 100-mile ultra marathon.
That’s when ACE Adventure Resort launched the “Rim to River 100.”
Saturday morning, ACE hosts its second race. Beginning at 6 a.m., elite runners will start a 100-mile journey inside of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
They have until 2 p.m. Sunday to cross the finish line.
Bryant Baker, the river operations manager for ACE Adventure Resort, organized the race and mapped the course.
“Last year, our winner finished in the 18th hour,” he said. “But we had people coming in right around 32 hours.”
Baker said having a 100-mile race in West Virginia has long been a dream for he and his wife, Laura. The couple are avid outdoors adventurers and trail runners.
After completing his first traditional marathon, Baker said he got into running ultra-marathons, races 50 kilometers or longer.
“I had kind of a funny start,” he said. “I got into marathons after my wife and I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I figured if I could hike the whole thing, then I definitely could run a marathon without a backpack.”
He ran his first marathon and then met Boog Ferrell, an experienced ultramarathon runner at a friend’s wedding.
“I started picking his brain,” Baker said. “He said, ‘If you can run a marathon, if you are physically able to run 26.2 miles, you can run 100 miles. After 26 miles, it’s all mental.’”
Baker said he signed up for a race in Texas with Ferrell and completed the course. Since then, he’s taken part in a half-dozen ultra races. He probably could do more, but he said he stays pretty busy.
“I’m usually pretty busy during rafting season,” he said. “I do a lot of long runs on my own.”
Coming up with the Rim to River 100 was years in the making, but Baker said he always had a clear idea of what he wanted the race to be.
“It’s called ‘Rim to River’ because runners go back and forth up to the rim and down to the river,” he said.
The 50-mile course takes runners from the ACE Adventure resort, in Oak Hill, to Ansted. The trail runs past the river and waterfalls, but also features expansive mountain views and trips through ghost towns and past abandoned mines.
“It’s 50 miles up and then 50 miles back,” Baker said.
To keep things interesting for the runners, each 50-mile segment follows a different route. Along the way, there are eight different aid stations manned by race staff and volunteers, where runners check in and refuel.
Getting nourishment while running a 100-mile trail race is essential.
According to Runner’s World magazine, runners burn between 400 and 600 calories an hour, but can only absorb 240 to 280 calories an hour. Runners can only get so far on their bodily reserves.
Aid stations also gauge race progress and provide exit points for runners who are struggling. Racers must reach each aid station by specified times in order to continue. If they fall too far behind, they’re not likely to complete the run inside of 32 hours.
Aside from food and aid, volunteers at the stations also provide moral support.
“That’s really important when you’re running at night,” he said.
Along with the aid stations, four spots along the route are set aside for additional runner support. Many ultrarunners rely on teams or friends to help supply them with food, water or other kinds of assistance, which could be anything from ibuprofen and blister kits to extra batteries and a spare headlamp (for running in the dark).
These stations may also provide some degree of company for the runners. The distance between racers tends to grow as the miles pass.
“It takes a different kind of runner to do ultras,” Baker said. “You have to be pretty self-reliant because you’re going to be out there on your own for big stretches of time.”
This year’s race has 250 registrants, the maximum number allowed by the National Park Service.
“We opened registration up New Year’s Eve and we were sold out by January 2,” Baker said.
Winners take home trophies created by a local artist. Those who finish get a commemorative belt buckle — there’s a special edition buckle for runners who complete the race in under 24 hours.
Proceeds from race registrations go to fund programming for Adventure Appalachia, a non-profit organization that facilitates “empowering, outdoor adventure experiences for adolescents and adults.”
Baker said he wanted to have a race West Virginia could be proud of, and he planned it as a way to give the local community a little extra traffic following the end of rafting season. He said he hoped the race would continue to be successful and bring a different kind of outdoor adventurer to the area.
Baker also said he hopes to eventually run the race himself, but right now he has his hands full with trying to help it take root.
“I’ve run the course, but it would be great to get to do the race one of these years,” he said.