In contrast to many of the high-profile, fancy races that have recently arisen across the country as a result of the current trail running boom, there is another great group of low-key events that have developed concurrently. From my perspective, these events have sought to embrace the old-school roots of the sport in a new school kind of way. The Central Virginia version of this is the Jarmans Invitational Marathon.
The brainchild of Crozet, Virginia area ultrarunners John Andersen and Dan Spearin, the Jarmans Invitational Marathon (AKA the JIM) is run on a three-mile dirt road, Jarmans Gap Road, that ascends approximately 1,800 feet from its base at a local peach orchard to its end at the Appalachian Trail junction in Shenandoah National Park. This road is a popular training ground for many area runners as it allows them good access to the national park and provides a stiff ascent and a quad-pounding descent. John and Dan, who’ve each logged over 100 ascents of Jarmans, thought it would be fun to stage a marathon on the road so they did the math and came up with a five-lap, up-and-down course totaling just over 29 miles. Perfect for a marathon.
Next they needed a date. Since the Central Virginia ultra calendar is pretty crowded in the spring and fall they thought a summer date would be convenient. And, given the fact that most of the locals who live on the road tend to spend a fair amount of time exercising their Second Amendment rights, they thought a well-lit, midday start would be appropriate. Thus, the JIM was born and this year’s race was held on August 1st with a start time of 12:01 p.m.
With the enticing tagline, “Everything about this race sucks,” John and Dan set the entry fee at $0 and set up registration through UltraSignup. Every runner was asked to bring something to share at the “bottom” aid station and the organizers talked me into staffing the “top” aid station which I did with the help of two coolers of beer and a selection of costumes. John and Dan, as any good RDs would do, felt it appropriate to take on alter egos so Danton and Jimmy Rhoades were born to provide ongoing support and entertainment for the runners.
Given the affordability, the JIM filled up to its 75-runner capacity one week after registration opened and they even had a waiting list. Alas, given the low entry fee, there was little incentive for people to actually run the race and, for many, good sense won the day and the start list was winnowed to around 55 by the race start.
For some perspective, it should be made clear that Jarmans Gap Road is a miserable place. Dusty, rutted, and strewn with trash, this is not your typically scenic Blue Ridge Mountain byway. In addition, traffic goes up and down the road all day and in places the grade exceeds 22%. There are no views except for the part when you go through the powerline cut and there is almost never any wildlife to see aside from roadkill.
Yet, in spite of all that, or maybe because of all that, the event was fun, popular, and actually great training for bigger, more serious events in the fall. As for me, I loved my time at the aid station up top. From the front runners, Olivier Leblond and Amy Albu, to the final finishers, Jolene Taylor and 61 year-old Ed Cappuccino [sic], the smiling faces of relief and joy that greeted me up top were inspiring. To think that you can take a three-mile stretch of road in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and turn it into a race venue for like-minded folks from around the region is yet another testimony to the zest for running and life that is so much a part of what we do and love.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from a great brewery in Florida called Cigar City Brewing. They have been making solid beers for while now and I recently got my hands on a great summer seasonal that they’ve been featuring this year. Their Patio Pils Pre-Prohibition Pilsner is a unique take on this popular variety. While it has the typical light feel of a classic pilsner it has the added complexity of a unique hop blend that makes it great alongside spicy summer food. Give it a try (if you can find it)!
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Did you run the Jarmans Invitational Marathon?
- Does your local running community have an old-school race or series that gets down to the basics of our sport? Give it a shout out and let us all know about it!