Gap To Gap: The Simple Pleasures Of A Club Run

AJW shares the joys of a run with a running club.

By on January 31, 2014 | Comments

AJWs TaproomWith the competitive ultrarunning season heating up this weekend at two Montrail Ultra Cup races taking place in Texas and California, I think it’s a good time to reflect on running from another perspective, namely, the low-key, no-frills Club Run.

Over the MLK holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to join the good people of the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC) in their annual Gap to Gap run. This run, part of the “Massanutten Training Academy,” takes runners over a beautiful and rugged 26-mile section of the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 course. Scheduled, as it is, in mid-January, the weather is usually chilly and the course challenging.

This year, over 70 people showed up early Sunday morning to run the course. The entry fee was an aid-station item. I was assigned to bring a two-liter bottle of Coke and others brought cookies, water jugs, candy, and surprise items. Resident gourmet cook and ultrarunner Sophie Speidel also prepared a massive batch of Brunswick Stew for the post-run festivities. The run organizers, Mike Bur and Quatro Hubbard, two of VHTRC’s more notorious characters (UltraSignup them to see what I mean), also urged everyone to bring their own Opaque Cup to ensure proper post-run fluid replenishment without running afoul of the law.

Needless to say, a good time was had by all!

Most participants in this annual pilgrimage bunch together in groups and most cover the course at a leisurely, conversational pace. Some clever runners find ways to cut the run short, somehow speeding up their chances to fill their Opaque Cups earlier than others. Most folks run the full 26. My run took about five-and-a-half hours and I was thrilled to get back to the start/finish in time to sit by the fire, eat some of Sophie’s stew, and replenish my fluids.

The thing that strikes me about this run is how simple and fun it is. Sure, the organizers provide a ‘turn sheet’ as well as two, well-stocked aid stations, but beyond that it’s just a run in the mountains with 70 friends. I find this simple point very encouraging. As we continue to hear about growth, expansion, and commercialization in ultrarunning, I am heartened to know that there will always be a place for Gap to Gap and other club runs just like it. VHTRC is, of course, a model club, but I know of a dozen such clubs scattered around the country who all adhere to the same ideal, that running in the mountains with your friends is fun. And, if you don’t forget your Opaque Cup, the post-run is even more so!

Bottoms Up!

AJW’s Brew Davis’s Beer of the Month Week
Straight to Ale Laika Russian Imperial StoutLast week, Jen spoke in Huntsville, Alabama, and I had the good fortune to visit the Straight to Ale brewery with some local trail runners. (Thanks for inviting me, Chad!) Huntsville is known as Rocket City because it’s home to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and has been linked to space technology for decades. Like most Alabama craft breweries, Straight to Ale has only been around for a few years because beer with an alcohol content higher than 6% was illegal in Alabama until 2009. They’ve figured things out quickly, though, and are producing some great beer with some really fun local and space-themed names (i.e., the Monkeynaut IPA and the Werner Von Brown Porter). My favorite, though, was Laika Russian Imperial Stout. Laika was a Soviet dog that was thrust into stardom (sorry, two terrible puns in a row) on Sputnik 2 in 1957, thereby becoming one of the first animals in space. This Russian Imperial Stout has a 9.75% ABV, and while RIS’s are known for being sweet, the toffee and chocolate notes in Laika were particularly assertive… and delicious. If you hit the brewery at the right time, you can taste bourbon, cognac, or Bordeaux barrel-aged versions of Laika’s.

And before visiting Straight to Ale, you can hit the trails in Monte Sano Park just east of downtown where the Mountain Mist 50k takes place every year in late January. In recent years, elite runners like Hal Koerner, Dave Mackey, Krissy Moehl, and David Riddle have toed the line at what David Horton calls, “probably the toughest trail race in the South and East.” Jen, Charley, and I will be working our way up the I-95 corridor through Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia through February so if you have any brewery suggestions, email me at [email protected]. And if you want to hear Jen share stories from her 2011 Appalachian Trail FKT, check out her schedule at Blue Ridge Hiking Co. Cheers!

[Editor’s Note: Looking for a trail or ultrarunning club? Check out our ultrarunning club guide! Don’t see your club on the list? Let us know!]

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What’s your favorite trail running club and why?
  • Does your club put on club runs like what AJW describes? Can you tell us a little about them?
  • What are your thoughts on the roles trail running clubs and their runs should or could play as our sport continues to evolve and grow?
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Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.