The Ultra Stage Race Subculture

After running the West Virginia Trilogy, AJW contemplates what makes stage racing special.

By on October 21, 2016 | Comments

AJW's TaproomA couple of weekends ago, I had the opportunity to spend three days in West Virginia at the West Virginia Trilogy, a three-day stage race based out of the Mountain Institute on the slopes of Spruce Mountain, West Virginia. Organized by the West Virginia Mountain Runners and co-directed by Dan Lehmann and Adam Casseday, this three-day running festival showcases some of the best mountain running east of the Mississippi. Consisting of a 50K, a 50-mile, and a 13-mile day, the format tests endurance, speed, and, most importantly, the capacity for recovery.

After each day the Trilogy runners gathered in the spacious yurt that serves as the race headquarters for delicious food, hot coffee, cold beer, and wonderful camaraderie. The vibe each afternoon and evening was positively vibrant and the atmosphere was warm and peaceful. Additionally, and quite obviously welcomed by many, was the fact that the Mountain Institute’s location high in the West Virginia Appalachians meant that cellphone service was non-existent and all of the runners, therefore, whiled away their days talking to one another, enjoyed reading or listening to music, or just taking in the tranquil scene before them. For me, it was the most relaxed I had been in quite some time.

AJW - 2016 West Virginia Trilogy - Finish

AJW finishing this 2016 West Virginia Trilogy.

After my adventure out in the Mountain State I did a little research into other stage races around the country and was surprised to find quite a variety and selection. In a similar vein to the West Virginia Trilogy are two other great 3-day events in the American South, Three Days of Syllamo in Arkansas in March and the Chatanooga Mountain Stage Race in Tennessee in June. Both of these three-day events emanate from a single basecamp and include meals and camping as part of the registration fee.

Then there are the longer, point-to-point races, some with less than ultra distances each day, that include runner’s belongings being transported to and from each day’s venue, camping, and meals. There’s the classic TransRockies Run in Colorado in August and the newer Grand to Grand Ultra in Utah and Arizona in September. In general, these stage races are longer (typically six days) and a bit more expensive than the basecamp runs in that they include more complicated logistics and transportation.

Finally, there are races that are not actually stage races at all, but due to the distance and length of time typically taken to complete that distance, make them virtual stage races. These are, of course, the new-ish 200-mile races that have popped up in recent years. Made popular initially by Candice Burt’s Tahoe 200, there are now a handful of these large scale events that take runners two-to-four days to complete, usually involve time spent sleeping, eating, and recovering like stage races, and are spread out over multiple days. Those who I talked to about these events, in particular, spoke about the unique vibe that accompanies the shared suffering of multi-day events.

Indeed, with many of the people I spoke with, it was the unique vibe inherent to stage racing that came up again and again as being a distinguishing characteristic of such events. Perhaps due to the multi-day nature of the events or simply the old school sensibility of those inclined to organize such events but it seems to me this is one area of our beloved sport that is endeavoring to stay true to our classic, simple roots. And from where I sit that is a very good thing.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Mountain State Brewing - Almost Heaven AmberDan Lehmann, co-RD of the West Virginia Trilogy, is fortunate to have a son, Willy, who is a brewer and is the owner and operator of Mountain State Brewing in Davis, West Virginia. While at the Trilogy, Willy provided an ample supply of his beer, which included the delicious Almost Heaven Amber Ale. At 5.2% and just a tad sweet, Almost Heaven is a classic Amber with just a touch of hoppiness. It was particularly good after a full day of rain on our 50-mile day!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • If you’ve ever run a stage race, what was it and what did you enjoy most about it?
  • If you’ve not run a stage race, are you interested in going so? Any in particular that tempt you?
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.