The premier annual event for the Friends of DRHT is the combined 50K and HHH half marathon. The two trail runs are held the first Saturday in August, and yes, it usually is pretty hot (HHH stands for Hot, Hazy and Humid). Even so, runners seem to enjoy the races. We get a good turnout and we enjoy putting them on. It's also an excuse for us to double down on maintenance during a time of year when the trail really needs it: the hot and rainy days of East Virginia summers!
In summer heat, one thing that makes the DRHT distinctive is that we've only cleared the trail to the width of the railbed, about 12 feet. That means the trail is basically a tunnel through a tree canopy. Runners love it because the tree cover offers a noticeable cooling effect. And of course, being a rail trail means the course is pretty much level, although there is a slight downward slope going from west to east.
We were concerned about being able to hold the race this year due to the coronavirus and restrictions in place to slow its spread. When Virginia entered Phase 3 of its health guidelines, we felt that we could run the race with proper protocols. Very few races are being held in person these days, but we learned what we could from the few that have been held. Our final set of protocols took up 14 paragraphs on the race web page.
On race day we had 117 runners at the starting lines. All said they felt comfortable with the protocols that we put in place. One runner said afterwards, “Thank you for a wonderful day! The safety protocols were spot on, and while the field size was limited, the spirit of competition was definitely there. Truly a great example of a safe, fun event!”
Races like this can't be run without a bevy of volunteers. Safety protocols limited volunteer interaction with the runners this year. We offered only pre-packaged food at the finish line and no food at aid stations other than what runners brought in their own drop bags. We offered bottled water only at the aid stations, no cups with pre-mixed Gatorade, no ice. In the past we have made sandwiches and bagels, cut fruit, even grilled hamburgers. Not this year. Even so, we needed 47 volunteers to make the race happen. They came from the Friends of DRHT, other community members, the cross country team at King George High School, and the local ham radio club, King George Amateur Radio Operators. Thanks to everyone for your participation this year.
Before the race day, the Friends and trail neighbors were out in force mowing and bush-hogging the trail and lopping limbs and branches that had grown into the trail or fallen on the trail. We do this all year of course, but try to put in an extra effort before our races. This work was pretty much done when two days before the race, two huge thunderstorms struck in the middle of the night. So the day before the race, chainsaw crews were out clearing about a dozen trees that had fallen across the trail. And the race went off without a hitch. A runner told us: “I was very happy to be there and to compete after 5 months. Thanks to the organization to have made it possible.”
As most of you know, our goal for the DRHT is to become a part of the Virginia State Parks system. After the race, one of the runners who has been here many times asked incredulously: “It's not now?” I explained that it's not, that these things take time and we keep plugging away at it. Sooner or later we'll get there and we'll be proud to join the other rail-trails in the park system.
Of course the race and its preparation wasn't the only thing going on out on the trail. Every day we see people walking and jogging and just enjoying being out in nature. We, the Friends of DRHT, are looking at ways to improve the trail, including expanding two of the smaller parking areas. If you haven't visited the trail lately, come see for yourself. If you like, drop me a line and I'd be happy to join you and tell you more about the trail.
See you on the trail!
President, Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail
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