Each March, the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail hosts the Sheetz-to-Sheetz Trail Run, an untimed, relaxed event benefiting local children in need. As its name implies, the course begins and ends at Sheetz convenience stores. It starts at the Sheetz across from King George Middle School, traverses Route 3 (with an escort by the King George Sherriff’s Office), and connects to the trail at the Comorn Rd. trailhead near mile marker 4. The course then follows the trail all the way to the Dahlgren Sheetz, 14 miles in total.
Just before COVID-19 changed the world forever in March 2020, 150 runners from as far away as Wilmington, North Carolina, took on the Sheetz-to-Sheetz challenge. Fueled largely by word-of-mouth, the event sold out quickly and more than doubled in size with strong representation from northern Virginia. Of note to friends of the trail, the event introduced many local and not-so-local residents to the trail -- according to a post-run survey, just over half of participants had never visited the DRHT before. Another 21% had visited the trail before but had not experienced the section from mile marker 4 to the eastern terminus. They must have liked what they saw because the same survey showed a very high Net Promoter Score (86), and 100% of respondents reported feeling “extremely safe” or “very safe” on the course.
The event is intentionally designed to stray from the typical half marathon formula, striving to be unique and quirky and pushing a fun, non-competitive vibe. For starters, there’s no race clock – participants are encouraged to take their time, enjoy the trail and bond with other runners. To further encourage breaks, the mid-trail camp site was turned into a “Party Zone,” complete with a roaring campfire, s’mores, hot cider, candies, other snacks and even a hammock in case any runners really want to take a break. Boy Scouts and King George HS cheerleader volunteers ensured runners got the encouragement and support they needed from the aid station. Fun signage along the course and social media blasts leading up to the event also helped keep the mood decidedly light. Upon finishing, runners received a generous “swag bag” courtesy of Sheetz. Instead of the typical race medal and t-shirt, Sheetz-to-Sheetz finishers earned an insulated stainless-steel travel mug, Sheetz snacks, and vouchers for Sheetz Made-to-Order (MTO) food and drink. After partaking of complimentary coffee, runners then boarded a King George County school bus for the trip back to the start line parking area.
There was one serious component to the event – the charity benefit. $2,100 was donated to assist local children in need via the Sheetz employee-led charity, Sheetz-for-the-Kidz. Those funds are being spent this holiday season to buy toys, clothes, and necessities for up to 48 underprivileged children right here in the King George area. A donation was also made to Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail to help with trail maintenance and programs.
For many runners, the 2020 event marked the unexpected last race of the year as event related COVID restrictions started shortly thereafter. In-person racing continues, albeit with significant modifications to ensure social distancing and related requirements. After studying best practices and Virginia’s evolving event guidelines, Sheetz-to-Sheetz Trail Run organizers have planned a 2021 event that’s not only safe but features many significant improvements and upgrades. Scheduled for Saturday, March 13th, the 2021 event expands to 200 runners, features a new virtual run option, offers t-shirts, and includes an emcee and improved signage. The event is also part of a new King George Trail Series organized by Arsenal Events. You’ll hear more about this exciting new series soon as it brings together several DRHT and Caledon State Park events: The Dahlgren Trail Half, the Sheetz-to-Sheetz Trail Run, the 3H (Hazy, Hot & Humid) Trail Half, and the Howlin’ Coyote 10K.
For more information on the Sheetz-to-Sheetz Trail Run including hundreds of photos from the 2020 event, please visit www. sheetz2sheetz.com.
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