The Humanity of Hard Tasks: Three Days of Trail Racing in the WV Backcountry
by Katie Wolpert
“Day 2 is really the crux of the race,” says Dan Lehmann, co-race director of the West Virginia Trilogy, “and the real race happens at the back of the pack,” where the stragglers are being chased by the most persistent force in the universe: time.
The 10th West Virginia Trilogy took place this fall at our Spruce Knob campus. To complete the Trilogy, runners must run a 50k race on Friday, a 50 mile race on Saturday, and a half marathon on Sunday. Times are tallied from all three races and the fastest cumulative time wins, though runners can also opt to run only one or two of the races.
Day 2 can make your race and day 2 can break your race. It is when the leaders pull away — they can overcome a deficit from the 50k first day and/or create a gap that is effectively insurmountable during the half marathon on day 3. But for many of the runners, staring down the throat of 50 more miles, starting in the cold and dark at 6am, barely 12 hours after the 50k finished, nursing stiff joints, blisters, and exhaustion from the get-go, that 14 hour cut-off is going to be their main competition on Day 2.
In 2019, with the 14-hour cutoff nipping at her heels, Elkins-based Jennifer Lipscomb crossed the finish line of the 50 mile race in 13:56:01 with under 4 minutes to spare, making it possible for her to complete her third Trilogy. Hours ago at the front of the pack Michelle Benshoff followed up her near-record setting performance in the 50k the day before with a 10:54 in the 50M. All told, Benshoff’s cumulative performance of 18:26:39 makes her the 2nd fastest woman in the ten years of WV Trilogy.
On the men’s side defending champ Jordan Chang threw down in the 50k to earn a 6-minute lead over Trilogy rookie but veteran ultra-racer Frank Gonzalez. On day 2 they crested the summit of Spruce Knob together, racing hard only 6 miles into the race and, Gonzalez said afterward, “I thought I had it for the first 24 miles…”
While Gonzalez fell off pace Chang remained steady, finishing in first place again on day 2, and extending his lead over the field.
Unlike other trail and ultra races where one runs quietly through the woods for some portion of the day, finishes, gathers gear, and heads back home, Trilogy is a race where runners linger.
Conversations started mid-race are continued mid-dinner. Weather conditions are suffered through together. Community develops as runners share dorms, camping areas, dining space, and trail time. “Sharing a couple of quiet meals with everyone you’re going to race against and then pushing each other to go hard just feels so human,” reflected half marathoner Ian Voysey.
Trilogy hurts. The trails are hard, races long, accommodations rustic. But it is wonderfully and quintessentially human.