Experienced runners make the best race directors – so Brett Sherfy was a natural when he decided to launch the Gateway races last year.
A glance at Brett’s Ultrasignup profile reveals an impressive resume. In just the past two years he’s competed and completed: the Pinhoti 100 Miler, Sylacauga, AL; the Umstead 100 Miler, Raleigh, NC (twice); Hellgate 100K, Fincastle, VA; the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Miler, Carson City, NV; the Eastern Divide 50K, Pembroke, VA; the Terrapin Mountain 50K, Sedalia, VA; and the Mill Stone 50K, Fort Mill, SC.
The 31-year-old, who lives in Blacksburg and teaches math and has coached cross country at Christiansburg High School for the past four years, was inspired to start the Gateway 25 and 50K with his wife Michelle.
“The need for an ultra in Jefferson Forest using the Brush Mountain trail system was long overdue,” he said. “We have such a vibrant trail community here, and I wanted to showcase the community and the awesome trails we are so fortunate to have in our backyard. Runners of the race get to see the trails and experience the community by meeting other runners and volunteers at the race.”
Registration for 2019 Gateway 25 and 50K trail races opened last week. Runners making plans for 2019 should consider adding this hometown event to training or racing schedules.
When: May 4, 2019
Where: Start/finish in Blacksburg’s Heritage Park
Course: The race starts and finishes on a half-mile paved trail but is predominantly on the single-track trails near Pandapas Pond.
Runner swag: All runners receive a technical t-shirt and a complimentary beverage at Rising Silo Brewery. Additionally, as a finisher prize, each runner receives their choice of locally-made apple butter or apple sauce and two car decal stickers.
Q&A with Brett Sherfy
Best memory from last year’s race? The last runner in the 50K last year was a runner named Adam who had failed to finish an ultra a few weeks prior, and he and his significant other traveled down from Ohio so he could try to get an ultra finish under his belt. We had torn down most of the finish line area but left up the banner for him to run under. Seeing how much it meant for him to finish and achieve his goal and be there to hand him the Grit award was a great way to end the first year of the race!
Any lessons learned last year that prompted changes for this year’s Gateway races? I received good constructive feedback following the race last year in a runner survey I sent out after the event. There will be food for runners at the finish line this year, which was the most common suggestion to improve the event. I’ll also change the markings where there was a little bit of confusion for the 25K runners last year. I hope to see the event grow and continue to be a day our community gets together and celebrates with a “long dance” in the mountains.
Which section of the Gateway course (either distance) is your favorite? Tough question! There are so many parts of the course that I have a love/hate relationship with. I think my a few of my favorites are the initial climb/final descent down the Gateway Trail, which was previously known under the name of Old Farm before the Forest Service renamed it. It’s a challenging way to start a race with around 800′ of climb in 1.5 miles on technical trail! I also love that as soon as you summit Brush Mountain and reach the top of Gateway you just go screaming back down Jacob’s Ladder (affectionately referred to as Beast) losing all that hard-earned elevation. But if I’m being completely honest, from a race director’s standpoint, I love the last .5 mile of both races because you’ve just raced either a hard 25K or 50K and are within earshot of the finish area but have a little grinder of a hill on the paved bath back into Heritage park that will make even the most seasoned runners go hands on knee.
Which stretch do you think is the toughest on race day? I really love the section on the Gap Side that only the 50K runners see after aid station 5. Runners connect the far end of Poverty Creek trail, which is way less traveled than the section near the pond, to Trillium trail to Skull Cap trail to Prickly Pear trail. This seven-mile section is where the race is made in my opinion. If you can separate there or run that stretch of the course, it should be enough to put it away.
Advice for a novice trail runner interested in signing up? I think course knowledge is everything. If you’re local, get out there and run the course. You don’t have to run it all in one go but if you’re really serious about running and putting down your best time on it, you should run every section of it. Run it until you can visualize each turn going up the Gateway climb. If you’re not local, you should try to find technical trails to train on preferably with elevation. Both the 50K and 25K are within reach of a novice runner but if you want to have your best race day you should simulate the course as closely as you can.
Your favorite inspirational quote? I try to tell my students and runners everyday, “In case no one has told you today, YOU’RE AWESOME!” I believe in the power of positivity.