How to Do a Self-Supported 50K on the Virginia Creeper Trail
Hello, ambitious ultra runner. You need to add the Virginia Creeper Trail to your running destination bucket list.
Located just north of the birthplace of country music (Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia, for those of you not in the know), the Creeper runs between Abingdon and Whitetop, right on the North Carolina border.
This trail has everything you could want. The views vary drastically as the miles pass, going from wooded paths to picturesque farmland to walkways alongside houses and highways. Just one mile on the Creeper shows you why it’s an obvious pick for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame. Its stunning beauty, interesting history, easy terrain, numerous bridges, and friendly locals make this a destination run fo’ sho’.
Despite the sketchy name, the Virginia Creeper Trail is not full of creepers. It’s actually far from creepy, if you don’t count the mooning pumpkin scarecrow I came across. Or the half-eaten bunny carcass lying on the trail. I digress. The railway was affectionately named after the local “Virginia Creeper” plant and because it ran very…slowly…over steep terrain.
Here are some tested and proven tips to successfully running the Virginia Creeper Trail solo.
Start at Whitetop
Yes, Abingdon is easy to access from I-81. But trust me, you will appreciate the net downhill that you get from a start at Whitetop. Plus, hitting the trail at o-dark-thirty will eliminate a lot of the cyclist traffic. What traffic, you ask? Well…
Pack Some Patience
There will be people. Lots of people. Especially on a weekend, and especially later in the day. The trail is wildly popular (read: dozens upon dozens) with cycling tourists from Damascus, where bike companies shuttle riders to either end of the trail. This is excellent for exercise and the local economy, but it makes for a long day of “On your left!” or worse, no shouted warnings at all. Which brings me to…
Leave Headphones at Home
Running with both headphones in is a terrible idea on the Creeper, unless you fancy being mowed over by a bike. Which, to be fair, is sometimes a welcome thought in the middle of an ultra. But you will need to rely on your ears the entire run to know what’s creeping up behind you—bear, biker, deer, turkey, rabbit, Sasquatch. If you insist on playing tunes, leave your left earpiece out. Or play your music out loud, but risk the wrath of others.
The Virginia Creeper Trail is the perfect spot to bust out 34 miles all by your lonesome. Between the River Cafe in Alvardo, the Creeper Trail Cafe in Taylors Valley, all the restaurants and outfitters in Damascus, and the promise of a shuttle, should you want a bailout point, carrying cash or plastic is a good idea.
Carry Plenty of Water
While the trail is full of snack stops, there are long stretches on either end where you may go up to 8 miles with no water. If you can act like a camel and conserve water effectively, more power to you! But for us humans, it’s best to don a pack or vest with a water bladder. That way, with whatever food and drink you carry on your person, you won’t be wanting for anything. Except maybe a cold brew. Which you can also acquire in Damascus.
Should you want to do the entire thing again for funsies, stock up at the Abingdon Visitor Center (or in town) and turn around. But be warned—the pull of tasty food, local craft beer, and shuttles are tempting distractions.
But really. Run the trail. Maybe you’re wanting to throw an easy 34-miler into the midst of your training (looking at you, 100-miler crazies). Maybe you want the glory of running an ultra marathon without the fanfare, the crowds, and the medal. Maybe you’re cheap. Or broke. Or old-school. Whatever your reason, the Virginia Creeper Trail is the perfect spot for a self-supported 50K. Plus or minus a few miles.