Fodderstack Day in Rappahannock County – The 10K Course
Fodderstack 10K starts on U.S. Route 522, Zachary Taylor Highway in Flint Hill, Virginia but we call this lovely road “Main Street”. The first two-tenths of a mile of the course are uphill, which serves as a reminder to pace yourself on this challenging trip to Little Washington. So begins one of the prettiest road races anywhere. Friends and neighbors along the road in town and race volunteers at the fire station just after the turn on to Fodderstack Road always respond to a wave. Some runners shout a word of appreciation to the trooper who is stationed at the corner here to ensure your safety. The downhill section just past the fire station is short, and it ends at the foot of a demanding hill. Here is where Fodderstack first-timers who go out too fast begin to understand that this course demands patience. After you crest this hill, a quarter mile of mostly level running takes you out of town to the scenic countryside of Rappahannock County and the mile 1 mark just past Aileen Road.
A gentle climb takes you past an apple orchard on your right, which may just be at the end of its bloom. Beyond the blossoms, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park appear on the western horizon. After winding downhill through woods for a few hundred yards, the course bends left and climbs gently through open meadows. On your left, the warming spring climbs Big Mulky Mountain, shading its slopes gradually from bright green at its base to winter brown at its summit. The stone fence on the edge of Caledonia Farm on the right signals your completion of mile 2 and your arrival at one of many scenic vistas along the way to Little Washington.
Another long but moderate hill to crest and presently you run past an historic stone house near the base of the next challenging hill. This moderate climb takes you to 780 feet AMSL, back into the woods. Still, you can enjoy long views of rolling meadows on your left. Cresting this hill soon brings you to the mile 3 mark and a welcome downhill section that gradually levels off as open meadows once again give way to the greening forest. Better check your pace and breathing here and collect your energy for what is to come, still hidden from view just beyond a gentle bend to the right.
Still in the trees, the road climbs, and every few yards you run takes you another foot above sea level. A steep hill appears as the mile 4 mark is reached just beyond the foot of Fodder Stack Mountain, whose east flank you now climb. As the road bends to the right, you imagine that you are nearing the summit – until the road bends left, and you stretch the front of your neck up to view the top. Walk or run – if you can – 100 yards more of the steepest section of this race. Eventually you crest the highest point on the course, “The Hill”, just beyond Fruit Tree Lane. What a hill it is, elevation 854 feet. As you catch your breath, you can enjoy the long downhill to the mile 5 mark near Peach Orchard Lane.
Next begins the deceptively challenging up and down trip into Little Washington. As you crest a “popper” at Jones Lane, you descend 75 feet in 300 yards to a bridge across a stream – the Rush River. You are back on Main Street – this time, in Little Washington. One more steep climb of 70 feet in less than 300 yards takes you to the second of only three turns on the entire course – a left onto Wheeler Street. One block on Wheeler, followed by a quick right onto Gay Street and soon, you see the mile 6 mark. With your breath returning from that last steep hill before Wheeler, enjoy the ¼ mile straight shot to the waiting crowd in front of the Rappahannock County Courthouse, and, at last – the equivalent of a seven-story building higher than you started – the finish line. Now we can cheer finishers and hob nob with friends in this beautiful little historic town and take some refreshment. Soon, the impending awards ceremony beckons from the courthouse steps under spring blooms and a warming sky.