TrailNotes: Grace, Gretchen, Tim and the Tired Foot Award

November 4, 2020


The best quotes from the finish line

* 2020 race page
* Video: Start of the 2020 FOTM
* PHDC Facebook group
LITTLE ORLEANS, Md. — At the time of registration leading up to the 2019 Fire on the Mountain 50K, young Elijah Campbell was only 16 years old. He and his father, Jim, prepared as well as anyone — and perhaps better than many — in order to be successful on race day.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin
The Campbell family (L to R, Elijah, Grace and Jim) reach Mile 1.2 and prepare to turn onto the red trail.

They were, as Elijah (then 17) crossed the finish line in 8 hours, 2 minutes and 35 seconds (Jim stopped the clock three seconds later). The effort made Elijah the youngest 50K finisher in the event’s nine-year history.

Turns out someone stole the title in 2020, and Elijah didn’t have to look far from his Frederick County home to see who did it. Younger sister Grace entered this year’s race with brother and dad. On Saturday at bib pick-up, Grace said her longest training run was about 12 miles, but the family had visited Green Ridge State Forest in western Maryland to get some feet on the difficult red trail. The practice paid off. 

Grace completed the 32.8-mile trail race this year in 9:15:32, while her dad and pacer finished six seconds behind. Grace said she felt pretty good at the finish, though there were some ups and down — literally and emotionally — along the way. Grace said she was having a tough time at about Mile 12, which nearly matched her longest training run. By the time she reached Mile 20, though, she was getting a second burst of energy — so much so that Jim said Grace helped carry him along at that point.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin
With the throw of a log into the finish line fire, Grace Campbell earns the title of youngest finisher in Fire on the Mountain 50K history.

Elijah, meanwhile, ceded the “youngest event finisher” to his little sister. He quickly noted that he still maintained the top finishing time within his family with his 7:11:58 finish (11th overall). Grace placed 33rd among 39 runners who completed the 50K course.

Truth is, Grace might not hold that title for long, anyway, as yet another young Campbell could start the race in the not-too-distant future.

Age is but a number

On the other end of the age spectrum was Gretchen Bolton. The Montgomery County, Maryland, resident celebrated her 75th birthday in October 2020. A few days before race weekend, Bolton made a call to the race director to see about getting into the 25K race.

Logistics were worked out, and Bolton made her way to the start line at Point Lookout Overlook in Little Orleans. Bolton ran and shuffled her way to finish 25th among 26 runners who completed the 25K course. Bolton stopped the clock in 4:43:45, a mere 75 seconds under the official cutoff.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin
Gretchen Bolton, 75, was all smiles throughout her 25K journey in Green Ridge State Forest.

Bolton’s effort earns her the title of oldest finisher in Fire on the Mountain history, regardless of distance.

One and done

Trail running can mean different things to different people. Some people hear the word “trails” and envision 10-foot wide former rail trails, which often feature gradual inclines with crushed limestone surfaces.

That is note remotely what Fire on the Mountain offers — and Tim Osterbind now knows it. The 31-year-old from Henrico, Virginia, was one of a number of runners in a group with Jimmy Christmas and Patrick Kennedy.

Osterbind completed the 50K course in a more-than-respectable 7:12:05, good for lucky number 13th place overall, 12th male, and fifth in the men’s 30-39 age group.

But don’t expect him to return in 2021 to improve on place or time, as the second half of the course might have gotten to him. Osterbind ran the first 16.4 miles in 3:05, sufficient for 10th place at the time. While Todd Stiefler, 42, of Bethesda, Md., hit the turnaround point at about the same time (just behind Osterbind), Stiefler ran the second half in just over 3:23, moving up one spot. Osterbind, meanwhile, completed the second half of the race in 4:07:05 and slipped three spots in the standings.

“I’m selling my Nikes and going back to drinking full-time,” Osterbind exclaimed after crossing the finish line.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin
Tim Osterbind and his Nike shoes at Mile 1.2.

It’s not known if he was serious or not. Trail running, at least the kind of trail running within Green Ridge, is not for everyone.


In one or more ways, the trails that comprise the Fire on the Mountain 50K and 25K courses challenge the best of runners, but especially first-timers like Angeles Salles.

The 34-year-old from Baltimore, Maryland, completed the 25K course in 4 hours, 6 minutes and 30 seconds, good for 15th among 26 runners who completed the course (including one runner over the 4:45 cutoff).

For her part, Salles appreciated the difficult level of the course and maybe surprised herself a bit.

“I can’t believe I finished it in time,” said Salles of her first trail race.

She did so in grand fashion, too. Salles completed the first 7.5 miles to Aid Station 2 — the forest road section — in 1:35. The hard part came next, and Salles conquered the final 8.8 miles of the red trail in 2:31:30.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin
Angeles Salles at the start of her 25K adventure.

Mission accomplished, Salles – and congratulations.

Worth the challenge

Kim Engleman, 48, of Richmond, Va., took on the inaugural 25K course. She completed the race in 4 hours, 27 minutes and 37 seconds, good for 20th place among 26 runners who completed the distance.

At the finish line, Engleman expressed an appreciation for the challenge.

“Hard, but amazing,” Engleman said.

Robert and the trails

Robert Hardt understands that he is not considered an official finisher for the 2020 edition of the Fire on the Mountain 50K. Still, the 51-year-old from Paw Paw, W.Va., must love the trails more than anyone else. That must be the case, because he generally spends more time on them than anyone else.

Hardt finished his 2020 race in 10 hours, 15 minutes and 18 seconds, just past the 10-hour cutoff. Aid Station 7, with about 5.6 miles remaining in the race, was projected to close at about 3:17 p.m. By 3:11 p.m., aid station captain Michele Jacoby said Hardt was not in sight.

Hardt arrived at 3:25 p.m. Jacoby knew she had the authority to pull Hardt from the course. After consulting with the race director — who said that Hardt knew the course and, if physically able, should be permitted to continue — and holding Hardt at the aid station for five minutes to gauge his awareness level, Jacoby allowed Hardt to continue.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin
Robert Hardt, of Paw Paw, W.Va., tosses his log into the finish line campfire to put a stop to the longest day on the trails.

The race has a hard cutoff of 10 hours, and no one who finishes beyond that time is supposed to get the race T-shirt or a finisher’s award. The race director opted to give Hardt both — plus a bonus. Susan Jense, who volunteered during the 2019 race while daughter Sara Logan ran, had brainstormed a “tired foot award” and it was to go to the last runner. This year, that was Robert.

As the course changed to an out-and-back run in 2016, Hardt, then 49, was the only runner to not finish among an intimate field of 24 starters. He dropped out at the midway point, mile 16.4, at Log Roll Overlook after spending 5 hours and 3 minutes on his feet. He hung his head and humbly tried to shake off the disappointment after getting a ride back to the finish line in volunteer Ray Hunt’s Dodge Journey.

He also dropped in 2014.

In 2013, Hardt completed what was then a point-to-point course in 8:43:55.6, good for 103rd among 103 official finishers. In 2012, He clocked an 8:37:10.8, good for 74th out of 79 finishers.

This year, he again pushed the limits of the 10-hour cutoff.

“Thirty-five minutes to go,” the race director called out at the finish line.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin
Robert Hardt earns the Tired Foot Award, a brainchild of 2019 volunteer Susan Jense.

“Twenty minutes … 15 minutes …”

Shortly after that last announcement, though, Hardt was able to be seen through the lightly wooded tree line as he crested the hill on Oldtown Orleans Road and made the final turn into the equestrian field. At that point, he was less than 100 meters from the finish line. He bent down to scoop up a log to complete the ceremonial tossing of the wood into the fire.






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