Horning, McKenna bide time in 50K victories

Shephard lowers women’s record, repeats as 25K women’s champ
MacGray sets course record in 25K win

* 2021 results: 50K25K
* TrailNotes — Greenawalt, Gideon and more (bonus 2021 coverage)
* Previous years’ results:
* Top FOTM 50K performances (going into 2021)

By Kevin Spradlin

LITTLE ORLEANS, Md., Nov. 7, 2021 — Though it was a full week past Halloween, one could not help but wonder if ghosts and goblins were at play — or, at the very least, some developing superstitions.

Greg Horning

Regardless, it was bad luck to be in the lead in the first half of the 11th running of the Fire on the Mountain 50K trail race, a 32.8-mile out-and-back venture in Green Ridge State Forest in eastern Allegany County.

Winners of both the men’s and women’s 50K races on Sunday trailed at aid station 3 and 5 — mile points 12.7 and 20.1, respectively. The station, situated near the midway point of the moderately difficult Deep Run/Big Run Trail, was marked by a simple fold-up table with 12 gallons of water and an industrial-size trash bag. The Mertens Avenue forest service road crossing is in the middle of 48,000 acres, and proved not to be a turning point, but a bellweather of opportunity.

Greg Horning, 27, of Columbia, outlasted the field to cross the finish line, located in the grassy field of a group campsite on Oldtown Orleans Road, in 5 hours, 17 minutes and 30 seconds. More than half an hour passed before runner-up Jonathan Ladson, 30, of Woodbridge, Va., stopped the clock in 5:47:57. Levi Foust, 40, of Somerset, Pa., took third in 5:56:52. Hugh O’Connor, 22, of Severna Park, finished fourth in 5:58:17 while Rande Brown, 51, of Bedford, Pa., was the last runner to finish under six hours (5:59:49).

Jonathan Ladson

Early on, it looked as if the race was O’Connor’s to lose. Horning was comfortably in third place at mile marker 12.7. With more than half of the race to go, and still 3.7 miles before reaching the turnaround point, Horning was six minutes behind pacesetter O’Connor. O’Connor passed the primitive aid station in 1 hour, 57 minutes and 30 seconds, and held a four-minute lead on Ladson. Foust was fourth, a little over seven minutes off the lead.

Nearly seven and one-half miles later, after visiting the oasis at Log Roll Overlook at serves as the midway point, O’Connor had increased his lead over Ladson to 11 minutes. Horning was 12 minutes and 40 seconds off O’Connor’s furious pace.

Levi Foust

Coming through aid station 5 at mile marker 20.1, however, friend and former University of Maryland at Baltimore County cross country teammate Michael Schlining offered insight to O’Connor’s mindset. As O’Connor pulled himself out of the ravine and up and across Mertens Avenue, Schlining opined that if O’Connor was in a good mood and feeling energetic, he would be talkative — and Schlining reported O’Connor had been just that at the turnaround point.

But if O’Connor were tiring, Schlining noted, the FOTM contender would offer “a look of disdain.” At aid station 5, O’Connor was silent as Schlining cheered him on, having ferried himself from aid station to aid station by mountain bike.

As the runners approached aid station 6 and back onto the arguably more difficult Long Pond Trail that would carry the runners over the file 7.7 miles of trail, the race went to Horning.

Similarly, Johanna McKenna, 34, of Silver Spring, was keeping women’s leader Kari Brown as close as possible. Brown, who finished third in the women’s field in the event’s inaugural year in 2010 with a time that remains No. 6 on the list of all-time performances through 2021, smiled through aid station 3 in 2:45, holding a three-minute lead over McKenna. FOTM veteran Jamie Greenawalt, 53, of Bedford, was third — nearly seven minutes off Brown’s pace — followed by Allison Gundlach, 34, of Carnegie, Pa., (2:54:45) and Meg Roque, 45, of Berryville, Va., who crossed the forest road in 2:58:45.

Johanna McKenna

Step by step, following the concept of making relentless forward progress that is the mantra of the seasoned ultra marathoner, McKenna honed in on Brown. By aid station 5, McKenna had shaved 48 seconds off the gap between the two.

McKenna eventually took the lead and the win, running down the tree-lined finish chute and stopping the clock in 6:58:17. Brown held on to second place (7:15:50) and Greenawalt earned third place in 7:35:15.

Shephard repeats as women’s 25K champ

Katie Shephard shaved nearly nine minutes off her winning time in 2020 to place second overall and lead the women’s field in the second running of the Fire on the Mountain 25K.

The 34-year-old from Broadlands, Va., threw her log into the fire to seal her win — and second place overall — in 2 hours, 49 minutes and 33 seconds. She put last year’s time of 2:58:41 (which earned her the overall victory) squarely in her rearview mirror.

Katie Shephard

It’s a good thing for Shephard, too, because without a course record-breaking performance, she likely would not have been able to repeat as women’s champion. That’s because, had Shephard looked into her rearview mirror, it’s likely she would have seen 15-year-old Jenna Conley. The Thurmont resident and Frederick Steeplechasers member was on Shephard’s tail in the second half of the race and finished less than four minutes behind in 2:53:21. Chrissy Goodbody, 33, of Phildelphia, Pa., was earned third place, only 91 seconds behind Conley in 2:54:52. Angela Rhoderick-Kesecker, 39, of Hagerstown, was a close fourth (3:00:37), and the women claimed four of the top seven spots in the 25K field.

Allegany County runner Aaron MacGray, 37, of LaVale, led 55 finishers in a time of 2:24:54. The time set a course record, down from Shephard’s winning time of 2:58:41 in 2020. Michael Dechnik, 53, of Skippack, Pa., earned second in 2:50:07 while Phillip Toward, 33, of Pittsburgh, Pa., finished third in 2:57:48, good for sixth overall and the last runner under the three-hour mark.

Allegany Playground is a new digital media hub covering sports, recreation and the great outdoors in and around Allegany County, Maryland. While AlleganyPlayground.com is being built, PeeDeePost.com will be its temporary home on the internet. 

Submitted photo
Aaron MacGray, FOTM 25K champion, adds fuel to the fire.

Jenna Conley





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