Going into its fourth decade, the Great Greenbrier River Race, set for April 29, merges the challenges of a triathlon with a family-friendly attitude that stresses fun along with fitness. The race starts and ends in Marlinton, W.Va., and has become a five-star event, combining a 3-mile run, a 4-mile paddle, and a 10-mile bike ride. The race’s course follows the beautiful Greenbrier River and parallel Greenbrier River Trail through scenic Pocahontas County.
“You can have up to four people on a team, so we have lots of families enter,” said Brenda Cochrane, of the sponsoring Greenbrier River Trail Association. “Last year, our youngest racer was under 6 years old. We had 20 racers under 12 years old, and our oldest was 80.”
The starting leg, a 3-mile run, takes the racers along the Greenbrier River Trail, a 78-mile long rail trail operated by the West Virginia State Park system. A packed crusher run surface, 1 percent grade, and classic mountain river scenery create an engaging venue.
Runners go out a mile and a half, then back to town to begin the 4-mile paddle down river to the blue bridge in Buckeye. One of the longest un-dammed rivers in the east, the Greenbrier traverses one of the most remote areas in the state. Racers may use canoes, kayaks, or standup paddle boards to cover the distance.
Taking out from the river, racers mount bicycles and ride south about a mile along the river trail, then turn back north to Marlinton, making a 10-mile bike ride to the finish line and legions of spectators, families, and cheering fans. The celebration continues with live music, a meal for all of the racers, and the awards ceremony.
Insider tip: The race’s many categories ensure that many participants will receive prizes.
Team and solo participants
Held the last Saturday in April, the race was originally a team event requiring four members, including canoeists, a bicyclist, and a runner. As the event evolved, more and more people chose to do it solo.
Last year saw some 300 solo participants and 100 teams. Some teams consist of a single family and can even include the family dog.
The race is well organized and awards are given for first-place overall and first, second, and third place in seven solo categories and eight team categories, including a separate category for challenged athletes. In a solo entry, one person does all three events. In a team entry, up to four people compete, each covering one or two events, but not all three.
Started in 1986, the race was initially an effort to raise awareness and interest in the trail after devastating floods. Since then, it has become a major fundraiser for the Greenbrier River Trail Association. Funded improvements have included water pumps, enhanced trailheads, restrooms, shelters, interpretive signs, and resurfacing.
The trail accommodates bicycling, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding. Because it is next to the river for most of its length, trail users have frequent access to opportunities for swimming and fishing.
The great prizes, music, and food have attracted a loyal following of racers and fans. Known for its hospitality, Marlinton welcomes the racers, and many teams have made the Greenbrier an annual occasion. State park cabins, motels, privately owned cottages, and bed-and-breakfasts are available nearby.
Register for the race at tristateracer.com. Look under “April 2017,” and pull up the 31st annual Great Greenbrier River Race.
Pocahontas Co. Tourism: pocahontas.org