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Sunday, September 12, 2010 -- Helvetia, WV
Helvetia 10k Mountain Run (iPO Event Id#: 12623)

2010: [Details] [Coverage] [Photos] [Overall Results] [Results by Class]

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Flaggen, The Hill of Bern, and Parslied Potatoes

Story by Julie Black with Photos by Phil Bienek-Cate.

According to Wikipedia,

    "Helvetia is the female national personification of Switzerland, officially Confederatio Helvetica, the Helvetic Confederation. The name is derived from the name of the Helvetii, a Gaulish tribe that inhabited the Swiss Plateau prior to the Roman conquest."

Located deep in Randolph County, Helvetia, West Virginia is the location where original Swiss and German settlers arrived in 1869. Swiss-German was spoken until about 1940, and to this day, descendants remain.

Locals in the area still celebrate the tradition of Fastnacht (read more about the festival) and The Hutte restaurant, run by 90 something-young, Eleanor Mailloux, is a staple of the town serving only swiss-german food. But anyone can Google that information.

Hand-in-Hand to the finish
To really experience Helvetia you need to visit it for yourself.

Winding up and down route 20 south and finally onto Alexander/Helvetia Road, my crew searched for the farm of Dan and Jodi Lehman. Their roots lie in the town's land, descended from the original settlers (you can check the Helvetia Cemetery, Clara Louisa Lehman 1870-1933 among others).

We happened upon "The Shire" as I thoughtfully called it, by Saturday afternoon, in time for the feast of fire-grilled brats.

The 13th annual Helvetia Mountain Run is what brought me there, to the land of a horse named "King Tut" where the Dominickers (aggressive roosters) roam free. Hosted by the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners (WVMTR) and the Helvetia Fair Association, the night before the race felt more like a welcoming family reunion than a pre-race check-in.

The camp fire burned bright near the pond, the children lay on a large hammock together, and we all settled in before the downpour of rain sent us scurrying to our tents in the field.

Helvetia Run
Running through town.
By daybreak the hosts were already at the race setting up, but the hospitality continued with muffins, coffee, and an open house full of racers and their families and friends.

"It's truly a different world here," I though to myself. How far away it seemed from the streets I grew up in, where people never left their doors unlocked.

I took a deep breath and stretched, as I walked with my son towards the field full of ironweed where "Tut" the horse stood. After our early morning visits, it was getting close to race time.

Vehicles lined the town road, and the finish line stood in front of the old post office/country store across from the Community Hall where canned produce, paintings, woodworking and more were housed. Monthly square dances still take place in the hall and holiday traditions that have survived through the generations.

The kids ran first. Everyone watched and cheered as they sprinted down the street, around the tiny Swiss buildings, over the walking bridge and then on to the finish line. The biggest smiles came from the littlest racers. Travis Parks was quite the happy running toddler.

Kids Race, Helvetia
Kids line up for the race.
By race time I was ready, my trusty running partner Sophia was lacing up. This was her first trail run and my first time doing one in Helvetia. Together we wondered what we were in for. We found out soon enough.

Racers rolled out on the road to wind back again on to dirt along the Buckhannon River, which looked more like a trickling creek this time of year.

The kicker was Upper Trout Run, a gradual, fairly steep hill climb on trail through the woods. It was marked with a flag of Canton de Berne (yellow, red, with a black bear on it). The flag represents an area located in west-central Switzerland, and I'm guessing it must be a mountainous terrain. My running partner began to call me "coach" since I kept reassuring her that after that, it was all downhill from there. I found the course to be very runner friendly, mostly flat and such, with the one long hill being the exception.

By the time we walked to the top of the steep climb, we could see the hillsides, green and purple as they were, hazy and far away. It was a grand reward, and we knew it was time to start hauling a** downhill.

Helvetia Run
Sophia gives her daughter a hug while I smile.
Soph and I weren't out to win anything. We trained for weeks, working slowly up to 4 miles, then 5, etc. We did a lot of jogging, so I knew that it'd take us a while to finish the 6-miles.

The finish line was welcoming, with our kids and her hubby standing there with big smiles.

Our pace was slower than usual, probably because of nerves, but I think overall Soph was surprised at herself. Mostly because she was proud of what she had just done!

I have to say that I really liked the race, and preparing for the run was just as fun because it reminded me that to run you just have to go out and do it on a regular basis and you get better every week.

It's gradual, but very rewarding. And trail running is special in it's own right thanks to the scenery, the challenge of the trail, and the sounds and smells of the forest.

But my favorite part of the race wasn't the race at all. It was the people. I loved hanging with my son, and friends old and new. The Lehman Farm was a special treat, and Helvetia is a unique and beautiful place.

On our way back home, my son and I paid a visit to the West Virginia State Wildlife Center. I asked him what he thought about the trip, "I like the bobcats." he said thoughtfully, then he pursed his lips and added, "And you know that place where we camped with the chickens and the horse? I want to live there."