Race Report: The 2020 Sheetz-2-Sheetz Trail Race

Race information

  • What? Sheetz-2-Sheetz Trail Run
  • When? March 7, 2020
  • How far? 14 (mostly) trail miles
  • Where? Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (DRHT), rural King George, Virginia
  • Website:
  • Strava activity: here
  • Finish time: 1:45:37


AFinish less than 8 min/mile on an unfamiliar trailYes
BFinish top 3 male finishersNo



Lap/mileLap Time


The idea behind this race is that you run from one Sheetz gas station, a mid-Atlantic favorite, to another one, approximately 14 miles away. The vast majority of the run is on the beautiful Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail, with only the first mile(ish) on blacktop.
This was sold as a fun run, more than a competitive race, but I took this opportunity to add a little more experience on an unfamiliar trail in a competitive setting. I also dragged along a training buddy who is much faster than me, in hopes she would push me to a finish somewhere near the top of the pack. This race sold out quickly, and I think capped out at approximately 100 participants. No finisher’s medals or race T-shirts, but the finishers were all treated to donuts, coffee, Sheetz Gas Station memorabilia, and of course, a banana.


Earlier this year I got a ticket into one of my dream-races in August, so I’ve been trying to find excuses, and running partners, to go out on more trails. This race was quite flat, and significantly easier than some of my recent long runs in terms of elevation and terrain, but I hoped the competitive spirit would help me out of a recent running slump and get me moving fast on the trail.
I didn’t do anything special for training, but I have been pushing myself out on the trail more often, so it’s the little things.

Race Strategy

Since I brought my running buddy, I assumed I’d stick with her the first half of the race until she slowly left me. I anticipated that would be as soon as mile 5.
It seems like there’s always a ringer at these smaller races, and there was a $50 gift certificate and a very nice handmade award for first place in each gender. Even with the modest goals, I knew that I wouldn’t be near first place in gender, but I hoped for an arbitrary top three finish to try and find a target and keep it. My goal right now is to slowly move from running races, to racing races.


We left the house at 4:30 am. We got there early, and had plenty of time to pick up the race bib and go into the first Sheetz Gas Station. I didn’t eat before I left the house, so 20 minutes before the race started at 7:00 am, I was standing inside a gas station with a donut, a breakfast sandwich and a large coffee. Usually I eat those things much earlier on race morning, but I was rushed getting out the door.
As you would expect at a small race, the RD was trying to get all 100-people’s attentions, but failed miserably. Eventually they set off a police siren and off we were.

Miles 1-2

The race was a bit confusing at the start, but my buddy and I got out to an early lead just a few hundred meters after the start. We were both expecting to see people in front of us, so we kept exchanging “What’s-going-on?” looks with each other because neither of us thought we’d be in the lead this early. Just past the 1-mile mark, I called an audible and pulled ahead to try and build a lead between myself and the folks I could hear behind me. My rationale at the time was to try and build a lead of up to a quarter mile and see if I could hold on. After all, I started out well and felt great.

Miles 3-4

And of course, at almost exactly the two-mile point, my plan started to fall apart. I was running hard and it was about the time for me to ease into a steady pace, and that’s when the #1 guy passed me. He never looked back. I maintained my #2 position for another mile when I was caught and started running shoulder-to-shoulder with what would be the #2 and #3 male finishers. I had them in my sights at the end of the 3rd mile and felt good about my chances of keeping them where I could see them.

Miles 5-14

At exactly the 4-mile point I was passed by my running buddy. Full disclosure: She’s a million times better than me at all distances we’ve run together (up to about 18 miles) and so I expected her to catch me during mile 5. It was no real surprise to see her at the 4-mile mark. I gave her a quick verbal update of what laid ahead (not that she needed it), that the first-place guy was way out of view, but I felt she could catch the 2nd place guy in 3 or 4 miles with a steady pace. I then bid her farewell as she got progressively smaller in my sights.
I kept the #3 male in my sights all the way to the 6.2-mile mark, which was also the course’s only aid station. He had slowed for a drink, and I was hoping maybe it gave me the chance to catch up. I was able to close the gap to roughly 100 meters, but then slowly, over the next 2 miles he peeled away. When we got the 8-mile mark, the curves in the trail made it so that he was completely out of sight, and there was no one even close to my rear. I had accepted at that point that I was finishing #4 male, and 5th overall. That’s exactly how it would end.
The biggest take away for the end was that for the last almost-six miles, I never saw another runner again after the 8-mile marker, and the only other human was a guy taking pictures towards the end on a pretty fast curve. I had set my Garmin to follow the .gpx route, so I didn’t have any real-sense of what my pace was, and when I looked back on it – I think my pacing for those final miles, when I had no idea how fast I was actually going, was pretty consistent. Overall I can’t really complain about anything.


I think finishing ahead of the main body, but behind the leaders created some confusion with the volunteers. My wife wasn’t there at the end to greet me (she just missed me) and when I crossed the finish line, I barked out “Is this it?” and when I didn’t hear a reply I kept running around the table and back towards the store. One nice gentleman did come out to tell me I ‘missed’ the finish line.
My running buddy did indeed hunt down two of the three guys in front of her and took the top female finisher and second-place overall finish. She was promoted to first overall finisher because the guy who crossed the line first was actually an employee of the store that put on/sponsored the race, so he excused himself from the final results.
Aside from that finish-line SNAFU, everything went perfect. There were tons of donuts and fruit for the runners, and of course we all had coupons for free goodies at Sheetz. The ceremony to recognize the top male and female finisher was brief, but the awards were very nice. There seemed to be plenty of room for the runners coming in from the brisk outside conditions and the customers of the gas station.
All-in-all it was a very nice race for being so very small and cozy.

Would I do it again?

Maybe. I am definitely glad I did it at least once, and it’s one of those races I would definitely recommend that other people do at least once too. They had a great logo, so maybe next year it will be big enough where they can have a t-shirt printed up. The logistics of a point-to-point race are tricky and they did a great job with handling the crowds.