shut-in ridge trail run

©Paul Christopher

I have a bad habit of doing the same races over and over… The problem is, I’m just so in love with a few of them that I can’t even consider not toeing the start line. The Shut-In Ridge Trail Run is one such event. My annual autumn trip to Asheville for this ass-kicker also provides me the chance to visit friends I don’t see often enough, and if I’m lucky, some awesome fall foliage. The race starts at the Arboretum, following a forest service road and dreamy singletrack as it parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, ending 17.8 miles later at the trailhead to Mt. Pisgah. (but only after it sends you up, up, and up the hellacious, quad-busting, cramp-inducing, I-might-have-to-crawl-on-my-knees-to-make-it-to-the-top climb the race is known for.)

Unfortunately this year the leaves fell early; however, Mother Nature gave us a surprise instead – SNOW! While this was exciting, it did pose some challenges: namely, where would the race end? The Blue Ridge Parkway closes once winter weather hits. The alternate road is a scenic, twisty, steep one that would make most cars groan if any snow & ice accumulated on it. Race morning the rumor was the Mt. Pisgah parking lot was a sheet of ice. With the race being a point-to-point, it looked likely for us to run a shortened course (this has only happened 1 time before in the race’s 31 year history).

We gathered with anticipation at the start line for the official word. Norm said…  We’d run the full thing! Their hopes were that once the sun had warmed things up, the road would be a non issue. However, they reserved the right to amend the course at any time during the race. With that caveat, we were off! My goals for the day were modest. Some crazy fatigue I’ve been having kept my training a bit random. I just really hoped I had enough energy on race day to make it to the top :)  Of course getting a course PR would be preferable, but I wasn’t sure how likely that would be today.

The trail was thick with leaves, hiding the rocks and holes and making some steps treacherous. Add to that some slickness due to melting snow and I knew it wouldn’t be a record setting day. It was, however, a beautiful day on the trails! Bits of snow dusted the mountain laurel and a few gold & red trees decorated the forest kept my mind off the burn in my legs as we climbed higher and higher. Somehow I made the perfect choice in clothing (details below), which made the journey perfectly comfortable (until perhaps the last 15 min when the wind starting biting). I did wear a small pack since I didn’t have support along the way. This would definitely save a bit of time, but the pack doesn’t bother me so it wasn’t a big deal.

©Erin Brethauer

The final climb (s!) were as brutal as I remembered. I fell back a little here, but was happy to keep forward momentum (not everyone accomplishes that on this section!). The temps dropped, the wind picked up, and I was definitely happy the end was near. One woman crept up during the last quarter mile, so I had to work a bit to hold her off! My finishing time was 3:47 – faster than last year, but not my best time on this course. The Curwens & Browns were cheering me on and taking pics at the end (and then a Citizen-Times photographer got this awesome shot of me.. haha!) I was ushered into a warming tent – a godsend! However with so many people inside, my muscles were aching for some space. I grabbed the prized finisher’s shirt and headed to our van to get some dry clothes on. Big thanks to Monica and Lorrin for changing my socks when my legs started cramping up and bringing me the carton of Doc Chey’s peanut noodles (great race sponsor!)

If you haven’t done this race, it’s a must-do at some point. It sells out early every year, so keep your eye on the website for the summer registration announcement. Just don’t send in your money before me :)

Gear List:
Icebreaker 180 wool short sleeve shirt
Patagonia Nine Trails jacket
Pearl Izumi Arm Warmers
Buff (UV!)
Mountain Hardwear  Power Stretch Gloves
Insport tights
Smartwool socks
Vasque Mindbender shoes
Nathan running vest
Nuun + Clif Shot Bloks

Great pics from the Citizen-Times and more on Jus’ Running’s Facebook page

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