Author cathi

Mount Mitchell 40… um, 36… miler

I have a history with this race.

I first signed up for it in 2007. I’d heard stories, seen pictures, and wanted to get get a piece of the action. ITB soreness (and beating myself up a few weeks earlier at Mountain Mist) caused me to drop down to the marathon distance (still an accomplishment but not what I set out to do). I was back in 2008… but this time a groin pull had me out for a month prior, so I played it smart once again and settled for a mere 26. Then 2009… oh, what a bad winter. Ankle injuries had me out for 2.5 months. No race at all.

2010. This was THE year. I was going to do it. Mother Nature, on the other hand, had a different plan. I’m not quite sure what happened to the south this year, but we’ve had crazy amounts of snow. The good: I got lots of training runs in thru snow and over ice. I was prepared, both mentally & physically (Thanks Matt!). The bad: due to the obscene amounts of snow on the trails in Mount Mitchell State Park (we’re talking 50″+, with drifts well over that), the course had to be modified. So instead of 40, we got a mere 34-36 miles. Still, with snow, ice, wind gusts topping 50mph and single digit temps at the summit (no, that’s NOT including wind chill! remember, we’re on the highest peak east of the Mississippi. that means extremes!), we were promised an epic race.

The race weekend started by escaping work early and driving to Asheville with teammate Kathy and R/C trail series race director Jonathan out to spectate & support, and NOT direct for a change!). We met up with more teammates, Natalie, Krissy & Matt at the pre-race briefing, where Jay wow’d us with amazing photos from earlier that day. It was not just winter up there – it was more like a desolate frozen tundra. gulp.

After some catching up, we retired to our accommodations at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly – a very cool lodge minutes from the start. (Thanks William & Adam!). Dinner, race prep, sleep.

Krissy & I, ready to get moving

We gathered at the start, thankful to have Matt & Jonathan to grab our down jackets before the gun went off. The race began with a 3.5 mile road run from downtown Black Mountain and thru Montreat. Normally we catch some singletrack, but our first reroute had us skipping this and heading straight up some heinous hills that warmed you up quick. From there we accessed the Toll Road – a 9 mile forest service road that led us so the Blue Ridge Parkway. Normally pretty rocky, the snow and ice almost worked to our benefit here to fill in the gaps and smooth things out a bit. The hard part was negotiating the narrow “path” left by the snowmobiles. Sometimes it was nice and wide; other times a bit too narrow for 2 feet to easily fit. After a few slips and increasingly tentative steps, I pulled on the Yak Trax – definitely good move, giving me the confidence to step wherever I wanted.

My Pics from Mount Mitchell 2010

There was a strict cutoff for the Challenge once runners got to the Parkway. Make it before 10am, and you can motor on to the summit. 10:01, and you turn around (but can still complete the Marathon as an official finisher). I cruised thru at 9:22, feeling strong and rather positive. Onward and upward! I took a moment to refresh at the aid station (all of them were lavishly stocked! I took a liking to the animal crackers today), take off the Yak Trax (we would now be on a plowed road), and put on some more clothes. Once we rounded a turn, the winds coming thru the gap stopped me in my tracks. Seriously. So strong I could barely move. Luckily this would be the worst of it, but I hung around a group of others as we slowly climbed up to 6,684′. Clouds hung low, so we saw no spanning vistas; instead, we were transported to a crazy land where the trees were not only covered with snow, but reminded me of those fake white christmas trees you see. Surreal! I snapped a few pics, but the temps kept my fingers tucked inside warm mittens. Finally, a few hundred feet from the summit, we escaped the pavement and hit some trail. The early runners probably had it easiest – walking on top of a frozen crust of snow & ice. But by now it had been stirred up and I had to negotiate thru a mess that was nearly up to my knees. Once we tagged the sign at the summit, we were signed off and now officially half way done! It was all downhill from here. Literally. How hard could that be? (well, Black Mountain does sit around 2,300′….)

Me all bundled up! © Asheville Citizen-Times
When you don’t run on pavement too much, it’s a killer. There was a nice, snow-free road luring you down… begging you to haul ass and make up some time. My knees & hips were warning me though, so I was somewhat conservative. I was super happy to hit the toll road once again – snow & ice was better than asphalt. I cruised down, trying to ignore some of the aches that started to pop up. I forgot my iPod, but enjoyed listening to the woods or chatting with other runners. Time passed. And then the evil road was here again. Somehow that last 3.5 miles always takes an eternity. In my head I thought 40 minutes; 3.5-4 miles…. I can average a 10min/mile pace and make it right around 7 hrs. That should be no problem. Um, yeah. Not quite. At least half those steps were painful (I swear my kneecaps wanted to pop off my knees); sometimes I was just happy to keep a forward movement.

Finally the Lake Tomahawk came into view, along with the finish line. I hobbled across, happy to have finally made it! 7hrs, 10 min. This was good enough for 5th place which I was thrilled with! I think I surprised from friends there too :) After some delicious hot soup, dry clothes, and picking up the prized finisher’s fleece, we headed back to the lodge to get cleaned up. Kathy had finished the marathon earlier that morning with a great time as her debut back after foot surgery last year. Natalie had a strong day, finishing 4th. Krissy easily won the women’s division, in a speedy 5:10. It would have been great to stick around for the awards ceremony that night, as the podium went thru 5th place (Rock/Creek ladies representing!!), but the long drive back had us ancy.

me + monica, happy to be done! ©Chris Brown

Jay & I. um, not quite sure what I’m doing! ©Chris Brown

my set up. much more than i normally carry, but I have to say

I was 100% happy with the choices I brought along. ©Chris Brown

Definitely happy to finally check this one off the list! Thanks to Rock/Creek, Patagonia, The North Face, Vasque & nuun for all the support! And a huge thanks to Jay Curwen and all of the race volunteers, rangers, & medics on the course ensuring us a fun and safe race!

The gear:
Vasque Blur SL shoes – These are what I’ve been running in all winter, so I figured I shouldn’t change them up last minute.
Yak Trax
TNF Flight Series windstopper vest & momentum top
Hincapie wool longsleeve baselayer
Insport tights
Smartwool socks
Nathan hydration vest
nuun – banananuun flavor. thinking tropical to keep me warm. :)
Marmot Randonnee mittens – yes, my hands get REALLY cold, but these were worth a million to me!
Marmot Dryclimb jacket – outerwear for the ascent
Mountain Hardwear fleece beanie
Buff – the ultimate piece of gear. (wore as a neck gaiter, balaclava, and headband)
Tifosi sunglasses
CEP recovery socks
CW-X stability tights, worn for recovery afterwards

Mount Mitchell Challenge: press & pics

I survived! Still writing the race report, but there’s been so much great press about the race I thought I’d compile some here and get it up now. stay tuned…

Rock/Creek Pres Release

Photos by Chris Brown
Pics by Wilderness Adventure Photography
Post-race article from Asheville Citizen Times
Pics from the Asheville Citizen Times
Pics from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation
Pics from Steppe’s Gap

the summit, 24 hrs before the big day;=mf

Kicking off the race season, Southern-Style

Sunday kicked off the 2010 Rock/Creek Trail Series, with the 2nd annual Southern 6 hosted on the beautiful Biology Trails of Southern Adventist University. The school is located in Collegedale, east of Chattanooga. Not near Lookout, Raccoon or Signal Mtns and not as far as Cherokee, but fear not: those ridges in the hills over there are something to respect!

Our random weather patterns actually worked in our favor today, with gorgeous sunny skies and warm temps. Spring fever fueled many, with over 180 runners toeing the start line – lots of fast folks itching to start their season and lots of first-timers acting on their new years resolutions. With my big race looming next weekend, I wasn’t expecting much, but it’s hard to stay away from a great local race :)


The race started with a short road prologue before hitting the trails. I tried to get a decent position going in, with a few strong ladies in front of me. Then the trail turned… straight up. And then up some more. Wow! I was immediately happy I shed my jacket moments before the start as I was overheating already. I was testing out a new pair of shoes today that I was super excited about – the Mindbender, a new addition to Vasque’s spring line. When I first put on this shoe, it felt like it was made for my foot. The low profile kept me nimble on the trail, with solid footing the whole time. (totally toying with the idea of using these next weekend, although I know they may be too new to commit to a big race. hmmm….. ) I tried to keep a consistent, easy pace, keeping speedy Belinda and young 13-year old running whiz Sarah within sight. It was hard to hold on at times, but finally I got my chance to slip by Sarah on a downhill, hoping my longer legs & experience could hold on. Once we hit the pavement, I pushed harder – even though I knew I couldn’t catch Belinda, I could hear footsteps closing in and didn’t want any last minute surprises. (and I held off that surprise by 2 seconds – phew!)


I finished 4th in the women’s open division – very happy to be so close to such speedy talent!

The gear:
Vasque Mindbenders – on the feet
Patagonia Capilene 1 – shirt
Pearl Izumi – knickers
Smartwool – socks
Ultimate Directions – handheld
Nuun – in the bottle
Headsweats – visor

snowshoes, anyone?

Saturday I will be at the 13th running of the Mt Mitchell Challenge. Lucky 13…. yes, it will be a special year. Check out the weather report for today:


Saturday’s forecast keeps changing… currently 38/22, with snow showers in the afternoon. Cross your fingers that it’s cold enough for it to just be snow – last year’s weather went from bad to worse, and runners were being rescued off the mountain. Of course the two previous years I’ve been out there (running the marathon distance), we had picture perfect sunny days. Maybe I’ll bring some sunshine again :)

I have no idea how ready I am. Sure, physically I feel great (thanks, Matt!) Mentally I am there, pulling from that adventure racing fortitude that I haven’t tapped into for a few years. I guess it comes down to gear and specific conditions. The course has been greatly modified due to the snow. (55″ and 10′+ drifts?!!) Some of the trails are closed, so we’ll be using the road to reach the summit. It was plowed this week, but after the snow today and tomorrow, who knows what sort of shape it will be in. Some folks are using snowshoes. I have yaktrax ready, but am not prepared with gtx shoes or gaiters. fingers (or rather toes) crossed that the fleece toe covers I’ve been using inside my Vasque Blurs all winter will be enough for the conditions ahead.

I’m taking my camera and will be sure to capture some epic conditions. Meanwhile, here are some my friend Chris took out there recently:

And check out this article in the Asheville newspaper today.

And finally, a webcam from the summit. It’s dark out now, so I’m not quite sure what it looks right now. white, i’m sure!

A snowy raccoon

Once again I woke up to snow falling in southern Tennessee – a great day to go for a run on the mountain! It snowed on us for the entire 3 hrs. Unfort my run wasn’t that great, wiping out twice. My right knee is killing me. Ice not doing much to alleviate the pain. 2 weeks to get it back in track!

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Another wintery weekend

PART ONE: Friday: the quest to get home
The winter storm that was supposed to just be rain for us was most definitely much more. We got dumped on. I thought I played it safe and didn’t go to the Y after getting out of work early… but there were no salt or sand trucks in action yet and getting home was rough. Still had to leave my car a few houses down as it couldn’t get up my hill.

PART TWO: Saturday morning: a new kind of pain
I tried something new in the new year and signed up for the TN Indoor Rowing Championships. Anders has been giving me some form tips and workouts to do, so I thought, why not. I signed up on the last day of pre-reg, a mere 2 weeks to prep. Nothing like diving right in :) There’s a category called Never Ever for women that have never raced on water (today’s event was held on the rowing machines (“ergs”) you commonly see in gyms). Unfortunately, the winter storm kept many of the regional schools from coming out. UTC, UT, Auburn and Alabama were there, along with the local high schools and rowing clubs. And me… in my Gator tri-shorts :) There ended up being only 3 of us in our race – 6 of the other pre-registered girls didn’t show. (And Rebecca flew in 5 min before the start, geared to go). It was a painful sort of fun. Just 2k long, but you’re going almost all out the entire time and totally fall-on-your-face worked at the end. I won with a time of 8:11 (was aiming for closer to 8:00, but it’s really hard to figure out pacing – I didn’t want to bonk at the end.) Looking at the posted results later, it would have had me in the top 3 of many of the collegiate women races which was cool.

I think I was the only one there old enough to legally drink from the stein.

PART THREE: Saturday afternoon: slush puppies
i joined a group this afternoon for a snowy, slushy, icy run on lookout mountain. i decided to test out the yak tracks, since they may be a mandatory piece of gear for the upcoming Mount Mitchell Challenge. it was beautiful up there – a true winter wonderland, with ice covering tree branches and lots of snow underfoot. we did hear one big tree fall which had me sketched out a bit, so we didn’t venture onto the tight singletrack.

PART FOUR: Sunday afternoon: running with hard hats
ok, not really, but it might have been a good idea. i went for another long run at lookout. gorgeous, with the sun making all the ice sparkle; and, make it melt. bits of ice were falling off the tree branches far above, causing a constant windchimey sound. luckily the pieces were small and usually shattered once they hit you.

More Pics

Mullens Cove Loop

Wendy, Yoli & I checked out the Mullen’s Cove loop today. It’s featured in the upcoming River Gorge race as well as Stumpjump 50k in the fall. With all the recent rain, the dampness made for treacherous rock scrambles (the Blurs had great grip and handled the task like a champ!); however, the creeks were full and waterfalls plentiful!

Snoopers Rock

Yes, that is the trail!


Running around Fort Mountain

I’m down at Fort Mountain this weekend, volunteering at the North GA Adventure Race this weekend (see: for live coverage). I had some time earlier to get a run on the trails inside the park. The Gahuti Trail (Cherokee for Mother Mountain) is an 8+ mile loop around the park. There were some gorgeous views, although the trail itself was hit or miss – very well marked, but a few sections looked to be a bit torn up from ATV’rs or logging and there lots of downed trees. Otherwise, it was a mix of technical singletrack and some flowy doubletrack.

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Running thru some southern snow

There was still plenty of white stuff on top of Signal when I joined Kathy & Natalie for a run 2 days after ‘the big storm’. Some beautiful scenery, including an almost-frozen-solid waterfall!

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