Tag running

Racing south of the border

Sutallee Trace Trail Challenge

With so many awesome races produced locally, it’s sometimes hard to break the routine and fit something new into the calendar. However, when Mountain Goat Adventures (producer of my one of my favorite events, the Blankets Creek DIrty Duathlon) expanded their event calendar to include some trail runs, I knew I’d be heading south to Georgia a few more times this year.

a strong start

The Sutallee Trace Trail Challenge had something for everyone: a kids race, a 4 mile run, and a 10 miler for those really wanting to suffer. Starting on the trails of Boling Park near downtown Canton, we began with tight singletrack along the Etowah River – scenic, although the humidity was thick and kept all the roots and rocks quite slick (as well as the many wooden bridges we had to cross). We then had a series of climbs (deceptively small, but wow did they add up and take a toll on your legs!), before reaching a forest service road that followed a ridgeline for awhile. Here we got a much needed break to catch our breath and stretch the legs out – even more important with the graceful superman dive I performed after being clotheslined by a root. I am SO thankful it was in an area padded thickly with pine needles! At the time, I had been setting pace for a group of 5 or 6 runners. Everyone stopped to make sure I was ok, even getting my water bottle that had been flung aside. (trail runners are so nice!)

trying to hold it together at the end

The ridge road meandered for awhile and we all seemed to push eachother a bit. Secretly, I think we were feeling the heat rise and just wanted to reach the finish line (& chilled watermelon) faster! We eventually looped back onto the tight singletrack that would lead us to the park. While it was a welcome sight, we definitely had to stay on our toes not to wipe out on the roots in the final miles.

My finish was for the (slightly short of) 10 mile course was 1:40:34, placing me 6th overall for the womens race (and 1st in my age group). I was super pleased to be that close to these speedy GA ladies! (The 3-time winner of last weekend’s half marathon was 3rd!) Fellow Rock/Creek Race Team member Sheridan also made the trek down with his girlfriend Lori, both having great days (10th overall/1st age group, and 3rd age group respectively).

Definitely keep MGA events (both trail running & mountain biking) in your mind for the future – this husband/wife duo are well organized, have great sponsors & support, and strive to put on a race that they would want to race themselves.

Race day gear:
Montrail Mountain Masochist, Smartwool socks, Patagonia Draft Tank, Patagonia Multi Use Skirt, Headsweats hat, Ultimate Directions handheld filled with nuun and Gu along the way!

Big thanks to Rock/Creek Outfitters for the gear, and Wilderness Adventure Photography for the action shots!

 

 

the super scenic city trail marathon (& half)

scenic city marathon

Situated at the top of Raccoon Mountain (map) and overlooking the Tennessee River Gorge, this race is absolutely scenic. And as part of WildTrails’ Rock/Creek Trail Series, you know the event is going to have top notch organization and sponsors. Basically, this race just won’t disappoint! (But it will sell out, as it did a few weeks before, so get a jump on it in 2012!)

While I planned to use this race as a good tempo run in gearing up for the Chattanooga Mountains Stage Race next month, I still wanted to have a solid race. But with temps predicted to climb into the mid-80s (after a week of chilly 40s & 50s), it was hard to tell how the body would respond.

After a little delay at the start (at least the portojohn lines were empty!), we were off! A record number of participants participated this year. In order to accommodate the increase and hopefully limit bottlenecking on course, the beginning changed slightly. While about a half mile of pavement was added, I think it did wonders, as we flowed onto the singletrack much more orderly.

pre-race

me + dreama, pre-race

The first half went pretty well – I felt I was running strong, keeping my heart rate in check (despite the fact that the battery in my Suunto is dead and no one can get the case opened), and hydrating constantly. My goal was to run smart – keep a swift foot turnover, take the hills a little slower but with good momentum, and pick it up a bit more when gravity helped out. I was running with a group of 6 or so guys and we had a great paceline going. Until my shoe came untied on the Six Flags section. Dang! I bent over to retie it and could feel my hamstrings tighten a bit. No problem yet, but definitely something to watch. At this time, Sara (one of the Smartwool reps in town for their nat’l sales mtg) caught up to me. She stayed behind me for a few miles while we chatted a bit. I learned it was her first trail race, but she had a lot of experience on the road. Yikes and double yikes – for not being experienced on trails, she was strong on the hills, with a spring in her step; and with the last 1/3 mile on pavement, I figured she’d have an advantage. Trying to keep focused – this was still a race afterall! – I quickened my step during a flowy downhill section, weaving by the dam. But halfway up the hill on the otherside, Sara was back. I relented and she slipped by. I tried to stay on her heals, but I guess that CO altitude was working in her favor. As predicted, as soon as she hit the pavement, off she went – a solid finish! Mine, much less glorious, but still respectable.

I finished the half marathon in 1:52:53 – 49th place overall (out of 288 runners) and 14th among the women. Interestingly, I was 2.5 minutes faster than last year’s time, when I placed 5th. That equates to a LOT more fast ladies out there! Kudos to you – really glad to see the competition, even if it doesn’t always work out for me.

After some quiet time (I was quite nauseous and dizzy when I finished) and a change of clothes, I was off to my duties managing the food for the marathon finishers. It was a long day, but I fed lots of smiling faces!

Big thanks to all the sponsors involved – Greenlife, Blue Smoke Coffee & nuun kept me nourished; Rock/Creek, Smartwool, Patagonia & Salomon kept me covered up; and Vasque, The North Face, Marmot, Toyota, Hammer and WildTrails rounding out the list. Without you, we’d be running around naked and hungry!

Race day gear:
Montrail Mountain Masochist, Smartwool socks, Patagonia Draft Tank, Patagonia Multi Use Skirt, Headsweats hat, Ultimate Directions handheld filled with nuun and Gu along the way!

 

maybe i’ll just be a road runner.

hornets

Things that buzz, circle, swarm (& occasionally hiss) are all dangers of the woods that trail runners come to expect. In small doses, I can handle. I’ve somehow even gotten used to yellow jackets – it’s inevitable that we’ll come across a nest a few times a year. But ground hornets are a different breed of buzzy things. Maybe it’s their size, their number, or how they seem to just come out of nowhere (ie, invisible holes in the ground). And they just circle their prey until they find the perfect landing spot.

Our Wednesday night run was at one of my favorite spots tonight – the North Chickamauga Gorge section of the Cumberland Trail. The trailhead is always crazy, but once you fight through the rednecks, miles of luscious singletrack await. And if you persevere, 5 miles down is a secluded swimming hole that is always a treat on a hot day.

Tonight however I had work waiting for me to finish, so I cut my run with the group short and headed back solo.  I passed some latecomers that warned me of bees on the way back (Chris remembered I didn’t like them. That was an understatement.) I went a bit further down, and whoa, they were everywhere. I backtracked to wait it out a bit, but those suckers were not taking a break. Meanwhile, my anxiety was building – not a good thing during a stressful week. (insert full-on anxiety attack here.) Finally, 20 min later, the first fast guy was on his way back. Yeah!! We ended up doing a crazy bushwack around those flying devils. Crisis thankfully averted.

Of course I won’t avoid the trails… it’s the part I love most… the peace and the escape. But I just might have to cross the North Chick off my list until they hibernate again. (or someone goes out there with a flamethrower and destroys every last buzzing terror).

the dirty du

blankets duathlon

This past weekend, I took a break from my normal trail running events to interject some multisport fun into the mix. The Blankets Dirty Duathlon is put on by regional standout athlete Lisa Randall. If you know her as a racer, you know that she’ll put on nothing less than a top notch event. This year (I believe the 3rd for this event) was no exception.

Since I lived in Atlanta for 8 years, I used to ride these trails a lot. Just when I’d get the hang of one trail, SORBA-Woodstock would add a new ones to keep things challenging. Let’s just say they’ve been quite busy the last few years; there were many new-to-me sections!

Last time I was here (in 2009), it seemed like every time I turned around I ran into an old friend. This year, only a handful (likely due to an unfortunate conflict with the Blue Ridge AR). In fact, besides one speedy biker friend (who insisted she’d finish nowhere near me), I had no idea who my competition would be. This was going to be interesting.

4 waves of competitors went off before the last one – where all the solo and team females were. Fortunately, the time inbetween allowed folks to spread out to minimize any traffic jams. Assuming that most of the women were local and knew these trails like the back of their hand, I was hoping to have a faster run split to gain precious minutes needed on the bike. Once we were deep in the trails, it was hard to keep track of who was where, as the coed teams started before us. After a 5 mile run at what I think was a pretty decent pace, we were back at the transition area to get on our bikes. I was able to beat at least 3 of the girls ahead of me out of the TA, and was full steam ahead.

van michael trail

© Kyle Roe

By now, the temperatures had climbed higher than we’ve had this year, and the humidity was at least 115%. Sweat was everywhere, mixing with bits of mud and dust. I had my Ultimate Directions Wink on, filled with nuun – and I was drinking every bit I could, but that was just not enough today. Towards the end of the Van Michael trail, there was a log/rock obstacle to power over. I hit it just wrong enough that it tweaked my calf, locking it up in one ginormous charlie horse. Yeowsers! While I was working it out, the fast girls that hadn’t slipped by me already did so now. Oh well…

I grabbed another Gu (Cherry Lime Roctane – yum!) and a long drink, and set off to tackle the Dwellings loop. There was still a lot of riding to do (we also hit part of the South Loop – the advanced rocky trail), so I rode hard where I could, and played it conservative & smart where I needed to, knowing the slightest wrong movement could send my calf spasming again.

podium

me, Leah, Aimee

Luckily I had no other incidents along the way and was able to finish strong and with a smile. In the end, I was 7th overall and 2nd in my age group, sharing the podium with my old friend Aimee (remember the one that said she’d finish nowhere near me? Yeah, she was nipping my tail!), and new friend Leah – hope to ride/run with both of you in the future! Checking out the overall results was quite interesting: 5 of the 6 women ahead of me were in the 40-49 & 50-59 age groups. Hot damn! Talk about strong!! Hoping that means my best years are still to come! :)

Big thanks goes out to Lisa and her husband Chris for organizing another fantastic event. The sponsor support they get is incredible – $75 Van Michael giftcards  were given to the first 60 women that registered (a posh salon in the Atl area – guess I’ll be making another trip down!), and a Cannondale 29er was raffled off, generously donated by Outspokin’ Bikes. Mountain Goat Adventures has several other events coming up this year – definitelyl check them out!

River Gorge – a race from two perspectives

river gorge finish

A lot of hands and a lot of time goes into making each race in the Rock/Creek Trail Series a success. First there’s the behind the scenes work – permitting, registration, sponsors, shirts, race bags, trail work, and more. Then comes race weekend, which begins early Friday with set-up, course marking, and registration. Saturday morning, volunteers are at the race site when runners are still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. It is these volunteers that forego sleeping in to stand in the elements, get sticky from mixing buckets of Heed and Powerade, point delirious runners in the right direction, sweep the course following the last runner (including picking up all flagging and trash), then taking down everything that was set up in the last 2 days. Phew! Sometimes I wonder who has it harder – the Volunteers or the Racers?

On days like this past Saturday, the answer is clear: the Volunteers, hands down.

I awoke Saturday in the role of Racer, to bright flashes of lightning and roars of thunder, rain soaking the ground. I wanted to press snooze and cuddle up some more – there’ll always be another race, on a sunnier day. But the old adventure racer part of me sort of likes those inclement days, where perseverance plays just as much of a role as speed. (well, I could do without the lightning…) At the start line deep in Prentice Cooper WMA, racers were trying to find dry space under pop-up tents, while volunteers registered , double-checked timing systems, and made piping hot coffee (big thanks to Blue Smoke Coffee!!).

Just prior to the start of the 6.5 mile race, I peeled off rain gear and sucked it up for a quick warmup (I use that term loosely, as I was anything but warm). Then, we were off! Inside I was thinking, I can handle anything for an hour… just deal with it. I found a comfortable, fast(ish) pace and stuck with it through the first few miles of singletrack. While I saw the bright rain shell of our eventual winner (teammate Sarah) disappear into turns far ahead, the last thing I wanted to do was push it a bit too much, slip on a rock, and take myself out. So, steady as she goes was my mantra.

Snoopers Rock marked the halfway point of the race, (a fantastic aid station with smiling, soaked volunteers), and the start of a fire road section that seemingly turned into a slip-&-slide with the mud. Unfortunately for us, we were going uphill the whole time (7 of them actually), so there were no time gains to be had. Just when you’re mentally beaten up and ready to throw in the towel, back to trail we go – except this time, it’s perhaps the toughest section: a steep spur that lead us from the top of the road back to the main trail at the bottom by the creek. With all the storms and water runoff lately, this was not an easy task, as I was so ungently reminded when I lost my footing and slid down a muddy spot on my rear.

Once at the bottom, we retraced the trail back to the start, seemingly all uphill again. Even though I was running just over an hour (1:06 to be exact – good enough for 3rd overall female!), the finish line was a welcome sight. Time for dry clothes! And to transition to my next role… Volunteer.

Due to the nasty weather (made all the more chilling after last weekend’s sunfest), it wasn’t our typical post-race celebration. After quickly recapping their race experience with friends and comparing battle wounds, most people traded their soaked, muddy singlets for cozy dry fleeces and warm cars. As soon as our fantastic sweeps of the 10 mile course finished (it’s one thing to do this in sunshine, but on a day like this they deserved a medal!) and the last  racer departed in search of a hot shower, the rest of us started clean up: packing up shirts, emptying drink containers, consolidating food, popping down tents, and loading up the uhaul. I am thankful that so many people stuck around to help things move quickly – although I had dry clothes, I apparently didn’t bring enough and was shaking, fingers frozen.

A huge thank you goes out to all of the race volunteers! Without you, these events simply wouldn’t happen. If you haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer at a race yet (whether it’s a Rock/Creek Trail Series event or another one near you), please do. Even if you can’t bear to miss running in the event, there are always plenty of pre- & post-race duties where you could lend a hand.

More thanks to the race sponsors, including Greenlife & Blue Smoke Coffee for food & fuel, The North Face and Montrail for prizes, Lucas George Photography, and Wild Trails & Rock/Creek Outfitters for race organization.

Another big thanks to Rock/Creek Outfitters for their continued support throughout the year. Check out the next event (register before it sells out, like River/Gorge did!) on May 21 – the Scenic City Trail Marathon & Half Marathon.

women's podium

© Lucas George Photography

Jenny Smith (2nd), Sarah Woerner (1st), me! (3rd)

Race day gear:
Vasque Mindbenders, Smartwool socks, Patagonia Capilene short sleeve shirt, Patagonia Nine Trails Vest, Mountain Hardwear powerstretch gloves, Headsweats hat, Lululemon Run Inspire crop tights, Ultimate Directions handheld filled with nuun. And I can’t leave off The North Face rain gear that kept me dry at the end!


 

 

Mount Mitchell race report: a diff kind of success…

mount mitchell challenge

This Race and I have history.

I first attempted the Mount Mitchell Challenge (40 whopping miles, to the summit of Mt Mitchell and back) in 2007. A winter ankle injury messed up my training, so I switched to the marathon distance (aka the Black Mountain Marathon, which follows the same route to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where marathoners turn around and challengers proceed). The following year I again jumped at the Challenge. But oh… a groin pull but my training behind schedule, so I played it smart and again marathon’d it. Being frustrated with “settling for the marathon”, I went ahead and registered for the marathon in 2009. However my bad winter luck continued – can’t remember what, but I didn’t even run. (This happened to be the super-epic year at the race too. Weather so bad, people had to be rescued off the mtn.)

MMC 2010Then came 2010. Surely the weather would be better this year. Well, it kind of was… but the summit was like a frozen tundra – wind chills dipping well below zero, rime ice covering everything. I signed up for – and actually ran! – the full monty FINALLY. Well, sort of… the park service closed several trails, so we were on a modified course of only 36ish miles. I crossed the finish line in 1 piece, smiling, and as the 5th female.

So, this year. The race bumped things up a notch, with online registration only. A note was sent out morning of… I logged on right at 9am (waaay back in Sept 2010), registered, and got sucked into work meetings. Then at lunch I hear the race has already sold out. whoa. A few other friends got in; many did not. Knowing my history with this event.. was my success a blessing? or, a curse? Time would tell!

Training through the winter went well. Perfect. I was dialed in for this distance (big thanks to my coach Matt for always keeping me on track). I woke up to a weather forecast that was nothing short of perfect…  & a cough. The tickle that I had in my throat earlier in the week was not willed away, no matter how much I had tried. The chilly morning air did no favor to my lungs either. Still, I remained optimistic – bidding good luck to friends and team mates.

The race started at 7am. I had not yet made it to the stone arches of Montreat when I was already sidelined coughing. This was not good. These fits would happen periodically – good, because getting rid of stuff in my lungs made it easier to breathe; bad because coughing so hard twisted up my stomach so I wasn’t eating or drinking much. In the 3 other times I’ve done this race, I’ve never struggled so much to get to the parkway. I walked a ton. I had all kinds of scenarios going through my mind. Part of me still wanted to go to the top. I mean, come on! It was a blue skies day! My training had been spot on! I was ready! Other parts of me wondered if I could even make it to the turnaround (let alone under the designated cut-off time for challengers to proceed). Would one of the ATV med staff take me on a ride to the finish line instead of my own two feet?

Well, I made it there with 12 minutes to spare, although it was definitely my slowest split. Monica greeted me with a “Girl, I’ve been wondering where you were!”, to which I groaned “I don’t think I can do it.”  I was dizzy, nauseous, and had a bit of a headache – all signs of dehydration (not unexpected with my lack of nutrition/hydration to this point). Plus, the cough. I guess I was also looking bad, as several racers & aid station volunteers tended to me, making sure I got some liquids down. Eight minutes passed and I started getting ancy. (I also saw a few girls come and go; despite feeling bad, the competitiveness was still inside!) I made the hard, but smart decision to call it a marathon day, turning around and heading downhill 11 miles to the finish. I was determined to get there on my own.

About 30 minutes later I felt an energy burst. The miracles of nutrition :) I was happy to have some pep back in my body. I picked up the pace and actually had a great run back. I’ve never really liked the last part of the race  (after the Old Toll Road, there’s a nasty paved downhill at Appalachian Way, a bit more road until a trail alongside a creek, then a final paved road stretch that is seemingly never-ending before we hit Lake Tomahawk where we are forced 3/4 of the way around before reaching the finish line); today, however, it didn’t bother me. In fact, it was my fastest 2nd half ever. Go figure. (My final time was 4:55, not my fastest but not my slowest marathon time there. And remember, we have over 3000′ of elevation gain during this thing!)

The finish line was a welcome site. Jay welcomed me with a curious look, as he didn’t expect me for a few more hours. I hung out in the sun for the next 1.5 hrs while Elizabeth (2nd female!), Hunter & Daniel all conquered the Challenge – each looking deliriously surprised to see me hanging out.

The following day, still coughing, I stopped by the doctor on the way home. Diagnosis: sinus infection and acute bronchitis. Well, if I wasn’t sick before the race, I certainly was after.

So, another year passes with the full Challenge eluding me once again (although no one can discount my 2010 success to the summit, I really want to conquer the full 40.) Will I try again next year? I’m not sure. There’s a few other races in late Feb/early March that I’ve wanted to check out, so I might take a break to try something new. We shall see!

Big thanks to friend & teammate Jay Curwen for all the work organizing this event – it is truly top notch and should be on everyone’s bucket list of races. Also a shout out to Rock/Creek for their support throughout the year.

Race day gear:
Vasque Mindbenders, Smartwool socks, Patagonia Capilene short sleeve shirt, Icebreaker 200 long sleeve wool shirt, Patagonia beanie, Buff, Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket, Mountain Hardwear powerstretch gloves, Lululemon Run Inspire crop tights, Nathan running vest. Nutrition included nuun and an assortment of gluten-free fuel (mostly Larabars!)


a double feature weekend: Lookout 10k

10k

Saturday Dec 18th was the final date in the 2010 Rock/Creek Trail Series – the Lookout Mountain 50 mile and 10k trail races. With temperatures starting in the upper 20s and only climbing into the mid-30s at best, you were going to suffer a bit no matter what distance you chose. I’m focusing on a race in Feb (the Mt Mitchell Challenge again), so the 10k was my fun for the day.

The race started & finished at the Covenant College athletic fields. The first part of the race (map here) followed their cross country course – despite the hills, it was a pretty fast section. Then we turned onto the powerlines and the “fun” (not!) began. Powerlines just are never fun. In adventure races, it always meant thick, nearly impassable underbrush. Thankfully in a trail race there is at least a trail to follow, but big climbs (and descents) are the norm, with a service road that doubles as a creekbed during storms (watch out for deep ruts). It’s never particularly scenic either. After we followed this for awhile, the finish was near – just 2 (big) climbs left. I had kept a girl that passed me earlier within sight, hoping that she may crack a bit on the climb and I would surge past. Well, it didn’t quite play out as I imagined. Somehow that first hill energized her, and at the top she grew wings and darted through the trees. Dang. My next hope was to just hold on to my current position (top 10 I believed) and make it to the end. That last climb took everything out of me. Thanks to Robert of Wilderness Adventure Photography for capturing the pain and agony I was experiencing. As if that climb wasn’t hellacious enough, we had another 250 agonizing meters of pavement before we hit the actual finish line. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely done (& sick) before.

After getting into some dry clothes, racers huddled around a bonfire to keep warm until the awards. One of my friends up from Athens, GA (who didn’t decide to race until she caved to peer pressure race morning) took the overall female win with a speedy 46:29. I finished 7th, in 52:58.

That night, Carol and I swept the last section of the 50 mile race, from Lula Lake to Covenant College. (Yes, while I was staying warm and working inside, all those ultra runners will still out there running!) All the racers made it in safely, making for a great close to another race. (Yeah for no search & rescue in sub-freezing temps!)

Thanks to WildTrails and Rock/Creek for the great event!

race day gear:
Patagonia beanie
Smartwool NTS short sleeve shirt
Patagonia Capilene 1 silkweight long sleeve
Patagonia Nine Trails jacket
Lululemon Run Inspire Crop tights
Smartwool socks
Vasque Mindbender shoes
Buff
Mountain Hardwear powerstretch gloves
Ultimate Directions handheld with Banananuun!

Upchuckin’ thru the woods…

upchuck

This race has become a bit of a legend in it’s few short years. As the race website says…. “Let us reiterate: this is seriously difficult.”  To enter, racers wishing to tackle this course had to submit a video stating why they should race – from Ray Jay (& his wife Jay Ray), to the daughter saying she wants her dad to have another throw-up shirt, we knew these racers would have the humor they needed to tackle one of the toughest 50k’s they’d attempt. (Check out the videos here.) But would they have the fitness?? (If not… well, the Grim Sweeper just might catch them!)

Now, before you think that I earned major badass points for completing this race, this was just a volunteer day for me. My mileage isn’t back up to 50k worthiness, and I don’t want to push my ITB too far too quick. Besides, good races don’t happen without good volunteers! I started my duties Friday night by baking 4 doz “anti-upchuck power cookies” and a few loaves of molasses oat banana bread to fuel runners at mile 18. We had a good crew stationed here – great volunteers, cheering supporters, and helpful rangers. Once Kathy (pictured above) came through, I paced her for an hour on the Soddy Segment of the Cumberland Trail. The hour run back made for a great run on a beautiful day.

On the way back I passed the Sweep and was quizzed on who I remember passing. Hmm..  In particular, he was looking for one individual that hadn’t checked in at the last aid station. Unfortunately I hadn’t seen him. Once I got back to my post, we talked with the ranger on what to do. It was closing in on 3pm and racers could still take another hour or two until they reached the finish line. We could wait… as it was possible he slipped by without getting checked off our list, but then we’d be playing nightfall – an entirely different ballgame for a search. With thoughts of the search party I nearly had to form at this year’s STRONG Adventure Race, we figured it was best to go ahead and run the trail backwards to the runner’s last known point – a concrete bridge 6-7 miles up the Possum Creek Gorge segment. (yeah, the hardest one…)  At least we had daylight working with us right now…

Another volunteer joined and the rangers promised to pick us up a the other end. We ran and hiked, calling for the runner. We passed a group of hikers that had hiked this entire section, but they had not seen him either. Shortly before we arrived at our pick up point, I received a call – the runner had hitched a ride back to the start. Phew!! Hearing his story, he definitely got turned around and once he finally backtracked onto the course, the sweep had gone through and the previous aid stations had already been torn down. Thankfully the day had a good ending…. although my legs might have a different idea after my run time doubled. (well, nothing like diving right back into the miles!)

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

new england autumn

fall

Well, the tail end of it at least. Despite Delta’s best efforts to delay my visit (& subsequent return), I caught a few late leaves while exploring some great trails.

The pic above is from the Mattabesett Trail (I think). It is a 50-mile section of the newly-formed 800+ mile long New England Trail (part of which is also known as the CT Blue Blazes Trail.) I didn’t have much time to explore (Anders was on a road ride), but what I saw, I liked! After an initial steep rocky ascent, it evened out a bit to some very runnable, beautiful singletrack. I can’t wait to explore this trail system more in the future!

We also had a few spins around Tyler Mill, both on foot and wheels. I’d really love to get out here on a “modern day mtn bike”, as the beast I’m borrowing must weight at least 10 lbs more than my Lynskey, and the front suspension has long ago stopped working. But, 2 rough wheels are better than none, and it was definitely fun to be out there. I’m not sure what I’d compare these trails to in the southeast – not as groomed, lots of trails crisscrossing, with everything from dirt road to big drops, creek crossings and more. Definitely easy to get lost out here!

Can’t leave out our other favorite place to stop – Gouveia Vineyards. Unfortunately they were sold out of their Cabernet Franc, but we indulged in some other deliciousness.

Anyways, the next trip should coincide with some white stuff on the ground – really hoping to check out this place!


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