Mt. Pisgah to Mt. Mitchell
One year ago exactly I ran my very first ultra marathon, the Triple Lakes 40 in Greensboro, NC. Who would have guessed I would celebrated my first year by running Pitchell? From the day Adam Hill mentioned this run it was on my “must run” list. Although I had signed up for the Triple Lakes 40 again this year, I decided to run Pitchell instead, promising myself I would go at least 40 miles if not longer.
I knew this run would be a challenge. This is the 3rd year that Pitchell is run, and in the previous two years only two runners have ever finished the entire distance. The run begins on the summit of Mt. Pisgah which is 35 miles South West of Asheville and ends on the summit of Mt. Mitchell 33 miles North East of Asheville. The majority of the run is supposed to be run on the Mountains to Sea Trail and goes right thru the city of Asheville. This year 7 runners would attempt this monster.
To give myself the best chance of completing this run I decided to leave an hour earlier with other running friends Brian and India. We were at the summit of Mt. Pisgah at 10:24 pm. The fog was very thick in the air, and I couldn’t believe it was this warm in October. My body was completely wet at the top of Mt. Pisgah and the run had not even started. We casually hiked down the 1.5 mile trail and met with the 4 other runners who would be starting at 11:30pm, Kevin Lane, Charlie Roberts, Stu Gibeau, and Adam Hill.
We turned left on the Shut In trail which is also part of the MTS trail. This would be my first time running the Shut In completely. We had dropped 6 bags filled with aid along the parkway, and the MTS weaves in an out of the parkway more frequently than I though. Visibility was 5-10 feet, and I could not see very much in front of me. While running I startled a very large animal that seemed to be lying down very close to the trail. It ran about 10 feet away and I shined my headlamp at it. The animal turned around and all I could see was the florescent glow of two large eyes looking right at me. This wasn’t good so I began to make noise and yelled bear to your left to the runners behind me. We clapped our hands and made more noise to alert animals that we were running thru. This happened two more times along this section of the run. The first 35 miles of the run in the dark went reasonably well for me. Other than the fact I felt like I was in a rain forest from the humidity, I felt great.
Within the first two hours Charlie zoomed by me, Brian and India. It was here I decided to step on it a little harder and picked up my pace. 20 minutes later Kevin rolled up behind me and we ran together until we reached a drop bag, he then took off. Later I met up with Adam and we ran several drop bags together. Sarah Almodovar volunteered to stop by between our six drop bags and support any runner.
Click on the video to see Stu's comments on this run. He is a sub-24 hour finisher at Western States.
Me and Adam rolled into the Folk Art Center together at 6:48am. This is where I had my car parked. I changed my shirt refilled my water, and had a cup of coffee. I tried to not spend too much time here and was off on the trail within 12 minutes. Daylight was just breaking and a new day was starting. Matt Kirk was manning the Folk Art Center aid station, and he led me to the trail. I felt very good at this point and I was running my best. I was at the next aid station by 9:00 am. Here I refueled, took in some fruit and pretzels and was off. At this point Kevin Lane had a 50 minute lead. I was also only 10 min away from the last 50k runner. The 50k runners started at the Folk Art Center at 6:30am (me and Adam missed them by 18 minutes). I still felt strong, and mentally told myself that I would catch up to the 50k runners, this was my goal at this point in the run. I was so wrong. This next stretch of the MTS trail was incredibly steep and long. The hills were relentless. One difficult thing about Pitchell is that most of the elevation is the second half of the run.
Me, Adam and Stu took a 10 min break on a rock outcropping on top of Lane Panicle. We were all out of water at this point and just wanted to make it to the next aid station. After some more climbing and descending we were there, Beetree Gap. I had 3 slices of cold cheese pizza which never tasted so good. We all sat down on the asphalt for another 10 minutes then took off. Adam had mentioned that the next aid station is only 4 miles away. The previous two were 8 miles apart, so this mentally psyched me up. I had a fresh pair of shoes, socks, shorts and t-shirt waiting for me there. These 4 miles reminded me very much of Massanutten. I let Adam and Stu pass me as I took more time climbing at this point. I missed one switchback and got lost for a good 15 minutes. I retraced my steps and found my friend the white dot and kept trucking along. I met Adam and Stu again at the Greybeard aid station where I saw to my surprise them changing into regular clothing. I never thought about dropping out of the race until this point. Was I going to be able to finish this adventure? Was I being unreasonable in wanting to keep shuffling? Mt. Mitchell State Park closes its gate at 7pm. This means I would have to summit Mt. Mitchell a little before 7pm and ride down with the finish crew before the gate is locked. Could I run the next 12 miles and make it out before dark? It was questionable considering my pace and condition after 56 miles. I was not about to quit.
I’ve wanted to get this run under my belt for a year. It combined my love for the mountains and distance running. I pulled out the map and looked at the option of completing this run on the parkway versus the trail. Its an extra half mile on the road, but I knew that pounding the asphalt at this point would be much easier than the trial. It certainly would eliminate the technical running (roots, rocks and uneven terrain). I had been running for 56 miles and my legs were trashed at this point. I changed into my fresh cloths and changed my socks and shoes. I took off running on the parkway. This was a little dangerous but I wanted to summit Mt. Mitchell. I wanted to run from Mt. Pisgah to Mt. Mitchell even if it wasn’t all on trail, I wanted to complete the run.
I reached the next aid station 4 miles away Balsam Gap. It was here I again contemplated dropping out with only a few miles to go. I was falling asleep on the parkway. Sleeping while running opposite of traffic on a beautiful Saturday afternoon is not a good combination on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I downed a coke and sat down for 2 minutes. It was here I was encouraged by Matt Johnson a volunteer. He told me I was making good time and I could easily finish before dark. After running this kind of distance my math in my head is not very accurate, so having someone confirm my fuzzy math is always encouraging.
I reached the summit parking lot of Mt. Mitchell at 5:24pm exactly 19:00:21 after I started the run the night before onto of Mt. Pisgah. I did not reach the true summit as the park ranger did not allow us to do so due to the construction of the new watch tower that is still going on. According to my polar watch, I burned 13,744 calories.
Kevin Lane set a new record and finished in 15:18. Charlie finished 12 minutes after I did, but started an hour after I did and ran it entirely on trail. I later found out that Brian and India finished in approximately 24 hours. 4 new names were added to the list of Pitchell finishers.
I want to thank all the volunteers who made this adventure succesful and without them would be extreemly difficult to do. I also want to thank Adam Hill for puting on this fantastic event!
6 drop bags were left 5 miles apart from each other: Adam Hill
Shut In Mobile Aid Station: Sarah Almodovar
Folk Art Center (mile 35): Matt Kirk
Ox Creek Rd Aid Station (mile 43): Mike Jackson
Beetree Gap Aid Station (mile 51): Todd Bray and his father-in-law
Greybeard Aid Station (mile 55): Matt Johnson
Balsam Gap Aid Station (mile 60): Jason Hayward
Hwy 128 Aid Station (mile 65): Jon Snow
Summit Aid Station (Finish): Matt Johnson
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