35 miles - 5:39:27 - 2010 Mt. Mitchell Challenge
photos below: Citizen-Times
This seasons winter has been brutal, and has resulted in changing the courses of some well run ultra's. The Mt. Mitchell Challenge and Black Mountain Marathon were not immune to this as the snow and downed trees forced organizers to make changes. At the pre-race meeting, it was confirmed that the Challenge will be modified which resulted in a shorter run, and more asphalt vs. trail.
I made a last minute decision to wear a cycling jersey. This gave me more warmth than any other short sleeve shirt, and allowed me to run without a waist strap, or pack, as I stuffed the three back pockets of the jersey with additional gear. Instead of shorts, I put on my tights which I will only do in case of extreme cold (below 20 degrees) and wind. I was carrying one hand-held bottle, arm warmers, convertible gloves, a buff, my houdini, espresso gu, a beanie, and of coarse my shuffle.
Just before the start we all congregated and I saw many new and old faces as this would be my 4th running. It always great to catch up with old friends and make new ones. I was very well rested from the night before and felt powerful energy from the start. I started in the middle of the pack. The initial part of the course bypassed some of the Montreat trails and headed up Appalachian Way. This section of asphalt is very steep and is equally as painful running downhill as it is uphill. Actually, I didn't see anyone running very far up Appalachian Way, more like a run-walk-speed hike.
Once we hit trail on the Mitchell toll road the grade became runnable. I ran in my Inov8 212 Talons. I also made a last minute decision to not carry my micro-spikes or yaktracks. I felt confident that the grip of the trail running flats would give me the added confidence to travel across the packed snow and ice. I was making a bet with myself that the asphalt sections high above the parkway would be clear and free of any ice. If route 128 up to the summit was covered in ice, I would have been forced to turn around while microspike runners would have pushed on. Running on the trail section early in the morning I wondered if I had made a bad choice.
The start of the run was well below freezing so the trail was solid ice and packed snow for most of the morning. I concentrated on foot placement while running and tried to land my foot on the tire tracks which were the most compact sections of snow. This was challenging because often times the tire tracks were narrow, so the feet had to land in a single file style of running. I could run harder, and faster, but knew I wanted to keep some juice for the second half of this run. This is where the excitement starts in my book. I got into a comfortable pace, and turned on some tunes.
I filled up my bottle at a spring as there were no aid stations until I reached the parkway. At this point, anyone carrying yacktracks had them on. Many people pulled off the side of the trail, fumbled thru their packs, put them on and kept going. I made it to the parkway in 1:59 only to see David and Terry manning the aid stations. We ran together much of the same trails only last week. I pushed out of the aid station as quickly as I could, knowing that if I hung around I would freeze.
I ran to 128 and turned left. The sky was clear at this elevation, and I could see a beautiful sky with Table Rock clearly visible to my right. It was here that I heard the loudest wind howl of the day. I pulled my Buff around my face and ears which offered great protection from the wind. The mountain raged with anger and I looked up to see frozen trees disappearing higher above in the clouds. I knew when I reached the cloud that the temperatures would drop very fast.
Jason Bryant, who eventually won the Challenge in 4:31, said "The wind chill was the worst factor. I wish I had something to cover my face.” The Buff certainly saved my face from wind burn, as there was gusts of 30-40 mile per hour winds at the summit. After running for a mile up 128 I began to run walk. I wanted to keep my legs healthy for the descent. For the next 3 miles I was passed by at least 6 runners. I promised myself I would need to pass all of them on the return.
This year's run was a true out and back, so I saw runners on the return and knew what place they were in. Drew Shelfer always amazes me at this race, as he came off the summit in 3rd place. I high fived him on his way down. Not too far in 4th was fellow UCRR runner Jonathan Savage. You could tell he was running strong on his return and evidently see the positive energy running downhill. Byron was just coming off the summit as I started my posthole action to the top. I had less than a mile to go to the summit, and picked up my pace to run all the way until I got to the short trail to the summit. It was deep snow, and we were postholig all the way to the top. My hands were frozen. I tried to drink all the water out of my bottle before filling up, but it was frozen. I tapped the summit sign, and returned to the ranger station which is where I shoved 3 handfuls of sun chips, and downed half a liter of water and coke.
As I was shamelessly stuffing my face with any calories I could get in I recognized ranger Matt! Ranger Matt helped me and Greg during our 98 mile stage run fight off a bear on the summit of Mt. Mitchell last year after the bear broke into Greg's truck and ate all of our food. Ranger Matt, thanks for helping out!! We exchanged hellos, and I grabbed one more handful of chips and refilled my bottle.
It was 6 degrees at the summit and the wind made it feel like it was -20! My hands were still frozen and numb. My water bottle was dead weight, as it remained frozen the entire run down 128. On the way down I saw D.C, Wendy, Liz, Doom, and many others! Here I ran a bit faster and consistently downhill. I noticed someone on the side of the road taking a photo of a tiny mouse as I pushed downhill at a faster pace. I wanted to get out of the cloud, and I kept telling myself that it was a really hot day in Black Mountain.
I came back thru David and Terry's aid station. Here I saw a few runners putting on yacktracks again. David hooked up some hot tea in my water bottle and I was out of there in 30 seconds. Guys, thanks for an awesome aid station. I peeled off the gloves as the hot tea did the trick in bringing the fingers back to life. It took a few tries before the hot tea worked its way to the nipple of the bottle and finally some hydration. I kept up my pace, knowing that this is where I could make up time.
It got much warmer, and I stripped down to my Jersey, putting everything I had worn into the three back pockets. A few miles later I passed Dwight Shuler who was running strong with the biggest "sweatcicle" I have ever seen. He had on microspikes. As we dropped in elevation, it got warmer, and the sun began to shine. I ran hard all the way to lake Tomahawk which is where I saw Mad A who ran a few hundred feet with me to the finish. I was the 15th challenger to cross the finish line in 5:39:27. The range in temperatures from lows on the summit with windchill of -20 to upper 40 degrees in Black Mountain made this years challenge that much more of a challenge.
Race Director Jay Curwin:
"The 13th Mount Mitchell Challenge and Black Mountain Marathon saw some of the most extreme weather yet.
2010 snow levels prevented runners from traversing the summit trails, limiting them to an up and back trek on the paved section of the Park road, but this meant for a 10 mile stretch of complete exposure on the summit ridge, with winds topping 50mph and 6 degree temperatures.
Marathoners and Challengers alike, faced conditions on the 18 mile section of the Toll Rd. that ranged from ankle/shin deep snow to stretches of hard ice and softening mud...Even with a shortened marathon course, times for the shorter race were slower than years past.
With the abreviated Challenge course, times were a little faster (about 30 minutes for the top runners)...due, in part, to athletes simply wanting to get down out of the arctic cold as fast as possible! Volunteers told stories of aid station supplies freezing solid while sheltered inside summit buildings...In a word; it was cold!
The Challenge provided no drama for the overall wins this year...2008 champion and LaSportiva athlete, Jason Bryant bolted from the start and led wire to wire...Bryant held a 20 minute lead by the halfway summit turnaround and had extended that to almost 30 minutes at the Lake Tomahawk finish line...his time of 4:31:16 provided some redemption for his 2009 DNF...On the women's side, Vasque's Krissy Moehl had no trouble with the conditions...Being from Washinton state, she faces mountaintop snow on a regular basis...and demolished the women's field by over an hour to win with a 5:10:38."