Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Mount Mitchell Challenge and the North East Snowshoe Championship

Normally I try not to run another race within a week of finishing an ultra, but I made an exception so I could do the North East Snowshoe Championship in my attempt to complete all seven races of the All Terrain Runner Series.

Mount Mitchell Challenge
Location: Black Mountain, NC
Date: 2/28/2015

Distance: 36.75 miles

Goal: Survival
Actual Time: 6:05:34
Place: 26 / 129 finishers (~200 started)

Mount Mitchell,
Summited by Bike, April 2010
In April of 2010, Amy and I drove down to Asheville, NC to visit her Aunt, Uncle, and cousins.  We brought our bicycles and did some riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway and I summited Mount Mitchell on my bike. In addition to beautiful roads to cycle on, Asheville has a phenomenal craft brew scene.

Shortly after arriving back home, I received an email from Amy's Aunt Jane with a link to a pair of races: The Black Mountain Marathon and Mount Mitchell Challenge.  At this point in my endurance career I was biking a fair amount, but not running very much, maybe in a 50-75 mile range per month.  I laughed at the link and went about my day.  

Skip ahead to September of 2012, 3 ultra marathons, and 1 marathon later and the birth of my first child and I thought, "Hey that marathon down in the Black Mountains could be fun".  Plus it follows my racecation strategy of traveling to races while visiting friends and family.

The following February, Amy, Neil, and I traveled to Asheville (via Charlotte) and I completed the Black Mountain Marathon.  It was a tough, hilly, and muddy run, but it was the first race of marathon or longer that I was able to complete without bonking.  It was the true beginning of my marathon and ultra marathon career (Full race report from the 2013 Black Mount Marathon).

After completing the Leadville 50 miler this past July I was planning on taking a break from ultras.  But like anything else that you fall in love with, it can be hard to stop.  So last September when the lottery for the Challenge opened, I said, "Amy you want to go visit your Aunt, Uncle, and cousins again?" Of course Amy, said sure, and with minimal persuading to Keith, we both put our names in the lottery for the challenge and got in (supposedly ~2000 people apply for 200 spots).  

Training this past winter has a been a little difficult to say the least.  With over 8 feet of snow and many days in the single digits, I had to push hard to get through many workouts.  With a 300 mile January, a long run of 30 miles in February, and too many repeats of Eastern Ave to count, I was feeling pretty good going into the race.  

As luck would have it, Black Mountain, NC received 6'' of snow the day before I flew down which was going to make the sections of the course I had run before completely different.  At the pre-race briefing, the race director explained that about half of the race would be on snow and that this year we would be running up the access road to the mountain (in years with less snow, they stay on trails to the top). 

In 2013, access to Mount Mitchell State Park moved to National Park control (who already controlled access to the Blue Ridge Parkway) and apparently getting access to the mountain during the race has become much more difficult.  This year, due to snow, it took a call from one of the race founders to his local congressman to convince them to let the runners into the park (aka summit the mountain).  

Now that all hurdles had been cleared: training in a brutal winter, getting to Asheville (without another snow storm shutting down airports), and being allowed access to Mount Mitchell, it was go time.  

Keith and I left Amy's Aunt's house at 6:15am and drove the 10 miles to Black Mountain.  After a quick bathroom stop at a local market, we hustled to the start line getting there with about a minute to spare.

The first three and a quarter miles are on roads and end with a sharp up hill before entering the trails.  This section of the course is quite pretty as it traverses through Montreat College.   

The next three and a quarter miles had the worst footing of the entire race.  It literally was 6'' of fresh snow and the only parts packed down were where the 20-30 people had run before me.  Some the steeper sections weren't runnable at all and during a brief walk I joked that this was my second ultra in a row that involved snow running (Leadville had a tiny 10' section at the highest elevation that we could have avoided).  We all knew we were spending way too much energy getting through this part.  
After we reached the 6.5 mile aid station, we were able to drop into a groove.  From 6 - 14 we were on fire roads where four wheelers had a packed the snow down a bit better.  We walked a little bit from 9-12 where we climbed about 1000'.  Once we hit the parkway (where the marathon turns around - my race from 2013), we began about a half mile with a slight down hill before entering Mount Mitchell State Park.  We clocked our first sub 8:30 mile since mile 2 just before we began our ascent.  

Mount Mitchell, 
Summited by Foot, Feb 28th, 2015
With about 4.5 miles to go before we reached the peak, we moved into a 3-1 run walk system.  With each mile bringing us up 400-500' and didn't want to completely burn out before we started our descent.  After 2 very painful 11:30ish miles, the road flattened out and we able to run over a continuous mile before we had to take another walking break to let the heart rate settle.  

As we reached the summit parking lot, we moved to a snow covered path for a quarter mile climb up to the sign and the look out tower. As I reached the summit, the volunteer marked my bib with a giant "S" and took my picture for me.  Keith continued on up to the tower (and can be seen in the background of my photo). 

After a short break with something to eat and the feeling that we had already won, we began our descent.   We started off quick with a 9 minute mile followed by an 8 minute mile before taking a quick porta john break.  This is when the lead female caught us and would go on to put 24 minutes into us by the finish.  

After 3 more quick miles, we were off the mountain and the parkway and back onto the fire road and returned to snow running.  At the next aid station we took a quick break for some chicken noodle soup before we started bombing down the trail.  

We were now on the same trail again as the marathoners and had to keep jumping from one side to the other as we passed people.  This made us feel like we were flying and was uplifting as we exchanged remarks with the runners. One of the best aspects of trail running and ultra running specifically is the camaraderie between runners; just having someone tell you, you are doing awesome goes a long way in making you believe it.    

Around mile 32 hit were off the trail and had one crazy descent (686' in a single mile according to Garmin) before it flattened out for the remainder of the race.  With our legs shot, we just pushed on knowing the end was near. 

Shortly after my watch beeped signaling the end of mile 36 we appeared at Lake Tomahawk.  Keith and I flew around the pond completing the last half mile at 6:53 pace and finishing at 6:05:34 placing 25th and 26th -- 9:57 / mile.    

All and all we were very happy with the result.  We made it through 36.75 miles of snowy, hilly terrain, summiting the highest peak east of the Mississippi and did it without bonking.  

Over the next few days we visited with Amy's relatives and Neil got to meet one of his new cousins, baby Tilia.  

Happy to have had such a great trip and happy to have ultra number 9 under my belt.  Special thanks goes out to Amy's Aunt Jane and Uncle Terry for hosting us and letting Keith tag along with us.  

Neil enjoying some Asheville sun.

Northeast Snowshoe Championship (ATR Race 2)
Location: Moultonborough, NH
Date: 3/7/2015

Distance: 6.05 miles

Goal: Survival
Actual Time: 1:02:48

Place: 26 / 131

Descending- Pic compliments
of Dave Dunham
Yesterday I completed my second snowshoe race at the Northeast Snowshoe Championship at Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough, NH.  I figured my body has only recovered to about 70% after last weeks ultra, so I would need to take it a little bit easier if I wanted to get through this thing in one piece.

Bradley, one of my SRR teammates (who is also doing the ATR series) and I met in Davis Square at 6:15AM to carpool up to the race.  We arrived at about 8:30 and had a good hour and a half to chill out before the race began. After a short warm up and a last second ditch of some clothing I was ready to go.

The beginning of the race was complete mayhem as runners 10 across tried to file into a single track trail.  I managed to step on the back of one guys snow shoes and knock him completely over.  After a couple of passings we were started to spread out a little.  I was tailing Bradley at this point and I felt like we were moving at an acceptable click.

Next thing I knew I was on the ground.  I had managed to jam the heel of one snowshoe into the tow of my other.  I had to take one snowshoe off to untangle my mess and a couple of others passed me as I lay on the ground (checking if I was alright of course).  Once I got going again I was able to quickly catch the group and then passed three of them on the next uphill.
Pic compliments of
Gianina Lindsey

The second mile and the first quarter of the third mile were brutal climbing with somewhere around 600'.  After clocking a 12:25 for mile 2, I was able to get down to an 11 for mile 3 and then 10 for mile 4.  With roughly two more miles to go I knew I had one more good climb before the final ascent to the finish.

At this point I was completely alone and doing my best to stay upright and moving forward.  The final 200' climb came during the second half of the 5th mile and was followed with a nice gradual descent along multiple switchbacks.

As I popped out of the woods with a couple hundred yards to the finish I picked the pace way up and I didn't even realize some folks were beginning to gain on me.  I was able to hold them off finishing in 1:02:48 (10:22 / mile) good enough for 26th place (of 131), just like the previous week.

Two ATR races down, five to go.  Next up: ATR Race 3, Merrimack River Trail Race on 4/11.

- Scot

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