Mount Mitchell Challenge Race Report

Sunday, September 7th 2014 9:50pm Signing up for more races is the logical response when you are high off of awesome week which included:

  • Saturday, August 30th: Women’s course record at The Ring where I got revenge on my missed checkpoint DNF

  • Saturday, Sept 6th: Women’s win (4th place overall) a week later at the EX2 Half Marathon and Adam’s first race back from injury

  • Sunday, Sept 7th: pacing my father at the VIA Marathon the next day

Monday, September 8th


Um, what? I didn’t even realize that the lottery closed at midnight, guess I am registered! Hey, Adam, want to run a marathon in North Carolina in February? You like snow races, right? :)

My idea back in September was that this looked like a fun challenge (pun intended) to keep myself focused over the winter and a unique opportunity to run up to the summit of the highest peak east of the Mississippi. However, once I made the Western States lottery my training plan shifted its focus to June and with the winter weather this year being less than ideal for training, Mt Mitchell had taken a back seat and become a long WS100 training run.

When I registered for the race, I also didn’t think through the plan in much detail, how would we get there, where would we stay, really I didn’t do any thinking ahead of time. Ooops. To make it to packet pickup we decided that we need to fly in on Thursday, sounded like a great way to explore Black Mountain and Asheville and be able to sleep in on Friday. Then Jackie Palmer suggested a cabin she had found on the old Black Mountain Collage site, done! Ticket’s purchase and plan all set. Too bad our “brilliant” plan to fly to Greenville, SC comes back to bite us, but more on this later…

Pre Race Vacation

We arrived in Greenville and headed to Black Mountain, with a quick stop at the Whole Foods in Asheville (this girl needs her rotisserie chicken, avocados and kombucha!). The checkout clerk was all smiles, calm, chatting with us and it made me uncomfortable. I think I may have lived in DC too long. Here you can feel everyone’s hurry and angst as they rush from one “really important” task to the next. Deep breaths, Robin, it’s going to be ok, hey really are just being nice! When we stopped to get BBQ (we are in North Carolina after all!), the waitress at the Okie Dokie Smokehouse was so eager and our food was great. I was just going to have to get used to all these nice, helpful people.

Friday was one of those great days. I slept in until after sunrise (which is a real accomplishment for me), got coffee in Black Mountain and headed to Asheville to explore. We decided out best plan of attack was a little bit from everywhere to get a real sense of the town. However, we learned some times along the way and it was be summed up by describing the stereotypical Ashevillian as a vintage clad beer, kombucha and coffee lover. This is my kind of town!

Race Time!

We met up with Jackie and Jeff at the pre-race meeting picked up our packets and swag. The RD, Jay Curwen, announced that they would be running the section from the parkway aid station to the summit on the road, we couldn’t get on the trail but we would be able to go to the summit, hooray! He warned us all to be ready to snow and ice and recommended YakTraks. Feeling good and ready for dinner and sleep, we headed back to the cabin for my standard pre-race meal and an early bed time.

Seriously Awesome Race Swag!

Race morning went right on schedule, we parked at the finish line and walked to the start. I was ready but it didn’t feel nearly as cold as the doom and gloom pre-race forecast had been, maybe at higher elevations it was going to get nasty. I had my yak trak strapped to the back of my pack and after a comprehensive review from Adam on conditions to use them (running on ice only), we were off!

The first ~3miles are on the pavement through Black Mountain, it was nice to feel like I was jogging comfortably and readying myself for a few hours of uphill. We hit the trailhead and there was a crowd of people sitting down on the road to put their yaktraks on, I would not be fooled by peer pressure and headed onto the trails. The snow was soft and powdery, really pretty running and mostly packed down by the runners ahead of me, I was sticking with my Salomons. The trails trended up, but it was runable, I came to a few sections where I needed to hike a step or two, but in general I was surprised that it wasn’t as uphill or as snowy as I feared. My utter lack of recon and preparation for this race was demonstrated when I was also surprised at how much of the course was on jeep roads and double track trails.

Yak Trak Not Needed

Yak Trak Not Needed

I felt good as we headed up to the parkway aid station and marathon runners were starting to fly towards me as they headed back down. There was a woman (in bright blue tights) just ahead of me the whole time and I just assumed that she was running the Challenge as well, nope. The two women in front of me turned around, damn. I hit the aid station in 2:14 feeling good, but this was not my race plan. I was supposed to be on a long training run, not out in front! I knew that the road up the summit was steeper than the trails and I decided that doing a run- hike would be my best plan. The roads were exceptionally clear, the views were awesome and I was just going to take it in.

It didn’t take long for Jackie to catch up to me, we chatted about how runable the trail had been, discussed how warm it had gotten and she was off, running up the road. Beth Frye was next, also running, damn. I was going to have to run some of this if I wanted to still be in it for the way down. I had some snacks and got to work as we hit the parking lot at the summit. The section from there to the overlook was the worst on the whole course, loose, powdery, maybe 10in of snow and straight uphill (Strava says 17% grade!) As they marked my bib, I was so excited to be headed back down that I forgot to take a 360deg video as I had planned all day, oh well! Guess you will just have to climb up there to see it for yourselves!

Don't mind my gloved hand...

Don’t mind my gloved hand…

We hit the pavement and I left my legs fly as I passed Beth Frye with a hello and well wishes and headed back to through the parkway aid station. They let me know that Jackie was more than 10min ahead of me, but said it was maybe 20min. Either way, my plan to run by feel, let my heart rate be my guide and finish able to drink a beer was on schedule. As I headed back down the mountain and passed the marathoners I was struck by how shallow the grade was, I was still having to put out a lot of “running” energy. This was a downhill section, but since it wasn’t technical jeep roads, I still had to work! Oh well.

My lack of race specific preparation was noted again when I realized that we were headed back on a different course. I knew that the final 2miles of the race were flat and on pavement after passing through Montreat College (thanks for the heads up Rachel!) but I was surprised when they told me I had less than 5mi to go to the finish from the last full service aid station. I check my watch and realized that I had a chance to go under 6hrs, game on! The steepest downhill on the whole course was just after that aid station and it was glorious. There is something about letting go and running downhill that makes my heart sing. We followed the race signs, weaving back and forth between trails and roads as we criss cross a creek on wooden bridges. I was smelling the barn door and dreaming about the grapefruits that I had at the finish as I hit a patch of ice launching myself into a small tree, luckily it was my only slip of the day and I was able to grab the tree with both hands and swing around and head back down the trail. I was feeling proud of my recovery skills as the folks around be cheered at my acrobatics!

We headed through the neighborhoods of Black Mountain and past the tailgating families, this race is big business for a small town and they reminded me that I was 1mi from the lake. I checked my watch and knew that my sub 6hr goal was in reach. One more downhill and the lake came into view with a smiling and cheering Adam greeting me. I had 4mins to make it around and as the finish line came into view I put on a kick and finished in 5:57:49. Solidly 2nd female, but more importantly I felt good. I was hungry and ready to eat. My legs were feeling strong, maybe all those hill repeats I’ve been doing are paying off!

Adam had run well, finishing in 16th overall in the marathon, also without ever really working too hard. I am just so happy that he is back to running and that we can share our training again. We found Jackie and hung out at the finish line until Jeff finished. With our crew together we decided to hit up the Pisgah Brewery for a drink before heading back for showers. The bartender wasn’t lying, everything was good, but I especially enjoyed the Pale Ale. We got some beer to go and hit the showers before the most efficient awards dinner I’ve ever been too.


Local Pottery and Cash Money!

We spent the rest of the evening sharing a beer and catching up. It was awesome to sit by the fireplace and chat with the Crystal Beths after a successful day on the trails for all of us.

With the threat of sleet and freezing rain in DC, we knew that there was a chance that our flight would be delayed, but in my mind that only meant we would get to spend more time exploring Greenville and complete our tour of the Western Carolinas. Sunday brought more awesome coffee from Dynamite and then brunch and biscuits in Asheville, followed by another brewery stop at the Swamp Rabbit in Traveler’s Rest. Our flight had been delayed and after waiting 1.5hrs on the phone with the airlines, they moved it back to the original start time. I hung up and we headed to the airport after a quick walk around Greenville and some amazing beef jerky

We settled in and waited for our flight. They delayed it and delayed it again and then finally at 6pm they decided to cancel our flight. Damn, it was going to be a late night, but little did I know that even though I was first in line to reschedule our flight, they wouldn’t be able to offer us anything until Tuesday! We made the decision to rent a car and drive back to DC, ugh. At least we had gotten to see Greenville!

Lessons learned:

- Guess I need to be a bit better about planning next time and

- Asheville is a great town but I am not sure I am cut out to be a Southerner.

- All in all I am feeling very satisfied with my race. I feel like I made a plan and stuck with it, I set a mid race goal and achieved it and finished with a smile on my face!

Final Race Results



  1. mario

    Great report Robin!

    1. robin (Post author)

      Thanks! See you tomorrow for a fun run around! :)


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