Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mt. Mitchell Challenge--- COLD

The Mt. Mitchell Challenge is normally a 40 mile race from the town of Black Mountain, NC (elevation 2,405) to the top of Mt. Mitchell (elevation 6,684) and back. Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi. This year, parts were cut out because of 58" of snow on the ground with 10 foot snow drifts, but it still went to to top and back. We used more road than usual, but there was still a good chunk of snowy trail.

My camera batteries were dead. Here are pictures from Asheville Citizen-Times. Really amusing pictures of freezing cold people and worth a look. I do have a picture that's pretty funny from my phone, but I don't know how to get it off my phone and on here.

So yeah, it was cold. Thinking about it though, I can't remember actually being cold. I had more clothes with me that I didn't put on. At 9 degrees and 30-35 mph winds, we had a wind chill factor of -15 or so. Brrr. But I expected much more snow. It caused some problems, but I anticipating post-holing through the 24" deep snow. There was only one section like that and it was only 1/4 mile at the top. I had been worried for weeks about this. Last week, they said they were re-routing the course to avoid the deepest snow, but we should still anticipate 2 foot snow. The day before the race they said the worst mile had been scraped, so I felt better about it. Also, the Challenge had been shortened to 35 miles & the marathon was shortened to 23.

So it was easier than I thought, but it was not easy. Not close.

2.5 miles in the town of Black Mountain with an incredibly steep paved hill at the end of the section. Then 9 miles of snowy fire road. There were ATV tracks you ran through. Otherwise, it was 8-16" or so of snow. But staying in the narrow tracks was tough. This section was certainly harder than usual with the snow but it was runnable. I was happy last year that this section is much more gradual than I expected. I felt tired and my hips hurt literally from the first half mile. Worried me. My hips hurt the whole way.

There was a 3 hour cutoff at the 11.5 mile mark, which sounds easy to hit, but I didn't know what to expect. I passed a guy with a GPS watch at the 7 mile mark and eased up when I realized it was in the bag. When I started passing people going back down from the marathon, I asked people how much to the cutoff and when I realized making the cutoff was still in the bag, I eased up again. I was just trying to make the cutoff and have fun with the race. There were about a dozen who didn't make the cutoff and some who voluntarily turned back to finish the marathon & not continue on with the Challenge.

At 11.5, we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway and 45 mph winds! Wow! 1/2 mile later, we turned on the Mt. Mitchell entrance road and ran about 4-5 miles to the top. It gradually got colder. The road was steep. People I was around walked the whole way. I'd pick out landmarks and run about 50m and walk 50m. I passed 6-8 people on the road up and no one passed me. I noticed runners coming back down with frozen hair & eyelashes. How bad was it up there?? I'd soon find out. Of course, Byron Backer came down with shorts on! Ouch!

A mile from the top, it got bitterly cold. -15 wind chill cold. My mom called me near the top. I could barely talk. It was like a scene from a movie about Antartica. "I'm... I'm... O... K..." Ice all over me. Gloves, jacket, hat, eyelashes. Sheesh! I remembered reading about people's eyeballs freezing at the Hellgate 100K & would close my eyes for 3 steps and open them for 3 steps.

At the very top, we trudged through knee-deep snow to the tower, about 1/4 mile total. Highest peak east of the Mississippi. All downhill from there, so it's easy, right? Not exactly.

At the aid station, someone announced there were only about 20 people behind me, which was humbling & got in my head a little bit.

I thought I'd fly down and really pass people- and at times, I did, but it wasn't as simple as that. Almost all of the road was clear of snow & ice, but there were patches. Not enough to warrant YakTrax. After turning around, I just didn't feel great. My hips hurt more pounding down the asphalt. About 1/2 mile from the top, I slipped on ice and banged my knee up. Falling also made my hamstring cramp up and I pulled a muscle in my back. That wasn't fun. It would be the first of my 3 falls. It took me 2-3 miles to feel better and I flew down the last 2 miles of the road, passing 4-5 people.

A couple of people passed me when I put on YakTrax before going down the fire road. The 4-5 minute break didn't serve me well & I started feeling bad again right after that. It was strange. My mood and the way I felt were clearly defined and changed quickly. There was no reason for the way I felt. Just simple fatigue. "Man, I'm tired." A couple of people passed me in the upper part of the fire road and I was fine letting them go. About half way down the fire road, I turned around and saw a guy in a very noticeable outfit. I told myself 90 mintues earlier there was no way that guy was going to beat me and there he was right on my tail. I picked it up and lost him and in the process, passed some people. I started feeling very good and flew down the mountain. People commented, "Dang, you are really moving!" But I also stopped a lot. To take pants off (Hey, I had short on!), take YakTrax off, go to the bathroom, etc. so I didn't make up as much ground as I could've. Passed more going down the big paved hill and one in town and felt great the last 7 miles. I love feeling good at the end of a race.

I finished in 87th place out of 121 finishers, which is disappointing. 7:48. My training has been garbage though. Getting through a race this hard is an accomplishment given what I've put in in training (or regardless of training, I guess). I know I'm crummy climbing mountains too. My buddy Kevin beat me by 1:05- Over an hour! Yeah, he's faster than me, but I thought he'd beat my by 30-45 minutes & I didn't expect him to create more distance on me on the way down. But when I was feeling kinda down for my poor performance, I remembered that the race was capped at 200 or 250(can't remember). So a lot of people got turned around, decided to turn around, or didn't start. I'd be fine with 87th out of 250. I guess the moral of the story is to train harder.

It was fun though... and quite an experience! The course was absolutely beautiful (so silent and frozen), I met some nice folks, and I pushed through some brutal conditions. Looking forward to next year!


stanstin said...

Nice race report. Makes me wanna do this someday!

Anonymous said...

15 degrees below zero? That's insane! It was 50 here yesterday.

Allen K said...

Wow. Serious coldness. Congrats man.

Jason said...

I enjoyed the report. From what I can tell most people ran maybe 50% of the course? This sounds like my type of event. I'm gonna get it on it next time. The "waist high" snow at the top was awesome!

Great job finishing a tough race!

Lynne said...

I only ran the marathon. That was quite enough snow and cold for me. I finished in 6:22. And it wasn't even a full marathon. How lame is that? Had fun tho and plan to do it again next year. Congrats on finishing the challenge in such crap conditions!