Mt Mitchell Challenge

This is the polar opposite of my kind of race…it’s 100% runnable.  I got into this sport from hiking and love the opportunity to rely on my hiking chops once the ground get steep and/or gnarly.  When “runners” are struggling, I can often pass them while resting a bit.  Mt Mitchell offers none of this for me.

A 7am start greeted us with nice conditions, temp in the 20’s, which after this NY winter felt like summer.

IMG_3750Due to the nasty weather we have had, I felt under trained. I had logged 200 miles since Jan 1 but that was mainly in 6-10 miles runs. I had gone down to NJ for a 35 mile weekend 3 weeks prior but that was it.  I didn’t feel like I could run hard and instead my goal was to finish in good physical shape, I didn’t want to drag myself across the finish line.   I started very casually running just under 8 min pace for the first 3 miles up to the first snow.  I put on nanospikes over my Inov-8 Race Ultra 290’s and started up the trail.   Feeling great I passed a number of people as they slipped around in the loose snow over ice.  As the grade increased I started slipping more too.  The nanospikes have flat plates that block any traction from the sole of your shoes, and the spikes weren’t long enough to reach the ice.  After about a mile I yanked ’em off, strapped them on my back and took them for a 35 mile ride.   I felt better in bare shoes especially as we reached a semi packed trail about 7 miles in.

Things went well up to the marathon turn around, one pit stop in the woods and a couple of short walking sections.  At this 13 mile aid station it is all pavement to the top.  I don’t run pavement, ever.  Bad knees don’t like it.  To make it even harder on my knees and back, the road is banked.   So the entire 6 miles up and 6 miles down, one foot is landing a few inches below the other, lame.   Eventually I slogged my way to the top.  The summit was very enjoyable as I took a couple of minutes for some photos.


IMG_3752The trip back down was tiring but not too bad.  I had a couple of miles from 27-31 where I felt good and pushed to pace into the 8:30 range.  Good for me in loose snow, ice, and mud, as the temps were in the 40’s.  The end of the trail leads to an insanely steep downhill road which my entire body was hating.  Fortunately it is fairly short and with 3 miles to go, we turned onto a trail along a stream.   I’m sure this trail is very nice but this day it was a slippery mess, which after 35 miles, becomes annoying quick.   The last bit of evil comes when you reach the finish area and they make you do a lap around a small lake where you can see people at the finish sitting and enjoying food and beer.

Since the course was shortened a bit this year, it clocked in around 38 miles.  I finished in 6:21.  While 40th place isn’t very impressive, after the issues I have been having with my knees and my back, I am very pleased.  My goal was a 10 min/mile average, I ran 10:10.  Also, this was the first time lately that I did not run in Hokas.  I feel like while they help the knees, they have been contributing to the back issues.  I do wish I had them for the 20 mile descent though.  I ran in a new pair of Inov-8 Race Ultra 290’s which had 6 miles on them prior.  They are very comfortable and roomy, nice and stable, and offer descent cushioning.   My right foot was numb for the last 3 hours or so and I was feeling it in the bottoms of my feet running on the pavement at the end, but overall I was happy with the shoes.

After the race, Jay, Myron, Mike, Brian and I cut loose a bit.  First it was beer at the finish, then it was beer in Sara’s hot tub (thanks again!!), then beer at the Highland Brewing company, then food and beer at the awards dinner, then food and beer at the Trail Head Restaurant.    Surprisingly, I felt great the next day, with only minor soreness.  Of course the flight home was a nightmare due to snow/ice in NY but that’s another story.

I had a great time but I don’t think I will run this again.  The event is very well run and the course is great, but it is not my style and it is tough to train for in NY this time of year.  I really don’t like Lenape Lane that much!!


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The Black Hole

The Black Hole is a nighttime, full moon, winter traverse of the Escarpment Trail in the Catskills.  It is 20 miles long with some 5500 ft. of climbing while ascending 2 Catskill High peaks and 3 other minor ones.  It was first done around 20 years ago by Dick Vincent and a small group of his hardy trail running friends.  Many of them have completed the Black Hole over a dozen times since!!!   It hasn’t been attempted in a few years so my friends Tim, Todd, and I decided to give it a shot on Friday, January 2.   We dropped a car at the N/S lake finish and had my wife drive us to the trail head at around 4:50 pm.  The sun had set at 4:35 yet we didn’t need lights until the main creepy hemlock grove partway up Windham High Peak. 4d6e0d2b-a55d-469e-b0df-4180f280185d
We bare booted to the summit on hard pack snow and dirt.  Put on microspikes for the descent and we made good time over Burnt Knob and Acra Point.  We took our time having fun and taking some pics. The (as always) brutal climb up Blackhead gave us deeper snow but it was still well packed.
As we went south from the summit, old postholed tracks led to the viewpoint and then suddenly stopped. We were then treated to over a foot of snow with an inconsistent crust that made it slow going.  Either no one had gone through in a while or the old footsteps were snow filled, but either way, the next 2 miles, mostly downhill, took nearly an hour. It was tough, tiring, annoying, etc. It finally let up as we hit the steep descent into Dutchers Notch and we ran hard to try and make up time. The climb up Stopple Point was long and tedious as we all seemed to hit the wall together.
The plane wreckage was particularly creepy in the dark, and I hadn’t told my partners it was there as they were a little extra spooked.  From the summit we made good time to North Mtn. We took off our spikes about 2 miles from the end as we were out of the ice and there was just a dusting off snow over the frozen dirt. We hit the finish area for escarpment in 6:40 which was just fine with me considering the conditions. The dirty little secret of the Black Hole is that you still have like 2 miles of uphill pavement to get to the car!!!  This was the only “bad” part of the evening but we got in just before midnight, changed, had a beer and drove home.
This is the my 5th time across the whole ridge and what a unique experience. Tim, Todd, and I were totally amazed with spending that much time in the dark In the snow on such a tough trail. Much respect to our predecessors that have done this so many times in all kinds of crazy conditions so many times.  And thank you for inspiring me to attempt this and bring this to another group of people.  It is not something you would think was possible (or a good idea) until you meet people that have done it.   I love the Catskills and cherish every experience I have out there, this was one for the memory bank.
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