The understanding that this pain will end- that it is mostly finite, at least to the extent that we’re all experiencing- is probably flashing in the minds of most runners entered in the Black Mountain Marathon and concurrent 40 mile Mount Mitchell Challenge. When I signed up for the marathon last fall, I knew what I was getting into. I did the Challenge back in 2011 and had a rewarding experience, pulling into a well-fought runner-up in the women’s race… but I wasn’t quite ready to tackle that monster again.
I moved to Asheville in January of this year for my final physical therapy internship, a three-month stint at the Mission Hospital Rehab and Sports Clinic. With a multitude of trails nearby, there are plenty of spectacular venues to use for training. I should also mention that I am forever grateful to former Rock/Creek Race Team member, Jay Curwen, and his wife, Monica, for allowing me to stay in their house as a guest while I finish this last rotation.
Besides living under the roof with some stellar athletes, I am also fortunate enough to train on the world-class trails in the Smokies, Shining Rock Wilderness, and Bent Creek Experimental Forest on the border of Asheville city limits. Needless to say, my training for the climbs of the Black Mountains was taken care of.
The Black Mountain Marathon starts in the quaint downtown of Black Mountain, travels through Montreat Presbyterian campus, and ascends amazing trails all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway before mostly backtracking down to the finish with some additional debilitating bits of trail and pavement thrown in for good measure. The Challenge adds another 14 miles with an ascent of Mt. Mitchell and a return to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The first half of my race was great and except for the icy conditions leftover from Snowpocalypse 2.0 a week prior, I felt confident in putting-in a solid effort. Near the top end of the marathon course I began to feel a bit lethargic and hurt a bit; 2000 feet of climbing is never easy, regardless of where you’ve been training. For me, the aid station at the turn-around was heaven. With my current roomie (I like to call her Momica) manning the aid station and serving up warm ramen noodles, how could I return back down to earth?
I did not want to leave this resting point for fear of knowing I was about to make the twelve-plus mile, quad-crushing descent. What was so wrong about calling it quits and having fun with these awesome volunteers? Remembering that my husband would be waiting at the finish line- and the future of a warm shower following shortly after- I committed to finishing the race and descending back down the now slushy trail, wishing luck to everyone still on the climb.
Further down the course, my quads were terrorized by the final 5k of steep pavement on the way to the finish. I looked at my watch, hoping I could make my 4-hour goal I had in mind, but these paved miles were the death of me. The cruxes of these races really are the major descents. As I arrived at Lake Tomahawk Park, the finish venue for both races, I saw and heard my husband shouting encouragement.
With him futilely yelling for me to “kick,” I painfully ambled around the lake’s quarter-mile distance… and am ashamed to admit that my one AND ONLY fall of the race occurred on this lake loop. I almost face-planted coming down a delightfully benign landscape bridge straddling the lake’s outlet. This trauma caused exactly one black toenail, some fairly serious ankle bruising, and a severely damaged ego.
Despite the fall, I fought the urge to DNF with less than 200 meters left and was able to acquire my second 2nd place finish in my second attempt at a Mt. Mitchell Challenge/ Black Mountain Marathon race. I plan on tackling both races again, but am currently very content with my podium finish, the beautiful painting that comes with said place, and a coveted North Face pullover with an embroidered race logo.
Until my next race, let’s hope my toenail doesn’t fall off and my pride regenerates equally fast.