Monday, July 23, 2007

Back to the Mountains - Virgin Trip up Mt. Mitchell

After taking a much deserved 4 week break from running (not one step run at all) after successfully completing my first 100 miler, it was about time I hit the mountains again. I eased back into running a month ago and focused most of my efforts on speed/tempo workouts and medium (90 minute to 2 hour) distance runs. Total weekly mileage has averaged around 30 to 35 miles with peak weeks over 40 mpw.

I had to be in Asheville last week for a conference so I decided to take advantage of my luck and attempt a run up Mount Mitchell. I have long wanted to do this run since Mitchell is a noted landmark in NC and also the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River. I checked in with my pal Mike Mason who had recently run the 40 mile Mt. Mitchell Challenge course for advice on a good route. I decided to start from the mile 352 marker on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This would give me a good 3 mile warm-up and cool down run on relatively flat terrain. It would also make my total distance around 16 miles, which I hoped to cover in 3 hours at a moderately easy pace.

The weather was near perfect, about 64 at 8:00 AM but a bit breezy. My route took me up the BRP for 3 miles and onto SR 128 for about 1/3 mile. I then veered onto the Buncombe Horse Trail for about 3.5 miles or so and up the Mt. Mitchell trail for 1.5 miles to the summit. I would then retrace my steps for a total of 16 miles or so. I made good time and felt strong all the way to the Mitchell trail. All along I could smell the evergreens as I was covered by a good canopy most of the way on the horse trail. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud cover so I missed a lot of scenic views on the way up.

While the Mitchell trail was much more difficult with a lot of steep climbs, I still made good time and was even able to run some of the shorter climbs (something new for me). Unfortunately the summit was closed as they are replacing the observation deck and there was a large log blocking the way so I had to go down the Balsam trail to the parking area. On the way I rolled my ankle pretty badly but was able to keep going after a decent break. My total time up was 1:42, a little slower than I hoped but I hadn't really pushed very hard. I also had stopped to take a couple of pictures and the little break after rolling the ankle. I figure this ate up maybe five minutes total.

I chatted with the rangers at the snack bar for a bit and then headed back. Moved purposefully but cautiously down the Mitchell trail and made it without incident. I then ran all the way back on the horse trail except for stopping to take one picture. I pushed pretty hard here in an effort to make up some time. When I got to SR 128 I ran all the way back to my car. I was fairly tired but couldn't justify walking on pavement. The down trip only took me 1:09, which surprised me as I thought I would be closer to 1:20. Total time was 2:51 and most importantly I had a blast. I will definitely be back for this and may consider the race in February.

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