Mount Mitchell Challenge 2008 Preview [Updated 2/22/08 10 PM]

I’ve wanted to run the Mount Mitchell Challenge (MMC) held outside of Asheville, North Carolina ever since I heard of […]

By on February 22, 2008 | Comments

I’ve wanted to run the Mount Mitchell Challenge (MMC) held outside of Asheville, North Carolina ever since I heard of it. Earlier this decade, my sister spent some time living in Asheville and I loved visiting her. Well, more than a decade later my sister and I will be road tripping down to MMC this weekend. As a bonus I’ll get to catch up with my ultrarunning buddies, Greg Loomis and Mike Mason, both of whom are on the Charlottesville Running Company/Bad to the Bone Running Team. I’ll be pacing Mike at the Massanutten 100 in May and, hopefully, Greg will let me pace him at the Grindstone 100 … if I don’t run it myself.

For those of you who don’t know, the Mount Mitchell Challenge is a 40 mile race from Black Mountain, NC to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest spot east of the Mississippi River at 6,684′, and back down. The Black Mountain Marathon starts at the same place and time as the Challenge. The Challenge course follows the Marathon course, except where the marathoners turn around near the Blueridge Parkway, the Challenge runners continue to the summit of Mount Mitchell. Both finish at the same place.

Mount Mitchell Challenge elevation profile

As some long time readers might remember, I’ve got added incentive to do well this weekend, as back in September I challenged my sister to a race. She’ll be running the Black Mountain Marathon and the Challenge. While on paper I’ve got to make up 13.8 miles, the two complete datasets I could find on pegged the distance at 38.10 and 38.30 miles. That puts the total differential between the BMM and MMC at 12 miles. Still a heck of a lot of ground for me to make up on Gretchen… especially with the extra 1,500′ or so of climb that I face during those 12 miles. Should also be a bunch more ice up on top, too – the National Weather Service just put out an Ice Storm Warning for Asheville.

I’m picking my sister for the win big time and that’s not just me sandbagging. At hair under a year ago, my sister and I ran at the Seneca Creek Greenway races. I ran the 50k at an honest, non-race effort in 5:06:42. Gretch ran the marathon in 6:08:50…. it was her first run EVER over 13 miles!?! She ran the marathon in 6:08:50. It’s worth noting that the marathon was actually an ultra, as the only deviation between the courses was a 3.5 mile loop around a lake. That means that at Seneca Creek I had a cushion of about 62 minutes and 3.5 miles. Based on Gretch’s average pace, she would have been 21:23 quicker had she finished after a true marathon. That would have put me only 40 minutes ahead with me at a 50k and her at a marathon. I have no clue how I can run another 7 to 9 miles up the side of a mountain in those 40 minutes, especially considering that she’s much better trained this year.

Anyone wanna take a stab at the Powell sibling time differential? I’ll post my guess tomorrow evening!

3 Quick Updates: [2/22/08 11 p.m.]
(1) Rather than a day of freezing rain up on Mount Mitchell, it was sunny and nearly reached 60 degrees today, so there’ll be far less ice than I expected tomorrow. That means I don’t have to carry my Kahtoola Microspikes (review) up the mountain. On the downside, it means I still don’t have a chance to test that out for real!

(2) I’ll be violating one of the time tested rules of ultrarunning tomorrow – Don’t try anything new on race day. In the wake of yesterday’s discussion of the La Sportiva Raceblade and Fireblade, I picked up a pair of the Fireblades at Foot Rx down here in Asheville. Afterwards, Gretchen and I headed over to Montreat to run the first couple trail miles of the course with Mike Mason. I liked the Fireblades enough in those 5 or 6 miles that I’ll wear them instead of my new pair of Asics 2130s and my completely dead pair of Montrail Hardrocks.

(3) So far commenters have split completely on gender lines regarding whether my sister or I will finish first tomorrow. I think my sis will come in a decent bit under 6 hours. Yeah, there’s a good bit more climb than when she ran 6:08 at the Seneca Greenway Marathon, but there’ll be a lot less ice and mud tomorrow – not to mention this one will be about a mile and a half shorter. I’m guessing that I’ll come in around 6:10 to 6:15 based on some solid women’s times from recent years. Now for my official prediction – Gretchen by 28 minutes. (I’ll reveal my calculations if I’m remotely close to being correct.)

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.