I'm not sure any race will ever top this one for me. Black Mountain, NC sits at the base of Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak in the Eastern United States. Two races occur simultaneously. With a starting altitude of 2,360 ft, runners in the Black Mountain Marathon climb nearly 3,000 feet over 13.1 miles through mountain trails with breathtaking views to the Blue Ridge Parkway at 5,340 ft. From there, they head back down the mountain and finish at a lake back in Black Mountain. Runners attempting the Mount Mitchell Challenge continue another 7 miles to the summit (6,684 ft) for a total of 4,324 ft of elevation gain. Once they hit the summit, they too return to town and finish at the lake.
It's funny though, it's not the elevation that will get ya. It's the fact that this race has a history of some pretty unpredictable weather. Being that it takes place in February, in 2010, the area had just experienced one of the worst ice storms in years. I had trail shoes, yak trax, ankle gaiters, you name it. When you have snow up to your knees or sometimes your hips, snow shoes are all that can save you. Each step was a gamble...ice, snow, thin ice covering freezing water.
So yeah, it was EPIC. I will never run a slower marathon. I will also never finish another race with tears in my eyes. There were times I thought they'd have to carry me back down the mountain. My feet were bricks of ice. I couldn't feel my face or hands. My knees & quads were shredded from the trek down. Once I hit the pavement at the base, I knew I just needed to drag myself in the last couple miles. I tossed off the yak traks and powered home.
Coming around the last corner, all that separates you from the finish is a half lap around a small lake with all your friends and family watching from the finish line. The smell of red beans & rice & BBQ fill the air, they announce your name, and you can't help but reflect on what you just experienced as you finish the last 1/4 mile. As I remembered the two ladies, who had to be in their 60s, sitting 3 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway in freezing weather handing out trail mix or the fully staffed station at the top with flat coke, heaters, & gatorade, I couldn't help but tear up. Those people felt like family to me already, and I only exchanged a few minutes of conversation with them as I passed through their aid stations.
I debated not writing this review, if only to keep this race a secret. But hopefully others will get to share in this experience now too.