Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mount Jefferson Challenge 2011

My in-laws moved from Blowing Rock to a small mountain town named West Jefferson.  The first time I saw the house I looked up past it... they live at the base of Mount Jefferson (elev. 4,683') and I knew right away I would like this place.  Surely there were trails to run and elevation to gobble up!  I was a little sad to learn there was no trail actually up the mountain and you 'had to' drive to the top.  There are trails at the top but not much to really run on although having them in close proximity would be nice as a future fun run.

Mt. Jefferson as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway
Image courtesy of Google Earth

Mount Jefferson is unique in that it stands separate from its Blue Ridge brothers & sisters.  Ever since they bought the cabin I thought of running to the top of this lone peak (even if it meant running on dreaded roads).  Enter the Mount Jefferson Challenge... or 'The MOJE' (pronounced 'Mo Jay' as they call it on the event website).  A race was just started one year prior that starts a half mile from the cabin and runs the 3.6 miles to the summit (1,500' of gain) then turns around and flies back down the hill.  Of course I had to look into this race and give it a go.

The only reservation I had of racing about one month after a 39mi ultra run (Woods Ferry) were put to rest the week after Woods Ferry when I ran a truncated preview run starting at the cabin (~.75mi into the course) the week after the ultra.  I had no plans really and wasn't sure how my knees would hold up so I told Ashley I could be back after maybe 20-30 minutes or I could be gone for a while.  I was gone for a while and ran to the false summit (where the road ends) and on to the real summit including the trails that take you to the top and tour around the peak/ridgeline and back down.  I was gassed on the way up so I mixed in a lot of walking to be safe.  Within the first half mile I would run two minutes then walk two and repeat for a while but eventually was running more as I went on and walking the steeper portions.  I ran the whole way down and other than my quads screaming, and expected muscle soreness from my prior weekend, I was fine.  Much better than an attempt to run down (i hitched a ride to the top to run the trails) last Thanksgiving (2010) where I started having severe (left) knee pain and had to walk, stop and sit, walk, stop and sit the whole miserable way down.

Looking down Mt. Jefferson's curvy roads (in the Spring?)
Photo courtesy of MOJE FB page

With this successful preview run I estimated that if I pushed it more uphill I could possibly finish around, and even possibly under, one hour since it would have been around 1:12 at my pace that day.  I did have a few races planned each weekend after this (Homecoming 5k & Zombie Challenge) but these were fun and I wasn't really training for them (or Mt Jefferson for that matter) so these were of little concern.

MOJE Elevation Profile (with grade)... pretty straight forward!

~.5mi in and calves already burning
7.2 total miles = 3.6 up + 3.6 down
Ascent/Descent = 1,526 feet (each way)
Grade = 5 - 16%
100% paved roads

Whats not to love with a race like this, other than the 'paved roads' portion?  Unfortunately I started feeling sick the day before the race (head cold with sore throat and some stomach issues) but decided to run anyway.  I didn't have much of a voice and with a really sore throat the morning of the race I left the cabin with the usual colder weather running gear but included a few cough drops for my race shorts pockets.  I ran into a runner named Jen (also from CLT) and got in a brief w/u (<1mi) and after chatting and hearing her plans I thought maybe we could run together (she's a speedster and it would be great if I could hang with her).

What goes up... The race starts and I find myself sucked into the front group yet sitting somewhere around 5th and all too soon fighting for breath.  I Started walking just after I passed the cabin where the course starts to get steep and knew this would be a tough one.  I continued to run/walk my way up the mountain and apologize to runners I was playing leap frog with because I've read race reports of peoples frustration with 'Gallowalking' but I was moving.  Around mile 2 I puked and felt a little better but now my throat really burned and each breath seared as it came in, and breathing through my nose wasn't an option since I was stuffed up.  After I collected myself I was able to stay just in front of 5th and trading spots (depending on walk breaks) between 3rd and 4th until the summit turn at 33:27.

Must come down...  Amazingly, sub 60 looked well within reach as long as I could hold on and not have any knee issues, puking stops, etc.  I really was running for time despite finding myself in 3rd (about 40 seconds up on 4th and 5th running together) and I wanted to do what I could to still break 60.  Luckily the downhill run was rather uneventful (other than dry heaving a few times) and I found myself somewhat in no mans land with the runner in front a few minutes up and the runners behind nowhere to be seen.

My #1 fan (or maybe tied for #1 w/ Ashley)
I finished 3rd overall in 53:32 (33:27 up & 20:05 down) with the leaders close to each other around 4.5 minutes up on me and 4th and 5th close together and almost exactly 1 minute back.  Even without the circumstances this was a lot better than I could have hoped.  It was great finishing to a cheering Ashley and shouting Alekzander to give me sweaty hugs at the finish!  Jen came in as the first female and 6th place overall (58:14)!  It was a great day for CRC (Charlotte Running Club) as the only two members probably within a hundred miles both placed at this event!  We both won large Christmas Wreaths from the award winning West End Wreaths and cheezed for a picture we hoped would make the CRC Newsletter.

Other than the sickness this was a fun race and I consider myself very Blessed to be able to run an event like this and finish.  It was great to look up to the mountain from the finish and think 'I just ran up that'.  I don't know if doing this race again would be testing my luck with my knees but I do feel like I may have unfinished business with this course that I may have to settle someday.  I know this race will only grow bigger and I was gaped by 1st and 2nd enough that I have zero delusions that my finish position would have been better but it may be 'fun' to see how much faster I can run this.  Time will tell but with the ability to run this course on my own anytime I visit the in-laws I won't necessarily make it a priority to put the actual race on my calendar again.  I will, however, try and tell as many friends as possible about it in hopes that they can come up and experience this roller coaster of a race... I just hope their ride is only from the up then down of the mountain and not the other ups and (mostly) downs I had to deal with.


Cruising into the finish

Go Team CRC!  Jen finished 1st female and I was 3rd OA
That is not Mt Jefferson in the background... it was MUCH larger!

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