Black Mountain Marathon By Wanderingoutlaw This past Saturday I ran the Black Mountain Marathon in North Carolina. It's known affectionately as the "fun run" companion to the Mt. Mitchell Challenge, which is an approximately 40 mile run from Black Mountain, NC to the summit of Mt Mitchell, the tallest peak in the eastern USA. The race is mostly run on trails/old dirt roads; only the first and last three miles are on paved roads/paths. After a mostly snow-free winter, Black Mountain experienced an ice storm a week or two before the race and then 6"-10" of snow in the few days before the race. Fortunately, no part of the marathon course had to be cut (which has happened in the past); although, the challenge was cut down to about 36 miles due to upper elevation trails being inaccessible (which meant paved roads to and from the summit after leaving the marathon course). Temps for most of the race was in upper 20's F (-4 to -1 C). I wore Xero Shoes 6mm huaraches with injinji mostly wool toe socks. For the snowy trails, I used Yaktrax. The race starts in downtown Black Mountain with flat to slightly inclined pave roads for three miles. I started with my usual warm-up walk for fifteen minutes. Talked with a fellow runner who turned out to be the one person to run this race all eighteen years: he has always run to the summit, but unfortunately this year he missed the cutoff at the marathon turnaround and only got to run the marathon. I started running slowly til mile three when I hit the first major uphill. Walked up to the trailhead at mile 3.3. The first trail is single track and was covered in 5" or so of packed snow. Long portions were flat with some slight uphills. I started encountering more runners and for the most part would walk when they walked and run when they ran. After three miles, I walked up another steep little hill and entered the dirt road portion of the course. The next fourteen miles were on this road--seven up to the turnaround and seven back down to this spot. On the way up I walked frequently as much of this was relentlessly uphill. Stopped and took a few pictures and just looked around. After stopping at the turnaround aid station--for some hot ramen noodle soup, I started the long descent. I ran much of the downhill on the dirt road with a few walking breaks. After a mile or so, I felt like I had a rock stuck to my shoe--the knot on the bottom of each of my huaraches had become wet and had frozen into a ball of ice. I just had to live with the feeling of a rock or tree nut under my big and second toe--until the ice melted near the finish. Around mile 17 my legs started getting tired and threatening to cramp if I moved them the wrong way. I added regular stretching breaks until the finish. Finally at mile 21, I exited the dirt road I'd been running on for 14 miles and entered a new dirt road--a very steep and rocky downhill dirt road. I enjoyed running down but my quads started hurting. After a half mile or so, the dirt road ends at a paved road. Stopped and took off the Yaktrax. Then the paved road was even steeper than the dirt road. I couldn't help but run with slapping footfalls. After another half mile of this descent, the road levels off and the race course veers off onto some short single track trails. The single track was challenging because of the snow and ice: very slippery since I'd already taken off the Yaktrax. Finally with about two and a half miles to go, the course returns to paved roads. I was dead tired but maintained a run/walk to the finish: 4 minutes run and 1 minute walk (which is the ratio I used in training). A couple of short uphills, though, had me slowly walking. The last half-mile or so of the race is a run around Lake Tomahawk. You arrive at the lake about a hundred feet from the finish line but have to run a lap around the lake to get to the finish--quite cruel! I gritted out a slow run--making sure I didn't fall and that no one passed me--and finished my first marathon in over six years and my first minimalist marathon. For those who wish to see pictures, you can visit my photo album of the event on Facebook: Black Mountain Marathon photos.