Elevation Gain: 11,300',  Loss:  11,700'
May 31, 2015 

Very coincidentally, perhaps, the very same weekend I was planning to fastpack the
Black Mountain Crest over a series of 6000' peaks between Bowlen's Creek and
Mt. Mitchell, the Run Bum just happened to be throwing a 50K party over much of
the same terrain.  Fastpacking alone versus doing a bloody hard race with other
like-minded trail runners!!  The choice was easy.  Sean Blanton and Brandon Thrower
put together a route that would climb about 3500 feet three times to the Crest and
back in arguably the toughest 50K anyone has yet staged.  While fully engaged on
the course, I was thinking that I had, indeed, run tougher courses, most notably
Speedgoat, and plenty of tougher climbs, but after I'd tracked the entire way to 
the finish and struggled to get out of bed the next morning, I now would agree with
Sean that this may be the hardest 50K I've ever done.
                                                           photos courtesy of Brandon Thrower and John McBreen

What makes it harder?  The first climb goes straight up for three miles at over a 
thousand feet of climb per mile to reach the Crest of the Black Mountains well over
6000 feet.  Many of the descents are equally as precipitous and challenging when
it comes to safety and control.  Add to that the incredibly slippery wet rocks and 
profusion of gnarly roots, foot placement was always in question.  My shoes are
as grippy as one can buy, but I still have to envy the younger runners with the
increased risks they had to have taken in running down these dangerous inclines
without ending in disaster.  Even the grassy runways along the ridge that connected
the climbs and the descents were gnarly with knots of field grass, eroded holes,
and floating rocks.  Every time I pushed out with some momentum on a more level
section, I seemed to be thrown off balance by the unevenness of the rough terrain.
There was just no part of the course, aside from over a mile of pavement, where one
could run without extreme vigilence.


After a long wait and disorganized start about 180 of us finally set off up a road
enabling the field to thin before hitting single track and the first immediate climb.
After the previous weekend backpacking venture in the Smokies, my legs were
primed for strength to make long climbs and hammer downhill.  I was as ready as
I could be for this type of event, so I moved through most of the crowd to merge
with some stronger runners to make the first ascent.  I love to climb, so was in my
glory pushing the first ascent without a pause, all the while never exceeding my 
aerobic threshold.  After reaching the top my legs were comfortable striding out 
before dropping down to the first aid station at Bowlen's Creek at about 7 miles. 
The downhill had some fairly nice grassy runways to let your momentum carry you,
so I was able to push much of it.  The leader was already two miles up on me at
six miles.  Nice kid; told me he liked my style; first time anybody has every said that
on a trail.  Anyway, I made the turn before climbing back up at about two hours. With
all the uphiking I could only manage 3.5 mph, but was still probably in the top forty.


The rest of the day I didn't really change position with the rest of the field.  I fell in
with a few different runners of similar ability and we tracked the remainder together,
enjoying the social side of running, taking a few pictures, and generally moving
carefully through the course so as not to fall.  A successful race for me is one without
a fall.  While I stumbled three times on this toughest of routes, I did not fall once.
I never got genuinely fragged.  For a short time I ran out of water and suffered foot
cramps.  After slowing a while I found a seep of fresh water and refreshed with more
than a quart.  The cramps smoothed out and I was able to resume and regain those
I was running with.  There was always a sense of measured control.  Now that I am
older it is always about measured control, always holding back, guarding against
the lure of more youthful enthusiasm (which is always right under my skin).

It took me over nine hours to finish, have some beer, share some smiles and drive 
home.  The rest of my account includes a few pictures of some of the people I spent
a great day with.  After all is said and done, it is always the exchanges between
these fellow runners who I share such a kinship with that make for the most lasting
impressions of the race.

With Vince from Winston-Salem

With Tal from Burnsville

With Michelle from Tennessee and Pete from Black Mountain