I heard about the Shut In Ridge Run shortly after arriving in Greenville. The race is 32 years old, so you know any trail race around that long has to be good. Many consider it the classic mountain run in the Southeast. It starts near Asheville, NC, and runs up the Shut In Ridge trail to near Mt Pisgah at 5250 elevation, roughly paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway. A total of 17.8 miles, climbing 5300 ft and descending 2500 ft (possibly my first race ever that finishes appreciably higher than it starts). The winning time is usually around 2:30, and you're doing pretty well if you can beat your road marathon time. I was number 75 on the wait list in August, so was happy to get my acceptance letter.
Lots of uphill...
Temps were warm the past 2 years but snowy and cold this year. The weather was bad enough, in fact, that they weren't sure we would run the regular course until 10 minutes before the race. Fearing a Pocatello 50 recap and knowing the weather would be worse 3000 ft up, I dressed warmly- beanie, short and long shirt, arm warmers, gloves, and 2 shorts. I was a bit warm at times, but cold at others as the wind and snow picked up. I had tempered expectations going in due to a few injuries and lack of recent training, so figured 2:45-3 hrs seemed realistic. I mainly wanted to enjoy myself and the amazing autumn views of the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.
Autumn views during yesterday’s race
The first 3 miles were on leaf-covered fire roads, then the remainder of the race was on narrow singletrack. The trail varied from smooth and fast to very rocky and technical. It was 95% runnable, with a few steep walking sections, including the last climb to Mt. Pisgah (I had heard the last part was brutal- while I'll agree it was steep, but nothing unusual compared to many of my runs this year. Certainly not as steep as portions of Wahsatch or Jupiter Steeplechase, Pocatello 50, or the Bear). However, an almost continuous covering of wet leaves (and snow on all the north-facing slopes) made seeing the rocks and roots very difficult and the footing occasionally slippery. I loved every minute of it!
This obviously isn’t me, but shows typical trail footing- wet leaves obscuring rocks and roots
We started with a 6:19 mile, so pretty fast. I had settled into about 20th spot by mile 3 aid, where I would stay for a while. Marci and my daughters cheered me at this aid station. I was running fairly hard yet controlled. Miles 4-8 are the flattest of the race and I enjoyed stretching out the legs. Miles 8-10 are steadily uphill but my legs had plenty of climbing power. Miles 10-12 were a bit of a low spot, but I got a strong second wind at mile 13 and pushed hard, passing a number of runners while enjoying the occasional beautiful vista. I had moved into 12th place at the mile 15.5 aid station, where the girls were again cheering me on.
Feeling good around mile 15
The real fun started after the aid station, with the trail climbing 1100 ft in 1.5 miles up Mt. Pisgah. I passed 1 last runner on the climb (using the word “passed” in the most liberal of terms- kind of like a turtle passing a snail at this stage of the race), then had a final, very technical, short downhill to the finish. Finished in 11th place, 2:49:29.
View of Mt. Pisgah from the finish- the front side is steeper
At the finish
I am very glad I ran this race. It was nice to have a fairly low-key run. I generally felt good, enjoyed the competition, and can’t say enough about the views of the mountains. Plus it was well organized with lots of aid stations. The stained-glass trophys went 20-deep, so I got one. Marci really liked the fact that I didn’t know a single runner, so we left fairly soon after the finish (also due to Aspen spilling a lot of water on her pants, very cold for her in the 30-deg, windy weather). Marci asked if I will do this race again. My reply is that I want to look for other races that I could do (finding all new races is a benefit of moving across the country), but will definitely consider it. It was a fun, beautiful, challenging course- can’t beat that.