Being a good uphill runner helps with a race being all uphill but as my Coach Philip Latter said it's more about overall fitness. So far 2017 has been a good year running and racing for me. I've had some of my best race times in years while also competing in more competitive races.
Even though my overall fitness was fine going into this race I made a couple trips out to Blowing Rock, NC to do long uphill runs I couldn't replicate in the Triangle. My favorite route is running to the top of Flat Top Tower at Moses Cone Memorial Park from the Bass Lake parking lot. By parking at Bass Lake, you can get in 5 miles of all uphill running to the top, 10 miles total counting the return trip. I usually do one or two laps around Bass Lake as a warm-up before starting the climb up. If you want to cut the run in half you can park at Cone Manor, the halfway point up. The 5 miles from Bass Lake up to the Tower has 1,000 ft of elevation gain. Not as much as The Bear but it's close and the two routes are similar as the last 2 miles are the steepest. The surface is all bridle trails which is rocky in some sections and more packed in dirt in other sections. My friend Pat Price first took me on the route in 2011 and I've loved it since. You get some amazing views along the route that are worth the uphill run.
My goal for The Bear was to get one of the famous Mugs! You typically have to finish in the top 10% to get a mug. They are handmade and coveted awards. My other goals centered around beating friends. I wanted to beat some of my friends who had previously done The Bear before by at least a minute a mile. I also wanted to beat my friend Jason Tischer, Lucy's Dad. Beating Jase was going to be the hardest as I know how good of an uphill runner he is from all the runs we've done together. He's also an accomplished trail runner and winner of the Umstead 100 miles in 2015.
I went up to the mountains the day before the race to get mine and Jase's packets at Kidd Brewer Stadium on the Appalachian State University Campus. I met up with my friend Jerry at packet-pickup and we then headed out to dinner at the famous Coyote Kitchen. Race day arrived and I was ready to go but had to wait until the evening. Evening races are tough because of all the waiting to run.
Jase and I were able to park very close to the starting line. After I ate half a bagel we set off for an easy warm-up run. We ended up meeting our friends Matt and Amanda who decided to run that race as well. Matt is one of the Zap Fitness coaches and his wife Amanda has been one of our regular training partners when they lived in Cary. After that I did a scoop of Generation UCAN about 30 minutes before the start.
I felt good and just focused on maintaining my effort while holding something back for the last two miles. I knew miles two and three would be the "easiest" of the race as they had the least elevation with 250 feet. I ran mile two in 7:45, 6:32 GAP. I could have ran that mile faster but I was picking off runners who went out too fast and gaining on more so I felt fine with that. The flattest part of the race is the track at the Highland games at about mile 2.5. Once you come off the track you have a steep grass embankment to climb before you hit the asphalt road again. I picked the pace and effort up on mile three and ran mile three in 7:15, a 6:13 GAP.
I think I walked for the first time a little before mile four. Most people have to walk in this race at some point and usually multiple times. You really shouldn't be walking before 3.5-4 miles though as it's not bad until then. I hate walking in a race but knew I could get up the climb just as fast walking as I could trying to run at this point so I saved my effort and walked for 30 seconds. I actually passed a guy who was trying to run while I was power hiking. I started running again and ran mile four in 8:49, 6:18 GAP.
During the course of the last mile I did a couple more 30-40 second walk breaks and they helped a lot. At this point you're just trying to get to the top as soon as you can. I did look behind me a couple times and saw Jase wasn't far back. I had to hold him off and not let me by me during the final mile. To keep my focus on finishing strong I looked up to the top which may not have been a good thing cause it's a steep final climb. I was focused on catching more runners though and needed someone to focus on.