Like the runners they attract, each Mountain Sports Festival footrace has its own personality. One contest offers a dog-friendly trot in the woods, while another encourages a spirited charge through a forest — complete with 12 river crossings. And the third is a downtown Asheville dash that brings together both elite athletes and those runners who count themselves victorious simply by reaching the finish line.
Trail Hound Trail Trot
[The Trail Hound Trail Trot is a three-mile race for runners and their dogs. Participants should bring a leash and water for their pets. Presented by Liberty Bicycles (with additional sponsor, the Trail Hound Gear Shop), the race begins at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 7, at the Alexander Mountain Bike Facility.]
A.J. Nidek rarely goes anywhere without his canine companion, Maize, a 19-month-old yellow Lab. So it seems only natural that he and fellow dog lover Jay Schoon would hit on the idea of a race that lets contestants team up with their dogs.
“If you want to walk the dog for three miles, that’s fine, too,” observes Nidek, the race director. “It’s more important to spend some quality time with your dog. That’s really what the focus is.”
The three-mile loop at the Alexander Mountain Bike Facility features rolling terrain with no extremely long climbs or descents, reports Nidek, calling it “semi-technical at best.” In fact, the Trail Trot follows the same course that will host the Second Chance Time Trial, a mountain-bike race against the clock, immediately following the Trail Trot.
Although Nidek envisions the event as a family-friendly affair that’s more romp than race, he allows that some runners will be driven to best each other at the finish line. (And while he hopes dogs will be in abundance at the event, runners without dogs are welcome, too.)
All dogs must be leashed, and Nidek fully expects to see runners tangled up in knots with their canine friends.
“It’s gonna happen,” he cheerfully predicts.
All entrance fees will go to the Asheville Humane Society’s Pets for the Elderly program (which covers the $70 cost for an older adult to adopt a pet from the society).
From Asheville, take Hwy. 19/23 North to the UNCA exit. Turn left onto Riverside Drive/Hwy. 251 and travel about 6.5 miles. At the stop sign by the prison, continue straight (a T-intersection, so bear left gently). Continue about five miles. Parking is on the left.
7:45 a.m. on site. A registration “donation” of at least $5 is requested.
Prizes will go to the top-three male and top-three female (human) finishers.
Who to watch
Rosie, a black Lab/pit bull mix. “She’s going to run somebody,” offers Race Director A.J. Nidek. “We’re not sure who the person is yet.”
Best viewing spots
The start/finish line and the halfway point watering station.
Trace Ridge Time Trial Trail Race
[This competition — for experienced trail runners only — includes 12 river crossings in a challenging nine-mile-plus course. Presented by Black Dome Mountain Shop, Jus’ Running and The Lower Arden Track Club, the race starts at 4 p.m. on Friday, June 6 at Trace Ridge trailhead.]
When it comes to this grueling event, only experienced trail runners need apply, cautions Race Director Adam Pinkston.
The Trace Ridge Time Trial covers nine-plus miles of terrain ranging from a dirt road to a rocky, narrow trail. A full dozen crossings of the Mills River are thrown in for good measure. Participants (limited to 60) take off at the rate of one per minute.
In a new twist, this year’s route will be run in the reverse direction from that taken in the past two years. That means the river crossings will now come during the race’s final three miles, making for a splashy conclusion to the challenge.
“There’s all different kind of environs you’ve got to deal with,” Pinkston says with satisfaction.
An accomplished cross-country runner himself, Pinkston declares American cross-country racing to be in a “sad state,” with even cross-country national races largely taking place on golf courses. In contrast, he likens the Trace Ridge event to a version of European “fell running,” which asks athletes to leap fences and ford creeks.
Although Pinkston says he still loves road racing, he confesses that his real passion is trail running — even though he doesn’t think it will ever achieve the same high-profile exposure.
“It’ll never be huge,” he muses, “but it’s amazing how much more fun it is.”
From Asheville, take I-26 East to N.C. 280 South, toward Brevard. Just past the junction with N.C. 191, turn right at North Mills River Road (see sign for North Mills River Recreation Area). Drive five miles to Wash Creek Road (FR 5000); turn right. Go two miles, then turn left on Hendersonville Reservoir Road (FR 142). Parking is on the right, and the start is a half-mile up the road. Parking is limited; car-pooling is encouraged.
$25. Pre-registration (a requirement) closes on Wednesday, June 4. Entry forms are available at Black Dome Mountain Shop (251-2001) and Jus’ Running (252-7867).
Specially-designed T-shirts for all finishers. The top overall male and female winners (plus randomly-selected finishers) will win merchandise from Black Dome Mountain Shop.
Who to watch
Thomas Cason (Black Mountain) and Will Harlan (Asheville); Maureen Kavenaugh and Holly Kledis (Asheville).
Best viewing spots
From the Trace Ridge trailhead, walk down Hendersonville Reservoir Road for about 600 yards, then turn left to take a trail down to the river. Or take your mountain bike down Hendersonville Reservoir Road from the trailhead; look to the left for the runners weaving in and out of the river.
Contact Adam Pinkston at email@example.com.
Tortoise & Hare 5k Run/Walk
[This event follows a two-loop course that winds through downtown Asheville. Presented by Tortoise & Hare Running Outfitters, the run and walk begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 7 at City/County Plaza.]
In this road race, the elite athletes and the rest of us get to rub shoulders — but not for long.
In last year’s inaugural race, the top-two male finishers (Kenyans, naturally) finished the 3.1-mile course in just under 15 minutes.
“Those guys are out there competing for money, but most people are competing to have a good race, or a good run … or have a good excuse to drink beer,” observes Race Director Randy Ashley. “If you just had races for the elite, you wouldn’t have many participants.”
(Speaking of elites, Ashley himself was a two-time Olympic trials qualifier in the marathon, so he knows whereof he speaks.)
Last year’s top woman competitor, meanwhile, finished at 18:35, notes Ashley, adding: “We’d love to see women come in and break 18 minutes.”
Along with faster runs this year, Ashley hopes the race will attract twice as many runners — 200 competed last year — as well as more walkers.
“You can get out there and actually be a part of the sport,” Ashley says encouragingly. “It’s just a fun way to be a part of something.”
City/County Plaza sits in the heart of downtown Asheville, in front of Asheville City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse.
$15 pre-registration at Tortoise & Hare Running Outfitters (Biltmore Park off Long Shoals Road). Race-day registration is $20. (The first 300 entrants are guaranteed a T-shirt.)
Cash awards to the top-three men and top-three women; plus cash awards for one male and one female in the masters category. Another cash prize goes to whoever sets a course record.
Who to watch
The Kenyans (likely contenders); Anne Riddle (Asheville).
Best viewing spots
City/County Plaza, the Vance Monument at Pack Square, Haywood Street near the Civic Center, and the brick part of Market Street.
Call Randy or Mark at 681-5325, or check out www.thrunning.com.