Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Crowder's Mountain 30K (or was it Ridgeline 26K?)

Since I had been planning on running 17-20 miles this past weekend, I figured that I would treat myself and take a road trip to North Carolina to run the Crowder’s Mountain 30K. I met up with Christian Griffith and Kim Fuller and we headed to NC Friday afternoon. I had seen Christian at a bunch of different races and followed his blog, but I had never spent much time with him (and had never met Kim). It’s always good to hear about other people’s perspectives on the sport and to find out what their goals are. The hotel we stayed at was nice, but we had a heck of a time finding Christian a good steak for dinner. Just as we were about to give up, we found an Outback Steakhouse. There’s a good story about our driving around greater Gastonia, but Christian can tell it better than I can (just ask him some time). (Pictured [from left]: Perry Sebastian, Vikena Gavalas Yutz, Matt Silva, Chrstian Griffith, Kim Fuller, Kim Pike[?])

None of us had any idea what to expect from the race, as there was no course description, map, profile, or anything of that nature on the website. All I knew was that some time during the race we would cross from one Carolina to the other. Although I was disappointed that only 16 people entered the two races total, it was nice to be able to register on race day and not have to sit by the computer to try to register for an ultra 7 months in advance. Upon registration I received race #290 from the Boiling Springs YMCA 5K Turkey Trot; each runner had a random race number from a different race! I also received a gray T-Shirt that was plain except for the left breast, which had “Ridgeline 30K/60K” and four crisscrossing lines (representing the ridgeline, no doubt). I appreciate a race tee that is free from ubiquitous sponsor’s logos, which clutter up a shirt and are ineffective in promoting one’s product/business.

I planned on running the race with a controlled effort but not racing it all out. I hoped to average around 9 minute-miles for the 18 or so miles I thought I would travel. Of the 16 of us, just 5 or so planned to do “only” 30K, so I was pretty sure I would finish in the top 5. The course was point-to-point for the 30Kers and an out and back for the 60Kers. The race director and the guy running the aid station at the finish/turnaround gave us 30Kers a ride back to the start. The race started off up a gravel road, and although I started off conservatively, not knowing how far up we would be going, I was soon all by myself out front. The road kept going up for about 1.5 miles, and near the top it got steep, so I started walking. As soon as I began to walk I saw red tape indicating that we were leaving gravel for some single-track. The first ¼ mile or so on the single-track consisted of hopping for rock to rock. I couldn’t get into any kind of a rhythm and couldn’t even really run so much as scramble, and was dreading having to do this for another 16 miles, but a footpath soon emerged. After about 2.5 miles, we crossed our first road; we would cross four and could expect aid at each one. I was running so fast (9:30/mile!) I got to the road crossing just as the volunteers were driving up. I had a bottle with me and was only doing 30K so I didn’t need much aid, certainly not this early on. At this point the course was rolling, with downhills generally before the road crossings and uphills after crossing the road.

Just after my Garmin 205 gave told me I was at 4 miles (38:42), I encountered the second serious uphill (the first being the gravel road), the climb to Crowder’s Mountain. I walked as fast as I could but it was slowgoing and my calves and quads were burning. After .6 miles we turned left at an intersection and flattened out as we were going away from the peak of Crowder’s Mountain. We had some nice flat and downhills for a few miles, and I was able to start running 8 minute miles pretty comfortably. After either the second or third road crossing (somewhere in mile 7), I encountered what would turn out to be the final serious climb (I was counting on at least one more). It was not too steep and very runnable, and I alternated running and walking. Had I known that this was the last real climb, I might have run the whole thing. From here to the end the course was very runnable, with some ups but more downs and flats. I was feeling great and enjoyed seeing my average pace continue to drop. Just before the two-hour mark (just short of 13 miles), my Garmin lost reception and I lost focus for a little bit, but soon thereafter, I turned and began following blue blazes (we began following red). I remembered the course director saying that when we hit the blue blazes we were 2 miles for the end, but based on what my Garmin had been telling be, I thought I had about 5 more to go. The course dropped until it met up with a river, and then turned right and followed the river upstream and consequently uphill. I focused on concentrating and maintaining a controlled effort but walked some of the uphills, since I was still unsure of how far I had to go. Soon thereafter, I arrived at what turned out to be the final aid station. I asked if I was done and they said that I was, so I stopped my watch, which read 2:17:10. Based on talking to other runners and seeing other Garmins that didn’t lose coverage, I would guess that the course is somewhere between 16 and 16.5 miles long. Let’s call it 16.15, which is 26K, making my average pace just under 8:30/mile.

I wanted to get in between 18 and 20, and since I thought I had only run 15 miles, I ran the last 1.5 miles out and back to get it another 3 miles. Later in the day I ran 1 more mile to make it 20 for the day. The race was a real confidence booster. I know that my fitness is improving, as I am getting slightly faster week by week. Now I need to continue to increase the volume so that I can keep this pace for 50 miles. I also need to start running some serious hills. I plan to head to the AT several times in the next few months and run Christian’s Meat Grinder, as well as getting on the treadmill and trying out Dan Rose’s Treadmil Death March.


  1. yes!

    great first blog post - glad to have ya in the digital ultrarunning world.

    a worthy addition.

    be cool, matt - hope to meet up again soon.

  2. Congrats on your win and WELCOME to the blogosphere!

  3. It was still 37 miles. I know it was.

  4. Enjoyed reading about the Crowders race, I was glad to hear how long our new Ridgeline portion of the trail is!