Rock/Creek Race Team member Josh Wheeler ran the Mount Mitchell Challenge this weekend. The Challenge is a 40-mile race from the foot of the mountain to the top, and back down.
Josh finished 4th overall, out of 129 runners who entered the event. Along the way, he encountered a bit more adventure than expected! Full race results are available at the official race site. Here’s his race report from the event, originally posted on his own blog:
Going into Mt. Mitchell Challenge, I had my doubts. I had doubts about my fitness, my health, my nutrition and perhaps my sanity for even attempting the run. Since November, I have been targeting the Challenge in hopes of putting together the most competitive race possible on that given Saturday. For months, training went smoothly. I logged my base mileage then moved into a structured build phase which transitioned into a focused race/speed phase in the weeks preceding the race. This was all well and good until following Mt. Mist 50k the muscle running the length of my back locked up causing excruciating pain to run down the length of my back and feed into my right leg.
Needless to say with three weeks to go until the start of Mt. Mitchell, I was having trouble walking up a set of stairs. A very focused approach to physical therapy (thanks in large part to me assuming the role of Kristen’s PT practice dummy, yes, dummy) nursed me back to health. I was placed on a rigorous schedule of stretching, low level lasering, icing, messaging, more icing/lasering, more stretching, and a whole lot of ibuprofen . which got me to the start line of the Pilot Mountain Payback, a 15miler (“heavy half-marathon”) sudo-pain free with a week to go. Pilot Mountain went well. I battled back a respiratory infection all week only to find myself on the start line with a pounding headache and a raspy cough. The race unfolded with me exchanging leads with the eventual day’s winner. I took over the lead at the half-way point. The leader caught me on a downhill section and me not wanting to rip my still tender leg reluctantly gave over the lead and limped in around 30seconds after the winner. Congratulations goes out to fellow Sportiva athlete, Jason Bryant, who set a blistering new course record on the marathon while overcoming a 5 minute deficit at the half-way mark.
I got back from the race and essentially crawled into bed for the next three days. The respiratory infection, that I was battling during the previous week, took the better of me and I started to run a low-grade fever. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were pretty rough but by Wednesday I started to pull it together. Honestly, I was tremendously worried about my health and ability to start the race considering I could barely get out bed without becoming fully exhausted. I figured I would take it day by day and see what Saturday would bring.
Following work on Friday, Kristen and I drove to Asheville. We checked into the Presidential Suite at the Motel 8 and before I knew it alarms were blaring and we were meandering our way to the start line.
Before detailing the race, I want to extend my congratulations to Mark Lundbald on putting together the race of his life. At 42 years young the guy can still throw down against the best runners in the country. Old man strength!
So the race went off and the only thing I can remember is a man sprinting up the road wearing a large cowboy hat. Aside from the early antics, the race formed as I expected with the pre-race favorites taking control on the lower slopes of Mitchell. Up, up and away. For the first few miles, my respiratory infection seemed to be taking its toll as I was still hacking up all sorts of green goop in an effort to stay in the top five overall. Still unsure of where my fitness was, having only starting running back without pain a few days prior to the race, I was more than happy to sit in around fifth.
As we climbed, the race pace quicken once we hit the Toll road. Dane Mitchell and Kevin Lisska made it honest up to the marathon turn around point. Here the race fractured with Dane gaining a slight lead. Mark Lundblad was the only one able to respond. I figured with about a marathon still to run it was a little early to make a decisive move for the win. So I waited. Across the parkway, we entered into a stretch of trail bogged down from snow melt. I lost contact with the chase pack as my back started to lock up on the uneven trail.
Through the icy section, my back continued to lock up as I tried to stabilize myself from slipping off the edge of the mountain. At the top, I got word that I was not too far off the chase pack. Interestingly, I also found that I was sitting in fifth overall with Dane Mitchell apparently having taken a wrong turn. (It was later determined that Dane had slipped on the ice and separated his shoulder).
Once we moved onto the pavement on the road down, my back completely locked up and I had trouble breathing. At the marathon turnaround, my dad, brother and mom were waiting. I told them that my back was locked and it difficult for me to breath. My brother gave me a quick pep-talk that went something like this:
Josh: “Dude, my back is spasming. It is pushing down on my diaphragm (gasp). I am having trouble breathing.”
Jake: “You could call it for the day.”
Josh: “Take my ipod. I’ll see you at the finish”
I laid into the descent and before I knew it my back had loosened up. I was running in complete control. At the bottom of Appalachian Way, I saw the fourth place runner. I paced myself up to him and not wanting to get into a sprint finish, moved quickly past. Rounding the lake, I was determined to finish under 5:15. I am very happy with how the race turned out considering fighting through the flu and injury over the last few weeks. I am looking forward to building on my fitness through the Umstead Marathon and into Way too Cool 50k.
It has often been said that it takes a village. This race definitely took a village to overcome injury and illness to find my way to the finish. Thank you for all the support from my friends, family and sponsors. A special shoutout to La Sportiva and Rock/Creek for all that you do to help me reach the finish line.
Check out the NEW (!!!) R/C website to learn about our newest Race Team Member, the 2011 Toyota 4Runner. In the Toyota’s debut race, she took home top honors in the team car division. Be sure to look for the Toyota out training on the roads around the Chattanooga area in preparation for the next R/C event.
Good luck, Josh, at the upcoming Umstead Trail Marathon and Way Too Cool 50k. We’d also like to wish fellow Rock/Creek Race Team standout Dane Mitchell a speedy recovery, after a nasty spill on some ice took him out of the lead — and the race! — at Mt Mitchell.