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The Naturalist 50K

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Outdoor 76 store is awesome. They put on this race and a Fall celebration.

76 Outdoors store, that put the race on. The AT thru hikers signed this, as they went through.

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picture/shirt of Wayah Bald 5300 plus feet

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ski lift bench in front of the store

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“I’m Difficult” nice registration shirt-front

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back of registration shirt

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Wallace Branch trail head, where the trail starts

I had not seen bottled pickle juice before. They had them at every aid station. I must have had 6 total, during the race

easy single track, but lots of climbing!

Maria and I visited Lazy Hiker Brewery after the race, shower and dinner. What a great place!

I found this race on Ultra-signup several months ago and was immediately interested. I love Western NC, it has a ton of mostly single track cllimbing to a peak-bald-lookout tower..and is held at a very cool AT town.

Article race info

Ultrasignup info and registration

They also have a Fall celebration, which the race is a part of. The celebration has live music, craft beer, chili cookoff, smores and food trucks. Fall celebration

It is an out and back, which usually is viewed as a slight negative, but I was very good with this. It goes up to a peak/bald called Wayah Bald. Wayah Bald has a very cool rock lookout tower on it. Wayah Bald

The main part of the race, is on the Bartram Trail. It is a 115 mile trail that goes from North GA to Western NC. We were only on 11 miles of it, but pretty cool.

Bartram Trail info link

Article on overall Bartram Trail with listed highlight of Wayah Bald

One of the different things, was that they called drop bags, “cache bags”. I asked the RD about that and he did not have a reason..just said it is the same thing. I liked their system of stickering each bag with your bib number and aid station number. More efficient and easy to read, than any other race I have been to. The 50Kers got 3 total cache bags..one for each aid station (3 aid stations), so 6 total cache bag opportunities.

The race has a 25K and 50K option. The 25K is a point to point race. There is a finish at the top and those runners can get shuttled back or have their own ride. There is gravel road that goes up to the bald. The 50K is around 31 miles and 8500 climb. The 25K is around 15.5 and 6500 climb. Heavy climbing! These are set up as 2 races, so 50Kers cannot give up at the 25K and get a 25K finish. Otherwise, the race starts together and goes same course to the Bald. The 50Kers come back.

I talked to a lady, before the race, that was running the 25k with a prosthetic blade. She was special invite, I believe. Much admiration for her. Instagram link on special invite lady

The race starts in downtown Franklin, by the Outdoor 76 store, that puts it on. You run on road for 3.5 miles, before getting to the trailhead. The Trailhead is called Wallace Branch. The next 11 miles will be very nice forested single track.

There is a lookout around 4 miles up, called William’s pulpit, but it is a few yards off trail. I did not check it out, since this was a race.

One of the things I had no idea about, before the race, was if the trail was technical or not. If it was technical, that would add a lot of time, on top of all the climbing we had to do. As you can see, from the pictures, the trail was not technical. It was all very nice single track. Easy, as far as that part goes.

I got really hot, when the climbing started, early in the race. I was worried about getting overheated. Thankfully, it got cooler, as I climbed and there was a decent breeze, on the ridge.

There was a ton of climbing, going up, but I was ready for it. I was surprised at how much downhill, there was, going up..

I talked to 2 people, separately, on the way up. I’ll do that, on races like this. If close to each other, I’ll ask where they are from. That usualy gets a conversation going. First person was a 31 year old guy, from Cookeville TN. He had done the White River 50 miler in WA, recently. He said it was amazing and a destination race. He also said he slept in his car, in the store parking lot, fo this race. He soon left me in his wake. (We did talk again, after the race).

The other person I talked to, was a 23 year old lady. She was from Western NC, but had just graduated from UNC Wilmington. She was a softball pitcher for them. She had walked on, but worked her way into a scholarship, later. This was her first trail race and first long distance race. She did well. We finished the 25k together, in under 4 hours. She finished at the 25K and I told her congrats.

Back to the race. Some of the climbs near the top, were really tough. At the top, the 25kers finished. The 50Kers had to do a mile or two out and back, go around the 25K finish, then do the same out and back again. The Wayah Bald lookout tower was at the 25k finish, which was a highlight of the race. Unfortunately, it was so foggy, I couldn’t see it. I planned to go back the next morning and see the tower and view.

I did the double out and back, which was on a gravel road. I had to stamp my bib both times. I am sure they did the out and back to get the needed 50k mileage. While out and backs are not ideal, I understand. Lots of races have those type of out and backs. It was not bad at all. It was nice seeing the other runners going both ways.

I headed back down the wooded 11 miles. I was expecting mostly downhill, but was totally shocked at how much uphill there was. I would get up one and then encounter another, then another. I cannot tell you how shocked I was. I was alone the entire way back. I got to the mile 21.6 aid station and only had 6 to go to the last aid station, which is where the road starts.

After trudging through those miles, I got to the last aid station and the road. I had 3.5 miles to go. Mostly country road and gradual town, then downtown. This road, going back, was a small negative on the race. There were several blind curves with traffic. I switched sides of the road two or 3 times. I was slower on this stretch than I had thought I would be. I trudged in. Very nice finish and reception. My time was around 8:17.

see the route

As a final sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed the race, the terrain, the atmosphere, the people that put it on, and the city of Franklin. I was happy with how I felt the whole way and how I performed. I had FUN…was happy the whole time…never discouraged or miserable. I would definitely do it again.

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Seven Sisters 25K trail race-April 20, 2019

I have not done a race report in a long time, but people ask me about some of the races, or other adventures that I do, and want to hear details about them. This is about the Seven Sisters 25K trail race in Montreat NC. Many of you saw my Strava and Instagram posts, so the pictures are the same.

First, the Montreat and Black Mountain, NC area is a fantastic area and one of my favorite places to visit. It is close to Asheville, in Western NC. Just visiting Montreat and Black Mountain, without hiking the trails is amazing, but the trails and mountains are a huge part of the area.

The “Seven Sisters” are seven mountain peaks on the range in Montreat and Black Mountain. The range is less than 4 miles, but there are 7 smaller peaks, then the “granddad of the sisters” Greybeard peak. Greybeard tops out at 5408 feet. Greybeard information: https://www.summitpost.org/graybeard-mountain/755613

This is the video from Tanawha Adventures, who puts the race on.

https://www.tanawhaadventures.com/7sisters25k

Copy and past from above website: “The Seven Sisters 25k is a monstrous mountain of a run around the East and West ridges of the Montreat Wilderness! This route is a Western North Carolina classic, but it will be the first time it will be held as a race. Although short in distance, this route will leave you in awe at its beauty and its difficulty.
The route passes over multiple peaks and overlooks including; Lookout Rocks, Rocky Head, Graybeard, Rattlesnake Rocks, and of course the Seven Sisters themselves along the treacherous West Ridge Trail. Come prepared to run this beast!
Prior Trail Running Experience Required to Participate!
Refunds granted minus $20 up to 60 days prior to the event. No transfers/deferments at any time.”

The Numbers

Distance: 25 Kilometers….ish (15ish miles) (Garmin reads 14 miles)

Elevation Gain: ~4,000 ft (Garmin reads between 3900 and 4100)

Percentage Trail: ~95% (starts and ends on .5 paved road in Montreat)

Time Limit: 5 hours (for reference, it took me 3 hr 39 min/66th place overall out of 150 that finished/155 started/5 did not finish/40 did not show up….overall winner was 2:04)

Aid Stations: Miles ~4 (10:20am cutoff) & ~8 (11:40am cutoff)

This Trail Run Project link/app tells you all you need to about the course. You can use GPS to follow the course, through the free app:

https://www.trailrunproject.com/trail/7024275/7-sisters-25k?utm_medium=widget&utm_source=https://www-tanawhaadventures-com.filesusr.com/html/7462e4_91580ceb6f8859dcb4a45845bbd2c157.html

There was a scare before the race, that we were not going to be able to run the whole course. The weather the day before the race was horrible, with major rain and tornado activity. I saw one report say that Western NC had not received that much rain in over 100 years. There was a threat of snow and freezing rain on race day. The race director had 3 different options of what could happen. The race was going to go on, but the worst option was a 6 mile race! I was horrified of the chance of anything, but the full 25K loop. Thank God the weather did not get too bad and we had the full course. This is only the second year of this race. The first year was shortened due to snow and ice.

I thoroughly enjoyed the race and am very happy with it. It was not that I had a great finish time (I was middle of the pack)…it was that I had a great time, as in fun. Between it being in the amazing Montreat/Black Mnt area, the atmosphere, the amount of technicality/climb/elevation/views and the weather, it was a perfect fit for me. I felt great the whole way and was able to enjoy it all. I stopped several times to take pictures, but pushed myself hard, otherwise.

It is a tough course and race. A lot of technical trail with a lot of climbing. I was able to do a lot of long climbing training runs/hikes recently, like Day Creek/Black Horse Gap, Priest/3 Ridges, Grandfather and Linville Gorge..I am sure that helped a lot. While not an ultra, it runs like a mini ultra. Does not compare to the Promise Land 50k and other ultras, that some of my friends are doing this weekend and I have done in past. It is just hard enough and just long enough to be fun..if you know what I mean.

After .5 of pavement you enter the single track of Rainbow Road(trail) and Lookout trail. This part has some portions that are steep wooden steps, that I did not get a picture of. There is some of that on the video. The rest of the course is climbing for the most part, with small descents in the mix, until you get to mile 9-top of Greybeard. The mile 8 to 9 climb to Greybeard was the toughest part, I thought. There were 2 small out and backs to views. Most of the last downhill from mile 9 is very technical. The last mile or so of trail is easy, then the last mile or so of road is super fast and easy. I posted some pictures of the trail being very wet, but the trails were in great shape, considering the prior weather. The wet did not slow me down much, maybe some.

The temp at the start was around 41. I am a cold weather runner, so this was ideal for me. On top of that, there was a light snow, in the high elevations, for around half the race… that was another ideal for me. To start off with, I had a short sleeve shirt, a light long sleeve shirt and a Houdini shell on. I had another Houdini in the hydration pack. I had way too many clothes with me (4 top layers and shorts). The theat of snow, freezing rain and cold temps caused me to over pack and wear. I took off the Houdini and the long sleeve short after a couple miles. I ran in short sleeve shirt and shorts the rest of the way and felt great, even though the temp may have been in the high 3Os at times.

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Elevation profile of race..mile 9 was the highest peak-Greybeard 5404 feet. Mile 9 to 12 were still very technical and not very runnable, even though down hill. Mile 12 to 13.5 or so were smooth downhill trail. The last .5 to 1 mile is fast downhill pavement.

You can see from the website and video, that there are several views and they can be incredible. We had a few good views, but most of them were foggy and cloudy. That did not make the race any less great.

While it is somewhat comparable to the GrandFurther 25K in Boone NC, it is not as technical as that course. A lot of this is runnable, if you have the endurance to climb that much while running technical trail. I averaged around a 15 minute pace.

I highly highly recommend the race and make sure you take the weekend to spend some time in Montreat and Black Mountain. Trailhead Restaurant/bar, Dripolater coffeehouse, Take a Hike outdoor store, Epic Cycles bike shop and Vertical Runner running store (where packet pickup was) is a few of the local places that we have been to and like a lot. There are a few breweries and Cider places…Pisgah, Black Mountain and Lookout, to name a few. Maria did a nice 20 mile bike ride, while I was racing, called the North Fork. Sunday, we did a short ride into Montreat and back. We would have done the Town and Country bike ride, but the storm had caused an issue on that route.

The one negative is that the registration shirt was awful, for me. Please do a graphic of the 7 Sisters plus Greybeard mountain range, next time, RD. We did get a nice pair of 7 Sister logo (just the words) socks as a finisher award.

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Maria took the finish pics.