Time and Place
In 2017, the Cloudsplitter100 was held early October in the Jefferson National Forest with a start and finish in Norton, Virginia. In previous years, however, the race took place on the trails of Kentucky’s Pine Mountain (more on that later).
Moderate to Ultramarathon: 25 km; 50 km; 100 km; 100 miles.
50 km, October 2017
Right in the heart of the Appalachian mountains, the 50 km out-and-back course consists of little to no flats, lending itself to a full day of gradual to steep ascents and descents. The course varies from road (less than 5%) to double- and single-track trail; and from nicely packed to slightly technical. Although the elevation gain throughout the course is significant, I found the grades were relatively manageable, making the 50K challenging yet enjoyable.
There are a significant number of water crossings (approximately 10 for the 50 km; over 50 for the 100 km and 100 mile). Depending on the season, a fall race date can result in drier conditions, but pack your gators and cross your fingers if getting wet isn’t your thing!
For those considering the 100 km and 100 mile distances, note that the most difficult and technical part of the trail is found in the latter section of the course.
50 km: 7,713 ft
The aid stations were well stocked with incredibly friendly volunteers. Although they were well spaced, carrying water and a few extra snacks was crucial.
Things to Consider
Weather can vary: average temperatures in early October range from 7 to 21 degrees Celsius and from dry to incredibly wet. To keep things interesting, because the course is set within the mountains all of this can fluctuate within a day.
Autumn in Appalachia brings fog, settling in at dusk and sometimes lasting until well after dawn.
The ruggedness of the course lends itself to some spectacular wildlife: A fellow participant who finished only a few minutes before me saw three black bears just off of the trail. Although rare, participants should also have an eye for Copperhead snakes that can easily blend into the falling autumn leaves.
The Cloudsplitter is a small race, which sometimes means being alone on the trails. BUT, only if you want to be. The camaraderie and support throughout the participant community was like no other. Time nor distance seemed to matter; we were all in the challenge together.
Due to access issues in previous years, the course was completely rerouted for 2017. Since this was the first year with a revised course, it is possible that alterations may be made accordingly in the future.
The course is remote: rugged and wild with minimal cell service. AKA: My kind of place 🙂
Our large Cloudsplitter trail crew dropped quickly in numbers as we approached the 50 km halfway point; the others continued on to tackle the 100 km and 100 mile distances.
With less than 16 kilometers left to go, there were only three of us left. As we made our way back up to High Knob, the last ascent of the course, we were engrossed in conversation about training when the Adirondacks came up.
The Great Range Traverse made its way into conversation when I was asked if I had a blog. After stating the title, the response I received was completely unexpected: ‘Wait, did you say Fail, Laugh, Learn!?’
Who else had I been running with this whole time but Steph! A triathlete and the only other Cloudsplitter Trainee I could find on WordPress.
How great it was to meet a fellow blogger! And how thankful I am to the two of them for their company.
If you haven’t already, go check her out.
Three Lasting Impressions
- Super friendly;
- A great challenge for my first ultramarathon; and
*With access issues on Pine Mountain in previous years, the entirety of the race had to be rerouted and redesigned. Watching the progress as it occurred, I was wary of whether or not the event would be canceled this year. Instead, the race director organized a brand new event in only a few months time. Sincere appreciation goes to her and Norton for making it all take form. The town was a perfect choice showing nothing but support from the friendly volunteers and sincere enthusiasm from the local community.
Legend has it that the Jefferson National Forest is home to the Woodbooger, Virginia’s version of Bigfoot. What are those noises I heard out there…?
For climbers: Norton is located just two and a half hours Southeast of the Red River Gorge. You can easily do both in the same trip 😉
‘So far this feels like a running party with strangers!’ – fellow 50-km comrade as we conquered the course with 10 other newly-made trail friends.
Would Run Again?
The lengthy commute from Ontario to Virginia makes a weekend trip difficult, but if opportunity presented itself, I would love to partake in the unique running party of the Cloudsplitter 100 again.
Questions? Happy to answer them. Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear about your experience!