Sunday, April 3, 2011

Linville Gorge Madness Marathon Report!

But I can't wait to come back next year and do it all over again!

I'll give you some background information on this run before I get into the report side.  I came up with the idea of this run because I love the gorge.  It is without a doubt one of my most favorite places in the world.  So the thought of a run that would circumnavigate the gorge and reveal so many different aspects of its beauty had to be created.  And why not make it around the marathon distance?  I choose the trails we would run and made a 27ish (maybe 28) mile loop around the gorge with no thought of what the elevation gain of this run would be.  I knew it would be difficult, but it wasn't until I plugged the route into did I know just how hard it would be.  Approximately 10,000 ft of vertical gain in 27 miles! 19,000 ft of elevation change in those 27 miles!!!!  It hit me that I might have just created the hardest marathon in the country.


A few of us had decided to camp out near the start finish at Tablerock the night before and we thought, "Why not squeeze a run in before we set up camp?"  So Adam, Jeremy, Rob, and I ventured up the Jonas Ridge Trail up and over Sitting Bear Mtn and Gingercake Mtn for a quick 4ish mile run (Adam and Jeremy decided to hit up Hawksbil Mtn for an extra 3.5).  I had never been up to Sitting Bear and it was worth the trip.  I love discovering new trails and mountains.  After the run, we soon made it to the camp site and began setting up and trying to start a fire (took us about 2 hours).  Hannah and Martha joined us around 7:30 that night and we spent the rest of the evening cooking, conversing, and relaxing before the day ahead.  Sleep was hard to come by though.  As soon as we retired to the warmth of our sleeping bags and the coziness of our tents, a violent wind and ice storm come over the west rim of the gorge.  The wind was incredible to hear with gusts that must of reached 50 mph or more.   I kept hoping that our tents would survive the onslaught and by morning they had.  

The Run:

Everyone arrived around 8:30 except Matt Kirk who was running from his camp on the Pinchin Trail 6 miles away (plus the extra 20ish miles he ran to get to his camp the night before), but he arrived right around 8:45!  Matt is a beast! We gathered for a group photo and a little after 9 we began our arduous journey around the gorge. 

Back: Ryan, Andrew, Damian, Myself, Doug, Mike, Matt, Scott 

Front: Adam, Rob, Jeremy

What was really fun about this run was that we practically stayed close together the entire time.  Going over the Chimney's, down to Chimney Gap, up and over Shortoff Mtn, across the river, and up most of the climb to Pinnacle, we were all within a minute or two of each other.  It was great having all of the camaraderie through the run and I'm sure it helped everyone stay in good spirits.  The views, needless to say, were outstanding from Shortoff Mtn and it was fun running with almost the entire group through that section.  The river crossing was quite comical since the footing was slick with algae.  
The climb up Pinnacle was a bit tougher than I remembered it and the group soon began to disperse.  Mike was running the entire thing, and putting us all to shame.  Once you reach Pinnacle you hit Kistler Memorial Hwy and it still doesn't give you any relief as it steadily climbs up to our first aid station at the Pinchin trail head.   I ran with Rob, Damian, and Andrew on most of this section and was elated to see the aid station.  Hannah and Martha had everything set up out of the trunk of their Honda and being able to see everyone pretty much still there was another moral boost. 
Pinchin Aid
After refilling the bottles and loading up on food, everyone began the steep descent down the beautiful Pinchin Trail.  By the time we made it to the Linville Gorge Trail we were still pretty much all together and began what everyone agreed was the worst section in the entire run.  The trail is just rocks on top of boulders, down trees, branches, and so many little steep ups and downs.  It made for some really slow pace and just completely drained your energy.  Reaching the Conley Cove trail, which is straight uphill, was actually a relief.  This trail was beautiful by the way with generous switchbacks and non-technical terrain. 

By the time we reached the gravel rd again I was bonking, as was Jeremy, and we practically hiked the entire road to our next aid station at the Babel Tower trail head.  A few roadside campers offered us some PBR's and Coke's, but we denied the offer (Adam and Damian took them on that offer).  Seeing the aid station up ahead was a welcomed sight and the thoughts began buzzing in my head of dropping and hitching a ride back with Hannah.  But I was the creator and organizer of this run, I couldn't bail with only 6 miles to go.  So after some refueling I headed down the Babel Tower trail wishing I was sitting down in the car.  But after about 5 minutes, my legs came back and my energy seemed to be restored.  I was glad I had decided to keep going and was really happy throughout the second section of the Linville Gorge Trail, which was much easier and runnable than the first.  Andrew followed close behind me the entire way and helped my stay on the right path a couple of times. 
Tablerock Mtn from Linville Gorge Trail

By the time I reached the Spence Ridge Bridge, I had caught back up with Adam, Damian, and Ryan.  I wanted to hang with them the rest of the run, but I had no energy once the climbing began for the last 2 miles up to Tablerock Mtn.  They soon gaped me and I was all alone for the steepest of steep climbs up the Little Tablerock trail.  I felt like I was going at a snail's pace (probably was) up this steep ascent, but apparently I wasn't the only one.  Right before the summit of Tablerock a caught back up with Ryan and we summited together.  Adam was up there waiting on us.  I stopped my watch at 7:31:05 and had just completed the hardest run of my life. 
Little Tablerock from Little Tablerock Trail
Passing thoughts:
-Huge thanks to Hannah and Martha (our aid volunteers) for saving us on this grueling run.  Without you two, this run would have not been such a success.
-Thanks to everyone who came out and congratulations to all who attempted this run.  (Ryan, Adam, Jeremy, Matt, Rob, Mike, Andrew, Doug, Damian, Scott)
- Garmin data here: Linville Gorge Madness Marathon
- Make sure to stay tuned into WNC Trail Runner for future adventures
- Enjoy this little video I put together of the run and I hope to see you out there next year!


  1. I don't think I've ever had a more severe case of trail envy. That looks like such an awesome run! Good job putting it together! And, great work on the video!

  2. Hey Brandon. I'm pretty sure we haven't met, though I live in Boone. Great job on the run. I'm sure you found it to be quite the adventure. I've done a varation on this run twice, but i started/ended at Linville Falls lengthening the route as well as increasing the unertainty of the outcome. I have bonked hard and failed to complete the trip on a third ocassion. Anyway, if you'll send me a current email address to, then I'll relate a couple of stories from own Linville experiences. dan