Last weekend, I ran the Table Rock Ultra—one of the most scenic and spectacular races in the South. Along the rim of the dramatic Linville Gorge Wilderness, I savored the scent of the spruce forest, the crunch of my footsteps in the scree, and the whisper of the wind high in the trees.
The race offers both a 50K and a 54 mile option; both races climb from Lake James to the rim of the river-carved Linville Gorge; the 50K turns around at a scenic overlook,while the 50 miler wraps all the way around the gorge and climbs Table Rock, its steepest and most awe-inspiring summit.
After running the 54-miler last year, I opted for the 50K this year. The 50K was both tough and beautiful, but I secretly wished I had run the 50-miler again: the thrilling views atop Table Rock are worth the agony of reaching its summit.
Table Rock already attracts top-notch elite athletes: Mark Lundblad pulled away from Paul Scouten in the 54-miler, setting a course record of 7:27. Yet it still feels like an old-school ultra: low-key, no frills, a small group of dedicated runners, and a beautiful, challenging mountain course. About 100 runners finished this year. It is superbly organized, with bountiful aid stations (and even an aid station trivia contest), handcrafted awards for winners, and a handshake from the race director at the finish line. Race director Mark Rostan personally manned aid stations and directed runners at turnaround points to make sure his races went smoothly. He has organized what I believe will be the next big ultra in the Blue Ridge. The start/finish at Lake James, the dramatic climb to Table Rock, and the stunning views of the wilderness are destined to attract even more runners in years to come.
For now, though, I’ll cherish the goose-bumped moments of running beside the South’s deepest canyon and soaking in its stunning silence.