One of the region’s oldest and most celebrated trail races takes off this Saturday: the Shut-In Ridge Trail Run. The 17.8-mile race begins at Bent Creek near Asheville, N.C., and climbs over 3,000 feet along rugged, leaf-covered, rock-strewn trails to the Mount Pisgah parking lot. Over 200 of the top trail runners tackle Shut-In each year. Among the frontrunners will be Scott Williams and Mark Driscoll in the men’s race, and Katie Driscoll, Mandy Meyer, Alisha Little, and Kate Gibson on the women’s side. Race organizers Jane Roane and Norman Blair have been organizing this fall classic for years, and their cadre of volunteers are an equally dedicated crew.

“The leaf fall is heavy this year, but the trail itself is the best it has ever looked,” says race co-director Jane Roane. That’s due to the backbreaking hours of trail maintenance performed by some of the region’s top trail runners, including Mark Lundblad, Matt Roane, Dwight Shuler, and Chris Campbell. All year, these trail volunteers weedwhack and clear the trail; as a result, Shut-In has never been in better shape. As Shut-In runners are slogging up the final climb from Highway 151, they no longer can blame the tall weeds or brush blocking the trail for their painfully slow progress.

Don’t want to torture yourself with 18 miles of trail hell? Shut-In is one of the most spectator-friendly races in the country. The Shut-In Trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, so fans can watch the action from any of the overlooks between the Arboretum and Mount Pisgah. It’s a perfect excuse to soak in the fall foliage and cheer on the region’s toughest trail runners. The race begins at 10 a.m. at the North Carolina Arboretum.