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Top Ten Toughest Trail Runs in the Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine - Dirty Deeds: Toughest Trail Runs in the Blue Ridge

The Tough Mudder: Trail running with a side of sadistic torture. 

It takes strong legs and an iron will to get you over the hills and through the woods at these toughest trail races in the Blue Ridge.

1. The Gauntlet — 5 Mi
Boone, N.C. • September 24
The length of this extreme trail race at Cooper’s Farm in Boone is actually 4.3 miles, but what time you save in distance you’ll most certainly lose trying to conquer daunting man-made obstacles along the course. Runners battle wooden walls, a massive mud pit, and giant hay bales, as well as multiple creek crossings and a lung-busting hill climb known as “The Monster.”
Also try: Gunter’s Grunt and Grind Guntersville, Ala. • October 15

2. Rock 2 Rock — 10K
Black Mountain, N.C. • May 2012
Add 60 percent to your typical 10K time on this course, which climbs literally straight uphill for the first three miles. In addition to the punishing elevation gain, the terrain tests runners with gnarly terrain filled with roots, rocks, and low limbs. 
Also try: Hickory Mountain 10K Brevard, N.C. • October 1

3. Battle at Big Creek — 15k
Roswell, Ga. • November 5
The elevation gain of the Big Creek Park trails is relatively mild, but the Battle’s technical course promises to keep you guessing. You’ll scamper around plenty of rocks and sneaky roots along this nine-mile course at one of metro Atlanta’s most scenic escapes.
Also try: Paris Mountain 15K Greenville, S.C. • November 5

4. Conestoga Trail Run — 10 mi
Holtwood, Pa. • September 25
Branded a trail race with 10 “hillish” miles— the toughest on the East Coast—the Conestoga Trail Run gains a breathtaking 3,000 feet as it traverses the rugged rural hill country of south-central Pennsylvania.
Also try: Mountwood 10-Mile Challenge Parkersburg, W.Va. • September 17

5. Shut-In Ridge Run — 18 mi
Asheville, N.C. • November 6
Runners climb over 5,000 feet on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from the North Carolina Arboretum near Asheville to the Mount Pisgah trailhead on a burly 17.8-mile course of insanely technical singletrack. Expect to walk. 
Also Try: Big South Fork 17.5 Mile Trail Race Oneida, Tenn. • September 24

6. Mystery Mountain — Marathon
Chattanooga, Tenn. • October 9 
Flat is not a word associated with the Mystery Mountain Marathon, which takes place at Fort Mountain State Park. Over 26.2 miles, runners endure 15,000 feet of elevation change through a relentless course that’s rewarded with vast panoramic North Georgia mountain views.
Also Try: Twisted Ankle Marathon Summerville, Ga. • May 2012 

7. Upchuck — 50K
Chattanooga, Tenn. • November 12
The entire 31 miles of this hurl-inducing, minimally supported race takes place on the Cumberland Trail’s technical singletrack. The rocky and root-filled rollercoaster features epic climbs and descents into Soddy Creek, Possum Creek, and Rock Creek. 
Also Try: Laurel Valley 50K Ohiopyle, Pa. • June 2012

8. Mount Mitchell Challenge — 40 mi
Black Mountain, N.C. • February 25, 2012 
Take off at dawn from Black Mountain and run to the top of the highest peak in the East. You’ll climb 4,324 feet in the first 20 miles along slushy, snow-covered trails to the 6,684-foot summit of Mount Mitchell, before returning back to town. 
Also Try: Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run Davis, W.Va. • June 2012

9. Mountain Masochist — 50 Mi
Lynchburg, Va. • November 5
A classic course created by ultra-running pioneer David Horton back in 1983, the Mountain Masochist traverses the rugged heart of the Virginia Blue Ridge backcountry, along the way climbing 9,000 feet. 
Also Try: Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Chattanooga, Tenn. • December 17

10. Hellgate — 100K
Natural Bridge Station, Va. • December
Do it in the dark. Hellgate starts at 12:01am from Natural Bridge Station and ruts through the desolate mountains to Fincastle. Along the way, the 100 or so runners in the limited field deal with single-digit temps, bone-chilling water crossings, and an icy roller coaster of monster climbs and rocky downhills.
Also Try: Trail Runner Ultra of Champions 100K Wintergreen, Va. • September 24

Ok, actually there’s 11. Barkley 100 Marathon — 100 Mi
Frozen Head State Park, Tenn. • March
Ten people have finished in 16 years. Year after year, the Barkley has broken the will of ultra-running elite, only conquered by the most determined. Broken down into five, 20-mile laps, the course features an incomprehensible 59,100 feet of elevation climb and descent with minimal aid, as it ruts through thick, poorly marked trails of the Cumberland Mountains. Runners must find books along the course and tear out pages to prove they reached required checkpoints.
Also Try: Grindstone 100 Swoope, Va. • October 7

As Tough as it Gets

If you like your trail running with a side of sadistic torture, consider taking on the Tough Mudder. Dubbed “Ironman meets Burning Man,” the 10-mile courses are designed by British Special Forces to test physical and mental stamina with mud pits, rope walls, and running through blazing fires and a maze of live electrical wires. There’s a reason only 78% of racers finish the events. Steep ski-slope terrain should only make things harder when Tough Mudder takes place at Virginia’s Wintergreen resort on October 22-23.

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