A mountain runner navigates a flooded trail of slippery rocks. Photo: Chris Brown.\r\n\r\n\u201cI was just a few feet from a bear,\u201d recalls mountain runner Malcolm Campbell. \u201cI was running up Cold Mountain in North Carolina, and all of a sudden, there it was. That\u2019s what I like best about mountain running. It\u2019s a completely different world up there.\u201d\r\n\r\nCampbell has been an elite road runner for two decades, but during 2010, he decided to focus primarily on mountain running events. Mountain running courses ascend a single mountain, with lengths ranging from 5K to marathon. Distances are typically short, and the climbs brutal. Some mountain runs are on burly singletrack trails; others are on roads. The only determining factor is elevation gain, which is often significant.\r\n\r\nMountain running is popular in Europe, but remains on the fringes in the U.S., even by trail running standards. There are only a dozen established races that could be considered true mountain runs in this country. The quintessential mountain run in the U.S. is the Mount Washington Road Race (N.H.), a 7.6-mile race that celebrated its 50th year in 2010. The race, which features 18 percent grades for much of the climb, served as the sole qualifying run for the U.S. Mountain Running Team in 2010.\r\n\r\nWhile the mountain running discipline is still growing, last year was a banner year for U.S. mountain runners. The men\u2019s national team earned a silver medal at the World Mountain Running Championships in Slovakia, and the women\u2019s team placed fourth, led by Raleigh, N.C. runner Kristen Price. Meanwhile, the Mount Washington Road Race doubled its prize purse and attracted one of its strongest fields. And La Sportiva sponsors a nationwide mountain running race series that pits the best pro trail runners in the country against each other on some of the most technical courses available.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s definitely getting more popular,\u201d says Shiloh Mielke, a North Carolina native and one of the top mountain runners in the country, who has earned a spot on the U.S. Mountain Running Team twice. \u201cIt\u2019s one of those disciplines that most runners will try at least once. For professional runners, it\u2019s an extremely competitive sport. A lot of runners try it, but only 10 percent will be really good at it.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhat makes a good mountain runner? A combination of athleticism and willpower, says mountain runner Andrew Benford, a senior at the University of Richmond.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe mental toughness required in mountain running is unparalleled. All running is painful, but mountain running is a deeper kind of pain. You\u2019re grinding it out for such a long period, you\u2019ve got to find a way to move past the pain mentally.\u201d\r\n\r\nBenford earned a spot on the 2009 U.S. Mountain Running Team and turned in the fastest American time at the World Championships in Italy that year. But equally memorable for Benford was his\u00a0very first mountain run, a 30-minute jaunt in West Virginia with a buddy.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cIt got really steep in the last five minutes toward the top of the mountain. I started puking. I asked my friend what I should do. He said \u2018keep running.\u2019 So I did.\u201d\r\n\r\nFor runners living in the Appalachians, mountains are a fact of life. Shiloh Mielke grew up running the logging roads behind his childhood home in Western North Carolina, training for mountainrunning before he even knew that mountain running was its own sport.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe only running I could do growing up was either up a mountain or down a mountain,\u201d Mielke says. \u201cThe traditional rules of running don\u2019t apply on the mountain. In road racing, you can run off of efficiency. With mountain running, every step is different, so your muscles need a different kind of strength and endurance.\u201d\r\n\r\nMountain running isn\u2019t always a suffer-fest. For most runners who aren\u2019t concerned with prize purses and sponsorships, they can enjoy the simple beauty of running from the bottom of a mountain to the top. Amber Moran, one of the country\u2019s top mountain runners, loves the sport primarily for the physical and spiritual ascent.\r\n\r\n\u201cRunning mountains feeds my soul,\u201d Moran says. \u201cYes, it hurts like crazy when you\u2019re in the thick of it, but when you finish, you\u2019re on top of the world. There\u2019s nothing like it.\u201d\r\n\r\n Southern Mountain Runs Luckily, you don\u2019t have to travel to Mount Washington to run a classic mountain race. The Southeast has more than its share of brutal, but scenic, mountain runs, from paved all-uphill climbs to up-and-down singletrack romps.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHogpen Hill Climb Helen, Ga. \u2022 January 29, 2012 The Hogpen is a 32-year-old tradition pitting runners against a paved course that climbs 2,000 feet from the mock Bavarian village of Helen, Ga., to the top of Hogpen Gap in 10.5 miles. runthehogpen.org\r\nHelvetia 10K Mountain Run Helvetia, W.Va. \u2022 September 11, 2011 Creek crossings, steep climbs, big views, and a near two-mile downhill finish, perfect for mountain running rookies. wvmtr.org\r\nRock 2 Rock Black Mountain, N.C. \u2022 May 2011 You\u2019d be hard-pressed to find a mountain race more technical than this 10K. The terrain is primarily technical singletrack that climbs steeply for 3.5 miles to Eden Rock, then drops just as steeply through roots, rocks, and trees back to the finish. rock2rockrun.com\r\nThe Bear 5 Mile Run Linville, N.C. \u2022 July 7, 2011 The Bear is a classic mountain run on paved roads from Linville to the top of Grandfather Mountain. The last two miles are beastly, where you\u2019ll gain 1,000 feet of elevation to the finish. hopeformarrow.org\r\nMill Mountain Mayhem Roanoke, Va. \u2022 April 9, 2011 This 10K trail race corkscrews to the top of Mill Mountain just outside of downtown Roanoke. You\u2019ll peak at the Star Overlook, take in the views, then barrel down the mountain on semi-technical trail to the finish. mountainjunkies.net\r\nTerrapin Mountain Half Marathon Sedalia, Va. \u2022 March 26, 2011 This 13.1-mile trail race gains a whopping 3,250 feet, and the climbing begins essentially at the starting line as you make your way up, around, and down the beastly Terrapin Mountain. Think that\u2019s brutal? There\u2019s also a 50K option. eco-xsports.com \r\nMountain Running Destinations \u201cPeople think running up a mountain is going to be miserable, but it\u2019s also a really enjoyable, pretty thing to do,\u201d says Chris York, a member of last year\u2019s mountain running national team. To train for the World Championships, he ran a section of the Appalachian Trail several times a week to get used to the climbs and descents. York and other top mountain runners from the Southeast recommended these top training spots:\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nPipestem Resort State Park, W.Va. Pipestem has 20 miles of scenic trails that climb and descend the Bluestone Canyon. The state park\u2019s aerial tram can be used as a shuttle to simplify the logistics of running up a mountain. Run the River Trail to the Canyon Rim Center for five miles and 1,150 of elevation gain.\r\nSky Meadows State Park, Va. Sky Meadows is a 1,862-acre park just an hour outside of D.C.\u2019s metro area with 12 miles of looped hiking trails, including three miles of the Appalachian Trail. You can also hook up with the park\u2019s North Ridge Trail for a longer run that will take you into the high meadows, overlooks, and homestead ruins. dcr.virginia.org\r\nThe Priest, Va. This four-mile run up the Priest on the Appalachian Trail is one of the favorite training runs of the Virginia Happy Trails Club. From the Tye River, climb 3,000 feet in just over four miles to the summit of this towering 4,063-foot mountain. After rocketing back down, soak your burning quads in the river. appalachiantrail.org\r\nBrasstown Bald, Ga. The 4,784-foot Brasstown Bald is Georgia\u2019s highest peak, and as such, attracts runners looking for a steep, uphill battle. Run the paved 0.6-mile Brasstown Bald Trail, which gains 500 feet of elevation quickly. For extra mileage, tack on Jack\u2019s Knob Trail, which runs for three miles parallel to the road to the top of the mountain, climbing 1,780 feet in a series of 40 switchbacks. At the top, take the shuttle ride back to your car.\r\nCrowders Mountain State Park, N.C. The 1,625-foot Crowders Mountain, and neighboring 1,705-foot Kings Pinnacle just across the border in South Carolina, protrude from the surrounding flatland, offering 15 miles of trail. Run the Backside Trail to the summit of Crowders, which ends with 336 wooden steps to the peak. For a longer run, tackle the Pinnacle Trail, which begins at the visitor\u2019s center and ends 1.7 miles and 900 vertical feet later at the top of King\u2019s Pinnacle. Stair Climbs The point of these tower climbing races is to run from the bottom of a skyscraper to the top as fast as you can. It\u2019s a bizarre niche race that gives mountain running an urban twist.\r\nFight for Air Climb Atlanta, Ga. \u2022 May 14, 2011 In Atlanta, you\u2019ll run 50 stories up Peachtree Tower and raise money to fight lung disease while you do it. Editions of the race are also run in Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston, S.C. (Apr 9). fightforairclimb.org\r\nPower Up the Tower Winston Salem, N.C. \u2022 February 2012 Run up the 30-story Winston Tower to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. Last year, the overall winner ran 30 stories in 3:36. climbms.org\r\nStep Up for the Up Norfolk, Va. \u2022 April 3, 2011 You can run up the 25-story Norfolk Dominion Tower once, or tackle the distance up to four times for a massive 100-story run. Choose the 100, and you\u2019ll have to climb 2,320 steps. theupcenter.org A Mountain Race We'd Like to See In Europe, many mountain running races are held at ski resorts. The road climbs to the top of the resorts are often formidable, and the resort amenities (bars, restaurants, showers) give the races a festive atmosphere. In 2011, the sole qualifying race for the U.S. Mountain Running Team will be the Cranmore Hill Climb at the Cranmore Mountain Resort in New Hampshire. The South has a number of resorts that could potentially host a mountain run of this caliber. Race directors and ski resorts: start planning.\r\nSee a mini-documentary on the 2010 La Sportiva Mountain Cup, a collection of European-style mountain races.