Dirty (Trail Running) Secrets

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I try to stay smooth on my run this morning. I skip rhythmically across the rocks and attempt a controlled slide across the cascades that have frozen into a sheet of ice along the trail. My body is protesting, still feeling the effects of the previous day’s track workout. But a smile comes to my face as I enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of winter in the mountains. Soon, my mind wanders, and I recall the words of some of the most inspiring runners with whom I’ve had the pleasure to share the trails. Their thoughts on running have seeped into my own, and they’re with me on this and every run.

Doug Blackford
Boone, North Carolina

At 67 years young, Doug Blackford from Boone, N.C. has been running for 17 years. He starting running in order to help his son, Henry, keep up with his summer cross country miles; Doug would cover a couple of miles which he recalled “would about kill me”. After running a 5K with coaches and parents of competing cross country teams, in which his goal was to not walk, Doug got a taste of the competitive bug. He realized that with a little bit of extra training he might be able to beat some of the regular runners. He’s now completed 60 ultramarathons (including three 100-milers), and numerous marathons.

What inspires you?

The spirit of adventure! In an ultra, I don’t know what demons I am going to face out there, and I try to prepare for unknown troubles.

What gets you out the door?

It really feels good to be in good shape, maybe the best shape of my life, at my age. So to stay in shape, I have to keep getting out there. It’s just a lot of fun to get out with a good group on a long run. I always like beautiful scenery, but I also like it when the weather turns nasty.

What do you think about when you run?

I think about where I am going to put my next foot. I think about whatever conversation I am having at the time, the beauty of the trail, and what it’s going to take to survive whatever conditions I am encountering.

Favorite trail or running spot?

Probably Roan Highlands, or it could be Dupont State Forest.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

Mount Mitchell Challenge—it was my first ultra run, and I have done it every year since (Doug will be competing in his 13th this month). My favorite course is the Terrapin 50K in Virginia because it seems to have everything an ultra can offer: technical trails, forest roads, steep climbs, beautiful views, and river crossings.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

I have finished three 100-milers, and I had to really dig deep, so they have felt like my greatest accomplishments. My greatest running moment might be the double crossing of the Grand Canyon (R2R2R). It was a great group and gorgeous scenery and it felt special to get out of the bus and see that Canyon for the first time and just start running. Three of us stayed together the whole time and took pictures and had fun. It was a truly memorable experience.

Running advice?

Keep it fun and find some adventures.

Favorite running workout?

A good long run on a beautiful trail. I don’t do speed work or workouts except if I am trying to keep up with someone faster than me.

Cross-train? What methods?

I bike some and swim some.

Running hero or mentor?

Gary Knipling, because he is three years older than me, and he still does three 100-milers per year. So when I start feeling like I am too old for this crap, I look at him and figure I better have at least three more years.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I volunteer at races when I can.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I play duplicate bridge. I am usually about the oldest one in a group of runners and the youngest in a group of bridge players.

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Denise Davis
Franklin, North carolina

Denise Davis fell in love with running through the woods as a young girl, and fondly remembers running alongside her local river during high school cross country practices. After a hiatus from running in her twenties, she came back with a vengeance in an attempt to get back in shape for a South Beyond 6,000 adventure in 2001. She skipped from 5Ks to 50Ks and never looked back; she’s completed most of the Southeast’s best races and toughest adventure runs.

What inspires you?

That feeling you get now and then when the run is perfect. When everything feels right, the running is smooth and fast, I breathe easily and it is beautiful all around me. I am inspired to try to recapture that feeling every day.

What gets you out the door?

If I feel good and am in a good mood, I don’t need motivation to head outside. If not, I know running will help fix most anything.

What do you think about when you run?

I think about pretty much anything and everything, but I always spend time just being thankful. I am so lucky to live in this part of the world and have the ability to go run on all these great trails, just minutes from my front door.

Favorite trail or running spot?

That’s like trying to pick your favorite child. I love the northern half of the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies. The North Carolina section of Bartram Trail is a special place for me. I have been drawn to the Shining Rock area since I was a teenager. It was the last place I went before I had ACL surgery and knew running and hiking would be out of the picture for a while, and it was the first place I went when I got off crutches.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

Old Dominion 100.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

The best moment of my running career was being late to get on the shuttle van to the start of the inaugural Hellgate 100K. There wasn’t much room left, but a nice guy gave me the front seat and squeezed into the back. When we got out at the start line, I handed him his pack that he had left on the floorboard, which started a conversation that has lasted for over a decade. We married the next year! My biggest accomplishment was being the first to thru-run the 110 miles of the Bartram trail. Not because I was the first, but because of what I learned I was able to endure to do it. I had been sick for two weeks and almost quit time and time again. Also, running 94 miles one year to the day of my ACL surgery was a physical, mental and emotional victory.

Running advice?

Have fun. Don’t ever take for granted your ability to get out there and do it. I was playing Ultimate Frisbee with my cross country team, took a hit and a fall, and completely tore my ACL. Nine months of no running and three years later, still trying to get back to where I was, makes me so very grateful every time I step out the door.

Favorite running workout?

My favorite is a workout I do with my cross country team. We strap tires of varying sizes to us and run up the mountain as far as we can go. It’s a great physical and mental workout.

Cross-train? What methods?

I should. But I love to run, so that’s what I do.

Running hero or mentor?

Anyone who does something that they “shouldn’t” be able to do. People who finish last but don’t quit. Bill Irwin, the blind hiker, who fell repeatedly, but kept getting back up to finish thru-hiking the Appalachian Trial. Bill Keane is 70 and still kicking ass in the ultra world. Amy Palmiero-Winters, who I passed at Vermont 100 only because she had stopped to shake rocks out of her prosthetic blade. She caught back up.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I have been coaching our girls cross country team for twelve years and also coached our first full indoor track team. I have mentored students in directing races and I continue to direct a memorial scholarship race one of my runners started ten years ago. I have volunteered at different races and runs, organized small fun runs, and tried to spread the love for the trails in our little corner of the world.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I have a Massanutten dimple. In my first 100, the Massanutten, I took a really hard spill, face down, on the infamous Massanutten rocks and ended up with a chipped cheekbone and a black eye. So now, a decade later, when I smile, I have a prominent dimple on my left cheekbone.

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Beth Minnick
Abingdon, VIRGINIA

Due to the persistence of a running neighbor, Beth Minnick decided to finally give running a try. Realizing that she struggled to even run one mile in high school, she shocked herself in October of 2005 by running 6 miles on the Virginia Creeper Trail on her first outing. A month later, during a 16-mile trail run in Kentucky, she was hooked. After dabbling in road marathons, including Knoxville and Boston, she started running trails and has been turning in inspiring performances ever since.

What inspires you?

The regional running community. They’re like family to me. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the years, we’ve traveled together, laughed and cried together, shared our triumphs and defeats. I see them putting in the miles, the desire, the joy, the struggles, and I want be a part of that.

What gets you out the door?

Nature! I want to be out there exploring, hearing my feet hit the ground, feeling the wind, rain, snow, and sun hit my face. I want to see the sunrise, find a waterfall, take a dip in a creek, run by the light of the moon, see a bear! I love the way the different seasons completely transform the trail, the newness of spring, the long days of summer, forest ablaze with fall colors, and the magic found in snow-covered woods. I want to be out there experiencing that constant change.

What do you think about when you run?

A lot of the time I’m chatting it up about whatever comes to mind: books, movies, races, current events. When I’m racing it’s more of a flow state of mind, being present and letting the constant stream of thoughts just quickly come and go. It’s a delicate balance, managing the effort and fuel, staying focused, and pushing out any negative thoughts that might get in the way.

Favorite trail or running spot?

Grayson Highlands/Appalachian Trail: From Elk Garden to the Summit of Mount Rogers, especially in the snow. Visiting the wild ponies, soaking in some amazing views, and being enveloped by the spruce-fir forest (their scent is heavenly) at the top.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

Terrapin Mountain 50K will always be a favorite race of mine, and the Sultan 50K will always be a favorite fun run—I love wearing crowns and eating cake.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

Completing and competing in the Lynchburg Ultra Series with one of my best friends and running buddies, Beth Frye. The moment we realized we had both finished in the top 10 at Mountain Masochist 50 Miler (the last race in the series) and had also finished 1st overall and 1st masters female in the series with only 2:02 separating our overall times. In a sport where there is so much emphasis on “I”, it was refreshing to feel like part of a team and feel proud of what “we” had accomplished together.

Running advice?

Sometimes less is more. Listen to your body, not everyone can log 80-100 miles a week. If you’re tired, rest. You may have logged a billion miles, but if your body is broken and you’re exhausted it’s not going to matter.

Favorite running workout?

DAM8—it’s a figure 8 route linking the Appalachian Trail and Iron Mountain Trail out of Damascus, Virginia. It’s got a good long climb to warm you up, 4 miles of sweet downhill, a nice view, enough rocks to sharpen your technical skills, and a half mile sprint finish on the creeper.

Cross-train? What methods?

Yes! I enjoy a lot of different activities and think it’s important to mix things up, use different muscle groups, and avoid risking burnout. Do something active during lunch break: walk on the creeper, attend yoga classes, play tennis, or play a round of Frisbee golf. I live on the Virginia Creeper trail so some days I bike commute to and from work.

Running hero or mentor?

Rick and Tammy Gray of Johnson City, Tenn. Rick and Tammy took me under their wing in my early trail running days, and their guidance and support has been invaluable. Rick has inspired and brought more people to ultrarunning than anyone I know. With over 100 ultras under his belt, his knowledge of all things running is book worthy! You won’t go to a race in this region where someone won’t come up to Tammy and thank her for that time she yelled at them to get out of an aid station, gave them just the right pep talk, thawed their frozen shoelaces, and took care of their extra gear so they wouldn’t have to carry it for the next 30 miles.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I love volunteering for local races. I feel it’s the perfect way to give back and support others, plus it’s a ton of fun. For years now I’ve volunteered at the Virginia Creeper Marathon (I can walk to my aid station from my house), and the Iron Mountain Trail Run. I also love organizing group runs on the Iron Mountain Trail Runners’ Facebook page.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I have crazy feet. When I’m seated, my foot measures a women’s size 9, when I stand up it jumps to an 11 ¼. I just have to find middle ground and wear a 10.5 running shoe.

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Emily Chaney Bell
Chattanooga, Tennessee

Emily Chaney Bell started running at the age of 17 with her high school cross country team. Not only was she hooked from the start, but a running phenom was born, clocking personal bests ranging from 17:38 in the 5K up to 2:47:16 in the marathon. Moving around a bit allowed her to test her range throughout the region’s many great trail races, notching course records and racking up wins at some of the region’s classic trail and road races. After a break to give birth to her daughter, Leela, she is back at it.

What inspires you?

Being outside, beautiful mountains, great friends and family.

What gets you out the door?

I feel best when I’m outside. Too much time indoors makes me feel sluggish.

What do you think about when you run?

Everything…frustrations of the day, inspirations of the day, pretending I’m doing something great, planning all sorts of things. When Dancing with the Stars first came out, I would daydream I was a participant in the show and would choreograph all the dances in my head.

Favorite trail or running spot?

West Virginia has my heart, especially the New River Gorge and Tea Creek area of the Monongahela Forest, but anywhere road or mountain in the state is pretty phenomenal. I actually enjoyed and found inspiration in the running around Huntington, W.Va., while I was in grad school. In North Carolina, I love Dupont and Pisgah, but I also really enjoyed the roads around East Fork between Brevard and Rosman. I grew up in Maryville, Tenn., so Cades Cove and the trails of the Smokies are a favorite when I’m visiting family.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

Charleston Distance Run, Grandma’s Marathon, Frozen Sasquatch 25K, and Shut-In. I love the Richmond Off-Road Xterra Triathlon.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

Sharing an emotional Chicago Marathon with a dear friend, and running the Blue Ridge Relay while pregnant.

Running advice?

Slow down, have fun, smile and wave back at people, and listen to your body: it will tell you everything you need to know.

Favorite running workout?

Jus’ Running’s Maggot track workout when I’m in Asheville.

Cross-train? What methods?

Cycling, both road and mountain. Swimming, although I’m horrible. My husband just bought me a kayak and I’ve been eager to learn.

Running hero or mentor?

I have found inspiration in my closest running friends and mentors. Norm Blair, Chad Newton, Rob Smith, Howard Nippert, Larry Taylor, Kim Sweetland, Doris Windsand-Dausman, and Anne and Mark Lundblad have always been heroes, and I have always admired Devon Yanko Crosby-Helms.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I built and maintained trail and helped with races at ACE Adventure Center back in the day. I have worked at many races in lots of places and volunteered. I have also been involved in the running communities of Huntington and Charleston while working for Robert’s Running & Walking Shop, and I get to Asheville as often as I can since moving to help out at Jus’ Running where I have worked since 2010.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I have an earring that I haven’t taken out since I got it in middle school. I was shot in the eye during a drive-by shooting with a shotgun. And I send thank you cards or emails to race directors after events I have run.

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Mark Rostan
Valdese, North Carolina

After starting to run in order to impress a girl some ten years ago, Mark Rostan has compiled an impressive list of marathon and ultramarathon finishes. Having completed 43 marathons and 26 ultras, including the 2014 Western States 100, Mark has developed an insatiable desire to run the high mountain ridges surrounding him in Western North Carolina. He enjoys feeling like a kid again while bounding over technical singletrack, seeking out scenic overlooks and rhododendron tunnels in lieu of chasing times on a clock.

What inspires you?

The big and the small of our world. Thinking about the enormous cosmic and geological forces that are at work in the world and then thinking about how on the opposite end of the scale are bosons, quarks, and photons operating at a subatomic scale.

What gets you out the door?

My feet. Oh, the places they will take me!

What do you think about when you run?

When I’m with a friend, the discussion could be anything from Gilligan’s Island, to Bitcoins, to American history. When I’m alone, I’m typically thinking about what’s around me, trying to take it all in. As fatigue sets in, I might find myself thinking about a shower and the sofa.

Favorite trail or running spot?

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, given that it has 1,000 miles of varied terrain.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

I’ve got to go off the grid here and say Pitchell. It’s a fun run, not a real race, though there is a time element in that you need to get to Mount Mitchell before the gates close. The reason I pick this one is because of how ridiculous it sounds on paper. Start at midnight on Mount Pisgah and run 67 miles with nearly 3.5 miles of climb, mostly along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, to Mount Mitchell. To a large degree, the farther along the trail you get, the more technical it becomes. When you finally emerge onto the cobblestone path up to the Mount Mitchell summit, these tourists are looking at you and simply have no idea what you’ve done. It’s very much back to the basics. There are no shirts or medallions. There are no cheering crowds. Your reward is the feeling of accomplishment.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

My wife, Leslie, has, by her choice, not accompanied me to any of my longer races or fun runs. But she and another friend of ours crewed for me at Western States, meeting me at several spots along the way. She ran the last quarter-mile around the track at the finish with me. That would be my favorite moment.

Running advice?

Just enjoy what you’re doing. Racing for time is fine, but if you can’t enjoy the experience, what have you gained?

Favorite running workout?

I really don’t train in the traditional sense. I will build up mileage to prepare for a race of a certain distance.

Cross-train? What methods?

Nothing structured. I try to go to the gym for weight training.

Running hero or mentor?

I am blessed with a lot of great people who share the same passion as me. I have a ton of respect for our Western North Carolina legends like Mark Lundblad, Will Harlan, Adam Hill, Jason Bryant, Anne Riddle Lundblad, and Annette Bednosky. I know I’m leaving people out, but there are so many. Also, you just have to admire Matt Kirk setting the self-supported A.T. thru-hike record.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I co-direct Table Rock Ultras, help the local Mountains-to-Sea Trail volunteers on their workdays when I can, and volunteer at some area races. Having done the directing thing for four years now, I have an appreciation for what RDs do and make sure that they know I appreciated their efforts in organizing their event. Same with the volunteers; I try to thank them at every aid station.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I take piano lessons is about the most unusual thing that comes to mind, since I am 45.

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Adam Casseday
Elkins, West Virginia

Adam Casseday started running in 2002 as a way to relieve stress from a busy schedule while in optometry school. Clocking a sub-3 in his first marathon in Philadelphia (2:55) a year later, he then spent another year getting faster on the roads before his first ultramarathon in 2004 at the Capon Valley 50K. He quickly grew passionate about the trail and ultra scene and has been instrumental in the growth and protection of the trails ever since.

What inspires you?

Running is simply a big part of who I am. I’m inspired by training and the daily push to become better. I’m inspired by nature; I’m inspired by the fact that running makes me a better person; I’m inspired to share running with my son.

What gets you out the door?

The need to clear my head.

What do you think about when you run?

Many times, nothing at all, yet at times everything imaginable. Regardless of the subject, my thoughts and ideas always seem to have a dream-like flow where everything just makes sense – when the run ends, similar to dreams, many times my ideations have eluded permanence.

Favorite trail or running spot?

North Fork Mountain Trail, Monongahela National Forest near Seneca Rocks, W.Va.

Favorite race and/or fun run?

Three Days of Syllamo in Arkansas.

Greatest accomplishment or moment?

My most satisfying moment in running was completing a thru-run of the Appalachian Trail over 71 days in 2011. My wife crewed me along the way and we had a tremendous adventure and journey together.

Although I have won a few races over the years, my most memorable racing moments oddly come from a pair of third place finishes – 2008 Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 (my first hundred) and 2012 Highlands Sky. Both of these races were immensely satisfying to me for various intrinsic reasons.

Running advice?

Think long term—don’t focus too much on what others are doing (you are an experiment of one), learn to listen to your body, and try to keep running and life balanced.

Favorite running workout?

Long, slow runs in the mountains alone.

Cross-train? What methods?

Some weights in the winter, but mostly I subscribe to the notion that if you want to become a better runner, run.

Running hero or mentor?

Dan Lehmann. I don’t know if I would have ever gravitated to trail running or ultras if it were not for him.

Do you give back to the running community in any way?

I am the co-race director of both Highlands Sky and the West Virginia Trilogy – alongside my friend Dan Lehmann. I do trail work each year on the trails those races use. This year I have spearheaded an effort to build some trails in a wildlife management area in my hometown of Elkins, WV.

Something quirky, weird, or unusual about you that most folks don’t know?

I play the banjo and would like to be a professional fly fisherman. •

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