Running in the Smokies

For the past few months I’ve been training my ass off for the Fuego y Agua 50K on February 16. Last year I handled the distance fine, I handled the heat fine, but I completely fell apart on the long, steep ascent of Volcan Maderas.

I have a score to settle with Maderas

Just as last year I’ve done lots of distance training and as much heat training as I can (in a sauna). But this year I’ve focused much more on hill training. I run as many hills as I can find. I spend a few hours a week on a stair master. I run hill repeats. But I had a feeling that might not be quite enough. The Saint Louis area is quite hilly (particularly in comparison to central Illinois), but the biggest hills we have here are around 400 ft, whereas Maderas is 4,000 ft.

Gatlinburg and Mount Le Conte
Gatlinburg with Mount Le Conte in the background

So I took a little vacation. Last weekend I drove to the Smoky Mountains, the nearest place with 4,000 ft climbs. I drove all day Friday, and got a good night’s sleep in Gatlinburg, TN. The next morning I went for an epic (by my standards) mountain run. Starting around 1,300 ft elevation I ran uphill for 3 hours to the peak of Mount Le Conte at 6,593 ft, just over 1 mile vertical ascent. The trail was around 11 miles. So I ran 5300 ft ascent in 11 miles in the same time (actually, slightly less) as it took me to race 4000 ft in 4 miles up Maderas during the race last year.

Steamy stream

Bull Head
Bull Head trail

View from the top

It was very cold at the top, with deep snow in places, so I didn’t stick around too long. The 11 mile return trip downhill was easier physically, but it was much harder on my body. My knees were aching pretty bad by the end. There was a lot of ice-covered rock at the top which made for slow going at times. The rest was muddy.

Muddy trail

Rob ready for Maderas?

I planned to go hiking on Sunday morning before returning home, but my knees were still too sore, so I did a bit of automobile tourism. On the way home I drove one stretch of 7.5 hours, which is by far the longest I’ve ever driven non-stop. So that was something.

3 thoughts on “Running in the Smokies”

  1. Rob, debbie and I love the smokies….we go for 2 weeks in sept and day-hike every day…I’ve took tom rice, gregg, chris and others up to mt. le conte several times. we drive to my sisters in KY on thursday night then drive the rest on friday and hike friday, sat, sun, then drive back mon.

    we hiked the vertical mile from visitor center to mt. leconte. so so much fun. there are so many great loops to hike/run up to the AT from lower elevations.

    wow, you are ready to go.

    PS: I’m jealous…..I hope to go back the first of may to train for gregg and I’s 50K in the mountains

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