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  • Writer's pictureEmily Hutchins

Journey into the Heart of Appalachia | Cloudsplitter 50K race report

Updated: Dec 20, 2018

Finish Time: 7:41

Elevation Gained: 6,000 feet

Max Elevation: 4,225

Jeremy, Huck and I meandered our way to Norton, Va on Friday, with a stop at the Little Stony Falls in Scott County (near Coeburn). It was an absolutely beautiful waterfall and an epic swimming hole destination in summer months.

We camped at Flag Rock Recreation area, which is just 2 miles above the town of Norton, Va. The upper loop has some incredible campsites perched right on the top of the mountain with breathtaking views.

We made our way down to the pre-race meeting in Norton at the indoor farmers market. Fred Ramey is the city manager and he (and the community) are what make this race so special. Fred opened up the evening by giving a brief history of the coal industry in the region and how an entire community lost their major industry overnight. Fred is so passionate about building new opportunities and expressed his heartfelt appreciation for races like Cloudsplitter that really promote outdoor tourism. There were racers from 25 different states there for the weekend! Fred shared that the received grant funding to build a new community center that will also have a cidery/brewery downtown and will be the epi-center for the 2019 Cloudsplitter race. In addition, they are building a High Knob Visitors Center at the base of the mountain to further promote and educate visitors.

The local VDGIF wildlife biologist spoke next about the biodiversity and wildlife of High Knob Recreation area, which was very engaging and different from any pre-race meeting I’ve attended.

The race director gave us a run down of what to expect the next day during the race. Even though she assured us that the course was well marked, I still managed to get “lost” within the first three miles, along with 20 other runners who were also not paying attention to the markings.

Afterwards, local college students from the ETSU Bluegrass program played some bluegrass to entertain guests throughout the evening.

We capped off our evening by visiting the local hangout, the Woodbooger Grill. They have the best happy hour special I’ve ever seen – Jeremy got a 25 oz. CRAFT brew from Sugar Hill Brewery for $3.75 and HH lasts until 8 p.m. Monday – Friday!

Woke up the next morning and made our way down to the pre-race start. The race started off with the local scout troop shooting off their black powder rifle and off we went. We ran on pavement for less than a mile to the base of Flag Rock recreation area, then things quickly got real steep - my heart rate got up close to 190 with just hiking!

As I mentioned earlier, I was in a pack of 20 runners who managed to go 1 mile off course because we weren’t paying attention to the pink surveyor tape marking the left hand turn on the trail. Luckily a 100m racer gal from Portland had downloaded the race course to her phone and confirmed we were off course. Lesson learned – ALWAYS pay attention and don’t take your eyes off of the course markers.

The 50K course is an out and back with 3 aid stations (Pickem Mountain, High Knob Recreation Area and Edith Gap), all roughly 5 miles apart. One of the most technical sections was along Stony Creek after the High Knob aid station. Tons of rock gardens, ankle twisters and about 4-5 creek crossings. Be prepared to get wet as rock hopping wasn’t the best option with all the recent rains. It seemed that this section was at least 3-4 miles of technical running.

High Knob Lookout Tower

After that, we made our way to Edith Gap, which was pretty runnable and enjoyable. We turned around and made our way back to Norton. I ended up passing a couple folks who were having stomach issues and settled into running the last 10 miles with a fella named Barry from Pulaski. We thoroughly enjoyed a new aid station that popped up at High Knob Lookout, complete with a camper with hot chicken noodle soup. The friendly volunteers invited us in to “warm up”, which I know was a bad idea, but I did down two cups of homemade soup. My stomach was starting to fill a bit upset because I had gorged myself earlier on dried pineapple, gummy bears, cheezits, half a moonpie and a quarter of a PB&J. Lesson two learned … don't eat processed food. My stomach ALWAYS hurts when I ingest crap in a race. Why do I do it??

Highlights of Cloudsplitter:

  • Fred Ramey & entire Norton community made the racers feel very welcome

  • Boy Scout Aid Station

  • The wildness of High Knob Recreation area

  • Camping at Flag Rock Recreation Area

Low points:

  • Didn’t see a Woodbooger

  • Super technical section by Stony Creek (although it was gorgeous)

We decided to head back to Blacksburg after the race, and we stopped off for dinner in St. Paul at the new Western Front Hotel at their restaurant, Miltons. This place is an absolute destination stop and is near the Spearhead Trail system. The hotel just opened earlier in February 2018 and could be coined as an “boutique hotel with Appalachian charm”. It’s also pet friendly, has rooftop patio areas and an epic outdoor backyard, an incredible space complete with a stage, fitpits and an outdoor bar. There was an event going on in the backyard called “Bacon and Brews”, which looked incredible, but we decided to saddle up to the bar at the hotel restaurant, Miltons. Chef Travis Milton is known for creative Appalachian cuisine and it was delicious. Menu changes weekly too! We are already planning a time to come back and book a room (with Huck in tow) and explore the local trails and outdoor offerings. There is also a new brewery in St. Paul called Sugar Hill Brewing Company!

The Heart of Appalachia is a hot bed of outdoor fun. Jeremy informs me that it’s also a destination for whitewater kayaking (depending on water levels) on the Russell Fork, the Guess Gorge and Little Stony Creek.

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