After years of running on trails in the Rocky Mountains, I’m getting my feet wet on a few east coast trails. There’s always banter in the trail and ultra communities about the differences between the two regions and I look forward to exploring them first-hand. The Roaring Gap 50k was my first race of 2022 and it’s safe to say I underestimated the elevation challenge.
Stone Mountain State Park
The Roaring Gap 50k takes place on an 8-mile loop at Stone Mountain State Park near Elkin, North Carolina. The park’s premier feature is a 600-foot towering, exposed granite dome. And we climbed that thing 4 times.
The park also features a vast waterfall and plenty of viewpoints from the top of the dome. And there are several signs warning of the dangers from a sharp cliff. No worries about running down and back up this thing, right? Right?
With the race taking place in February, there is a real threat of black ice on the rock if temperatures drop below freezing. Fortunately, this year, temperatures were well into the 40s and we didn’t encounter any ice on the racecourse.
Dirty Wolf Ultras
If you’re looking for a low-key, grassroots feel for ultramarathons, this might be a race for you! Dirty Wolf Ultras hosts the Roaring Gap 50k, along with several other North Carolina races, including Beast of the East and Wicked Revival.
Richard Abernathy, the race director and owner of Dirty Wolf Ultras, is set out to create races that are affordable for every runner. His courses are also challenging the perception that vertical gain only found on western race courses. For Roaring Gap 50k, there was no big production or advertising, no race guide outlining every detail, no giant bag of swag (items most of us will never use), and no luxuries at the start/finish line.
However, what Dirty Wolf Ultras did bring to the race was a grassroots single track with trail runners who love the course. The course markings were just right for the trails we ran and there was bacon, hot drinks, and a celebration of our hard work at the finish line. You could feel Richard’s excitement and love for the course that he was sharing with the runners that day.
You can’t really ask for better in the trail running world. We all love the trails and love sharing those experience with others.
Roaring Gap 50k
The Roaring Gap 50k is definitely a challenging race. I went in not sure what to expect from the race day (I never really found a printed map of the course to study) and was ok with that. I was looking for a supported long training run with some good time on the trails. And I underestimated the amount of climbing involved.
The course involves an 8-mile loop that begins atop Stone Mountain. Runners traverse a few miles of frequently-used and wide trails along the edge of parking areas before dropping off the mountain via a series of wooden stairs. These stairs are always a challenge to run due to their varying width, so I’m glad we were going down and not up.
At the bottom of Stone Mountain, we jump on a single track that loops the state park for some great views of the mountain. There are a few long climbs on this back stretch before opening up to a series of old two-track roads that are relatively flat and made for a few good downhill miles to stretch out the legs. I love when you can break up the climbing with some runnable stretches.
The final piece of the loop is a climb back up Stone Mountain. This involves a steep, long staircase alongside a waterfall. I found a steady rhythm and didn’t look up and just kept climbing. I tried counting a few times and lost count – runner math is never a good idea. The first time wasn’t bad, but by the fourth loop, I was ready to be done, but still smiling.
At the end of the fourth loop, we had accumulated just under 7,000 ft of climbing. To put this in perspective, that’s pretty close to the same ratio of elevation gain from the Beaverhead Endurance Runs 100k on the Continental Divide in Idaho. No small mountain.
A Good Race at Roaring Gap 50k
My legs were definitely tired at the end of the day and it took about a week to really recover.
I’ll likely be running this course again because it’s only an hour from the house. But I’ll be seriously considering whether or not that amount of climbing fits in my training plan this time of year. And I like what Richard is doing with Dirty Wolf Ultras to produce races that have a grassroots feel without entry fees that cost and arm and a leg.