Race Review: The Bear

I recently ran a 5 mile race up Grandfather Mountain.

Exhibit A: Grandfather Mountain


This post will be a little different from my other race review posts, because I’m more or less going to tell you what the course is like, for those who are interested in running next July.  Keep an eye out for registration, this race sells out in 48 hours!

The Start Line:

  • This is a night race, so keep it easy during the day.
  • Boone fortunately is not too hot compared to the rest of NC, expect starting temps in the 70’s, and they will drop as you gain elevation.
  • It is literally at an intersection.  Very little parking, so be prepared to get dropped off.  You get one car pass up on Grandfather Mountain (which is a big deal, because it is usually 18 dollars per person – not per car –  to drive up Grandfather Mountain), so send that up with your cheering squad, and they can park up there and hang out and see you finish.
  • Its packed tight!  If you want a shot at winning a mug, you need to start up front.
  • Otherwise, the start is pretty relaxed, full of mostly Bear Veterans.  I ran into a couple of my professors and they calmed my nerves.bear3

The Course:

  • This shouldn’t come as a shock: this course is challenging.
  • You will gain about 2000 feet during the race.
  • Most of the course is paved, with some gravel sections.
  • The first mile is steep grade, and the last 2 miles are very steep.  There is a middle section during which you can fool yourself into thinking it is not so steep.
  • My plan was to run most of the first half, and I walked up the kickers (like when you are making a turn up a switchback).  I felt like that saved me a lot of energy, and I was able to pass people.
  • One very cool aspect of this course is that you run through the Highland Games, which is an annual event in Boone.  Think: traditional Scottish games, and beer.  You run around the track here, and that is the only flat section of the race.
  • Right after you run around the track, its another kicker back up to the main road, and you are in the last two miles of ascent.

    Grandfather Mountain Highland Games on Saturday, July 14 (Photo by Maria Richardson/High Country Press)
    Grandfather Mountain Highland Games on Saturday, July 14
    (Photo by Maria Richardson/High Country Press)

The Finish:

  • The last two miles are the most breath taking in more ways than one.  It is this section in which you will have the steepest grades, at some point up to 15%.  You will also have the most spectacular views.
  • There is a particular section that you will run up, called the Forrest Gump curve.  Fun Fact: One of Forrest Gump’s running scenes was filmed on Grandfather mountain!  You too will run up this beautiful stretch.

The final switchbacks will seem nearly un-runable, but the crowd will be lining the entire way up and you’ll want to run it.

Final switchbacks in your ascent
Final switchbacks in your ascent
  • The Finish Line is at the steepest portion – you can’t actually see it until you are right on it, but you will be on top of Grandfather Mountain!
  • Its about 20 degrees chillier and windy on the top, so have your race support bring you a jacket.
  • Don’t forget to check out the swinging bridge, and the animal exhibits while you are up there!  Its expensive to get up Grandfather Mountain, so while you are there take the opportunity to explore!
  • The medal is adorable, in the shape of a bear face.  I will put a picture up later!
  • And wear your shirt with pride!  Any race that puts the elevation map on the shirt is worth the bragging rights 🙂
  • So, would I do this race again?  Absolutely!  Top finishers get a locally made mug.  I ran it easy this year, just because I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to training and going for it next year!

If you have any unanswered questions about this race, feel free to comment below!

All smiles!  This was taken after the race, but we are standing at around mile 3.5  of the course.
All smiles! This was taken after the race, but we are standing at around mile 3.5 of the course.

Happy Mountain Running!

-Juliane, ACSM CEP


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