A View From the Top

Gordon Cherr, 

This is a serious running town, this Asheville, NC. Serious weather in the winter and late spring, serious dogs who show little mercy and owners who show less concern about a local leash law, a no nonsense running store, eschewing all other sports for a change, as well as the influence of the local university (hurray!), serious trail runners and serious trails and seriously hilly racing for the not faint of heart. This place is going to work just fine for me.

The weather: The local joke here is that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It is no joke. I finally know why I bought that Pearl Izumi breathable rain jacket several years ago. It never got much work in Tallahassee, but it sure does here. The rain is really cold this time of the year. Big, cold serious raindrops slapping you up the side of your head, outdone only by the sleet. Polypro gloves…buy them. Tights are …a must. Goretex shoes which would fry your feet in Tallahassee…they have a place here too.

You know all of those articles in Runner’s World about layering your clothes, the ones you laugh at? Reread them if you are heading up here. Hypothermia is for real…’nuff said about that. But the summer and fall will be beautiful. Everyone is invited to come stay with me all summer long. It was 56% humidity here the other day and people were gagging and passing out on the sidewalk. Ha!

The dogs: Most dogs here seem to be just like Asheville. Laid back. In no big hurry. Probably stoned. Those dogs are not the problem. Out on the mountain trails people tend to run with their dogs. (I think that has to do with worries about bears.) Running dogs actually are the best dogs. No problem there, either. But there is a genre of people here with some very nasty large sized canines. These are the same people who don’t believe in zoning. They think they are pioneers of a sort, living a wild life out in the woods. They don’t in reality, and that life died a long time ago. They don’t fence their yards or leash their dogs. Their dogs have an attitude problem and take poorly to strangers running through their turf, especially this stranger who doesn’t give a rat’s rear about the civil rights of most dogs and who seriously believes that people, and not dogs, own the streets. You didn’t see any dogs filing income tax returns, did you? That proves it.

Several recent heart-thumping encounters have led me to a wonderful discovery. The product is called “Whoop Ass”. You know that little 5% cayenne pepper spray ladies buy from Willie’s Uniforms on east Tennessee Street, for protection? Enough to stop a grown man in his tracks and make him whimper like a baby. Well, “Whoop Ass” is 17% pepper spray and buddy, let me tell you, each little squeeze shoots about 30′, right on target every time, too. The PETA people might not like it, but if you think a German shepherd cannot do back flips like Olga Korbut, think again. One word of advice about “Whoop Ass” – check the wind direction before you fire…it is very nonselective about tear ducts and salivary glands. Actually, two words of advice about the stuff…don’t rub your eyes after handling the applicator.

JUS’ RUNNING: This is the local runner’s hangout. No FSU crap. No UNC paraphernalia. Running shoes, shorts, tops, advice. Supplements, magazines, hats, serious hydration backpacks are plentiful. A treadmill with a video camera to check your stride pattern and help salespeople to make recommendations. I didn’t bother with the treadmill; I know I look like hell, almost as bad as Lee Cohee. (It is too bad we don’t see Lee anymore. He was as bowlegged as a bull rider and he could run a 2:37 marathon to boot…no joke.) If you are looking to meet people to run with, go to JUS’ RUNNING. Long Sunday runs start from the NC Arboretum, while groups of runners leave from the store on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (just like the Sunday BP groups, pick your speed) and intervals are on Wednesday nights at the UNC track.

Trail Running: As a novice here I have already learned that there are innumerable serious trails to run on and a like number of serious trail running bums to run with. The hills take some getting used to, or so I’m told. My first Sunday I ran 14 miles with four women (that’s what I said, I was just trying to get acquainted, you know) – Jan, Meredith, Tammie, and Melissa. In no particular order, a teacher, a social worker, an avowed militant lesbian, and a psychologist. This was the best I could determine because I was in oxygen debt from the first step till the last wobbly one, two plus hours later. The women just chatted the entire way. At least I did not have to carry the conversation.

Someone took a couple of shots at us too; you could hear the bullets whistling through the trees after the initial blast. The ladies said it wasn’t serious; otherwise we would have been hit. Apparently there was a civil war reenactment going on nearby, or so I heard later. I thought the war was over.

Today I ran with some of the more serious male runners (none of whom claimed to be an avowed militant lesbian), starting on the “Hard Times Trail.” No kidding, the first 25 minutes were a steep uphill. Then it got really rude. It was mercifully finished an hour and some minutes later, and then all these guys could talk about was hitting the really “nasty” trails in a few months to get ready for the Shut-In Ridge Trail Run next November. (It is a 17 mile race, last year’s winner ran it in 2:40.) Now that is something to look forward to, huh?

This all said, the running community here is vibrant and alive. It isn’t Tallahassee, but it might not be very far behind either.