Runners take on tough terrain in Smoky Mountain Relay

You’ve got to be just a little bit crazy, maybe, to do this trail race — crazy for an epic trail-running experience, that is.

The Smoky Mountain Relay, taking place this Friday and Saturday (May 13-14), is more than 200 miles of trail running for teams made up of 12 or six members. The race starts from the Pink Beds area in Pisgah Forest near Brevard, and finishes at the Nantahala Outdoor Center near Bryson City, traversing some of the most beautiful, but challenging, terrain in the Southeast.

Runners with 12-member teams will divvy the course up in 36 legs, with each runner completing three legs. The legs range from 2.5 miles to 10 miles, and from easy to very difficult indeed.

Why do it?

“Because I like to run for fun. And this sounds like fun,” said Melissa Pennscott, a marketing manager at Nantahala Outdoor Center who, since October, has been putting in about 20 miles a week on the trails as a runner. “It’s getting back to nature and enjoying the scenery.”

SEE ALSO: Map of the race

The Nantahala Outdoor Center put together a team that includes Pennscott to participate in the relay, which is modeled on the famous Hood to Coast relay in the Pacific Northwest. The race founder, Jim Brendle, lives in Medford, Ore., but has family connections to Swain County, which resulted in him staging the first relay here last year.

“We did it with a skeleton crew, 48 runners,” Brendle said, adding there are 120 runners signed up this year.

Teams use vans to shuttle each other to various places along the course, taking turns resting, eating and running. It will take 24 to 34 hours to complete the course.

“This is a total team experience,” he said. “Everybody hurts together, everybody stinks together.”

That’s one of the reasons Leigh Boike, manager of guest relations for Nantahala Outdoor Center, became interested in participating — and, of course, because the race is actually going to finish up where she works.

“It kind of snowballed from there,” Boike said, admitting she’s a little nervous about the upcoming race. “It is definitely going to be a challenge.”

Food, drinks and live music at the Pourover Pub at the Nantahala Outdoor Center will cap the race’s finish. Racers also will find amenities such as hot showers, on-site restaurants and lodging, and the opportunity for an ice-cold bathing experience in the Nantahala River.

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