Catamounts could be seen running along the Blue Ridge Parkway over the weekend of Nov. 14-15, but these weren’t of the four-legged variety. It was a contingent from Western Carolina University’s athletic training program completing the second annual Mountain Jug Run for Research.
Nine WCU runners – including students, faculty and staff – began the 174-mile continuous relay at the WCU football stadium in Cullowhee early Saturday morning, Nov. 14, and completed it 30 hours, 14 minutes and 33 seconds later when the group reached the football stadium at Appalachian State University in Boone.
Named in honor of the annual football rivalry between WCU and ASU, the Jug Run was organized to raise funds for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Research and Education Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that awards research grants and academic scholarships in the field of sports medicine.
The inaugural Jug Run in 2008 offered up single-digit temperatures and snow for much of the first 100 miles of the event, but the mild weather this year created perfect conditions for the participants as they took turns running five-mile segments, said Jay Scifers, director of WCU’s athletic training program and a member of the running team.
Last year’s run was completed following roads that mostly pass through valleys, but this year the group ran along the Blue Ridge Parkway for 150 miles, which meant the runners faced extremely long uphill and downhill sections. “Although the parkway was much more difficult to traverse than last year’s course, it provided a wonderful location for the event,” Scifers said.
The six student participants – Heather Brown, Emily Whittington, Aleesa Lennon, Jeremiah Nichols, Kris Leamon and Britton Harper – “did an excellent job handling the run and the fatigue factor,” Scifers said. When they weren’t running, participants rode in the support van. “It was difficult getting much sleep during the event because we were stuck in a vehicle for 30 hours when not running. Some participants slept as little as one hour during the trek, and trying to stay hydrated and maintain adequate nutrition was a challenge,” he said.
Scifers said the students’ performances were especially impressive considering the fact that they were anything but seasoned runners when they signed on to participate. Most had never run more than one or two miles at a time prior to beginning training for the event in August.
Harper, a sophomore from Waxhaw, completed what was considered to be the toughest segment of the event, a 5-mile, 1,200-foot climb on the parkway north from Balsam. He ran a total of 25 miles over the 30-hour span and reported that he was “completely worn out” when the group arrived on ASU’s campus. Harper said the run was exhausting, but satisfying.
The Jug Run participants ran through the night on the parkway, and Harper had one of the group’s more interesting encounters with wildlife around 9 p.m. Saturday, when he came upon an aggressive possum standing in the road. “The possum was about 10 feet away,” Harper said. “I looked at him and he looked at me, and then he started coming toward me.” Harper scooted to the side of the road to avoid the animal and continued on his journey.
In addition to the “attack possum,” other wildlife encounters included fox, deer, owls, bobcat, and one small bear that refused to get off the road so the van could pass.
Scifers said the group encountered no other human traffic on the parkway from 10 p.m. Saturday until 5:15 a.m. on Sunday. “During that time, our group ran about 40 miles. It is incredible how dark it is on the parkway at night, and also how peaceful and quiet it is,” he said. “Everyone enjoyed the evening running due to the wonderful temperatures and the peacefulness of the surroundings.”
The logistical challenges of the Jug Run included a parkway closure in the Mount Pisgah area, where the scenic road is blocked off for one mile because of the possibility of landslides. The runners proceeded to the closure gate, and then had to turn around and take a 30-mile detour by van to get to the other side of the closed section and resume their journey.
In addition to Scifers and the six students, the running group also included associate professor Jill Manners and staff member Emily Martin.
Jug Run participants have collected about $1,000 in donations so far to present to the NATA’s Research and Education Foundation. Their goal is $2,000, and donations are still being accepted. Donations may be made in the form of checks payable to the NATA-REF and sent to Jill Manners at 134 Moore Hall, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee N.C. 28723. All donations to the foundation are tax-deductible.