After years of remembering to register after it was too late, I finally not only registered on time but got into this much-talked-about-but-kind-of-off-the-radar event. In fact, two BMRC members took part, but I'll speak only for myself.
The race begins at the Arboretum, on the southern side of Asheville, and runs along seventeen miles of trails to Mount Pisgah. I'm not sure if the entire course is on the Shut-In trail or just the latter sections, but except for a short stretch in the Arboretum and some Blue Ridge Parkway crossings, you are exclusively on trails--both double-track (early on) and single track. The 2011 race had 235 finishers and while that may not be a lot for an in-town race, when you get onto single track, it can make for difficult passing situations. The majority of the runners understand the situation, however, and will ask if you need by. Several times, I found myself right on the heels of the runner in front of me. I knew I could pass, but it would be a case of using so much energy to get by that I slowed down for a bit once I passed them--and they'd be right on my heels. So, I settled in and apologized for drafting them.
Before the race, a lot of people commented on how hard it was. For roughly the first 2/3 to 3/4 of the race, I didn't find it to be too bad. But at some point, it switched over to 90% run / 10% walk to 10% run / 90% walk. I imagine I lost a lot of time in the latter stretches of the race. There is a general rule of thumb that you use your marathon time to gauge your expected finishing time at Shut-In. In my case, and in the cases of a few others I spoke with,) this was pretty accurate. I think, however, that it felt much longer because while maybe you were out there for the same amount of time, in the back of your head, you realize that you're only covering about 65% of the distance of a marathon.
The technical sections of the trails are made more difficult by the fallen leaves, which can hide foot-grabbing rocks. I fell twice, which is more than I've fallen in any event other than my first Mount Mitchell Challenge. Both falls were fortunate, in that the worst left a pair of scuffs on my right knee and a bit of a bruise. There were several sections that I found I could walk as fast at the person in front of me ran--sometimes even faster! I suppose there is some satisfaction in saying you ran a certain section, but I opted the easier path. There is a cutoff time at the last aid station that I think is more heavily enforced if the weather is iffy. I know they allowed some through who were past the cutoff but since the weather was so good, there was little chance of them not finishing.
Usually, altitude doesn't bother me much, but my ears kept popping during some of the more rapid climbs and descents. Also, my eyes watered up a lot, though maybe that was a contacts thing. One thing I would possibly suggest is sunglasses. I almost never run with them, but they would have been helpful here as the sun peaked through the near-leafless trees. It made it a bit harder to see the trail. Maybe I should have just run faster and beaten the sun over the mountain.
The course is very spectator friendly, since it crosses the parkway several times. Spouses and friends can meet runners at most every aid station. Though, this did cause some problems as several times, spouses would run out in front of you to get to their runner. I carried a water bottle and honestly paid very little attention to the aid stations. I think it was just water, but can't say for sure.
The finish area is among the nicest ones I've encountered, with a great view. I'm not sure which direction we were looking so I'll refrain from saying specifically what you could see. Parking was a little tight, but there didn't seem to be any problems. Later arrivals just parked off the side of the road. The finish comes after a quarter-mile, technical, downhill stretch and sort of catches you by surprise. I couldn't hear anyone until we were pretty close and thought it might just be another aid station until I saw the tent. They had a lot of packaged cookies, chips, crackers, etc... at the finish, some type of Chinese noodles in those take-out boxes (with chopsticks and optional plastic forks,) water and pink lemonade, and (first time I've ever seen this) fortune cookies! Ironically, mine said something like "you will achieve your goals--just do it!" Well, I had a rough goal time when we started, which I didn't achieve. Maybe I should have gotten the cookie before the race. There is no shuttle back to the start so you'll need to pre-arrange transportation before you arrive (or make friends during the run with someone parked at the top who can take you back to your car.)
In all, this was a great run. Don't expect to enjoy the in-race views, unless you're willing to slow down and look around you. Most of your time will be spent watching your footing. I've heard it's difficult to get into the race and that members of the Lower Arden Track Club, which puts on the event, are given precedence. But, if you like trail running and aren't afraid of the technical stuff, this should be on your short list of North Carolina races.
Shut-In Ridge Run