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Cloudsplitter race more than an attraction for runners

Mike Still • Sep 10, 2019 at 3:00 PM

NORTON — Autumn means many things in Norton, including fall foliage and the Cloudsplitter.

2019 marks the third year that Norton will host the Cloudsplitter ultra-trail running race, which offers trail-running enthusiasts four levels of competition along the city’s trail systems and across much of the Jefferson National Forest from High Knob to Bark Camp Lake.

City Manager Fred Ramey said the race’s success as an attraction comes from a combination of factors beyond the competition itself.

“They’re very talented athletes,” Ramey said of the runners who came last year from six countries and 25 states, “but they’re also very appreciative of the area.”

Ramey said the race was also planned as a way to bring positive economic impact to areas by using ecotourism as a boost.

Ramey said the Cloudsplitter event includes four separate races: 100-mile, 100-kilometer, 50-kilometer and 25-kilometer. While all four races start at the city’s Farmers Market, the runners enter the city’s own network of wilderness trails from the Legion Park trailhead.

The races all will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, Ramey said, and the 100-mile and 100-kilometer are the most challenging. Competitors must reach the finish line at the Farmers Market by midnight Sunday.

Cloudsplitter organizer Susan Howell said the race moved to Norton in 2017 after being a regular event in the Pine Mountain area of east Kentucky.

The city’s and Forest Service trails are well-maintained, Howell said, and the 100-mile and 100-kilometer races are also qualifying events for the International Trail Running Association and an international event in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps, the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc.

“With the elevation and distance along the Cloudsplitter 100 route, the effort is about 3,000 feet less than climbing to the peak of Mount Everest,” Howell said. “You have to collect 15 points in competition to be able to enter the Mont Blanc race. A runner can collect six points in the 100-mile race and four points in the 100-kilometer event.”

Much of the trail system is very runnable, Howell said, and the mid-October timing typically has little rainfall. That makes it safer for runners since water crossings along the route are infrequent.

Even though the Cloudsplitter offers racers points and experience for other races, Howell said the event has other attractions for competitors.

“The greatest thing is the sense of welcomeness from the people here,” Howell said. “People are amazed at the natural beauty of this region and they love the local people and how nice and welcoming they are.”

While Howell and the race staff provide plenty of food, drinks, carbs and sugars to sustain the runners, she said volunteers who maintain aid stations along all four races’ waypoints are also key to the experience.

“Imagine coming into an aid station and getting all this food,” Howell said. “We supply sodas for the sugar to keep runners going, and ginger ale for upset stomachs. There’s soup, baguettes, full breakfasts, homemade cookies. The Coeburn Boy Scout troop with Teddy Huff has been a big help, and the Wise Master Naturalists will work Bark Camp this year.”

Since the Cloudsplitter took hold in Norton, Howell said she has had many competitors say how they want to come back and bring family and friends with them.

“People also meet each other on the trail, form friendships and support each other through the race,” Howell said. They find there are other outdoor recreation opportunities including mountain biking, rock climbing and kayaking within the region’s natural beauty.

“There are a lot of really poor stereotypes about central Appalachia, and we’re trying to show those aren’t the case,” Howell said.

Registration and other information about the Cloudsplitter 2019 event can be found at http://www.cloudsplitter100.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cloudsplitter100/ .

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