Browse articles by event below.


March 15, 2016 - WLOS News 13 - Carolina Moment: Blind marathon runner recalls tragedy after moment of triumph


Carolina Moment: Blind marathon runner recalls tragedy after moment of triumph

By John Le

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — So much of how we see the world, depends on where we’ve been.

“We all have obstacles,” Mike Merino of Hendersonville said. “There’s always ways through it, just learn to accept your situation as it is.”

At Lake Osceola, Merino is mostly alone with his thoughts as he prepares for the Asheville Marathon.

“Kind of quiet, secluded,” he said. “Got a lot of people walking their dogs.”

“My mind just kind of wanders,” he said about running. “Or if there’s things I’m angry about, it helps me let it go.”

Running has been his bridge over troubling waters.

Especially when life as he saw it faded fast.

“I can’t produce a protein to keep certain cells in my eyes alive,” he explained.

There were years of signs before the diagnosis that stunned him.

“I had trouble seeing at night, I’d go to a movie theatre and have trouble finding my way out of it,” he recalled. “And driving in the dark became more difficult.”

Somewhere along the line, he concluded that life as a legally blind man is not a sprint, but a marathon.

He was diagnosed with a hereditary disease called Usher’s syndrome, which causes moderate hearing loss at birth.

It also leads to retinitis pigmentosa, or “tunnel vision.”

“It was hard, it really was,” he said. “At first I had a lot of anxiety about what the future might hold.”

Mike’s medals are mementos of marathon missions, accomplished. He’s tethered to another runner each time he treks 26 miles.

What should have been one of the greatest days of his life, turned out to be one of the nation’s worst.

“We heard this explosion,” he said.

Minutes after he finished the Boston Marathon in 2013, two bombs killed three people and injured hundreds of others.

“And that’s when chaos occurred,” he said. “I think I was maybe 60 yards away.”

The tragedy after his personal triumph gave him one more reason to look at the world differently.

“It makes me appreciate life a little bit more,” he told News 13.

Instead of dwelling on what he might someday lose, Mike’s focused on everything he has to gain.

“Actually, it’s good marathon running weather!” he said.

The Asheville Marathon is March 13 at the Biltmore Estate. There’s also a half marathon on March 12.

If Mike finishes in less than five hours, he’ll qualify to run again at the Boston Marathon.

Source: WLOS News 13



March 15, 2016 - WLOS News 13 - Blind marathoner qualifies for Boston Marathon in Biltmore race



Blind marathoner qualifies for Boston Marathon in Biltmore race


ASHEVILLE, N.C. — We have an update to our profile of a blind marathon runner from Hendersonville.This past weekend, Mike Merino ran the Asheville Marathon at Biltmore Estate in four hours and 55 minutes.That qualifies him for the Boston Marathon. Merino was the first visually-impaired runner at the Biltmore event.

For such races, he is tethered to a guide to keep him safe.

Merino also ran in the Boston Marathon back in 2013 and finished just minutes before the bombing that killed three and injured hundreds of others.

Source: WLOS News 13
March 15, 2016 - Crystal Shirk Blog - Asheville Marathon & Half Weekend 2016



Asheville Marathon & Half Weekend 2016

By Crystal Shirk

This weekend was the culmination of almost a year of planning.  A weekend packed full for sure.  As an Asheville Marathon Ambassador, there was much more to this event than just training with my feet, but helping prep for this event and playing a teeny tiny role in helping it go smoothly.  Daphne, who runs the IDaphe events, has an amazing setup and assistants… this experience has shown me how much planning it takes to make an event like this go off so well.

As most half marathoners did, I came in on Friday for the expo to get my race packet.  Half marathoners, full marathoners, and those completing the Vineyard Challenge were immediately greeted as they entered the Double Tree hotel, either by the info booth(that was me for some few hours), or the race waiver station.

Runners picked up their packets, got their Expo bingo cards, goody bags, and flowed through the expo.  Goody bags included a weekend schedule, gloves, a race buff, and some other goodies.   The expo is the place to get to try free Roots hummus, buy those awesome Balega socks with all the sponsors on them from Fleet Feet at 2 for $10, try your muscle cream, visit Specialized PT, buy Biltmore Wine with custom race labels, Bani Bands, visit WCU booth, discounted shoes and clothes with Vertical Running of Black Mountain, and much more.  Get your bingo card stamped at each vendor and submit to win a prize.  Shirts and more are available at the Expo as well as listening to Danny Dreyer talk on Chi running.

Swag you’ll obtain from this race (except the AMA shirt)

My Ambassador job on Friday included volunteering to get expo set up (thanks to Ingles for fueling our breakfast) and then info booth until I left for work. Ingles and Chic-fil-a were awesome to deliver lunch!

Race morning, the race starts at 730 a.m.  We were up at 5:15AM to get to Biltmore around 6am.  It can take up to 30 minutes to get from the gate to parking depending on arriving traffic.  After parking, we hit the port a potty, then headed to get photos with the Asheville Marathon Ambassadors by the barn.

AMA photo

Smile!  Then back off we all went to get race prepped.

One more trip to the potty, bag check, we were in our spots 5 minutes before race start.  The sun is already coming up, temps are in the upper 50’s… Conrad and I place ourselves by the 2 hour pacer guy.  Conrad wants to stay close to help him PR today.  I know I can’t keep his pace.  I know going into the race I’ll race my own pace.  I would love to PR (last year I did PR at 2:09:33), but I know I’m not as fast this year.


And the race starts.  Such a gorgeous course.  The first mile starts out relatively flat.  As you turn left to go up past the sheep pasture on your right, mile 2 starts.  And this mile is a steady climb to the Deer Park Restaurant.  As we pass it, and go around a corner, Mile 3 starts and we have a little over a mile of downhill!  As you reach the main ticket booth, you take a right and spend from 3.3m-4.8m of a steady uphill climb.  Just focus on the beauty.  Its not so bad.  As you crest, you hit water station 2, that has fuel (Honey Stinger gel this year) and you start the rolling hills of up and down for the next mile.  As your are reaching mile 6, you reach the Biltmore House in all its glory!

Biltmore House!

Many people find a place here to take a quick photo stop.  Some at the back of the lawn, some by the house.
I stopped for a quick photo here, but as I got back on the path, BAM, the 2:15 hour pacer girl was right beside me, so I bolted ahead.  There wasn’t gonna be any of that today!  But she sure was motivating.  She just kept yelling positive thoughts to the ones who stayed with her!  You go Kay!
As you run to the house and back up the drive, Smile at Paul Jackson Photographers as they catch you in your happy place!  The next 2 miles are practically downhill people!  You run past the Biltmore Estate Gardens.

20150315_083235They are just starting to plant and get ready for the Spring Plants.  You’ll pass Bass Pond, and the waterfall, cross the bridge and as you reach the bottom of the hill, you’ll turn left.20150517_083330

Another fueling station is waiting on you.  This time, some fruit is there as well.  You’ll do a short out and back.  A bridge washed out earlier in the year with a flood, so we can’t use the same path they’ve used the last 3 years, so we re-pass the fuel station and head on down the road towards Antler hill until you reach the lagoon on the left.  Now, remember, by this point, the trail is completely flat.  You hit some dirt as you run past the lagoon, French broad on your left.  You’re placed back onto the concrete path to continue on until you hit the gravel again.


We are still running with the River on our left, fields on our right. Some awesome water stations are there about every mile at this point- dancing, cheering you on.  You’re in mile 10 and 11 by now and need all the motivation I can get!
The lady of the Bridge is there this year to smile as we pass the bridge that heads to the West side.  This is where the troll has has been years past, but this is the new addition to the story.

Lady of the Bridge

The sun has come up and it is definitely in the mid-60’s by now, and I’m worn out. Maybe starting to get somewhat dehydrated.  I can’t decide if I just didn’t eat enough last night too.  I personally think a few times I’m hallucinating and maybe I’d like to pass out.  I hear Kay, my 2:15 pacer I’m trying to avoid get closer and closer.  I don’t have the energy to fight it to stay ahead anymore, and I let her pass me….and the entire crew who stuck with her.  Proud of them.  And yes, she’s still cheering them on as if she is just walking today.  Man, can I vote her for Pacer of the weekend???  And I just wanted to avoid her…lol.
You keep going straight on the gravelly dirt past the awesome high-energy Young Life group at the Y (this is a location that you run straight, but also when you come back its only .5m to the finish!  People are crossing paths here).
What they don’t realize is that I would rather be running hills on asphalt than running this Gravely dirt on flat ground and I need all the motivation I can get by this point. Yay to Jordan D, Leslie S, and Amy B for cheering me on!
About 3/4 miles down you’ll do a turn-around and cross a timing mat.  Head back to the Young Life Water Station and now veer left to the last .5m.  This is a slight uphill finish here.  Legs are tired now.  Just want to be done.  As you get to the last .1 mile, my husband is standing on the corner (he’s been back about 14 minutes at this point) taking a video and picture of me coming through.  The actual finish line is at the bottom of the hill after I turn right onto the asphalt.


The finish includes amazing volunteers putting that gorgeous medal around my neck.  I knew in advance I wanted to go home with a white finishers blanket… so I walked right up to the volunteer who had a white and beige one, and requested the white.  With a big smile he handed it to me.  Another volunteer hands me my water, lid off and ready to drink.

Conrad met me at the finish, and we walked over for our finishers photos, then headed up to the food tent.  Here you get to sign up for free massages (25 minute wait, but that’s fine).  Eat my food and chat with Mindy and Brian as we wait, and eat.

Mindy- extroidinaire

Roots is giving out free tubs of hummus and chips to runners. Michelob is giving out free beer to runners.  Ingles food tent has bananas, orange slices, bagel halves, granola bars, Dove Chocolate, water, PowerAde… Its a nice atmosphere at the old barn/stables.

The fun ended as we had to leave to spend the day with the kids at their events for the day though.  So nice to watch Ian’s first outdoor spring soccer game!  Back to the Expo real quick to buy my Balega socks and 2 bottles of the labeled wine to display.  I figure since I worked my way as an ambassador for a free entry, that I could spend a little extra on the fun stuff.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the best deal on a Biltmore house season pass!  Those tickets we had to use to get onto the estate the morning of the race can be upgraded to Season passes at $74 after taxes for the Biltmore House/Estate.  I haven’t seen them at a better price at all throughout the entire year.  So we took care of that as well.  One way to use these passes:


But let me tell you, Saturday night, bubble bath was amazing to calm the muscles and relax and stretch.  I slept great!

Sunday morning, Conrad and I got up early, he went in at 5:30am to help with the start line, and I came a little later to help him, then get awards going as the Awards Ambassador.  It was a rainy morning today, but not too cold.

We got awards set up, and were able to help give them out, and then clean up took us until around 2:30/3pm, then we helped more around to clean up.

It was so cool to see the special people who obtained awards.  The Backyard Vineyard Challenger jackets and medals were beautiful.
Conrad and I chatted with the awesome local 2nd place overall male who just randomly picked up a transfer into the race from a friend a week before the race, unexpectedly offered to him.  Then beasts out 2nd place!
The woman who came up to me at the end of the race, worn out and completely shocked that she was notified she has won an award.  She told me that she had only started running these distances recently and somehow kept getting age-place awards.  She was so sweet and I took her picture with her prize and on the podium for her.  I was so happy to see her so happy!Nonetheless, the weekend was grande.  Busy.  And I would do it all again.  Daphne, Mindy, Amy are all amazing!  Brian, Micah, Taylor, Tim and the rest are as well!  The ambassadors do a great job of jumping in and helping where they all can.


Well run race!  Like my blog so if I get to be an ambassador again, I can help sign you up with my special ambassador deals and codes:)


Source: runwithboys blog / Crystal Shirk


March 14, 2016 - Transylvania Times - Rotary Member Runs For Boys & Girls Club





Rotary Member Runs For Boys & Girls Club

By Staff

Rotary Club of Pisgah Forest member Jim Cruickshank ran Saturday in the Asheville Marathon & Half at the Biltmore Estate as a fundraising effort to support The Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club of Transylvania County.

Cruickshank is also demonstrating Rotary Has Heart, an initiative that promotes community service projects that reflect Rotary International’s Six Areas of Focus (basic education and literacy, economic and community development, disease prevention and treatment, peace and conflict prevention/resolution, water and sanitation, maternal and child health).

Cruickshank has been a runner for about three years and the Asheville Marathon & Half was one of his first big runs. Dolores Littleson serves on the boards of both Rotary Club of Pisgah Forest and the Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club.

Cruickshank said when Dolores learned he was a runner she asked him to run in support of the Boys and Girls Club, one of the named charities for this event. He said he was happy to fundraise and as a runner had already signed up.

Cruickshank ran the 13.1 miles in the half marathon on Saturday.

The run took place on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate.

This is the third year that Cruickshank has participated in the half marathon. He says “the first five miles are really challenging as you start running up to the Biltmore House.”

He follows a training schedule and in the last two to three weeks has averaged 25 to 30 miles a week, tapering off in the last week.

Rotary Club of Pisgah Forest has donated $500 to support Cruickshank’s fundraising and the Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club.

According to Cruickshank, the run and the named charity tied in well with the Rotary club’s focus and the Rotary Has Heart initiative.

“This was an opportunity to support the Boys & Girls Club in another way,” he said.

Cruickshank has already exceeded his fundraising goal of $1,500. He also had a personal goal for the half marathon - to run it in under two hours and said, “Oh – I’ll do it.”

Founded in 1999, The Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club is the largest youth development organization in Transylvania County.

The club serves more than 470 children each year through their enriching after-school and summer programs.

More than 200 children call the club “home” each day.

With programs that focus on education and career development, health and wellness, character and leadership, sports, fitness and recreation and the arts, children at the club have many opportunities that they might not otherwise have.

Rotary International, the world’s first service club organization, consists of more than 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas.

The Rotary Club of Pisgah Forest meets on Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m. at Pisgah Fish Camp.

Source: Transylvania Times



March 14, 2016 - Citizen-Times - Doherty, Mazur win Asheville Half at Biltmore



Doherty, Mazur win Asheville Half at Biltmore

By Karen Chávez

It seems every year, the Asheville Marathon and Biltmore Estate is fighting Mother Nature in one extreme battle or another.

From spitting snow and sub-freezing temps in its inaugural year, in its inaugural year, 2013, to the Saturday, March 12 race with temps hovering near an 80-degree mark, the race has always had its challenges with unpredictable March weather.

But that’s just part of the fun of running!

This year, the half-marathon was sold out with 1,400 runners taking part.

Ethan Doherty, 25, of Fletcher, was the overall winner, in a smoking-fast time of 1:17:36.

The overall winner of the 13.1-mile race was Ann Mazur, 30, (seen here in the photo) of Charlottesville, Virginia, in an equally impressive time of 1:26:10.

Congratulations to everyone who braved the heat Saturday for the fourth annual Asheville Half Marathon at Biltmore

For full results, visit the Asheville Half at Biltmore website.

For a beautiful photo gallery from the race, visit

Source:  Citizen-Times



March 13, 2016 - WLOS News 13 - Asheville Marathon grows, split across two days



BILTMORE ESTATE, N.C. — Hundreds of runners took part in the Asheville MarathonSunday morning at Biltmore Estate.

This is the fourth year marathoners have toured the entire Biltmore grounds.

The race drew attention from across the country, with more than 2,000 runners gathering to participate.

Because so many runners signed up, race organizers spread the half and full marathons over two days.

“This year they split it up because they had such a draw of people wanting to come,” Conrad Shirk, race volunteer, said. “In fact, the half marathon was sold out in November they told me, but they did not sell out the full marathon. But there’s a lot of people wanting to come out here and run and see the Biltmore”

This was a Boston Marathon qualifier race.

The top three finishers overall came in under three hours.

Click here to check out the full race results.

Source: WLOS News 13 
February 17, 2016 - Mountain Xpress - Visually-impaired local marathoner set to participate in 2016 Asheville Marathon

Visually-impaired local marathoner set to participate in 2016 Asheville Marathon on March 13

By Max Hunt

2016 Asheville Marathon to Welcome First Visually-Impaired Participant

February 16, 2016 — The Asheville Marathon & Half at Biltmore Estate is excited to welcome its first visually impaired runner to its 2016 events. Veteran marathoner Mike Merino, of Hendersonville, North Carolina, will be joining 1,400 other participants for the full marathon on Sunday, March 13, 2016, guided by Curtis Nash of Greenville, South Carolina. Why did Merino choose the 2016 Asheville Marathon? “It’s a Boston qualifier, it’s conveniently close, it’s well-timed — a great time for keeping that holiday and winter weight off, and it’s non-urban, something that isn’t found too often in marathons,” he says.

Merino, 45, has a hereditary disease, Usher Syndrome Type II, which caused moderate hearing loss at birth and an onset of Retinitis Pigmatosis (a degenerative eye disease) in his 20s. He was not formally diagnosed until his late 30s and has coped with his condition and prognosis by competing as a visually impaired athlete since 2013 – a year after he crossed the threshold for legal blindness. He now has zero peripheral vision as well as night blindness.

Merino now races with a guide, who he usually doesn’t meet until race day, and uses a rope tether to stay connected to his guide. A self-described “old football jock” who picked up running to keep himself in shape, he has completed several marathons, including finishing Boston in 2013, where he forgot his tether and wound up racing with a necktie as a rope. Merino finished Boston safely, five minutes before the explosions, and was at the finish receiving his medal as the bombs went off. He is ready to take on Boston again and hopes to finish the Asheville Marathon with a qualifying time.

Because he does have some degree of vision remaining, Merino is able to train independently during daylight hours. However, his total lack of peripheral vision makes it dangerous for him to race without guidance. While he tries not to dwell on the deterioration of his vision, he did once run a 30K race blindfolded to get an idea of what it would be like to run when he loses his sight entirely. Aside from that, he says he has, for the most part, stopped worrying about what will eventually happen to him, though he does still experience moments where he worries about his future.

For now, Merino runs for himself, as well as to promote awareness of the visually impaired – a race demographic that many runners forget about. While he knows he gets stared at a lot, he doesn’t mind people asking questions and notes that most other runners are really supportive.

One particularly supportive runner — South Carolina resident Curtis Nash — will act as Merino’s guide in the 2016 race. Nash, who has never been a guide before, volunteered to take this on after seeing a Facebook post on the Asheville Marathon page. A long-distance runner for the past five years, and also a veteran marathoner, Nash sees his role as a guide as a way of giving back goodwill to a running community that he views as a team.

Merino and Nash hope to meet before race day, and get in a long run together. In the meantime though, they are emailing and mentally preparing to spend four hours racing together on the Biltmore Estate in March. Merino’s perspective is that “with hard work and support you can do anything.” All of us at the Asheville Marathon & Half at Biltmore Estate are thrilled to have these two amazingly inspirational runners on board for this year’s race.

Source: Mountain Xpress

February 16, 2016 - Citizen Times - Run for charity in sold-out Asheville Half-Marathon


Run for charity in sold-out Asheville Half-Marathon

By Karen Chávez

ASHEVILLE - The fourth annual Asheville Marathon & Half at Biltmore Estate is still nearly a month away – the half (13.1 miles) is on March 12, and the full (26.2 miles) is on March 13. But time is ticking if you want to be a part of this unique race.

The races, which start at 7:30 a.m., are sponsored by the Asheville Citizen-Times, Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville and Biltmore Farms Hotels, and take place completely on the private, scenic grounds of the Biltmore Estate, including a pass by the grand front doors of the Biltmore House.

However, the half-marathon sold out in November and the waiting list is closed, said race director Daphne Kirkwood. The race is limited to 2,800 runners, 1,400 in each race.

There are still some spots open for the marathon, but there is another way to get into the half-marathon, she said.

“Each year, Asheville Marathon & Half charity partners have many opportunities to raise needed funds, build awareness of their mission and give back to the local community,” she said. “In 2015, our charity partners raised over $75,000, collectively.”

Runners who still want to get in on the half-marathon action can run by raising money for one of this year’s race’s charity partners, which have just been announced:

  • Consider Haiti: The Asheville-based nonprofit comprises local volunteers and professionals from Asheville who have been working for more than 15 years to empower Haitian communities by supporting grassroots efforts to create sustainable nutrition and medical support.  Last year, Consider Haiti raised more than $14,000 as a charity partner to the Asheville Marathon & Half.  To participate in the half or full, while raising funds for Consider Haiti, contact Jim Siemens at or visit
  • Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club of Transylvania County: A first-time charity partner this year and the largest youth development organization in Transylvania County, the Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club serves more than 470 school-aged youths each year through  its after-school and summer programs.  Its mission is to provide a safe place for children to go to  and feel welcomed and where they can join together in wholesome recreation and companionship. To participate with this charity, contact Jackie Witherspoon at or visit
  • Young Life of Asheville/Buncombe County: Another first-time charity partner for this event, Young Life of Asheville/Buncombe County, is dedicated to providing leadership and ministry for adolescents in the community. Young Life staff and volunteers enter the world of kids, focusing on what matters to them — fun, adventure, friendship and a sense of significance, and offers them an opportunity to engage in open conversations about God. To participate in the half or full, while raising needed funds for our local Young Life chapter, contact Leslie Sloan or visit

For those who were on the waiting list and did not get into this year’s race, they will receive a discount code to apply to the 2017 event.

Want to run?

Registration is still open for the Asheville Full Marathon. Entry fee is $155. Register

For more information on the Asheville Half and Full Marathon at Biltmore, to register or sign up as a charity runner, or to purchase spectator tickets, visit

Source: Citizen-Times



September 14, 2016 - Black Mountain News - Bike the quarry after rocking it

Bike the quarry after rocking it

By Fred McCormick

There are a few things runners can do after they finish running the Saturday, Sept. 17 Rock the Quarry 5K. They can cool down under the pavilion and hear about the organizations the annual race benefits, watch the top finishers from each age group receive a trophy and now they can grab a bike and head back out to the gravel.

The last option is available thanks to the Climb the Quarry time trial, which will take place on roughly the same course as the foot race that proceeds it.

The 5-mile uphill climb is the sixth and final race of the 2016 Lung Buster Time Trial Series, which up until now has consisted of a much different kind of cycling, according to Daphne Kirkwood of iDaph Events.

“This is the first gravel event we have put on in the series,” she said. “The other five have all been road time trials.”

Kirkwood’s company will be doing the timing for Rock the Quarry and on her first visit to the site of the 5K she was convinced it would be an ideal setting for a cycling event.

“With the quarry already being closed down for that event I thought it would be a great place for this,” she said. “This will allow runners and bikers to both have an activity that day.”

And some will have an opportunity to do both, according to Kirkwood.

“We have challenged people to do both the run and the biking,” she said. “The time trial starts at 11:30 a.m. so the 5K will be done and people can stick around and do the bike ride as well so they can double up.”

The route for Climb the Quarry will start on flat terrain before riders begin to make their ascent into the quarry, where the time trials will finish. Riders will leave in 1-minute intervals.

“Time trials are unique because you’re racing against the clock instead of other people in a race,” Kirkwood said. “We start everyone one minute apart so you’re basically racing against yourself typically trying to either catch up to the person in front of you or not get caught by the person behind you.”

The event will attempt to capitalize on the continued growth of Rock the Quarry, which is expected to draw 350-400 runners this year, according to Jon Neumann, the longtime director of the race.

“I think the race continues to grow because the course is so scenic,” he said. “And the word has finally gotten out.”

Proceeds raised from Rock the Quarry benefit the Black Mountain Home for Children and the Asheville Museum of Science (formerly Colburn Earth Science Museum). The event has raised over $61,000 for the neighboring home and $19,000 for the museum in the last three years. Neumann credits the sponsors of the race that have come on board the last few years.

“In the early years of Rock the Quarry, we weren’t able to raise much money because races are expensive to put on and we were relying on registration fees to raise the money,” he said. “A couple years ago we changed our philosophy on how we raised money for the race and we started asking our very important vendors and customers if they’d pitch in to help our nonprofit partners and the response was unbelievable.

“Carolina Cat is our presenting sponsor this year and Michelin, James River Equipment, Colony Tire and Camp Rockmont are our Platinum Level sponsors. After that, we have 30 more sponsors that have all pitched in.”

Want to walk or bike the quarry?

Registration for both events remains open until the day of the race. The Rock the Quarry 5K begins at 9:30 a.m. with Climb the Quarry starting at 11:30 a.m. 

Registration in advance can be done online at for the 5K and for the time trial. 

Source: Black Mountain News


January 3, 2016 - Blue Ridge Now - Year-round road biking for all levels

Year-round road biking for all levels

By Beth de Bona

Multiple layers of performance clothing was one strategy used by cyclists for fighting the bitter temperatures Saturday morning at Fletcher Community Park, while some smeared Vaseline on their faces as a windbreak.

Though, dealing with the cold is expected by those riding with the Asheville Winter Bike League (AVL-WBL), which has been meeting in Fletcher for weekly rides since November.

“It’s an opportunity to train and be a community together,” said Daphne Kirkwood of iDaph Events, the company that inaugurated AVL-WBL as a season extender for area cyclists this fall. “We saw there was a need for people to continue getting together when the weather got colder.”

Over 50 cyclists of various levels of experience set off at 10 a.m. on three different routes on the first Saturday in over a month with uncomfortably low temperatures.

AVL-WBL rides continue on Saturdays through Jan. 23 for levels of cyclists, from those just starting out to seasoned professionals, said Kirkwood.

Retired Flat Rock resident Glenn Rodgers has participated in the previous five AVL-WBL events – he took up cycling three years ago after his doctor advised him to shift to non-load-bearing exercise after experiencing knee problems.

“The fun thing about this is that I have not ridden in a group before,” Rodgers said. “I’m testing myself.”

Rodgers had participated in iDaph’s Lung Buster Time Trial series and decided to give the winter rides a try.

Rodgers joined the “B” ride on Saturday, as did Hendersonville resident Marshall Gordon, for just over 45 miles along roads in Fletcher and Fairview, with about 2,800 feet of elevation gain.

Gordon, who won a championship with the American Bicycle Racing National Criterium in 2012 in the 75-plus age group, wasn’t too happy about the 32-degree weather, but was encouraged by joining others for some “collective suffering,” he joked.

The three routes change each week, with a 24-mile “C” ride and a 100-mile “A” ride and include SAG support. The rides are “not designed to drop riders” nor “coddle the masses,” according to promotional materials.

Kirkwood, a triathlete that organizes a number of running, cycling and swimming events in the area through her business, started the nonprofit iDream Athletes Foundation in August to assist those wanting to break into these sports, which can be cost-prohibitive to take up.

“The basis is really to connect and encourage participation in the community in running, swimming and cycling,” she said. Participation is dropping in triathlon events, and Kirkwood believes that’s partly due to barriers like the expense of training and gear.

Though participation in AVL-WBL is free, proceeds from donations received go toward iDream, she said. Cyclists can just show up and register; helmets are required to ride and participants are asked to adhere to a series of guidelines, which include “no whining.”

“We discuss every week how to improve the rides,” said Kirkwood, who led one of the rides on Saturday wearing decorative socks to bring in 2016 in style. Many others said they were also wearing festive socks for the first ride of the new year; they were just hidden under layers of clothing.

Source: Blue Ridge Now