ALEXANDER COUNTY, NC (June 19, 2021) – The 7th Annual Vertical Mile Challenge was held Saturday, June 19 at Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area with 115 runners and 109 finishers. For the first time, an Alexander County man took top honors in the extreme trail race. In addition, the female course record was broken.Josh Stone, age 31 of Bethlehem, was the overall winner of the VMC (8 loops/16 miles) with a time of 2:32:55. A regional running enthusiast, Stone said this was his first trail race, which makes winning this extreme trail race even more impressive. Barry Thomas, age 37 of Hickory, placed second at 2:46:10, with Will Gelling, age 39 of Mooresville, in third place at 2:47:25.
Marisa Romeo, age 27 of Swannanoa, was the first-place female (6th place overall) with a time of 2:58:58, which set a new female course record. She also had the fastest first lap for a female at 20:37. Lisa Watkins, age 47 of North Wilkesboro, was the second-place female (24th overall) with a time of 3:54:14, while Kjirsti Myles, age 39 of Whispering Pines, placed third (28th overall) at 4:00:56.
Awards were also presented to the top runners from Alexander County. Will Boggs, age 31 of Hiddenite, won the first-place male award (not including the overall winner) with a time of 3:59:07. Josh Stone won the fastest first lap for a male award with a time of 16:59. There were five runners from Alexander County in the VMC, with no local females competing in the 16-mile race.
Juan Tisera, age 32 of Charlotte, took top honors in the Half VMC (4 loops/8 miles) with a time of 1:13:11. Matt Kearney, age 36 of Mount Olive, placed second at 1:25:21, with Eric Sprinkle, age 51 of Taylorsville, in third place at 1:51:32.
Lanie Honeycutt, age 32 of Morganton, was the first-place female (5th place overall) in the Half VMC with a time of 1:55:18. Jocelyn Piccone, age 57 of Pineville, was the second-place female (6th place overall) at 1:57:13, with Amanda Kearney, age 33 of Dudley, in third place (9th place overall) at 2:01:07.
Two people who completed five (5) Vertical Mile Challenge races were presented with special awards commemorating their achievement. Five-year awards were presented to Lisa Watkins of North Wilkesboro and Laurie Matecki of Sanford.
A number of special awards were also presented to competitors who worked especially hard or exhibited major enthusiasm during the race.
The first VMC race was held in 2015 with only 14 finishers. Slowly but surely, participation began to climb, with 17 finishers in 2016, 92 finishers in 2017, 78 finishers in 2018, 184 finishers in 2019, 77 finishers in 2020 (postponed until August and capped due to COVID-19), and 109 finishers in 2021.
“It’s exciting to have runners from all across North Carolina and even other states compete in this amazing event,” said Rick French, race director. “I’m proud of Josh Stone for representing Alexander County and for being the first local resident to win this very difficult race. I appreciate everyone who competed and volunteered to make this race possible. It was a great day at Rocky Face Park.”
Runners who competed in the VMC hailed from numerous cities and states, including: North Carolina – Taylorsville, Hiddenite, Stony Point, Statesville, Hickory, Conover, Granite Falls, Morganton, Valdese, Lincolnton, Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro, Dudley, Troutman, Mooresville, Durham, Swannanoa, Winston-Salem, Belmont, Mint Hill, Rockingham, Raleigh, Fleetwood, Holly Springs, Charlotte, Simpsonville, Spring Lake, Lewisville, Pisgah Forest, Southern Pines, Whispering Pines, Pfafftown, Davidson, Boone, Jamestown, McLeansville, Apex, Chapel Hill, Concord, Pinehurst, Salisbury, Zionville, Newland, Mocksville, Summerfield, High Point, Kernersville, Sanford, Hope Mills, and Cornelius; South Carolina – Columbia, Cheraw, and Simpsonville; Tennessee – Knoxville; Georgia – Duluth; and Ohio – Lowell.
The VMC race consists of eight 2-mile loops for a total of approximately 16 miles, all while ascending and descending a vertical mile (approximately 5,000 feet). Each loop, runners climb the “Stairway to Heaven” trail, which is a half-mile long with an elevation change of more than 500 feet at a 25 to 30 percent grade.
Complete race results and photos/videos are available online at www.rockyfacepark.com/the-vertical-mile-challenge or on UltraSignup at www.bitly.com/2021-vmc-16-miler (VMC) and www.bitly.com/2021-vmc-8-miler (Half VMC).
The 2nd Annual Vertical Night Challenge is set for Saturday, October 2 at 6:00 p.m. for a unique twist on the VMC experience. Runners will wear head lamps for most of the race. There will be an 8-miler (4 loops) and a 16-miler (8 loops). Online registration is live at www.ultrasignup.com/register.aspx?did=82963.