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April 13, 2024

Vertical Mile Challenge trail race attracts 203 runners

Alex Garcia (right), Top Overall Vertical Mile Challenge Race finisher, is congratulated June 15, 2019, by ace organizer and Alexander County Manager Rick French (left).



Race organizer and Alexander County Manager Rick French (left) presents an award to 2019 Top Female Vertical Mile Challenge Race finisher Marissa Cooper Winstead, of Taylorsville.

More than 200 runners from all across North Carolina and other states converged on Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area on Saturday, June 15 for the 5th annual Vertical Mile Challenge (VMC) trail race. Of the starters, 184 runners completed the extreme trail race which continues to grow in popularity with the trail-running community.

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, and now, 184 finishers in 2019.

In this year’s event, Alex Garcia, age 36 of Shelby, came close to breaking the course record (2:21:08) set by Gavin Coombs of Raleigh back in 2017. Garcia posted an impressive time of 2:23:09. Second-place finisher Will Gelling, age 37 of Mooresville, posted the male “fastest first lap” of 16:16, barely missing the record of 16:12 set by Coombs in 2017. Gelling finished with a time of 2:30:46. Third-place male was Brian Marshburn, age 40 of Wake Forest, who clocked in at 2:33:18.

Marissa Cooper Winstead, age 41 of Taylorsville, was the top female finisher with a time of 3:18:40. Second-place female was Abigail Malmborg, age 23 of Arden, with a time of 3:22:29. Third-place female was Kara Peschock, age 22 of Statesville, who broke the course record for female “fastest first lap” with a time of 20:13. Peschock finished the race in 3:28:30.

Winstead and Barry Thomas were honored with wooden plaques donated by Relic Wood LLC, which wanted to honor the fastest male and female from Alexander County.

The race had 135 male finishers and 49 female finishers.

“We’re excited that the Vertical Mile Challenge trail race has grown so much over a period of only five years. We expect the growth to continue as word is spreading about the race difficulty, beautiful views, excellent trails, and helpful volunteers,” said Alexander County Manager Rick French, who served as race director. “We enjoy offering events for our citizens that also attract more visitors to Alexander County.”

Runners hailed from numerous cities and states, including: North Carolina – Taylorsville, Stony Point, Hiddenite, Elkin, Morrisville, Dunn, Greenville, Winterville, Statesville, Farmville, Hamlet, Fuquay-Varina, Hickory, Greenville, Lincolnton, Cornelius, Raleigh, Rockingham, Landis, Greensboro, Zebulon, Matthews, Ronda, Concord, Holly Springs, Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro, Fort Bragg, Lexington, Mooresville, Mint Hill, Charlotte, Salisbury, Spring Lake, Davidson, Newton, Morehead City, Fayetteville, Apex, Sanford, Broadway, Waxhaw, Cameron, Kannapolis, Winston-Salem, Louisburg, Conover, Durham, Boone, Valdese, Clyde, Whispering Pines, Thomasville, Wake Forest, Whitsett, Asheville, Hendersonville, Arden, Huntersville, Crouse, Rolesville, Bahama, Southern Pines, Gastonia, Burnsville, Wendell, Maiden, Randleman, Eden, Newland, Weaverville, Stanley, Lenoir, Mebane, Shelby, Woodruff, Pfafftown, Cary, Lewisville, Morganton, Hillsborough, Fleetwood, and Cherryville; South Carolina – Columbia, Chapin, Irmo, Elgin, Charleston, Blythewood, West Columbia, Rock Hill, Piedmont, and Greenville; Tennessee – Knoxville and Johnson City; Virginia – Alexandria, Palmyra, and Forest; Florida – Sarasota; and California – San Francisco.

The VMC race consists of eight 2.2-mile loops for a total of approximately 17.6 miles, all while ascending and descending a vertical mile (5,280 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 are available online View photos from the VMC on Rocky Face Park’s Facebook page at or search for Visit Alexander NC on Google Photos.

Make plans for the 6th annual Vertical Mile Challenge on June 20, 2020! #VMC #VerticalMileChallenge #RockyFacePark

Learn more about Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area at

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