It was a warm, muggy summer evening recently when Anna Priest and well over a few dozen other runners gathered on the gravel road that runs through the quarry at Grove Stone & Sand.
The runners were just minutes away from a demanding run up and down the rolling trails at the quarry site that will host a pair of races. The first is the Asheville Super Spartan Race on Saturday, Aug. 6. The second is Rock the Quarry Trail Challenge 5K on Sept. 17.
Nearly four miles later at the trail's end, Priest mingled with fellow runners under a pavilion. The work she has done to prepare for her first Spartan Race is paying off.
"I've done a 5K, a 10K, and I did a half marathon last year," she said. The Spartan Race is "a different type of running that I've never really engaged in."
What Priest will encounter is a course spanning 8-10 miles that will feature nearly 30 obstacles over the rocky topography of the Hedrick Industries-owned quarry. The race, which premiered in Western North Carolina at Grove Stone last year, was a "huge success," according to Jon Neumann.
"It was a first-year event, and there were around 6,000 people registered," said Neumann, Grove Stone sales manager and organizer of the Rock the Quarry 5K. "This year they're looking at around 8,000 or 9,000 competitors."
As part of the Southeast Showdown in the U.S. Championship Series, the Asheville Super is one of five races to be televised on NBC Sports this year. It is scheduled to air on Sept. 27.
Priest, executive director of the Colburn Earth Science Museum in Asheville, has a good idea of what she will be up against, thanks to Neumann, the president of the museum's board.
"Jon and (his wife) Brittany were my inspiration," she said. "I figured I'd let them do it last year and see how it went."
Priest knows the Asheville Super Spartan Race is a different kind of test than the Rock the Quarry Trail Challenge 5K, which returns to Grove Stone for its ninth year. Having run several of those races, Priest feels like she knows the course. So she is focusing on what she believes is the key to doing well in the Asheville Super.
"I don't have much upper body strength, so getting ready for this race give me a chance to work on that," she said. "I have a group of girls that I do boot camp with once a week, and we do lunges and push ups and things like that."
Priest has also been doing burpees, a squat-thrust exercise assessed to runners of the Asheville Super when they fail to complete an obstacle.
The burpees definitely take a toll, according to Matthew Sand, who took part in his first Asheville Super last year.
"It's about as tough of a challenge mentally as it is physically," he said. "The obstacles aren't terribly hard, but they require you to slow down. Last year I failed three of them. My goal this year is to do less than 100 burpees."
To do that, Sand will need to shift his focus to the obstacles when he encounters them.
"They require you to at least slow your brain down," he said. "You will do much better if you allow yourself time to think through each obstacle, instead of just jumping in."
Priest has only one goal in her first Asheville Super. "I just want to finish," she said.
She also does not want to let her teammates down.
"The group is mostly guys, so being in a male-dominated situation can be a little unnerving," she said, "but everyone has been really supportive."
Regardless of her team's finish in the Asheville Super, Priest plans to be back on the trails in September for Rock the Quarry.
"Both of these races benefit the Colburn Earth Science Museum, and I love being part of that," she said. "So I'm really running to help raise awareness for the Asheville museum of science and science literacy as well."