Shaun Pope is the owner of Black Mountain Vertical Runner in the heart of downtown at 106 West State Street. Prior to opening the store Pope, 30, worked at its predecessor in the same locale – the Black Mountain Running Company, established by local ultra-running legend Pete Ripmaster.
The store became Vertical Runner in the fall of 2015, and over the three years has substantially built out its offerings. Pope is an ultra-runner, frequently venturing deep into nearby woods on trails as he trains toward 50 or 100-mile races.
On New Year’s Eve, we visited Pope in his shop to get an update on his recent running as well as local running as we head into the new year. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
BMN: What’s your ideal distance right now?
Pope: My wheelhouse is probably the 50-mile. I’m probably better at the 100-mile because it doesn’t take natural speed to do that one – it just takes grit and the mindset. But it’s a long way. When I’m out there, I’d much rather be done after 50 miles.
BMN: You can watch Usain Bolt run and given his speed see why he would naturally tend toward the 100-meters. It’s less clear why someone would lean toward 100-milers.
Pope: The number one reason I do everything is to be out in the woods. It’s never been strictly the aspect of running. It’s been the adventure and to be honest, the further the distance, the more I see. I really like that. Just spending time out there and just being out in the woods – it’s exhilarating. That’s what gets me out there and that’s what keeps me out there.
BMN: When did you get into longer distances?
Pope: At 19 – my dad was the first one in the family to do this stuff and when he started it was very, very underground at the time to be thinking about running anything over a marathon. Most people don’t even fathom that. But some people were doing it in the 70s and 80s, and they didn’t think anything of it.
BMN: You’re from Cleveland, not an area that you would readily associate with trail running.
Pope: I ran a lot in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is nearby. I grew up around that area and my mom would always take me and my brother to go hiking in the Cleveland Metroparks out there. So, I was used to getting out on the trails and running around. It was very easy to fall in love with trail running because I had that.
BMN: What year did you come to Black Mountain? What drew you here?
I moved here in 2013 and the mountains were the big thing and I was specifically drawn to Black Mountain as a small town. I have the ability here to walk out my front door and get into the mountains in five or ten minutes. Even in Asheville, you still have to get in your car and drive to a trailhead. That was my gravitating factor to this area. I’ve been out west, and Colorado and all that was awesome. My favorite place I ever stayed in Colorado was Buena Vista. It was a small town, just like Black Mountain, and it had the Collegiate Peaks right next to it.
I was up in Boulder, Colorado Springs and I really liked Flagstaff, Arizona. I like all those places, but they’re places I want to vacation, not live. It’s nice to live here because I’m on the East Coast and I can shoot up to Ohio whenever I want. And I like the culture here. If you move to Boulder, you’re going to have to make a lot more money and you’re going to have to deal with people who make a lot more money. It’s very materialistic.
Black Mountain is very unique – it’s small, it’s rugged, and it’s gorgeous.
BMN: Heading into the new year, people may want to pick up running who aren’t ready for ambitious mountain trails. What would you recommend?
Pope: We have “the Posse” running group here at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesdays. There’s the Oaks Trail, Lake Tomahawk, and Warren Wilson College is a great place. Charles D. Owen Park is another and will link you into Warren Wilson.
All of those are trails where you don’t have to start off with a 600-foot climb.
BMN: In your time in Black Mountain, what have you seen in terms of an evolving or growing running community?
Pope: It’s becoming more and more popular and its thriving. Pete [Ripmaster] led the way by bringing in a running store but what’s happened, especially over the last year, is people are moving to this little town because they love the running culture. It’s crazy; I never thought that was going to happen, especially the first two years I was here. It’s really taken me by surprise.
One of my favorite stories is of a guy who was living in France and was here for business. He was driving by out on 70 (State Street) and he saw a bunch of us gathered up at the front of the shop at 7:00 o’clock in the morning.
We were out there because the Black Mountain Monster (ultramarathon) got cancelled because of the flooding earlier this year. So, if you signed up and bought a plane ticket and you were going to show up here anyway, we were just going to go out and do a mountain run. He saw us out there, he got out of his car, and ran with that group.
He was an ultra-runner and he moved his whole family here to Black Mountain within two months.