What’s so great about Roanoke other than its setting: the lavender laurel, moss and pine growing sweet as summer itself across the magnificent expanse of the Blue Ridge Mountains?
“Mountain Junkies, of course,” said Dr. Josh Gilbert, 36, a chiropractor in Salem, grinning mysteriously.
Gilbert and his wife Gina moved from Illinois in 1998, drawn by the deep beauty of the Blue Ridge.
“Back in ’98 we didn’t even run; we just hiked and worked out in the gym a few days out of the week,” said Gilbert.
But that all changed when the Gilberts linked up with Ronny Angell of Odyssey Adventure Racing in 2001.
“Ronny took us on our first run up to McAfee’s Knob,” said Gilbert, smiling like he’d just discovered the cure to osteoarthritis.
The physically fit trio ran the seven miles from parking lot to peak in less than an hour.
“We’ve been trying to push our limits, and encouraging others to do the same ever since,” said Gilbert, already mentally planning an August 20th FAB 5K race to take place in Salem’s Green Hill Park.
“That race has a big competitive appeal for high school and college students because it’s relatively short and flat,” said Gilbert, who assumed the job of directing the FAB 5k after helping J.J. Wimmer manage it successfully for the first seven years. “We usually have between 250 and 300 runners for the 5K, and a good portion of the race fee goes to support Roanoke County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.”
Dr. Gilbert and his wife Gina started Mountain Junkies LLC in 2007 after racing the Holiday Lake 50K, which was just four months after their initiation-run up the Knob with Angell.
“Mountain Junkies is a ‘for profit’ business, so we make a little money from it,” said Josh Gilbert, “but our primary focus is to promote healthy activity, to introduce Roanoke Valley residents to what the area really has to offer and to help maintain the trails and national parks where we run.”
The Gilberts spent over 120 hours last year, just clearing debris from the mountain trails.
“I’m forestry certified,” said Gilbert. “The idea is to leave the trails better than they were when we found them, and I think we’ve earned a reputation for doing that in the municipalities that we work with.”
Gilbert said that running (at least metaphorically) tends to put life’s stresses into a “contained” period of time, so that one can deal with them more effectively. “I am able to work out problems, almost as though I am in a dream state,” he said. “Of course, we try to be cautious by watching out for stuff like snakes and avoiding bad thunder storms. I’ve never come eye to eye with a snake, but we have run through a couple of storms; we just picked up our pace.”
Runners are asked to sign a standard health waiver; however, diabetics, kids as young as 12 and older adults as old as 73 have all run – happily calling themselves Mountain Junkies. Aid stations along the routes offer cold water, Gatorade and food. The Junkies say that they have never experienced any major problems or serious health issues during a race.
“Yet, physically working up to a race should be a gradual thing,” said Gilbert. “Walk 10 minutes and jog for one minute. Gradually increasing your walking and running activity is the best way to warm up your body, but stretching is usually more important after the race.”
An increasing sense of community is developing among the regular trail runners, according to the Gilberts. “The trail events are pretty laid back and filled with a sense of camaraderie,” said Dr. Gilbert. “The road events seem to be a bit more competitive, which is not bad, just different.”
The couple have a lot on their plate these days with running a busy chiropractic office (Gina is office manager), as well as organizing, timing, and hosting a challenging year-long racing series like the Mountain Junkies LLC, not to mention the couples’ own runs on trails throughout the country. But the Gilberts say that it’s all worth it to watch people going beyond what they once saw as their limits. They also love to hand out shirts, plaques and other prizes.
“We get a lot of community support from groups like The Roanoke Regional Partnership who sponsors Roanokeoutside.com,” said Dr. Gilbert, who has cultivated a sizable host of area sponsors.
“No one really knows what happens after this,” he said. “Why not use your body to its optimal ability, connect with nature, connect with others, and preserve the environment at the same time?”
For more information about races, please visit mountainjunkies.net