Thursday, July 10, 2014

Triple Jarmans -- Jarmans Invitational Marathon Prep

Three times up and down sucked.  Five times is really going to suck bad.  And the wildlife is worse than I thought.  We saw this beast 3 or 4 times, seemed to have very little fear of us:

David, Stuart, Jeff, Josh and I met for repeats this morning on Jarmans Gap Road: 3x up 1500', 3x down this morning. Truthfully, it wasn't as bad as I feared.  It helped that the temp barely topped 80, and not too humid.  Also, I wasn't trying to crush it, just wanted to see what 3 repeats felt like (my legs were tired but I could've turned around and done another), try out some different shoes to decide which to go with (Altra Olympus), how much hydration (one bottle was enough for the first loop, but for two and three I needed to refill from the jug Josh had at the top) and a feel for time (45 minutes for the climb and a bit under 30 back down seemed sustainable for me, though maybe not by #5).

Before we started a nice lady driving down the hill told us that the dogs were out, but shouldn't be a problem.  She said a brown one recently nipped a cyclist because (she thinks) the cyclist kicked at it.  She said to just say the dogs name and it will back down.  Unfortunately I can't remember its name, but I think it was something like "Killer" or "Mauler", or maybe it was "Suarez" (the World Cup biter).  There were two dogs out with some little kids who said their dogs liked to chase runners but didn't bite.  The light one was friendly, the brown one (not the nipper) was more skittish when we stopped to talk with them.

If you haven't run Jarmans yet and are running JIM, I wouldn't worry about it as long as you're getting some hill work.  It might be more fun to see it fresh for JIM since we'll all be sick of it after that anyway.  Unless you're a real stud you'll be walking around the time you go past the church or the FAA shed about a mile up.  It gets really steep in the middle but higher up it gets more runnable again.  I found that running 10 steps and walking 10 steps helped me get running again on the less steep sections, and when it was steeper I'd just walk longer.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Wintergreen Trails

Wintergreen has ~30 miles of rugged hilly trails, including a 14 mile perimeter trail and 16 miles of alternate and connector trails.  The AT used to go through Wintergreen, but was rerouted on the west side of the Blue Ridge Parkway not long after Wintergreen was developed.  Much of the old section still exists as the Old AT trail in Wintergreen, and it connects into the existing AT at the Dripping Rock parking area at about mile 9.6 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Hiking Upward has a decent map/description of the Wintergreen perimeter trails, and I've taken this photo of the official trail map provided by the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen:
Wintergreen Trail Map

The perimeter trails are in red on both the map and blazes.  The alternate trails are in yellow.  To stay on the perimeter, there are a few road crossings and a couple short road connectors. 

Getting There

Wintergreen Resort is on Route 664 1 mile south of the intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway at Reeds Gap, and 5 miles north of Route 151 where Devils Backbone brewpub and the Ski Barn are.  There's a huge green sign at the entrance.  Go up Wintergreen Drive about 2.5 miles, and bear right at the fork in front of the fire station to go on Mountain Inn Loop.  Take a right on Grassy Ridge Drive and take that down to the parking lot at the dome.  The trailhead is nearer the gravel parking lot than the paved one.  Unfortunately the trail head isn't simple to find.  To head clockwise, go past Ridgely's Fun Park with the teepee and look for a small brown sign at the ends of the woods for Cedar Cliffs North.  To head counter clockwise, take the gravel/dirt road across the ski runs, which becomes the Loggers Alley trail.  But it's best to go with someone who's been there before anyway.

Navigation Aids

The trails change names at roads and alternate trail crossings, usually without incident.  Going clockwise, from Cedar Cliffs North you have to jog left for maybe 50 yards then right to Cedar Cliffs South to stay on the red perimeter.  Down at the south end, when the Fortune's Ridge Trail hits Wintergreen Drive, go down the road about 25 yards and look for the Pond Hollow trail head across the road.  This takes you up a long climb to the highest point of the trails at the Blue Ridge Overlook.  Take a left onto Devil's Knob Loop, and left on Cedar Drive, and look for the trailhead for the Old AT trail on the right part way down.  (In the winter at the end of Cedar Drive you may be able to pick up a trail that was roughed out but not used for UROC, which comes out to 664 just below Reeds Gap where the AT crosses, but in the summer it's overgrown.)  The Old AT crosses Laurel Springs Drive once but continues directly across the road.  Further down the hill look for a right onto Upper Shamokin Gorge to stay on the red perimeter trails.  (If you continued on the Old AT you'd cross Laurel Springs Drive once again, and shortly after that you'll run into the AT and then the Blue Ridge Parkway at Dripping Rock.)  On Upper Shamokin Gorge look for a right onto Chestnut Springs to stay on the perimeter, but you might want to continue a bit further down to a waterfall and then double back.  Chestnut Springs Trail comes to a T with Loggers Alley, take a right to get back to the parking lot.

Going counterclockwise, the only additional thing to watch for is a left turn to stay on the Pedlars Edge Trail, otherwise you'll wind up in Intern Gulch, so named because not one but two nature foundation interns missed that trail and would up down at a trailer on some dead end road coming out of the valley.  Not recommended!


The trails at Wintergreen are quite technical.  Some of them are extremely rocky.  To compound things, much of it is greenstone, which gets very slick when wet.  Particularly rough trails are Blackrock, Brimstone, Pedlars Edge, Cedar Cliffs North, and Upper Shamokin Gorge.  DO NOT run these when they are wet.  There are a couple places where you have to slide off a rock face onto another rocky landing and it's hard enough in dry conditions. 

Run with a buddy, because there are many places where you can turn an ankle or fall and hit a rock.  These trails are much more technical than the AT.  Drew Kreuger has the FKT of the loop, 2:53.  For most of us it is a 4-5 hour trek. 

There is water at various points but since there is salt run off from roads, fertilizer from the golf course, whatever they put in the water for snow making, etc, I recommend carrying what you'll need and perhaps dropping water at road crossings.

You shouldn't lose the trail, but if somehow you do and cannot back trace to find the trail, go UP, not down.  Before too long you will hit one of the many roads or ski slopes on top of the mountain.  If you go down, you could go many miles before finding any signs of civilization, and you could hit a cliff face that will stop you.

Alternate Runs

One of my favorite runs is to start at Loggers Alley by the dome, starting the perimeter clockwise.  Continue on Loggers Alley when it turns into a yellow trail, and just after a creek crossing take a left onto Morgan's Loop, which is not on this map but runs parallel to Upper Shamokin Falls Trail.  Go run at the Laurel Ridge road access trail to the road.  Go uphill on the road for 1/4 mile and look for the Old AT trail head on the left.  It starts as yellow and turns to red.  Cross the road and continue on the Old AT and go about another mile and look for the 2nd yellow trail on the left, Hemlock Drive access.  Take this yellow trail to the cul-de-sac, and take that street to a left Devils Knob Loop road and an immediate right on Wintergreen Drive.  Look for a brown diamond sign giving you an alternate dirt and asphalt path to follow rather than running on the road.  Where that path crosses Blue Ridge Drive, follow the Highlands Leisure Trail down to the ski village.  Take a path past the big white tent back down to the parking lot.  The loop is almost exactly 10K.

Add on about 3 miles by taking the gravel/dirt road out of back end the parking lot down to the Hemlock Springs Trail on the left just before you hit the big water tank.  You might also see some twisty mountain bike trails to follow rather than the road.  I can't describe exactly how to find or use them but they are great to explore.  Anyway, stay left of the creek and Hemlock Springs Tr becomes Cedar Cliffs South.  When that comes to a T, go right 100 yards or so to a fantastic rocky view overlook.  Backtrack and stay straight on Cedar Cliffs Main back to the gravel road, and turn right to take that back to the parking lot.

The Laurel Ridge Loop trail, especially the south part starting with the trail head off Mountain Inn Loop is another nice route.  Combine it with the Fortune's Ridge Trail and Pond Hollow up to the Pond Hollow Crossover back to the Laurel Ridge Loop trail.  Going right from here is a more runnable way back than left.

There are also some mountain bike trails in and around the ski slopes that look very runnable.

The best option may be to connect to the AT.  The Old AT trail crosses Laurel Springs Road and within 200 yards you are at the AT where it crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway at Dripping Rock between mile posts 9 and 10.  Heading north, it's about 4 miles to Humpback Rocks and 14 miles total to Rockfish Gap/Afton.  The first mile south takes you to a nice view similar to the view at the Raven's Roost overlook off the parkway.  Beyond that the profile looks promising but it's extremely rocky.  5 miles to Reeds Gap total.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

CATass 50k

While many of our friends will be running the VT100 on July 19, those of us left behind can have our own fun at the CATAss 50k. Created as a training run for Western States by our friend Andy Jones-Wilkins, the CATAss is a true Fat Ass in that there is no fee, no T shirts, no wimps and no whining. There will be water and heckling at miles 5, 12 ( a spring), 19, and 25, and the requisite post-run story telling, eating, and drinking.

The course combines the New Year Day Rendevous Run with the Harry Landers Special. First, runners will run to Blackrock from Sugar Hollow:

Then they will head north from Blackrock on the AT and run the Doyle's River and Jones Falls Loop CCW:

They will return to Blackrock on the AT and continue south to Turk Branch Trail and the finish at Sugar Hollow:

More details will be forthcoming. If you are looking for a solid, hot, hilly, beautiful training run for your fall ultras, come join us at the CATAss 50k.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New CAT Shirts & Shorts!

As you might have seen on our FB page, it is finally time for a new CAT merchandise order from Patagonia! For this order, we are ordering shirts and shorts, including a standard shirt or tank with a large-print version of our logo, and shorts with our logo printed in a smaller “pocket” size on the right front of the shorts. For most items, we offer two color choices. We price the merchandise to CATs to break even on an amount that covers (a) the discounted price of the item from Patagonia, (b) shipping costs and taxes, and (c) printing costs. Here are the items we are offering. You can search by Style # on the Patagonia website to get a better look at each item:
To order items, we have set up the following order page , and Paypal account to pay. Note that all items must be prepaid prior to sending in the order to Patagonia. The deadline for getting your order and payment in is May 31st, 2014.

To place your order follow this link: We expect to have the merchandise ready to distribute approximately 3 weeks after the order is sent to Patagonia. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 Happy trails, Christian and David

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Race Report": Catherine's FA 50k Trail Run

by Crozet Running Club - John Andersen
This past Saturday Dan Spearin, Jeff Lysiak, and I all proudly represented Crozet as we traveled to the northern reaches of Massanutten Mountain to run Catherine's Fat Ass 50km trail race.  For those of you unfamiliar with what a "Fat Ass" event is, it is essentially a low-key run usually put on by a running club or bunch of friends with no entry fee, no bibs, and generally just nothing official about it at all.  There are Fat Ass events all over the country and this particular event was unofficially hosted by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, an awesome trail running club centered in Northern Virginia.
I knew a few other runners who were going to be there but I have to admit I was a little concerned over the lack of detailed prerace information available.  I am a planner, but I was getting the feeling I was going to be "going with the flow" for this one.  The only prerace info we got an email sent on Wednesday that mostly stressed the need for "  Good beer.  More beer is a good thing.  Again GOOD beer.  Cold and good beer is best!".  Also in the prerace email were some words of encouragement; "I have not had a chance to do trail maintenance this year, so be prepared for the unexpected."  Hmmm, what were we getting ourselves into?  Well the one thing we did know was that it was going to be HOT!  Like 95 degrees and humid hot.  Despite all the common sense warning signs of catastrophe (running 31 miles on rocky trails with over 6000ft elevation in 95 degree heat with questionable trail markings...) we headed off truly excited for an adventure.  We knew it was going to be a good day when we saw a bear in the middle of Jarmans Gap Rd not even a half mile from home! 
We got to the race early and after meeting and greeting with some other runners, we gathered together for the prerace briefing.  Turns out one of the forest service road access gates was closed so the race director was unable to access parts of the course and thus the course would have to be redirected...and would also have one less aid station... and would not be marked at all.  Crap.  He then went on to verbally give the new course instructions,  "....take the red trail up to the purple trail, then turn down the orange trail, then go up the hill, then down the....".  Seriously?!  I can't remember that!  I shrugged to the person next to me who shrugged back.  Crap.  Go with the flow
PictureThe course "map". Seriously.
As I was trying to process this information, the race director yelled out "ok, Go!" and people starting running towards the single track trail that left the parking lot.
This was rapid decision time regarding my goals for this race.  First, let me preface that like many a Fat Ass event, there really was not a competitive vibe here at all.  I would say pretty much everyone there was out there to have a good run and a great time.  That's actually the beauty of the trail running world in general - it just seems overwhelmingly laid back and fun.  So I must say despite the uneasiness of what exactly I was getting myself into, I was in great spirits and ready to have a great run - my first ultramarathon distance mind you! 
Despite never having actually ran over marathon distance, I was never worried about the distance itself.  I have been racking up plenty of weekly mileage and elevation where finishing 31 miles itself wasn't going to be the challenge.  The real question was "how hard can I push myself and for how long?".  For some reason I really wanted this question answered today.  Oh yes, it would be answered!
I jumped out onto the trail and eventually caught up with the front runners.  About a mile into the course we saw a little bear cub jump out of a tree and run away.  Good sign #2!  Two miles in, we came to a trail intersection.  A few of the guys who had run the course before decided that they wanted to run the original 50k course, not the new 50k course for the day.  Apparently in a fat ass, the course is negotiable... Thus, those of us who had no idea where we were in the first place decided to follow the original route guys and there began my detour entitled "Oh man, I chose the wrong guys to run with...". 
Running with me were Keith Knipling, who has run over 130 ultramarathons, and Neal Gorman, an elite ultrarunner who currently holds the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning course record (the fastest cumulative time running the Western States 100 miler, Vermont 100 miler, Wasatch 100 miler, and the Leadville Trail 100 miler all in one summer!).  WTF was I thinking!!  Ok, to give me credit, Keith was feeling pretty tired from running a bunch of hundred milers this summer and Neal has been recovering from a nasty virus.  It seemed like it was shaping up to be a nice run...

The first 4 miles took us 1900 ft up to Bird Knob overlooking the Shenandoah Valley below.  There we met up with Martha and Dave, two runners who seemed like they were also up for an easy day.  After climbing for 4 miles, the prospect of an easier run was more appealing...
After a few miles of running over rocks the size of cats and dogs, we came to a gravel road which we would run on for the next 7 miles.  This is when I overheard Neal say something to Martha like "well, we can't win all of our races like you Martha...".  "Wait a minute" I said, "is Martha also some kind of super elite runner?".  Turns out Martha has been busy over the past few years winning first place and setting course records in everything from half marathons, to the Charlottesville Marathon, to the Highlands Sky 40 miler this summer.  Meanwhile we're burning up 7 minute miles on this gravel road....  Oh man, I picked the wrong people to run with..We finally came to the first aid station which was a blessing.  I filled up with water, threw down a Gu, and quickly ran into the nearby stream to douse myself with its cold refreshing water.  It was starting to get pretty hot.  Keith had told us to leave him a while back and Dave wasn't feeling well and decided to cut his run short.  It was now me, Neal, and Martha.  First time ultrarunner with two first placers.  And by the way none of us knew where exactly we were going.  The folks who knew the route had now bailed.  Fortunately a few of the guys at the aid station gave us great directions for the next 10 miles of trail and we were off.  As the gravel road began to climb, we kept running, passing by several groups of runners who I thought were wisely walking.  Oh man, I picked the wrong people to run with...After several miles of uphill on the gravel road, we got back onto what was perhaps the prettiest and most treacherous trail of the day.  This trail literally went straight up a stream called Morgans Run.  At times, there was no trail, you just walked in the middle of the stream until you saw something that looked like a trail.  Did I mention all the rocks were as slick as ice?!  But by this point, about 15 miles into the run, anything that got Neal and Martha to slow down was a good thing, even if that meant walking up a river.
Finally the trail left the stream and we were running again.  Suddenly Neal (in front) starts screaming and takes off in a sprint, slapping all around him.  Right behind him Martha starts doing the same.  In an instant, I see the reason and was too late to stop.  A huge hornets nest had fallen earlier and broken open right in the middle of the trail!  For some reason I couldn't stop and just sprinted right through it, like running through fire.  Hornets hurt!!  The three of us sprinted for a few hundred yards and took inventory.  Several stings each, but everyone ok.  All agreed that hornets suck.
We finally got to another "aid station", which was Gary Knipling standing next to Pitt Spring - literally a 3 foot wide spring in the ground.  He had a big pitcher in his hand and told us all to bow down as he "baptized" us with the cold water from the spring.  This was one of the best things I have felt in a long while.  "Can I drink from the pitcher Gary?" I asked...I didn't care that it came from some untreated mountain spring, it looked so clear and cold that I couldn't resist and drank about half the pitcher.  Best glass of water I've ever had.

A few more miles of gravel road running until we reached the last "real" aid station.  I learned that elite runners do not mess around at aid stations.  I had heard so much about aid stations at ultras, with a buffet laid out of soda, Gatorade, cookies, watermelon, chips....but alas, I chose the wrong people to run with...I would just quickly fill my bottles then run to the nearby stream and douse myself in water while they quickly ate.  Then I would hastily shove a Gu in my mouth as I followed them out of the aid station.  It was really getting hot by now, up in the 90's for sure and SO humid.  I could feel that the heat more than anything was starting to get to me.  We were now at about mile 20 and I knew I was entering that special "mental" zone in a run and had to hang in there.  But then we turned onto the purple trail.
The purple trail, as advertised in the limited prerace information, was evil.  It climbed 1600ft over four miles, the last two of which were just plain hell.  We had picked up another top notch runner Matt Bugin (who just won the Bel Monte Endurance Run 50k this year...oh man..) and Matt, Neal, and Martha seemed unfazed by the heat and elevation.  I was starting to physically bonk.
Mentally, I was actually ok.  I was pushing myself really hard which was my goal of the day.  However despite my pushing they were pulling away ever so gradually.  For most of that climb I was about 2-300 yards behind.  I was getting so hot that I was getting chills and goosebumps.  Bad.  At that point, I knew I was starting to bonk.  Oh how I just wanted to stop and sit in a stream for a while.  What the hell is wrong with these people?  Arent they hot?  Why are they just running right by that stream without getting in and laying down?  The last mile of the purple trail was so steep that it was just switchbacks and you had to have your hands pushing your knees down while you hiked.  I was redlining. 
I remembered something I had heard Ian Torrence say on a podcast once though.  He said you can always unbonk.  He also said to remember to focus on what you're good at.  So, even though I had no appetite, I ate two Gu's and drained my second to last bottle of water.  I decided just to run my own race at that point and gave up on my goal of hanging with these elite runners.  WTF was I thinking?!
And then, the purple trail ended!  I felt like I had just gotten rid of a demon.  The trail turned straight down a rocky hill for a few miles and the elites were nowhere to be seen.  But I fancy myself as a good downhill bomber and decided to bomb away.  Although I'm sure by that point my version of bombing down a rocky trail looked more like a 90 year old man going down stairs...  As I kept on the downhill, something great happened...I unbonked!  I was suddenly back to having fun, feeling some energy and wouldn't you know it somehow caught up to my group again.  The next 7 miles were all mental.  As we slowly descended back down the mountain it became hotter and hotter.  It felt like we were running down into a sauna.  I was overheated, out of water, and my legs were done.  But I had somehow hung with some incredibly talented runners for 30 miles.  I make no illusions that I am at their level - they could have dropped me in a second if they were racing.  But I certainly met my goal of pushing myself for this distance to see what was there.  And there I found the great reward of running.  I wasn't competing against anyone or even for a certain time.  It was just mind vs. body for 5 hours and 45 minutes.  Not many times in our busy lives do we get to feel the true thrill of accomplishment and when we do it is something to be cherished and remembered. 
There was no finish line or big clock.  Just a couple of tents filled with people who gave you a big "Ayyyyeee!" when you arrived and wanted you to sit down and hang out for a while.  We sat in the heat, talked about running and whatever and cheered our friends as they finished their mind/body battle in the heat.  Nobody got lost, nobody got heat stroke.  It was a great day! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Highlands Sky Long and Bloody Race Report

by Bob Clouston

Highlands Sky is a tough, technical 40 (41) mile race in and around West Virginia's Dolly Sods Wilderness and finishing at Canaan Valley Resort State Park. The word is that it runs more like a 50 miler, even though the profile doesn't look all that imposing after 2 early climbs.  My plan was to start conservatively and not exhaust my legs in the first half, and make up time in the flatter/downhill, less technical second half.  What I didn't expect was the punch that would put me on the canvas mid-race and nearly KO me.

I arrived shortly before the pre-race pasta dinner in the lodge, which should be nice after the renovation is done.  Rooms in the outbuildings look like they haven't been updated since the 80s, but mine was adequate.  Sat with Tammy and Rick Gray and some other VHTRCers at dinner. Tammy offered a ride with them to the start in the morning, which was convenient and appreciated.

The weather looked good, high 40s to around 70 and dry.  But there had been a lot of rain, and we were told the course would be wet.  Quite an understatement.

The race started at 6am with 2 miles on the road to spread out the field before we hit single track trail and the first muck and the first climb, about 2300 feet over 6 miles in the Monongahela National Forest.  The first mile or so was pretty gentle and the pace seemed slow but I held back and let a few people by while passing only a couple.  The grade increased, and in some places water was pouring down the trail, the path of least resistance.  There was some stinging nettle, but my calf sleeves protected me well.   It gets cooler as we go higher, and the clouds and fog keep it very comfortable.  Somewhere in here we have the first of 3 major creek crossings, which are running fast enough that the guide ropes are very welcomed.

At around 4700 feet we top out and drop to Roaring Plains, still above 4000 feet.  A few sections are dry, but there are long sections of shoe-sucking mud and/or ankle deep water.  Many try to find higher spots to run on but it seems like a lot of effort is spent hopping from side to side and trying to keep balance.  I'm already soaked so I mostly just straight-line it when there's not an easier way to avoid the hazards.  A couple times I step in knee deep holes but no harm is done, and once I catch something and land almost spread eagle in the mud, just barely keeping my face out of it.  For road runners looking at finish times and wondering how they can be so slow for barely more than a marathon and a half distance, imagine running on a road with long stretches of rain filled potholes, and having to either run through them or wear out your legs hopping between them on muddy ledges not even a shoe width wide in many places.  Or running in a muddy roadside ditch after a long rain might be more accurate.  Tack on 5400 feet of climb and 4800 feet of drop for good measure.  I knew it was a tough race, I didn’t realize it would be this bad.

Finally aid station 2 comes after 8 miles, and I refuel on continue on.  For the first half I use my Nathan Endurance Vest with 70 oz bladder of water, and a 10 oz bottle that I'll refill every aid station and mix with Perpetuem.  Hammer Gel for nutrition, and Endurolytes for electrolyte replacement.  The only solid food I eat is a couple Zone Perfect bars and whatever looks good at aid stations, usually banana chunks and pretzels.  In the second half of the race the aid stations aren't as far apart so I swap my vest for my Nathan Trek waist pack which holds a 20 oz bottle that I mix with Perpetuem.  I also carry an all-purpose bandana, ginger and Imodium pills in case of stomach issues, a blister patch, and a small packet of lube in case of chafing.  Fortunately all I'll need today is a couple of the ginger pills, and the bandana.

After AS 2 and Flatrock Plains comes a big drop, 1200 feet over 2 miles.  The water was annoying on the climb and flats, but on the downhill it's treacherous.  I take my time making my way down, and I'm not the slowest one.  I'm watching my step so carefully that I take a branch to the face and it actually ends up between my teeth!  Luckily it's not sharp so it's funny.  Finally it levels off and climbs 1000 feet in 2+ miles to the next aid station.  I still feel good and I'm running where it's not too steep, able to run more uphills than I had been in training.

A short climb after AS 3 and we're on Red Creek Plains.  In some places the views are open and incredible.  Also incredible is how much water is up here.  The trail is almost always either a foot under water, in 4 inches of mud, or very rocky.  You can run it,  but very slowly and you can't lose focus and let your mind drift.  I trip in one place and once again catch a low branch between my teeth.  Never had this happen before, and now twice within an hour or two!

Finally, about a mile from the next aid station the trail dries out and is much more runnable.  I take stock and as difficult as the course has been, I'm still in a good mood and have been for the entire race.  There will still be some rollers but the climbing is really done, and most of the technical sections are behind me.  The mud and water have slowed me but my legs don’t feel tired.  I've never had a good race beyond a 50K, but maybe this will be it.

And then it happens.  My foot catches the lip of a rock and before I can even get my hands out, BAM!  Face plant right into a rock.  I see stars and am stunned.  I had heard some guys a bit behind me so I don't even try to get up.  A few seconds later 2 or 3 of them come up and pretty quickly realize this was a hard fall.  They tell me my nose is bleeding, but I figure out its on the bridge and not from inside.  I worry about my teeth but I feel with my tongue that I didn't chip them.  I talk with them and assure them that I'll be ok and will just walk to the aid station to get checked out and they start to move out, but first one of them checks my eyes and all seems fine.  All pretty standard stuff for trail runners to do, but still I am very appreciative that they did stop to help.  I saw the guy I talked with the most after the race and thanked him again, and he was very happy and a bit surprised to hear that I finished.

After my standing 8 count, I continue on, and even jog a bit, though I'm spooked by the rocks.  I soak my bandana with water and hold it to my nose but there doesn’t seem to be much blood.  I get to the Road Across the Sky a bit before the aid station.  Crew is allowed here and I see Tammy driving as she's heading out, which confirms that Rick is ahead of me as expected.  She yells some encouragement and then her eyes get wide as she sees my face so I know it doesn't look good.  She tells me after the race that she wanted to stop but was afraid I'd use it as an excuse to drop.  That actually wasn't even on my mind but it's still good tough love.

I had my drop bag here and I had hoped to switch packs and move out pretty quickly but I figure sitting for a minute is a good idea.  A volunteer offers a wet wipe to clean my face, and even though tradition says to wear your blood proudly, I figure I ought to clean it and make sure it’s not flowing.  I also decide to take time to change into dry socks even though my feet feel ok.  My shoes (Inov8 319) are doing well so I slip them back on rather than switch.  I burn about 10 minutes here, but I feel like I'm good to go with my smaller pack and my mp3 player for the dirt road section.

The Road Across the Sky goes for over 7 miles across the Dolly Sods, which is a designated wilderness area.  Logging and a major fire years ago took out the trees, and with the rugged weather what grew back looks more like northern Minnesota or Canada than anything this far south.  There are breaks where the views are wide open.  For race purposes, what you have is a rolling non-technical packed dirt road where you can make up time, but it's dead straight and pretty imposing to see how much of it you have in front of you.  Plus it's very exposed so the sun can take it's toll on a hot day, but today's there's a breeze and it's not that bad, and it‘s not buggy.  It takes a minute to loosen up from sitting too long, but I'm able to crank out an 8:30 mile on one stretch, though I haveto walk more stretches of the uphills than I'd like.  My mp3 player stops after about 2 songs.  Apparently it bumped on in my bag and drained the battery.  My legs are starting to give out, and my nose is throbbing some.  The fall is still on my mind too much and I'm wondering if I'm using it as an excuse to take it easy, or I really am physically affected, but in any case I'm spiraling down.

Finally we're off the road and into the Dolly Sods on the Bear Rocks and Raven Ridge trails.  It's beautiful open highlands, with views in all directions.  I think how nice it would be to curl up with a book under a shade tree and take a nap.  It's mostly runnable with some muck, but my legs just don't want to go.  I clock a 17 minute mile and vow I won't have another.  I almost hold to my promise, but in the wrong direction with a 17:57 mile.  Then 2 more in the 17s and then a couple more even slower. When I look back at why my time was so slow, this is the place I had the most control over.  I stop caring about time and just enjoy the views, but I'm not in a very happy place for these miles.  I won’t quit, but I really, really want it all to be over.

Aid station 7, and they promise downhills after a short climb.  Someone comments that we have 90 minutes to run 8 miles to break 10 hours, and I shake my head and know I can't do it.  But wait!  The race director said we were routing around a "butt slide" section on the ski slopes since Timberline didn't want us ruining the bike trails in the mud, so the course is probably really 40 miles, not 41.  7 miles, I can probably do in that time.
I struggle on a rock hopping section and people appear from nowhere and pass me.  I hang onto them for awhile and they sail away.  We get to the top of Timberline Ski resort and start down a ski run, and the running starts to come easy for me.  I'm starting to reel back in many of those who have passed me.  So many of them were encouraging when they passed me, and I try to return the good will.  Back on another dirt road, and the final aid station appears at mile 36.9, confirmed by my GPS watch.  A sign says 4.1 miles left.  So is it really 41 miles, or 40?  I hope for the best and run with short walk breaks.  A paved road section should feel good after such difficult terrain, but it always seems tough in a trail race.  At least it has some good views of the mountains we‘ve put behind us.  We run a grass trail parallel to the highway, but it's so marshy and slow that I know I can't make it if it's 41.

The park road comes, and I try to remember how far it is to the lodge, and I know we loop around to get behind the building.  Mile 40 is approaching and just ahead I see a sign that says "I mile left".  So, it is 41, and a bit more.  My watch says 9:52 and seconds aren't displayed, so I'd have to run sub 8 for the final mile+.  We leave the road and the trail rolls and there are still some mucky sections.  I run what I can because I want to finish strong, but the 10 hour mark passes and I can't see the finish.  Finally it comes into view, and I cross at 10:04.

Overall, even though my time was slow, I'm happy that I finished pretty strong and nothing was really hurting.  My feet usually hurt the worst on a rocky course, and they actually feel pretty good.  This really was like a 50 miler, by far my toughest run since knee surgery last year, and I made it.  I’ve proven to myself that I can do everything I did before the torn ACL, just not quite as fast.  The course was by far the prettiest I've run on.  I can definitely see coming back, hopefully on a drier day!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Shenandoah National Park Weekend

by Marc Griffin
Day 1, Mile 0
A friend of mine -- Charles West -- heard about a group of people that were heading up to attempt to run the entire Shenandoah National Park section of the Appalachian Trail, which is 110 miles, in 3 days beginning Friday, May 24th.  Knowing that I am up for anything and a little crazy, he forwarded the email on to me.  I have been looking for something a little bigger to do this year and this sounded perfect.  I immediately emailed Matt Smythe, and I was in.  The plan was to stay Thursday night in Front Royal, get up early and be on the trail at 6 am to cover the first 38ish miles on Friday.  After we finally found the trail head we took our “before” picture and set off around 6:15am.  There were 4 of us total, Matt, Amie, another Matt, and myself.  It was cool but very nice running weather.

The first day came and went with easy running mixed with quite a bit of hiking.  It was hard to hold back and not run too fast, especially on the beautiful down hills.  As we got closer to Skyland Resort where we would spend the night, the temperature started to drop and the wind picked up a lot!  We got to Skyland around 4:30pm took showers and had a great dinner at the restaurant there.  The second day came very quickly and we set out around 6:00am.  It was cold and windy; I put on as many layers as I could but could still feel the wind through everything. 

The trail was beautiful and I was still feeling pretty good.  This day would be approximately 44 miles and some of the toughest trail of the weekend.  I felt pretty good until we hit Swift Run Gap which is Rt.33 coming out of Harrisonburg.  These mountains were big and just one after another.  Somewhere in here we saw our first bear, it ran at first but then stopped about 50 feet off the trail and just watched us.  We sat there for quite a while just watching him.  It was a mutual attraction.  We slowed down quite a bit in this section but continued on and finally made it to our campsite at Loft Mountain Campgrounds around 7:30pm.  Luckily, we had the best crew in the world -- Matt’s mom and dad.  They had ordered food for us before the Loft Mountain kitchen closed at 7:00pm.  By the time we washed up a little and set up our tents, it was time for bed and time to try and stay warm.  Who would have thought the temperatures would get down below freezing this close to June! 

The third and final morning came very quickly and we were again on the trail by 6:30am, finally the wind stopped and the sun and warm temperatures came, it was a very nice change.  We only had 27ish miles to cover and we took our time and enjoyed it.  We came into Rockfish Gap at approximately 2pm and had a small celebration.  It was sad to see it end. 

I really didn’t know any of the runners or crew going in but we had such a great, epic experience together.  It was cold, it was rocky; we suffered together, cheered each other on, and celebrated together. What more could you ask for?  I heard a few whispers about doing another adventure like this continuing south from where we left off next year, I’m In!!!!!!
Day 3, Mile 110

Run Recap
  • Distance – 110 Miles
  • Total time on AT – 31:15:00ish, over 3 days
  • Wildlife – two bear, tons of deer, turtle, frog, eagles, hawks, grouse
  • Blisters – two, very small, not really an issue
  • Temps – everything from 75 degrees to below freezing with winds up to 40 mph