|Sign at Charlie's Bunion on AT (from Wikipedia.com)|
For the last two Saturday's I have run a section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Newfound Gap to Charlie's Bunion. All the books, maps, signs, etc. say it's 8 miles with exception of one which says 8.1. My Garmin does not agree but I am sure the trees are messing with the accuracy. This is a short but rugged section of the AT (see last post for a few pictures). It is rocky, meaning loose rocks, small to large embedded rocks. smooth rocks, jagged rocks, rocks big enough that they have to been, if not climbed, stepped up on. I held on to several tree while stepping down some of the rock sections. It is also cover with roots and stays wet in spots. A rain leaves it equivalent to running in a creek bed (which is how is was the first time I ran it).
The first Saturday I went it was around 6:00 pm when I started and knowing that it would begin getting dark around 8:30 pm, especially considering he fact that it was cloudy and very hazy on top of the mountain that day, my only goal was to make in in 2 hours. It was very wet and muddy and it was the first time I had been on it. I took off on my adventure. It seemed more of a hike than a run although I did run all the straights and downhills. I made it back in 2 hours and 51 seconds. I was satisfied with that considering I had never been there, it was much harder of a trail than I had envisioned, and it was late in the day. (not to mention wet, muddy conditions and the above 5000' elevation climbing to around 6500'.)
Then last Saturday, 8/28/10, I set out around 10:30 AM to run a trail lower in the mountains that would be around 7 miles round trip but not have the elevation change nor the high elevation at the starting point. I headed out determined to travel light. I did not take my hydration pack because I knew this trail had a place I could fill up my handheld Amphipod about half way or so. I felt I would get there and be back within 3 hours. Well, this is a tourist town. Traffic was bad but I still made good time. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that the road was closed about a mile before the trail head due to construction. There was no place to safely park the vehicle and add a couple road miles so I turned around and decided to head to a shorter but much steeper little trek up to the Chimney's which was not too far up the mountain.
I got to the Chimney's trail head and it was packed, no place to park. I decided to go a few more miles up the mountain and run up to Alum Cave bluff. The trail was a little less steep grade and just a little longer but it was even more full than the Chimney's. I drove on and wound up turning around twice and finally pulling into a pull off and literally praying, "what should I do"? I was getting hungry. I had not really planned on a hard run. I had planned to run around 6 and then do 6 in the evening on the road. I had less than a quarter tank of gas. I started to head home, eat lunch, get some gas, and then head to another trail not in the smokies. Then it hit me when I saw the mile marker sign. I am this close to the top, I might as well run to Charlie's Bunion. I had a Cliff Bar, 1 Gu, and an extra water bottle. There is a fountain and a restroom at the top of the mountain at the Newfound Gap parking area so I could start relatively fresh. I also had a couple granola bars and some recovery mix so I knew I would be okay after. I actually had more than I thought I did. So I found my self at the top of ole' Smoky with 1/8 tank of gas and plenty to run a 2 hour trail. I would worry about getting back later.
I used "The Stick" to roll out my calves after being in the car for over an hour, put on my New Balance MT100's, no socks, and felt the mud left in there from last week's muddy run. I cleaned them out as good as well as possible put them back on and walked to the restroom as I ate my Clif Bar. I put the Gu in my pouch on my Amphipod 20oz. and grabbed the other water bottle after I returned and I headed up the trail.
By mile 2 my lower right leg began to hurt again, pretty bad, and it hurt all the way up to my hip. I also felt nauseated and for a moment dizzy. Then I realized my ears were stopped up and my sinuses were draining and kept going. The pain went away and by mile 4 at the top I felt fine. I had moved slow so I ate the Gu and finished off the first water bottle and headed back.
I ran all the straights and downhills, even on the first 4 miles though slow, but picked it up on the last 4. This is a great trail to practice running very technical, rocky, rooty, steep, single track. I almost fell at least 6 time but did not. I did at one point hit a rock to hard with my foot that I seriously thought I had broken my toe and later found that I did tear my shoes. Otherwise I felt very light and sure on my feet and decided my goal was simply to beat 2 hours.
There were a lot of people on the trail on the first/last 2 miles and two people can not pass on this trail without one stepping aside so I was slowed down by that. I also came upon an older couple on the way back down that I had passed on the way up. The man had fallen and cut his leg and head. He said he was fine and his wife seemed to think he might need stitches but was sure they could make it out. I told them I would be down soon and promised to tell a Park Ranger, which I did. There was no cell service and if there was, I am not sure what one would do other than someone have to hike up there and get you. I apologized that there was not more I could do and they were smiling and seemed fine then I headed on. Oddly this made me move a little faster now that I had a mission.
I beat my goal of 2 hours. My time time was 1:59:33. I now need to do some research to find what is reasonable because I want to cut that time. I made it back to town, got gas and made it home fine, by the way.
I love training at that elevation because it makes regular runs seem easy. I love the mountain traila because you are in a do or die situation. You never know what may happen, even on a short mountain run and once your up there, you have to get down somehow. You can't just decide your tired and quit. I want to significantly increase the distance of these runs but I am taking it slow.
I ran 8 miles on a trail the following Monday in 1:29:01 but it was a much easier trail. Today, I really wanted to do my planned 12 mile run on a trail but after a hard week did not get up this morning and did not want to fight afternoon traffic so on the the road it was but still I am getting stronger, the base is being rebuilt, the speed is slowly coming back, the distance is growing.
I will conquer that mountain. Why? Because it's there...and I can!