I hate this whole one-computer-family thing. Blogging is a pain in the ass now. I can only get to it on weekends, and by then I’ve forgotten half of what I want to say. I swear to you – there was some good stuff up in this cobwebbed brain of mine. But now? Just cobwebs. Still, I will do my best to put something halfway coherent together.
Last weekend was pretty fun. It was our second Appalachian Trail weekend. If you remember from a prior post, my friends and I are running the length of the AT during the summer. We covered 57 during the first weekend in June, and 60 miles this past weekend. This section was very close to home, so many of us were familiar with at least some of the miles.
We started right where we left off, in Boiling Springs. I’ve run there so many times, so it didn’t feel like the big send off we had last time. But it was still nice. My husband and son were part of our crew, so I got to see them several times throughout the day, as well as at the start.
The first 10 miles were fairly flat and easy. We made great time here, and got to our first aid station at Scott Farm in 2 hours, as predicted. We were greeted by our awesome crew: S, Little Dude, Carol and Caryn. To get Little Dude psyched for this outing, I told him that he could squirt all of my friends with his squirt gun. He was so excited to oblige. We were all dripping with sweat already, so it was very welcome. In addition to the little cool-down he provided to us, our crew made sure we had enough water and snacks and then pushed us back onto the trail.
The next 6 miles are awesome. Anne and I run this section a lot, and it was as beautiful on Saturday as it ever was. The first two miles are still pretty flat and easy, but then there is a fantastic climb that gave us an amazing view of the Cumberland Valley. It’s pointless to even try to capture it in pictures; they just don’t do it justice.
From there we ran to route 850 in Marysville where we met up with our crew for our second aid station. My son met us once again, this time with his tambourine. He had a blast “making music” for us. He cheered and played that thing each time someone came to the cars. He looked like he was having a blast. By this point we were slightly over halfway into the day’s run, and most of us were feeling pretty good. We refueled and crossed 850 to begin our trek to Duncannon.
There is an ass-kicker of a climb shortly after crossing 850. If you don’t like going uphill, you will hate it. But if you’re like me, you love it. I think by this point I had run up ahead with my new friend Matt. We were running through the rocks quicker than I had ever run them before. It was definitely the best I had ever run that section. As you spend more time trail running, you tend to repeat routes every so often. This is a section I only visit once or twice per year. It’s a good way for me to gauge my progress as a runner. I know that the first time or two I had my butt kicked by those danged rocks. Then the next few times were okay. Now I can run through them pretty confidently, with only short walking breaks. It’s days like that when I feel like I am good at this sport.
Matt and I waited for some of the other runners at Hawk Rock. This place holds special meaning to me. I grew up only 5 miles from the AT, but never ventured any farther than 1 mile up the mountain near my house to visit Hawk Rock. Every year my friend’s huge family had a group hike up there and a potluck afterwards. She always invited me to join, and I almost always went. We would make the long hike up, eat an apple, and hike back down. When I was little, it felt like it took forever. Now I know that it’s really not that far, however it’s a pretty good climb. We got a quick group shot before heading down to street level.
The final 3 miles of the day were on the roads of Duncannon. It’s my hometown, but I was still dreading the roads. I am just not a fan. We had agreed to stop at the Doyle for a beer. Everyone who thru-hikes the AT knows about the Doyle. It’s a place right along the route to get food and beer, and a room for the night. I lived in Duncannon for 18 years of my life and near it for the rest of it, but had never been inside. I was so excited to push open the door.
Dang that place is tiny. And smelly. But most of that smell was because of the 10 stinky runners that poured into the teeny tiny place. We ordered a few beers (some of us shared) and tried to enjoy them. After two sips, I was done. I knew I couldn’t stomach it. I headed outside. Soon after, Jeremy (our fearless leader) did as well. As he moved to sit down on the sidewalk, both of his quads (I think) cramped up. He looked miserable. Apparently he had already thrown up a few times on the trail, and was suffering from some dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. We got him to take some electrolyte tablets and water. Someone asked if he should call his wife (our crew chief) to come get him. Jeremy shot him a look that could kill. Seriously, there were cartoonish daggers come out of him.
From there we moved on down the road to the finish. Despite my hatred of the roads, I was flying (for me). I was running with my friend’s husband who joined us just for the last few miles. I chastised him for running so fast, but then he told me I was setting the pace. I don’t know how it happened, but I was running 8:45 min/miles 25 miles into the run. I have never been one to do something like that, and I have no idea how that happened. As I sailed over the bridge to the finish, I had no idea that Jeremy was still suffering. Unfortunately he got to experience his beer for a second time. Ew.
With Day 1’s 26.9 miles in the books, everyone headed home to refuel and get ready for Day 2.’s 32.4 miles. This route was a little more challenging, mostly due to the lack of water in the second half. We were going to have 17 miles without a guarantee of water. For most of us, that presented a challenge.
Everyone looked fresh and happy at the start on Sunday. Only 4 of us (Jeremy, Anne, Jen and I) were returning for a second day; everyone else was running on pretty fresh legs.
We started off with a good climb away from the river. Sayard pointed out that this is the mountain she uses for her hill repeats. She’s cut from a different kind of cloth . . . . a crazy-strong, not-from-this-planet fast type of cloth. She’s amazing.
Once we reached the top, it was straight ridge running for 7 miles. It is a really nice section of trail without any crazy surprises. We were hoping to see some bear, but apparently they were all avoiding the crazy heat and humidity. Smart bears.
We hit our first aid station 7 miles in. Once again, the gang was there with tambourines and squirt guns.
The next 10 miles were some easy running. It was pretty flat, with few rocks and roots. We had some pretty views and some really, really nice trail. Once you get on top of these ridges, the running is great. The descent to route 325 (our next aid station) is my favorite downhill of all times. It’s the perfect grade to allow me to run well without feeling out of control. It’s not super rocky or rooty and has really great foot placement. It always makes me feel like an excellent runner!
We hit our second aid station and then I felt awful. I went from feeling fabulous to awful in the span of 10 minutes. It hit me; I hadn’t been drinking or eating. After 17 miles I had only had about 50 ounces of fluids. This is not normal for me, especially in hot and humid weather. (Never mind that Sayard had only had a few sips of water and was fine. I think she’s a robot.) I also realized I had made a critical error. On Saturday I used Tailwind to supplement my water. It’s a great way to replace electrolytes and to take in some calories. It has a very mild flavor, unlike so many other drinks and gels. It worked well. I ran out, though, and switched to Nuun. I was accounting for the lack of calories (100 in Tailwind to 8 in Nuun), so I was also very low on calories. I think I had consumed between 25-50 calories over 17 miles. I felt like I was falling apart. Oh, and not that you asked, but I was having some nasty GI issues and was finding some blood in my, um, output. I made the mistake of telling this to my husband. He told me that I should, you know, maybe, quit. I shot him the same look Jeremy shot the fellow runner the day before. Quit? Nevah.
We had a hefty climb up the next mountain, which gave me some time to try to get my s*** together. Taking in a bunch of nutrition at an aid station is good, but for someone who has a crummy GI system, like me, digesting and making use of that nutrition is rough. Getting the chance to climb gives my body a rest and it can make use of what I ingest. While I was trying to get back on track, two very different things were happening. Sayard and Danny were running up the mountain. About 2/3 of the way up, Danny said he had to give up and let her go. Seriously, this girl is a machine. Less than a month ago she was on crutches and then last weekend she tore up a 25-ish mile run like it was nothing. Wow! As they were racing up the mountain, my dog apparently decided to join the fun. Little Dude had a bit of an accident, so S was working on getting him into a new outfit. While his back was turned, Spiro took off up the trail, after Jeremy and Gary. He happily followed them until John finally decided that someone needed to lead him back to the car. Poor John, who isn’t a fan of dogs or of uphills, had to take Spiro back to the car and then go up the mountain again.
The next 17 miles were a lot of flippin’ blips, as my friend calls them. There were lots of little tiny uphills and then some longer downs. It was mostly a nice run, though. The only problem was the lack of water. We were told there was some at Rausch Gap shelter, but I couldn’t find it. I later learned that it was hidden out of the way. Oops! A few of us ran out of water with less than 5 miles to go, but it wasn’t nearly as hot as we thought it would be, so it wasn’t that bad.
While I was searching the shelter area for water, I was hit with a sudden searing-hot sensation in my right foot. I started talking to it (my foot) immediately. I am sure I looked like a loon, but I had never experienced anything like it before. It subsided pretty quickly, but then kept coming back in the last couple of miles. By the time I got to the finish, I told my husband to get me my chair and flip flops – STAT. You guessed it…..blisters. I had two blisters in my whole running career prior to that day, and I ended up with 17 of them. OUCH! Between that and the ass-chafing (yeah, you read that right), I was in a good bit of discomfort.
Overall the run was great. We were greeted at the finish line once again by tambourines and squirt guns. Little Dude was having a blast getting his mama when she wasn’t expecting it. I asked him if he was having fun and got an emphatic “yes!” What could be better than being in the woods all day, throwing rocks, playing with sticks and squirting grown ups with your squirt guns? Not much.
This ultra running thing is weird. There are a lot of things people don’t tell you about when you start. Like ass-chafing. (I never had it until I gained a few pounds, so perhaps I need to get those pounds back off?) Between the chafing, blisters, puking, diarrhea, falling, bug bites and bruises, it sounds like an awful time on paper. It really does. But there is just something amazing about the sport as well. Just on Sunday I went from thinking I was an awesome runner and that I should look into doing all sorts of races, to thinking I should quit running altogether. When you are running for hours and hours, your mind and body play tricks on you. Sometimes your body tells you that it can’t do something, but your mind knows that’s BS, so you keep going. Other times your mind is fried and you just feel like curling up on a bed of leaves and quitting, but your body feels like it can go another 5 miles, so you keep going. Still other times your mind and body want to quit, but then your friend convinces you that you CAN do it, and you remember that yes, yes you can. Sure, it might hurt, but that’s okay. Most of us know that point where we need to stop because it’s the wrong type of hurt, and we usually don’t get near that point. You would be amazed at how your body adapts to this sport over time. And you would be amazed at what it does for your mind.