Spring is slowly springing around here. We had a few days of really nice weather, and now it’s chilly and damp again. But at least it’s staying above 40 degrees. Thank you, God.
With the 70 mile Laurel Highlands Ultra coming up mid-June, I have to kick up my training. I attempted a 50K two weeks ago, after not running more than 16 miles in more than 7 months, and DNF’d. It was my first DNF, and I blame a wicked case of bronchitis. I managed to eek out 23 miles, and realized I have a lot of work to do. Every run for the next 2 months is going to be critical if I am going to finish this thing. And every Saturday long run is going to need to be at least 20 miles. I knew that one of my favorite AT routes would be a great one to get me back into the long-run groove.
Last Thursday and Friday were pretty warm, so it was a surprise to wake up to chilly temperatures on Saturday morning. With the strong winds, the “real feel” was in the low 30s. Boy, was I disappointed. I was really looking forward to some warm temperatures and to ditching my winter clothes! It was so hard to know how to dress for temperatures in the upper 40s with wind chills around 30. I ended up with my lined headband (that covers my ears), a tank top topped with a light half-zip and knee pants. No gloves. That last part mattered.
We hit up the AT where it crosses route 325 at Clarks Creek. At the foot of the mountain, it was nice. It was sunny and it felt warm. I was with my usual trail buddy, Anne, and we brought my friend Andrea out for her first AT run. Andrea is a friend from church who is sorta-kinda-maybe considering her first trail ultra, so I invited her along to show her how awesome trail running is!
The first mile or so is a good, steady climb. Since we were out for 20 miles that day, and my legs were already tired from 20 miles and 2 gym workouts that week, we decided to hike it. Within minutes we were sweating our arses off. We were completely sheltered from the wind, so we were really feeling those near-50 degree temperatures. As soon as we got to the top, though, things changed drastically. It was freezing! Since we worked up a sweat on the climb, we were extra chilly. I was really regretting my decision not to bring gloves. I ended up wrapping one hand in my head band and switching that from hand to hand every few minutes . . . for nearly 5 hours.
We chatted about this and that, gave Andrea some intel about trail running, and whined a little bit (or maybe a lot) about the cold and wind. The miles passed along nicely, and we only had one little near-fall to speak of. Since it was a beautifully clear and sunny morning, we made sure to stop at the vistas along the way. We’ve run this route several times and it’s usually been too foggy to see very far. This was a treat.
Andrea’s run ended when we reached route 225 on Peter’s Mountain. She had an awesome run and a great first experience on our beloved AT. As we bid her farewell, we waited for my ever-tardy friend Ethan. He was only 2 minutes late, which I think is like being early for him! (I tease, I tease.) Ethan hadn’t been running much during the winter, and his longest run in a good long while was 3 road miles we did the week before. He said that he might just run a short out-and-back, or he might decide to run the full 10-mile route back with us. I’ll admit that I was a little worried that the latter option might not go really well, but when he said that’s what he wanted to do, we cheered him on.
Running the route in this direction is great, and it’s always great to head that direction for the second half of a long run because it’s mostly “down”. We ended up walking more than normal because my bad knee was acting up and making any sort of uphill – no matter how slight – problematic.The good thing was that those moments were few and far between, because, like I said, it was “down” when it wasn’t flat.
Since Ethan had missed the vistas on the first half of the trip, we repeated one of the stops so he could check it out.
Last year when we did this route (which was on the first day of trout season, just like this year, and we just happen to know this because the parking lot is a huge fishing spot) Anne took a nasty tumble on some rocks and got an awful bump on her head. We were thankful that the rocks weren’t slippery this time and that she could remain upright. The return trip passed blissfully and without incident.
It was so nice to be back out there and to have a good time with some good trails and good friends. I am so thankful that my feet remembered what to do, and that my body remembered how to run 20 miles. I am also thankful that each time I get back into training, it feels a little easier. It’s by no means easy, but my body more readily responds as if to say, “Oh yeah. I’ve done this before. Got it.”. It was awesome to take two friends out for some new experiences and to see them do well.
I’ve decided that this will be a good route to repeat every month or so to measure my progress. I guess we’ll see how the year goes as I do the Laurel Highlands 70 in June and then do the Oil Creek 100 mile race again in October.