Thursday, August 27, 2015

Town Stop -- Trail Towns and Lodging

Town stops

When Earl Shaffer completed the first thru-hike of the AT in 1948 he spent only one night off the trail. Making that feat even more impressive is the fact that he didn't have a tent, and shelters were few and far between. Then again, Earl, didn't mind sleeping on the ground, wrapped up in an army surplus poncho and sheltering under a fallen tree.

I'm not so tough.
A real bed, a shower, TV, and a Subway next door! Near Atkins, VA, 2013.

On my longer trips I've found that getting off the trail every 4th night or so is a welcome break. It gives me a chance to take a shower, wash your clothes, and sit down and eat a meal that isn't in a 1.5-liter titanium pot.

But where to stay? Fortunately you're never really that far from a town on the AT. Even with a modest pace, you're likely to encounter an opportunity to make a town stop every 4-5 days -- or even more often in heavily populated areas like the mid-Atlantic.

Sometimes the trail leads directly into town, and lodging options, meals, and other services are in easy walking distance. In other areas you may need to hitch a few miles or call for a ride to get into town. The trail cuts right through towns like Hot Springs, NC and Damascus, VA, and they're very popular stops with AT hikers.
Hiking into Damascus, VA, 2014.
As a section hiker, I'm on a tight schedule, so town stops are worked into my schedule and only involve an overnight stay -- I've never taken a "zero day" (when you don't hike at all, but stay in town to rest and catch up on laundry, shopping, etc.). For some potential thru-hikers, the siren song of town days is their undoing -- they spend too much time off the trail and run out of time and money to finish their hike.

Lodging

When you're tired of sleeping in the woods, you've got options. In larger towns and near many road intersections there are motels, both local and chains. Many offer reduced hiker rates, and they're often near other services, like restaurants and stores. Motels have the advantage of privacy and a higher level of amenities, like endless hot showers, TV, and a free continental breakfast. I fondly remember hunkering down on a comfy bed with a pile of junk food in Atkins, VA, watching the "Indiana Jones" trilogy on TV, recovering from 5 days of hiking while washing/drying my gear and recharging for the next section. And in the morning I demolished the breakfast, plus packed enough for my lunch...

Likewise, some hikers choose a local Bed and Breakfast for their stay off the trail. Generally that's a somewhat more pricey option, though some B and B's in trail towns offer special rates for hikers.

A more genuine "trail experience" is to stay at a hiker hostel. Hostels can be hard to classify, since there's no real standard as to what a hostel is, or what it offers. Expect bunk rooms, shared bath rooms, and common areas which may include kitchen and laundry privileges, and varying levels of housekeeping. But you can always count on them to be cheaper than a motel -- I've spent as little as $5 (suggested donation), or as much as $30 for a "Hiker's Special" -- bunk, shower, towel, a frozen pizza, a pint of Ben and Jerry's, and a Coke. Money well spent in the latter case.

On the high end, there are hostels like Bears Den in northern Virginia. Run by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), Bear's Den is a beautiful old stone vacation home, converted into accommodations for hikers.
Bears Den Hostel, 2010 -- every bit as nice as it looks!
Bear's Den offers attentive caretakers, clean and comfortable lodging, and elegant common areas with an excellent library. I spent a very pleasant evening there in 2010, chilling out and reading a copy of Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac." You don't get a much better experience than that.

One the other end of the spectrum you'll find a variety of establishments of varying quality and very different vibes. These can range from a legendary trail stop in Tennessee that's an absolute dump (no names mentioned), to Woods Hole Hostel, a working organic farm (amazing food and company!) There are plenty of AT forums where you can get the skinny on hostels and other lodging options. A good place to start is this list at whiteblaze.net -- investigate the forums for other hiker's experiences to see if your lodging choice is a good fit for you.
Hikers relaxing on the porch at Woods Hole Hostel, 2013.

Next time - Food and resupply

Monday, August 24, 2015

Gimme Shelter

Be it ever so humble...

One of the most interesting aspects of hiking the AT is the shelter system. There are approximately 300 shelters along the length of the Trail, all intended for use by hikers, both long- and short-term. While the size and design of shelters varies, most are simple wooden structures, enclosed on three sides, with a sleeping platform that'll accommodate about six people. Hike in, roll out your pad and bag, and make yourself at home.
 
Taking a break at a typical AT shelter (the Tom Floyd Wayside, 2010).
Shelters are popular destinations. There's usually a reliable water source, a roof over your head and the company of your fellow hikers to socialize with. But one major downside of shelters is also the company of your fellow hikers. Simply put, it's sometimes hard to get a good night's sleep when you're listening to your bunkmates snore (and it cuts both ways, since I'm a snorer...). Not to mention, many AT shelters are infested with mice (and worse). The pitter-patter of tiny feet running around your bag and the gnawing of tiny teeth burrowing into your gear doesn't always make for prime sleeping. Still, a dry shelter with good company can be a cozy place during a rainy night on the trail.
Staking my claim at Hurricane Mountain Shelter, 2013.

 Tenting tonight...

It's not wise to count on shelters for your nightly accommodations. While plentiful, shelters aren't always evenly spaced, so you may find yourself having to go further or fewer miles than you'd planned if you're committed to staying in one. And there's no guarantee there's going to be space when you get there. That's why most hikers carry a tent, tarp, or hammock with them.
My tent (a Henry Shire TarpTent Moment) drying out after a couple of wet days in 2013.
A tent offers privacy and a little more peace and quiet than you'll find in a shelter, but there are downsides. Packing up a wet tent after a rainy night isn't a lot of fun. And finding a good, level tent site isn't always easy. Plus, sleeping by yourself in the woods can take a little getting used to. Even a squirrel rummaging around in leaves brings visions of a T Rex invading your camp until you get used to it. Still, all things considered, a good tent site on a pleasant night is hard to beat.
Morning coffee in the tent, near Mt. Rogers, VA, 2013.

 Next time -- Hostels, motels, and resupply.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Getting to the trail (and getting down the trail)

AT Trail Angel "Homer" has shuttled me on several hikes in Virginia. 


Shuttles and Trail Angels

One of the biggest challenges in hiking sections of the AT is figuring out the best way to start at one location and end at another. Sure, you can drive to the start, but how are you going to get back to your car when you finish?

That's where shuttle drivers come in. For a fee they'll pick you up at one spot on the trail and take you to another. So you can park your car at the end of the hike, and get driven to the start. Then all you have to do is walk back to your car. Just be sure you don't forget your car key -- I did, once...

Many shuttle drivers are previous thru-hikers who like lending a hand to other hikers. They can be broadly classified under the amorphous heading of "Trail Angels" -- people who make it their avocation to help out hikers. Others may run lodging establishments or outfitters in trail towns. At any rate, it's not free to use a shuttle, but I don't think anybody gets rich doing -- $1 a mile for a shuttle is a pretty typical rate. There are a variety of resources for finding shuttles -- websites like whiteblaze.net, guidebooks, or the well-maintained Appalachian Trail Conservancy's Shuttle Guide.

For my hike I'll drive to Harpers Ferry,WV on the morning of Sept. 17, then take a shuttle up to Duncannon, PA. Then it's up to me to lace up my shoes and cover the 125 miles back to the car.

Navigating the trail

In over 700 miles of hiking on the AT I've only gotten lost once, on a poorly marked section in Tennessee, but a few minutes of backtracking got me back on course. Of course there was the time I started hiking the wrong direction one morning, but that's a different story...

One of the many, many white blazes marking the AT.
Generally speaking, if you start hiking in the correct direction, follow the path, and watch for the white blazes on trees, posts, rocks, etc., you're not going to get lost on the AT. So most hikers don't carry maps (or at least they don't bother after their first hike). But trail info is still nice to have -- how far to the next town, water source, campsite, road crossing, shelter? Will this climb up the mountain ever stop? Where's the closest place to get pizza?

The gold standard for most section and thru hikers these days is the A.T. Guide, a clever publication that combines mileage tables with an elevation profile, and contains detailed town maps and lists of services. Vital info for anybody doing a long-distance AT hike, and very easy to use. To save weight, I simply photocopy the few pages I need for my trip, and eschew packing the whole book.
A sample page from the AT Guide


Next Time: Shelters, shelter, and lodgings

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Appalachian Trail Section Hike 2015 - An Introduction

My AT journeys to date -- 1/3 of the way done!
My route for this year's hike. I'll be going north to south, finishing in Harper's Ferry.

It's Hiking Time!

I've been backpacking on the Appalachian Trail (the "AT") since the late 1990s. I fondly remember my first multi-day trip -- 4 days and 3 nights hiking north from the James River to Reed's Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 60 miles later I arrived at Reed's Gap -- exhausted, blistered, and sun-burned -- and I couldn't wait to get back out on the trail.

In the years since, I've knocked off 721 miles of the AT, traveling in sections from Erwin, TN, to the MD/PA border. Each year I try to add on a new section, and this year I've decided to write about my preparation and the hike itself.

The Plan

I'm currently training for the Richmond Marathon in November, so I didn't want to take too much time out of marathon prep for a hike. So this year I'm blocking out 7-8 days to hike south from Duncannon, PA, to Harper's Ferry, WV, a total of about 125 miles.

Pennsylvania doesn't usually show up on hiker's "must do" sections of the AT, but the hike is close, and I can drive to it, so there's less of an issue for travel time and expense. And it should be fun to finish in Harper's Ferry, the traditional "psychological" half-way point of the trail, and home of the headquarters for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the organization that coordinates the clubs that maintain the trail.

I'm planning on starting my hike on September 17 -- only a month away! In the meanwhile, I'll be posting about a variety of topics -- how I plan for a hike, the gear, clothing, and food I take with me, and some of what's involved when you actually hit the trail. And during the hike I'm hoping to post regular updates -- I hope you'll join me along the way!

Ken

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bel Monte Endurance Race 50K Race Report

Prologue

It was during a 9-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail last fall that the ultra bug hit me. After all, I was hiking 15-20 miles a day with 30-35 pounds on my back and enjoying it (mostly) -- why shouldn't I give a long trail race a shot? At least I wouldn't have to carry as much...

The Bel Monte 50K seemed a logical choice. The date looked right, and I'd done the 25K version of it two years ago -- so I had some familiarity with the course. It also looked friendly from a spectator standpoint, with easy access to several aid stations, so Carmel would be able to cheer and crew for me too.

Despite a rough late winter, I'd got in several 20-mile plus long road runs and some solid 10-15 mile runs on local trails. And I'd knocked out a 1:14 at the Charlottesville 10-Miler only a few weeks before. I did wish that I'd gotten in a few longer days on the trails, but my hydration and nutrition had held up well during my training, so I felt cautiously optimistic going in.

ACT 1 - No hurry...

The Bel Monte course is an out-and-back, distinguished a few interesting features. The first and last couple of miles are on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which makes for an easy start and a finish with long sight lines, so you can see if anybody is ahead or behind you. And the outer few miles are on a rolling gravel road -- pretty easy going. The middle is virtually all single track, some of it quite rocky. The course plunges 2000 feet from the crest of the Blue Ridge to the valley below between miles 7 and 14 with a tough series of switchbacks occupying the first 1-1/2 miles and 1100 feet of the descent. Needless to say, that descent turns into a climb on the return, starting at mile 21 and pitching up sharply near mile 27 of the 34.2 mile course.

It was a clear and warm morning, with temps predicted for the upper 70s or lower 80s. The lack of leaves at the higher elevations was a concern to me, so I slathered on sunscreen at the start and wore a hat. With the gun, I tucked in at the back of the field and warmed up slowly. It was a small field -- only 39 starters for the 50K, out of about 120 or so doing the 25K or 50-miler. As we started down the Parkway I moved up gradually. Turning east off the Parkway we entered the pretty White Oak Falls trail and descended to the stream crossing. From there a series of steep switchbacks led up to a crossing of the Parkway, and the first aid station, around mile 5 or so.

To this point I'd stuck to plan, walking one minute out of every 10 no matter what, drinking from my hydration pack on the 10s, and taking in a gel every 40 minutes, with two salt tablets on the hour. My pace was steady and I felt good. After getting a quick shot of sunscreen from Carmel at the aid station, I was back on my way. Leaving AS1 the trail pitched up over a blend of smooth trail and rock gardens before descending down a jeep trail to AS 2, the start of the steep switchback descent. I'd caught a few stragglers along the way, but the field was well spread out by this point.

As I started down, I passed 25K runners working their way back up the climb, most power walking the steeps. Crossing the stream at the bottom of the switchbacks it was into new territory for me. The running was pleasant. Gradually downhill along a swift-flowing stream with several calf/knee deep wades at the stream crossings. The cold water was a pleasant distraction from the growing heat of the day. A stubbed toe and a tumble onto the trail were the only problems I encountered.

Hitting AS 3 I took stock. 13 miles in and the day was going well, though I'd gotten a little behind on my nutrition. Hydration and salt intake seemed good, so I wolfed down some salted potatoes, sucked down some Coke, filled the hydration bladder, grabbed gels from Carmel, and put on more sun screen.

The sunscreen was a good choice on the out-and-back stretch of gravel road. There were a few rises and dips, but nothing like the Fox Mountain loop I'd done in training. As I headed out the road I started counting the returning runners. After 4 miles I hit the next aid station and realized I was in 13th place, and I knew there were a couple of runners only a little ahead of me. On the return trip I could see them ahead and slowly reeled them in, hitting AS3 in 11th at mile 21.

ACT 2 - Exit, pursued by a bear

The run downhill to AS3 had been a pleasant trip. But I knew that the benign trail I'd just come down was going to bite me going back up. I topped off my water, slugged down more Coke and potatoes and moved on.

Right away I adopted a disciplined approach. Run 100 steps, check your HR. Over 155? Walk, checking every 20 steps until its under 145, then run at 100 steps or until its over 155 again. I'd used that strategy on the second trip up Jarman's Gap during a training run and it seemed to work for me.

The day was getting hot by now, so the stream crossing were a godsend, letting me dip my hat and bandanna into the water for some cooling action. I held it together well, walking and running, for the next 6 miles or so, passing 26 miles and into the great unknown. Then the switchbacks began.

All the while coming up the valley I'd been doing my math. If I could hold my pace around 15 minutes per mile going up the ascent I'd been in great shape to go under 7 hours -- a pretty good time on this course, based on past results. but pride goeth before a fall -- or in this case a steep trail just about stopped me in my tracks. Try as I might I couldn't keep my momentum going and soon was reduced to walking 50 steps, putting my hands on my knees and sucking water out of my drinking tube -- at least I had that. I fired down caffeinated gels and salt tablets to pick up my energy and struggled on, reduced to 28-minute mile pace as I climbed.

But even in the worst of times cool stuff happens. As I walked I heard rustling int brush on the trail to my side. I stopped, and out popped a black bear, about 10-15 yards away, oblivious to me. I watched him for a moment, then thought it would be best if he knew I was there. So I gave a couple of loud barks and he rashed away into the underbrush.

I'd gone the last 7 miles by myself, but as I approached the next AS, I saw another runner struggling up the hill. I hoped I didn't look as bad as he did, though I'm sure I did. Entering the aid station I saw him and one other runner taking a break. Nothing like competition to give you energy -- I bolted down two cups of water, grabbed some peanut M and Ms and took off at my best power walking pace.

ACT 3 - Duel in the Sun

I walked best I could and gradually started trying to run again, stopping once with a wicked cramp that convinced me I was going to have to DNF. But after a minute or so it loosened up and I was on my way, still no sign of the runners from the aid station. The trail was rocky, but downhill, and I gradually loosened up and picked up speed.

As I reached the BRP crossing again I figured I was in 9th position. Carmel was on hand to feed me more Coke and give me the remains of our ice to stick under my hat. Only 5 miles to go, with the last 2 or so on the Parkway. In the bag!

As I left the overlook I looked back and recognized the green shirt of one of the runners I'd passed in the aid station coming out of the woods behind me. I picked up the pace as I started down into the woods but soon hit some rough patches that left me reduced to a walk. Soon green shirt came along and passed me. I tried to hang on but soon he'd disappeared into the woods. Oh well...

It's amazing how tough the last few miles of a race can be, but I was encouraged onwards by numerous day hikers who were enjoying the fine weather. Then as I turned a corner, there was green shirt, only 30 yards ahead. I guess he'd had his own bad patch too. Gradually I caught up, but lagged about 5-10 yards behind on the trail. I'll save it for the Parkway...

We hit the Parkway neck and neck and I took a quick moment to get a last sip of Coke from Carmel, then took off in pursuit. As we worked up a long hill, green shirt was reduced to walking, but I was able to run/walk and close the gap, then stretch out a lead. Over the top of the climb he found his next gear and passed me on the way down. And so we yo-yo'd back and forth over the last mile -- I could close the gap, but never close enough to make the pass. Finally I saw the finish, and crossed the line in 7:32, good for 10th overall. I lost my AG to green shirt, whose name is Wes -- nice guy, and he earned the win.

34.2 miles -- what a day!



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Richmond Half-Marathon -- 11/16/2013

Summary: 1:34:31, 7:13/mile. 16/284 AG, 250/7750 OA.

During this summer my thoughts began to turn toward 2014. New age group, new possibilities, so it was time to start setting some goals. At the top was trying to earn a return trip to Boston, so a spring marathon seemed logical. Walking back from that, a fall half-marathon seemed like a logical stepping stone and a good test of my run fitness.

That led to Richmond. The date looked good, and the course has a reputation for being flat and fast. I'd set my previous 1/2-marathon PR of 1:34:59 in Philadelphia in 2010 -- I figured I had a realistic shot to knock a bit off of that.

Training
After the Wisdom Oaks International my training shifted over to a more run-centric focus. Mileage built up for around a month with a combination of more frequent weekly runs in the 40-60 minute range and longer weekend runs, including "split runs" -- two run workouts in a day to increase mileage without beating up the body too badly. The majority of these runs were in the ZR - Z1 range -- pretty easy pace.

About a month before the race, the weekend runs shifted to straight efforts, peaking at 2:20 (about 16 miles at Z1 pace), with weekly track workouts of 5-6 mile repeats at "race pace." This is when I started feeling pretty confident. I was running smooth and steady for the long runs, practicing nutrition and hydration, while the race pace mile repeats were encouraging -- I was holding 7:00 or better pace without stepping out of Z2 or low Z3.

The Race
Coach Debi and I consulted on race strategy and settled on taking the first mile around 7:20-7:25, then dropping down into the 7:05-7:10 range for the rest of the distance. I packed three gels along -- one for 15 minutes prior, then the others (Expresso Love) at :30 and 1:00. I'd drink water at the stops.

Race morning was wet, as a band of showers moved through Richmond. But as we parked the car the showers faded and I was able to warm up without getting soaked. A short jog, a longer wait at the porta-jons, and a hop over the barrier into Corral A -- I was ready to go with a couple of minutes to spare. I moved to the back of my wave's corral -- no need to get caught up in the scrum at the front.

With the gun I walked up to the line and started my watch. Richmond begins with a straight shot down Broad Street, the old downtown main street and then passes through the  campus of VCU before taking a right turn to the north. It looks flat, but there's a slight uphill grade, so I proceeded with caution, staying in the pack for the most part.

Mile 1 -- 7:31, then Mile 2 -- 7:24. A little off planned pace, but no need to panic. I'd set Mile 4 as my check point. If I was at 29 minutes there I'd be right at 7:15 pace. We turned north onto the Boulevard, passing under I-64 and past several BBQ joints (which smelled great!)

Mile 3 -- 7:11. That's better. We ducked into a residential neighborhood for an out-and-back segment and then Mile 4 -- 7:06. I was about 20 seconds or so below 7:15 pace, but if I could hold around 7:10 I'd be set. Mile 5 -- 7:10 -- perfect.

Around Mile 6 we headed into a large city park. The smooth pavement and flat we'd had so far was exchanged a rougher aggregate surface and some small rolling hills. Hard to play those -- I didn't want to push too hard up the short grades, but didn't want to give up too much time, either. Mile 6 -- 7:06, Mile 7 - 7:01, then Mile 8 - 7:18. That didn't bother me too much, since we'd gone through the longest climb on the course.

As we left the park the 1/2-marathon course began following the end of the marathon. I knew this from past runs, so I knew that there were some fast sections with only one uphill stretch worth talking about. Mile 9 was solid at 7:06, but the easy running of earlier was getting harder now. Time to repeat those mantras I'd practiced in training. "You're smooth." "You've got energy." "Your form is great." Sounds corny, but it helps when it starts getting tough.

Mile 10 - 7:10. Mile 11 - 7:11. Now I was counting my steps to 50, then checking the Garmin. If the pace was slower than 7:10 I dug in and pushed, checking again after 50 more steps. I turned onto the last long downtown stretch -- once I turned right it would only be a short downhill stretch to the finish. I kept looking ahead. Where was it?

Mile 12 - 7:11. I was passing people who'd shot their bolt, but being passed by stronger runners too. I kept counting, checking pace. Finally, I saw the turn. I gave it all I had, but the steep downhill caused some sharp cramps in my legs. By now I was in that end of the race fog. Was I on pace? I glanced at my watch and wasn't sure anymore.

Finally the clock. It was rolling up towards 1:35, but I'd started about 30 seconds after the gun. I had it -- 7:34:31, with Mile 13 in 6:57. It's always a great day when your training and race plan come together, and this was one of those days.


Ken

Monday, April 22, 2013

Race Report: Belmonte Endurance Races 25K - 4/20/2013

I like mountains. I like trails. I like to run. So why hadn't I done a trail race before? 

Good question, I told myself as I stood shivering in the gathering light of a Blue Ridge mountains sunrise. It was 35 degrees and breezy at Royal Oaks Resort, a small collection of cabins just off the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Wintergreen. I'd signed up for the Belmonte 25K last year but had to bail because of pneumonia. The organizers had graciously rolled over the entry to this year, but the race really wasn't on my radar. My running felt great, but I'd been concentrating on shorter distance foot races and cycling. Hard to see how this was going to turn out.

There were actually three races going on that day -- my 25K, plus a 50K and a 50 miler. All were following the same course, but with different turnaround points on the out-and-back course. I tried to blend in with the crowd -- a little different than the usual road race. A few more beards, a lot of Camelbacks, some runners with dogs, and a crapload of tattoos. A couple of burly guys in kilts rounded out the scene. 

After a moment of silence for Boston, we took off. I lopped along in the back, determined not to burn out early -- I'd seen the elevation profile, and I knew what it was to hike up in these mountains. Our first two miles followed the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) south and downwards, then we ducked off the trail into woods to the east. The single track was well graded here, with a gentle downward slope, and I settled into the train of runners, moving up past a few slower ones.

Then in the distance I heard a smattering of whoops and hollers, getting louder as we got closer. A stream crossing, made deep and fast by the previous night's rain was backing up traffic. Some scouted up or downstream for a crossing, but most plunged right in with water over their knees and forged ahead. With a shout of "once more into the breech" I followed suit. Now it was my turn to give a yell -- it was COLD!

Now the trail turned west and back up towards the BRP, with sunlight illuminating the sides of Whiteoak Canyon as we climbed. I ran and powerwalked and moved past several more runners, scraping against the underbrush each time. We recrossed the Parkway to the first water stop and I stopped to chat with Carmel who'd driven down from the start. I fired down a gel, refilled my water and  reentered the woods.

The trail wound upwards now, as I ran along Indian file with a group of about 10 other guys, chatting it up as we ascended. Gradually the trees grew shorter and the trail rockier -- a sure sign we were near the top of the ridge line. Our pack came apart as runners began to tire or started to surge and I settled in leading a "B" pace group. At the top we turned right onto a rutted jeep road -- a veritable super highway compared to the trail and began to descend. By now we were starting to see 25K runners coming back. They looked young -- and fast.

After a few minutes we hit the first real aid station. I topped off my bottle, and grabbed some peanut M and Ms (great idea) and some saltines with peanut butter (not so great). As I choked down the saltines, the trail started down. It was full on prevent disaster mode for a while as I slid down some steep scree, and hopped from rock to rock. After a few the trail began a set of well-graded switchbacks and I could hear the sound of a stream at the bottom of the ravine.

We hit bottom, only to encounter the 25K turn around sign. I'd checked the map, so I knew it was coming, but it didn't make me look forward to turning around and going right back up. I set off up the mountain in my best power hiking mode, and started to catch a few of the runners in front of me. After a blazing fast 19 minute mile I was back at the aid station -- this time I skipped the saltines (more Peanut M and Ms, please!)

After reascending the jeep trail I turned back onto the single track. This was one of the toughest sections. I head to pick carefully through the rocks as I went down, and my quads felt like they were being attacked by dwarves armed with ball-peen hammers. Younger, nimbler runners I'd passed on the uphill started overtaking me. I hated them.

Finally the trail smoothed out and I could start to stretch out and run again. As I picked up speed the Virginia Trail Rock, a native of the area. launched itself from its camouflaged burrow and attacked my left foot. With a loud OOOOFFFF I hit the ground and slid. Then my calves cramped up. As I rolled around on the trail I understood the appeal of trail racing. In a big city race spectators and other runners would have rushed to my aid. EMTs might have been called. Pictures and video would have been taken.  But here I was on my own. No one in front, no one behind. Suck it up buttercup.

I finally got up and worked out the cramp. No lasting damage -- a scraped knee and thigh and a couple of scrapes on my forearm and hand. Fortunately the arm warmers I was wearing protected my skin from anything worse. After a few I started to jog along and got back up to speed.

Soon I hit the BRP again, where Carmel was waiting. I showed off my battle scars, got some water and a gel and dug in. Just three more miles of trails, then back on the blacktop. I descended back to the stream crossing, which felt pretty darned good this time and started ascending back to the road.

As  I climbed the trail I saw a sight to warm my heart. Other runners. Walking. I started picking off single runners and pairs until we hit the Parkway again. The blacktop warmed my heart and loosened up my stride. More runners came into view as I ascended -- I'd paced it well and had plenty in the tank as I came across the line.

I found out later I won my AG, though I didn't stick around for awards. A plate of hot macaroni and cheese and a lot of potato chips was plenty of award. Trail running -- I might grow to like this...

Ken