Thursday, July 14, 2011

On the Road Again...

Doug super excited
For the past three years my July race has been Rattlesnake 50K in Charleston WV. Last year rumors were that 2010 would be the end of the race and they sadly enough turned out to be true. Grandfather Mountain Marathon has been on my list of things to do, but it had always fallen on the same weekend as Rattlesnake, so when Rattlesnake died it seemed like the obvious choice. It's fairly close to home, I went to college at ASU, lots of fun friends always run it, and it ends at the Highland Games!
leaving the ASU track
The questionable factor here is that Grandfather Marathon is a ROAD race and the last road marathon I participated in was in 2007, 4 whole years ago!how did that happen? time flies when your trail running I guess?? I really only step foot on the pavement a handful of times a year so I was worried the pavement would eat me alive and pummel me, leaving me hobbled for days, not to mention it's not "normal" to walk during road races and I love me some walk breaks :)
So word on the streets was that grandfather generally runs 20 minutes slower than your average marathon time so I had no intentions of busting out a PR on this course. Obviously if you are running from the Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, NC at an elevation of 3,333 feet and climbing to an elevation of 4,279 feet where it ends on Grandfather Mountain in Linville, NC. it is NOT a net downhill course :) I actually heard a runner along the course asking someone where the finish was, and if it was a loop course?? really? did you even look at the website when you signed up?
So let's break it down. I have run 4 Marathons in my lifetime : Knoxville 2006-3:38 Rocket City 2006-3:42 Boston 2007-3:45 and Richmond 2007 - 3:35  so let's say an average 3:40 marathon time overall + 20 min would put me around 4 hrs for Grandfather.
I stayed with gracious hosts Dennis and Lou in Blowing Rock friday night so I could pick up my packet friday and not have to drive over early Saturday morning. We enjoyed the beautiful view off their back deck before turning in around 9pm. I slept well and was feeling good Saturday morning. Plenty of time for a shower and getting organized before heading to the start. We met up with Rick, Tammy, Ed, Doug, and Martha in the parking lot before heading into the stadium!

Team Triabetes!

I took a quick bathroom break and might I add much more enjoyable than most. The huge bathrooms at the stadium were perfect for a race! no line, no nastiness, no port o john! found my friend Steve as I was walking down to the track. He and his buddy David were running together in there team triabetes jerseys, they checked their blood sugar levels 18 times during the race. Very impressive duo!


I lined up on the track with Doug, his friend Beth (finished 3rd female!!) and Stan from Charlotte. We did two laps around the track before exiting the stadium and passing many of the buildings I practically "lived" in during college. I think I got a little carried away with the excitement and went out a bit to fast. no surprise there, but I knew within a couple of miles we would start to climb and I would naturally slow down and boy did I, haha. The heat and humidity seemed stifling and I felt a bit stressed with the task at hand. I was sweating buckets and soon lost track of hydration/electrolytes, my hands turning into sausages and often feeling on the verge of cramping/nausea.  I was fighting negative thoughts early on and trying not to let them take hold.
Sheep Herding
A mile or two before the half way point I met Eric from Alexandria. He was preparing for his first 50 miler in the fall and I struggled to carry conversation as I was sucking wind, but it did help take my mind off things and relax a bit. As we approached the parkway I spotted Rick and Tammy and got the Hootie Hoo. It was so nice to have them there cheering us on and offering up encouragement with a side of ice water!! They passed us in the family van on the parkway as we crossed Price Lake, snapping photos like paparazzi, cracking me up.

Eric and I crossing Price Lake

I never felt awesome, but I enjoyed the course for the most part. I yoyo'd back and forth with Marty Coleman and Sally Brooking until she pulled away as I got lazy and started taking walk breaks.
I absolutely loved the finish at the highland games! bagpipes playing as you weave through the crowds, making your way to the track at McRae Meadows. Quite surreal running alone around the track surrounded on the outside by scottish clan tents, the inside filled with competitors of the kilted sort; dancers, sheep herders, wrestlers, strong men throwing medieval type hammers! super neat stuff. I crossed the line in 3:57, just short of the 4hr mark.  Enjoyed cheering Doug, and Ed in and watching the games before the awards. I ended up with 3rd in my age group. We all gathered at Cafe Portofino afterwards and then I headed out with some old college friends to the Sugar Grove Music Festival! good times!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 4th Fun Run!

Happy 4th!! Elk Garden
Jenny and I had tossed around the idea of traveling to Sophies Death March with the VHTRC in the SNP over the holiday weekend, but Jenny ended up at the beach and I didn't relish the thought of spending that much time in the car over the long weekend, so when Mike Day mentioned he would be camping @ Grayson Highlands with family over the holiday weekend and would like to run I was all about making something happen. A few emails later, a post on the IMTR facebook page, and we were on our way!!
Rob French had also sent a message he would be in the Damascus area and would like to run! so knowing two north carolina runners were going to be in the area and eager to run was enough motivation! it's always a treat to have visitors and share the trail. The posting on facebook also caught the attention of Donna Bays and Sean Dunlap! and the usual suspects Rick and Tammy Gray and JJJ were up for the adventure as well.
JJ nearly lost a finger
JJ and I picked up Rob in Damascus on our way up the mountain and met the crew @ Elk Garden at 7am. Luckily, thanks to the GPS gods, the directionally challenged Donna found her way to the parking area for the first time as well :) We met a friendly dog in the parking area and snapped a couple photos before heading up to Grayon Highlands State Park via the Appalachian Trail.
It was a lovely morning and the conversation flowed as everyone was excited for the journey ahead. Some visiting the park for the first time! We took several pit stops along the way to regroup, chat, snack, it was after all supposed to be a fun run :) we wouldn't want to push the pace or anything. We wondered along the way if Tammy and Donna would be able to navigate the (new to them) trails we had described before leaving the parking area. We put down some wooden arrows on the group at junctions in hopes they would distinguish them from all the other brown stuff (unlikely). We turned off the AT onto the Mount Rogers trail. A bit grown over since the last time I had ventured that way and we had to cross one large blowdown. It's a great almost level trail, rocky in places but cushy in others, very nice in my personal opinion.
The Mount Rogers trail intersects the Lewis Fork Spur, a fun, fast, windy trail,  leading to, you guessed it, the Lewis Fork Trail! a wider, muddier, horse trail that climbs up at a gradual incline before you pop out at an intersection of the pine mountain, cliffside, and crest trails. We took the Pine Mountain Trail which ducts back into the woods for 1.11 miles before connecting to the AT again around Rhododendron Gap.
Donna and Tammy emerge from the Crest Trail

Sean, Me,Donna, Rick, Tammy, JJ, Rob, Mike
We stopped to chat with some hikers who were calculating their next move. JJ, or fearless leader and navigator extraordinaire gave them some helpful tips as we soaked in the incredible views. A bit of conversation and we made a connection with the hikers. They were friends of Mo, aka the Sultan! they had run his RAM fun run a couple of years ago! small world. Shout out to Mohammed who is currently climbing Danali! Just as we thought of departing I decided we needed another photo. As I was gathering my gear, we heard a familiar Hootie Hooo!!! Tammy and Donna popped up from the Crest Trail, having missed the turn onto Pine Mtn Trail. They were saying some foul words about rocks and how they wished they would never see another.. I hated to tell them the biggest were yet to come! we were super excited they had made it in time for the second group photo!  They took off on the AT, anxious to get in the final miles and we headed towards the spring for a refill and the spotting of our first pony! H20 top off and we were back on the AT, Once we arrived at the Mount Rogers Spur we took a vote on "summiting" Mount Rogers the highest peak in Virginia. Some won, some lost, but in the end I think we were all glad we made it to the top 5,729 ft, which may be the most unspectacular summit of any mountain? the only way you know you've made it is because you can't find the trail anymore :) lets just say all the views are down below, but it's a super neat trail with an ewok village feel and I dream of bottling the scents of pine along the way.
Herd of Ponies
The return trip was fast and furious, almost completely downhill and mucho fun! we stopped to view some ponies in the distance and dodge some hikers but gravity was pulling us along as we danced around the rocks, rejuvenated by the sights, and smells of such a special place. I'm will forever be amazed at the beauty found in and around Grayson Highlands and we only scratched the surface on our 13 mile jaunt. I felt watermelon would be the perfect way to top off a patriotic, all American fun and it hit the spot! thanks to everyone who came out and made it such a special day!