Local places for Hill Repeats/Tempo runs (Chapel Hill, NC)

I have been meaning to put this post together for quite a while now.  Living in a flat area, while competing in mountainous races makes one creative.  Here is my top 4 list of ways to train for mountain trail ultras in the Chapel Hill area.

1.  I hate to say it, but the treadmill.  There is no where one can drive to on the east coast that has unlimited uphill.  At the beginning of a training cycle I usually walk uphill for as far as I can get in 45 minutes at 15% grade, eventually the walking becomes running.

2. Stadiums.  Much like #1 this is a really underwhelming place to train, but if you run every other step up and hop (with both feet) down trust me, your quads and glutes will be talking to you the following morning.

3.  Umstead Park.  Ok, now we are getting outside.  Umstead Park is located in the middle of Raleigh, its even convenient if you are flying in/out of the area and need to get in some hill repeats.  If you park at Reedy Creek and follow the Loblolly trail over to the Reedy Creek and drop down to the Lake that is a decent hill to do repeats on. Turkey Creek is good for short steep ups and downs.  Finally the Group Camp road makes for a nice long gradual uphill for repeats.  I ran 10 miles of multi use trails for a warm up, and then ran 7 miles of hill repeats gaining 1,448, and losing 1,300 feet.  Not too bad for a fairly flat park in the middle of a city.  Most of the climbs are around 200 feet.

3. Tempo run at Occoneechee State Park in Hillsborough.  This is my garmin info. In 15 miles I was able to get 2,836 feet of elevation gain.  If you park in the parking lot and circle around clockwise the trails take you up and down for 2 miles, then straight up some erosion beams to an overlook, if you continue past the overlook and take a right up the wide trail to the radio tower…from the bottom by the Eno River, up to the top of the radio tower is 355 feet up.  It gets monotonous but I loop up and around until I get up my mileage.  Its also good because you get everything from very technical rooty trails, to stairs, to steep, loose gravel road.  Also because one loop is just over 2 miles you can leave all your supplies in the car and eat or drink every time you run by.

4. Damascus Church Road.  As far as roads go, if you want to practice fast leg turn over and steep descents this road is the best I have found.  (at least one that isn’t too busy with travel anyway)  There are several hilly drops, 100+ feet in 3/4 of a mile.  Often I will pair this road with the treadmill or stadium.

Next time I will write about hilly/mountainous trail runs with in 3 +/- hour drive to train on.  Happy Trails!



The Third, and Final Post; Estes Park CO

So now I was done, blissfully, happily finished with my first real mountain race at altitude. I gorged myself on watermelon and salty chips and awaited the 100 milers arrival. bhfinish

The crowd was thinning out and the sky was turning a beautiful orange of sunset. The TrailHead group gathered under a pavilion with a perfect view of any runners coming down the trail to the finish. There is nothing like eating and laughing and sharing stories after a race with friends. Finally we saw Snuffy coming around the corner, we all followed him to the finish cheering him on through the finish line chute, finally collapsing on the ground. Soon after Grub and Bobcat, and Bobcat’s daughter came in just after cut off. Grub was all smiles, his first 100…what an accomplishment!

Grub still smiling 24 hours later!

Grub still smiling 24 hours later!

We all went to bed exhausted and smiling that night. The next day we were up early and off to pick up buckles. I went out for a short shake out run to see the other side of town, and then we met up for lunch and to caravan to Estes Park CO, our next destination.bhlunch

As we were heading out of town we could see some very ominous clouds behind us, and most of us enjoyed a lightning show from afar.  Unfortunately one car got stuck in it though. The wind and hail was so strong they had to park under an underpass and fell nearly an hour behind the rest of us.

As we drove through the canyons up to the park we could still see all the damage along the banks of the river from the flooding 2 summers ago. It was sad to see the condemned houses, and eroded banks.

The road wound up and the mountains came into view. Its wonderful how, just a drive apart, mountains can look so very different. The bighorn mountains were rounder in contrast to the sharp verticality of these CO mountains. Our late arrival on a Sunday evening meant we had to scramble to find an somewhere to eat, and ended up ordering pizza.  For the second night in a row, we all fell into a deep sleep.

Monday morning we were up early and hungry! It seems to take my stomach a few days to catch up with my activity level and I was ready for a big meal finally! (Yay gluten free pancakes, lots and lots of pancakes!) Gumbi found a really great breakfast place, Notchtop Bakery and Cafe. (which we actually ate at each morning during our stay) the food was excellent, the portions were large and the cost was cheap. With our bellies full of eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, breakfast burritos and whatever else we all ate we headed out for a short hike before a majority of the group needed to head back to Denver to catch their flights home. The best thing about Estes park is that a good hike with views of the mountains and city is no more than a 5 min drive away.IMG_20140623_130224

Gem Lake was the chosen destination, it gave everyone just enough time to get out for a hike, see some pretty views, and get to their flights on time.   The up felt really nice, it was the down that wasn’t so wonderful on  my very trashed quads.  Most of us groaned a bit on some of the steeper descents, but it was nice to be moving and getting the blood flowing.

By that night, everyone but two close friends, and my husband had left.   We poked around the artsy downtown and did some touristy things, ending the day  chowing down at a really great Mexican place for dinner.

Tuesday we were determined to hike the single 14-er in Estes Park, Long’s Peak.   Refueling back at Notchtop, we were ready to hit the trails!   Long’s Peak is part of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountain National Park.  The first 10 minutes we were struggling for air a bit, but eventually it seemed our breath evened out and we were soon on our way up to the snow fields.   IMG_20140624_183401The views were breath-taking, coming from the East Coast where you can climb and climb and not see much of a view for hours, the notion of having a view as early as 30 min into our hike was fantastic!  I just couldn’t get over the beauty of it all, I didn’t want to leave, I was ready to move (at least for the summer until it snows anyway.)

After the hike we decided to drive through the park to the Continental Divide Trail since we only had a few short days there and wanted to see all we could.IMG_20140715_184751  I would recommend this drive around the park if you don’t have enough time to hike it all.  It was chilly, extremely windy, and even snow flurried on us, but the views didn’t disappointIMG_20140625_202951.


The final hike we hit was the Bear Lake hiking area.  It was pretty touristy, but most people stayed within a few miles of the parking lot, so once we hiked from the immediate area the trails became quiet.   Emerald Lake was worth the trip, and it was a nice relaxing way to end the hiking part of our trip.

We drove back to town, and had to hit one more place before we left.  Its a little known fact that Steven King wrote the Shining while staying at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.  My husband introduced me to the movie back in College.  I had never seen it before.  He had a novelty screen saver back then, when you turned on his computer it would say “Here’s Johnny”  the icons were things like the elevator with blood, etc..you get the idea.  Anyway, we had to go check out the hotel just for fun.   Many people go there to hunt ghosts, personally I just like the histories of the old mansions-turned-hotels.  Another one of my favorites is here in NC, the Biltmore House in Asheville.   Anyway, the tour guide was great!   She was enthusiastic, knew all the history, and played to the curious ghost “hunters” in our group.

I have never recovered from a race by hiking steep mountains before, and though many of the descents really stung my very tired quads, when I returned home I felt much better than I had after any other race before.   Typically it takes several weeks of tripping all over roots post race before I fully recover, after hiking for a week (knock on wood) I didn’t trip at all in the following recovery weeks.   Note to self, hike lots of quad searing downhills to recover from hard down hill races!

Hope you enjoyed my little tale of the Mountains, thanks for coming along with me! :)

Ultra-Food on the run

There has been much talk around social media lately about best foods for long runs.

Eating vegan and gluten free I have a few favorites:

Peanut butter stuffed dates

boiled potatoes and salt

Corn tortillas with guacamole (also really good recovery food, add sliced up tomatoes and spinach..mmm)

salted almonds

dark chocolate covered coffee beans

Kind bars, my favorite are Dark Cherry Cashew, and Pomegranate


roasted and salted sunflower seeds

Watermelon, cold..best thing for hot summer running!

Orange slices

peanut butter and banana slices

Dried pineapple slices

Dates rolled in coconut

These are just a few of mine.  What are your favorite foods while you run? Please add yours in the comments below.


(OK back to finishing up Bighorn part 3)

Bighorn Wild and Scenic: Part Two

Ok, where did I leave off…oh yes… A little about the Bighorn Mountains first though.  Located in north-central Wyoming, the Bighorn Mountains are a sister range of the Rocky Mountains. Conveniently located halfway between Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone National Parks. No region in Wyoming is provided with a more diverse landscape – from lush grasslands to alpine meadows, from crystal-clear lakes to glacially-carved valleys, from rolling hills to sheer mountain walls.   It was a beautiful area to visit, I would strongly urge anyone thinking about running it to stay on longer and explore the area.  More information about Bighorn National Park can be found here.bigstartscene

Ok, back to my story.  It was 3 am Saturday morning as Drew and I packed up the car to head to Dayton, WY.  We arrived and decided to follow the buses up to the start so he could see me off.  I always get nervous right before I run any race, no matter what distance, so I spent most of the ride trying to relax and stretch a bit.bhstart

As the sun rose, we could see the snow covered peaks off in the distance.  We didn’t drive all the way to the start earlier in the week, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect for snow and cold.  Growing up in New England, people don’t really mention snow unless there is more than a few inches.  Fortunately as we crested the mountain what I saw was very spring-like..not much snow, mostly just mud.  Compared to what I ran on Mt. Mitchell earlier in the year, this was nothing.  I was quite relieved!



Up at the top several of the 100 milers were getting onto the buses to be driven back down.  Overnight it had gotten quite cold, and had thunder-stormed, and the cold, the rain, and the mud had been just too much for several folks.   We wandered around at the starting line with the other runners, we even watched a moose graze lazily in the early morning sun.  Soon enough we were lining up and heading off into the sunrise.

The first section of this course was wide open bumpy and muddy grasslands, punctuated by random groupings of trees.  Here the mud puddles were deep and cold, I didn’t waste any time jumping right in, I knew it was going to be muddy for at least the first 18 miles…so why tip toe around getting my feet good and wet?!   The first 18 miles rolled up and down, but mostly down so it was a lot of fun.  I usually run races with a waist pack carrying a single bottle, for my birthday this year my husband gave me an Orange Mud pack.  I like bottles for races because its so much easier to refill them when my hands are cold, and I can also tell how much water I have consumed, making sure I don’t get behind my hydration.  I warmed up in the first 5 miles shedding my long sleeve shirt.  The pocket in the pack wasn’t really large enough to fit the shirt and trying to tie it around the pack took up more time than I had hoped.bhstart2

The alpine meadows I passed were beautiful, it was hard to keep going at times.  I just wanted to open my eyes, breath in the fresh air and watch the view..though I was running with purpose and didn’t stop.

Soon I came upon my friend, Remus.  I happily called out his name and gave him a hug.   A bit further down and I ran into Ringo and his wife Carrie.   He was all business, ‘first place is 5 minutes ahead of you.”  I thanked him, while mentally telling myself it had only been 15 miles and that really the race hadn’t even started yet.

We left the alpine meadows and moved into to some beautiful, yet rocky, single track.  I could hear the river rushing below and the cooler air coming up from it, felt nice….until I fell.  Just took a mis-step and landed hard on the pointy rocks.  My palm immediately swelled, as did my knee.  I cursed myself for letting my mind and eyes wander off the trail, and look around at the scenery.  I could still wiggle all my fingers, so nothing was broken, just some nice cuts and bruises.  What hurt more was that I was passed by the next woman while I was shaking off my fall still. Ah well..

I entered the first big aid station soon after, foot bridge.(approximately mile 20 for me)  I was so happy to see many of the 100 milers; Gilly, Grub, Bobcat, Gumbi, and Sidetrack…Gilly brought me my drop bag asking what I needed. (what great crew…but wait, wasn’t he running the 100?!)  I started inquiring about how their races were going, and wondering why they seemed so relaxed.  It turned out that many of them dropped overnight and were just hanging out at the aid stations helping.  It was just Snuffy, Grub, Bobcat, Ringo, and Remus left at this point.  I was a bit bummed for them, but headed off for “the wall.”

The wall was the section I had been dreading the most, but Sidetrack hiked a bit with me and helped lift my spirits as I started up.  The climb started nice and shaded, but soon became exposed.  It was here that altitude really caught up with me, every step seemed to leave me breathless.   As I climbed I passed runner after runner doubled over gasping for air, and even one woman who was just laying off to the side of the trail.  I asked if she was ok.  She nodded and said she just didn’t want to continue up, nor would her quads allow her to go back down, so she was just enjoying the sun.bigflowers

It took me several miles after the wall to really recover my heart rate and my legs, so this is where I finally began hiking.  Back into the trees, and mud, the trail rolled up and down once again.  We popped back out into the sun, and I saw Snuffy!  He was hiking pretty well, and seemed to be quite focused.    I left him feeling better, I love running races where I know others, its always a mental boost!

Soon I could see the Dry Fork aid station in the distance, thankfully Squonk had warned me that it can be seen miles and miles before you get anywhere near it.  bighorndryforkAnother runner near me announced that it was close, but I kept my head down and tried not to get too excited to see Drew for the first time since he left me at 6am.   As the heat of the day started to cook us all, I could no longer run anything uphill, and was starting to hit a low point.  I was now in 6th place, and was thinking about dropping.  I told myself that just because I wasn’t running how I wanted to, that it was no reason to drop.  I was only a bit bruised, I was perfectly fine, no stomach issues, no hydration problems…no excuse to drop, I was going to finish!bigdryfork

The hike up to Dry fork seemed to go on for a long time, but the cheering of the crowd, and the prospect of seeing Drew kept me moving up and up.  This was mile 38, more than half way!  Drew, Gumbi, and Bobcat’s daughter were there, and it was great to see them all!  Drew remembered I had been concerned about sunburning at this section and with out any prompting started rubbing lotion on my arms, while Gumbi filled my water bottle.  Drew hiked out of the aid station with me a bit, but I was soon off on my own.

Out of Dry Fork there is another climb, this time on a dirt road rather than single track, like the climb out of Foot Bridge.  I felt truly alone on this section of the course, and my mind wandered to Hal Korner’s race report and how he was chased by a moose.  I started to think that I didn’t want to see a moose, or bear, or mountain lion for that matter…I was just too tired to get myself out of some weird situation like that.

The course leveled out a tad so I was able to run again, and was looking forward to the downhill section!  I was just dying for those last fast 5 miles in the canyon to the finish!  Unfortunately, before I could get to the canyon a very large, very close storm cloud came up over us.  I had caught up to some 100 milers and their pacers at this point, and we all quickened our pace to get away from the electric fence that was following along the right side of the course!  ZAP, was all that I could think.

The wind picked up as the storm moved closer.  I had my trusty trash bag in my pack, and not knowing how cold or how long the storm would last, I put it on.  Did I look and feel silly, yes, did I care…nope!  We were past the electric fence now, but still up on a high open meadow.  ZAP/BOOM!  The storm was right overhead and was pelting us with hail.  This was about when I heard a woman scream, my head spun around to where the scream had come from, only to see a woman with her runner yelling at me to take cover with them under the trees.   I thought it best not to, and told them I was just going to continue down the mountain.  Finally I was reaching that steep decline…only to have it now covered in fresh mud-slick as snot!   The three of us were now running, er sliding downhill together trying desperately to stay upright.

Once the storm passed, we were left with the steamy sun, and the slippery mud.  The storm was a good 40 minute time suck, and I was really happy to hit the canyon.  It was now late afternoon, and I knew the heat of the canyon would be rough so I doused myself at the next aid station, and hoped that all the running in the hot NC afternoons would pay off.bighorn

I have never been happier to run the last 6 miles of any race.  It was like something switched in my head and legs, and I took off.  Slowing down for the mud in the previous few miles had let me eat and drink and allowed my legs to recover enough to maintain an 8min/mile pace the final 6 miles.   This is my joy, this is my favorite part of races, that last push to the finish, and its even better when you can reel people in.   The miles ticked by and soon I saw Drew walking up the road towards me.  He had hurt his hip flexor the week before playing soccer, so we had abandoned our plan of him running the last 5 miles in with me..but he jogged in with me as far as he could.

Friday, Spinz and I decided to walk the last few miles of the race together so we knew what to expect and where to go for the finish.   I was playing it over in my head, down the road, past the bend in the river where it comes right up to the road, over the bridge, across the street, around the park….Soon my memory and surroundings were synching up.  I was so close, keep going legs, keep going legs, there is no walking allowed now!  Spinz and Lynx where there, cheering me on as I reached the bridge to head over to the park and the finish line.bighornriver

I was all smiles as I rounded the corner and crossed the finish line.   I headed straight for the river, and tried my best to wash off my mud covered, well…everything.  It felt SO good!  My Lone Peak’s were just covered in mud, but they had done their job, minimal slipping, no hot spots, no twisted ankles, or lost shoe (several people had their shoe’s sucked off in the mud.)  I finished in a time of 10:59, 7th female overall, and 3rd in my age group.

I was joined by Drew and Juice, grabbed a watermelon, and flopped down on the grass with the other TrailHeads! Phew, that was great!  What a race, what scenery, what a day!!  It was well worth every mile of hard, wet, muddy, beautiful, electrifying, rocky, trail.  Happily I finished my first ever real mountain (with altitude) race.  Ahh running bliss!   I didn’t even care that just about every muscle in my body was cramping, I was surrounded by friends, by other runners, and by beautiful mountains!

bighornmePart 3: The 100 miler’s finish, and vacation in RMNP!…

Bighorn Wild and Scenic Race (52) miler: part 1

This race was really meant to be one part of a whole experience. This blog post will also be one part of a whole story. (breaking it up into pre-race, race, and post race hiking/thoughts)
The story really began last year.  Several people from my running group had been looking for a scenic, 100 mile race that was large enough to accommodate a group of us, that wasn’t a lottery so people could get in, and that was in part of the country where most of us haven’t been. The race opened mid winter, I almost didn’t get up to sign up, but a text from Lynx and Spinz propelled me out of bed and downstairs to my computer to sign up.  11 out of the nearly 20 of us signed up for the 100. I wanted to make a vacation out of it, and wanted my husband to join…so I opted for the 52 mile race instead of the 100, (which was what I really wanted to do.) I knew I could run 50+, and still have energy and not be too sleep deprived to go to Rocky Mountain National park after for a week of hiking.

We flew out to Colorado Wednesday morning, picked up two friends in Denver, and headed up to Sheridan WY. The drive is a fairly straight shot up north from Denver, on the same continuous highway, but the scenery change is quite extreme. We passed the jagged mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park’s front range, and into wide sweeping prairie lands. Soon the flat ranch lands became rolling again, and eventually turned back into mountains. We arrived in Sheridan just in time for dinner, and met up with Lynx, Gumbi, and Grub (three of the eleven guys who were running the 100.) We poked around the very cool old west downtown of Sheridan, and then headed home for some sleep.
Thursday morning I woke up to “the flu.” For about 10 minutes I was concerned that I picked up something on the flight, and then common sense kicked in and I remembered I was probably just having a reaction to the altitude. We found a nice local coffee shop and after some blueberry gluten free/vegan pancakes and tea I started to feel a bit more like myself.
What made me feel even better was the concoction of beet juice, ginger, and orange juice Lynx made back at the house.
We met up with the final runners and their families, and headed off to packet pickup, followed by lunch, and of course the soccer game. With our bellies full, we parted ways, the 100 milers heading to their rented house in the country side, and Spinz, Drew, and myself were off to poke around all the stores and the Cowboy museum.  Sheridan WY, where we stayed, was a really cool old cowboy downtown town that has been historically preserved, but filled with coffee shops, running stores, and yummy places to eat.bhtrailheads
Only one of our housemates was running the 100, Grub. Being his first 100 he had several questions, which we tried to answer as best as we could. We prepared a nice vegetarian prerace meal, and got to bed at a sensible time.
The nice thing about Bighorn Wild and Scenic run is that there are multiple distance options. 100 mile, 52 mile, 50k and 30k, with the 100 starting on Friday at 11am, and the others starting on Saturday morning, with them all finishing Saturday afternoon. Friday we went with the other TrailHeads to the 100 mile race briefing, and then onto the starting line to watch them off. The starters included two first-timers; Replay and Grub, and the veterans; Gumbi, Lynx, Ringo, Icarus, Bobcat, Gilly, Snuffy, Remus, Bypass. As they headed off into the canyon, Spinz and Drew and I headed back to the car to see some of them run through the first aid station.

Finally after a long day of sitting, and watching and cheering, we headed back to Sheridan for my drop bag drop off, and a few easy miles around town. Drew headed off to the Y in town, and Spinz hit the computer trying to see where everyone was. I decided to do some last minute yoga and foam rolling, and then took a shower.

The hot water felt so good and relaxing as the warm water washed away the dust from the mountains. I was thoroughly enjoying my shower until, I felt a little something give and spasm in my neck. I tried not to panic, but I immediately knew that feeling, and knew that it was going to get worse. That night I slept on the floor, hoping it would help get the kink out of my neck asap!! I woke after only 3 hours of sleep to incredible pain, and on a whim decided to text my PT friend ET.  She had just happened to have gotten up in the middle of the night, who can sleep when 10 of their friends are out running all night anyway?  She responded very quickly that I needed to traction out my neck. (Thank goodness for good friends!)  I hung upside down off of the bed for about an hour while my back loosened itself up….until it was time to hop in the car and drive up to the start of the race!


TrailHeads in Wyoming

TrailHeads in Wyoming

Thoughts before Bighorn 50

Tomorrow I am hopping on a plane that will fly me out to Denver Colorado, from there we will drive up to Sheridan WY and my first race at altitude.  There are a wide variety of races to choose from, every distance from the 100 mile, 50 mile, 50k, and finally the 30k.  11 of my friends opted for the 100 mile option, and a few others for the 50k and 30k.  I will be the only one in the 50 mile.

So how do I feel? Am I ready?  As I lay awake last night, I thought about all the training I have completed leading up to this weekend…and of course I thought about all the things I could have/should have done.  I closed my eyes and tried to relax and imagine myself running in the Bighorn Mountains, quickly getting through aid stations, starting slow and relaxed, and hitting the downhills hard.  Does this imagining myself in the race help?  I don’t know, but it sure helped me relax and fall asleep.

I try to remind myself about all the weekend long runs out in the NC mountains I have done.  Grandfather mountain twice, T.W.O.T once and the 3 weekends I ran 30 miles on the trails nearby my house.  In addition to that I spent several weeks building speed and practicing good form; 800-repeats, hill repeats, and stadium running.   Looking over my training plan I realize I have really prepared as well as I can, minus being able to actually prepare for altitude.

The 50 mile race starts out where the 100 milers turn around, at an elevation of 8,800 feet, then it rolls up and down and up and down to the finish at 3,970.  The race description and videos I have found online promise beautiful views, pretty wild flowers, and maybe even some interesting wild life.  In Karl Meltzer’s race report he was actually chased and kicked by an angry Moose, guess that’s what happens when you lead the field and end up startling all the wild life first!  (He went on to finish and win the race, so never fear..he’s fine.)  I am hoping to see some wild life–but only from a distance of course! (Check out the scenery in this video)

So now its taper time, what have I been doing?  Well, work has been busy, so there’s always that to take my mind off of the taper tantrum.  I have also been practicing yoga with a friend, Hollie, in her Jiva class, and of course keeping up with some easy cross training…mostly bridges, planks, and calf raises.

If you are interested in following my drama this Saturday, June 21st my race # is 578.  Follow this link and look for my splits in the 50 mile race.  For those of you that know my friends here are their numbers: 100 milers

186- Replay, 189 Gilly, 200 Gumbi, 261 Bypass, 300 Bobcat, 327 Remus, 331 Snuffy, 338 Ringo, 343 Grub, 351 Lynx, 370 Icarus

50k: Juice 855

30k: Spinz 1006, wingnut 1434

In the meantime, this is what is happening all over my house…clothes, food, gels and hydration packs in groups all over the house.  Yeah, my very clean and orderly husband looooves it when I taper ;)

Gear list

Shoes: Lone Peak 1.5 (Though they are coming out with a new version I hope to test out soon!

Shorts: Lululemon Dart and Dash short (5 pockets, and 0 chafing! can’t beat that!)

Hydration: Orange Mud Hydraquiver


T.W.OT; or The Wild Oak Trail

View from Big Bald

The Wild Oak Trail.  Wickipedia says “To complete the entire loop, various guides suggest devoting a day to each of the trail’s three sections.” Three days? Who has time for that? I had a day, at most, and realistically more like 20 hours to drive up, run it, and drive back to be home for family activities the next day. No problem!  Especially because there are two times a year that this loop is part of a fat ass 100(+) miler….three days, that’s just silly.  People loop it 4 times in 48 hours!

I left my house a bit before 4am and met my trail running partner in crime, Replay, at his place.  After 4 hours of driving some back country roads we arrived at the trailhead.  The parking lot was nearly full, it was a beautiful day, not too hot, not too humid, we were ready.

Sections of this loop cross over the Grindstone 100 course, so much of the first 10 miles I recognized from the Grindstone preview (I was unable to run Grindstone 100 due to a government shutdown last fall, read here.)  The start of the course was pretty muddy and buggy, but as we ascended quickly the annoying gnats left us.  The first 10 miles felt easy, and fun, and I kept remembering what it was like the last time I ran that section.  (I also remembered the ever annoying black flies that pop up soon after the gnats leave!)

The 25.6 mile trail is broken up into three sections: FDR 96 to SR 718 – 10.2 miles, Camp Todd to FDR 96 – 5.2 miles, and finally FDR 95 to Camp Todd – 10.2 miles.  Our loop came out to be closer to 30 miles, we missed a turnoff and ran downhill for a few miles before we realized our mistake and headed back uphill.  If you would rather skip the getting lost part, there is a very detailed mile by mile account you can read HERE.

Elevations along the trail vary, from a low of 1,600 feet where the trail begins at North River Gap, to a high point of 4,351 feet on Little Bald Knob.

We hopped out of the car around 9:30, ready and eager to go.  Replay had run the course earlier in the year (it was covered in snow at the time,) but he remembered most of the trails, so I deferred to him and was happy to let him lead.

Replay cooling off, and washing off…after a little trail love.


It was a pretty hot day, but the climbs were nice and the views were well worth it! Almost all of the loop is spent running/hiking up or downhill.  Some of the grades get as steep as 32% and the path is rocky and full of roots.  Still it was so nice to be out in the mountains, and I was happy to be there.  However, 10 miles into the run I realized the wet spot on my shirt wasn’t from my sweaty pores, but from my water pack.  The mouthpiece had sprung a leak and had drained almost half of my water.   I put a kink in my hose, and continued on, hoping that the what was left would be enough.

As the day wore on, I realized I was getting quite thirsty…and a tad grumpy.  Not wanting to be a running bummer, I kept it to myself and pushed on.  Replay signed up for his first 100, Bighorn and he had lots of questions.  I was relieved to have all the questions to take my mind off the mentally low day I was having. Eventually I told Replay I was running out of water because my pack was leaking, and he was very nice to share.

SO many lady slippers!

We continued through the lady slipper trails, and past a small waterfall, and eventually crossed a wide (but only shin deep) river at Camp Todd.  This is also, coincidentally, where I ran out of my own water.  I didn’t want to hog his water, so the last 10+ miles were not my best.

I was hitting a low, when I suddenly heard Replay call out, “BEAR!”  The bear was much more surprised than we were, and it took off down the side of the mountain.  Even though we knew the bear had run off, it didn’t stop our hearts from racing, and we picked up the pace down the hill.  Unfortunately after a few miles Replay stopped and announced, “I don’t remember this part at all, we missed a turn, we have to go back UP!”

Ok, I thought, back up, not just up, but up with no water…and possibly back up past whatever yummy the bear had been eating.  I silently chanted, “please no bear, please no bear.”  All the while feeling silly because I knew the bear wasn’t interested in us.  Thankfully we came across the dog-legged trail crossing we had missed and found our way back to the car, bringing the day to about 30 miles, and 7.5 hours.

Usually I can enjoy my running trips to the mountains for exactly what they are; good training, and really nice views.  I often end the day feeling satisfied and at peace having spent several hours away from civilization and with friends.  This time, however, I left feeling a bit disappointed.

I felt very strong last summer on these trails, attacking the down hills, pushing the uphills, this time there was something missing.   Bighorn 50 is just a few weeks away, so its too late to change anything for that.  The fall will bring Grindstone, and the Barkley Fall Classic.  Apparently in order for me to be competitive I have quite a bit more hard training ahead of me this summer!

Its good though, something fun for me to look forward to! :)