As my husband (DK)dropped Emmitt, the wonder-dog, and myself off at the arboretum he kissed my forehead and promised to join us at our planned meeting spot off the parkway. The day was warm and overcast, but not raining. I was a bit overdressed for the 50 degrees, knowing it was pretty likely to be much cooler at the top.
Emmitt and I were both itching to run, having spent the day before driving in the car, and relaxing in the hotel room. In the car Emmitt has been radiating excitement like an electric current we could all feel in the car, poised at the window and shaking ever so slightly every few seconds as the mountains came into view.
Only 5 minutes in I already had to pee. I found one of the thickets of rhododendron’s and squatted amongst their tear drop leaves.
The first mile starts immediately uphill, 500 feet of climb in a mile, which isn’t too bad, except that there is no warm up into it. The excitement of the run ahead got my adrenaline up, but my brain reminded me to hold something back. As we ascended into the low laying clouds I was enveloped into soft, swirling, warm mist. It took away any view I would have of the surrounding mountains, but made me feel very content and at peace in the moment and led to some 2014 reflections.
I thought back to last year- my first time on the Shut in Ridge Trail, it has been similarly misty, and eerily wonderful, but colder. There aren’t too many downhills, the portion I ran I gained 4,691 ft and lost 3,174 ft, but I also had my husband pick me up, so I ran a point to point. (My garmin data can be found here.) The downhills are steep and switch-back, but fun to cruise and give your climbing legs a little break.
Looking down, I saw Emmitt at my knee. He is usually free to roam a bit when we are on the trails near home, but he stays with in a few feet of me when we are somewhere new. He’s such a great running buddy, always willing, always excited to explore the outdoors with me. I feel so lucky to have found a mutt like him, ever the eager companion. They say when dogs stare deep into your eyes it is their way of expressing their love for you, he’s currently looking up at me with a little doggie grin on his face. I looked long and hard for a dog like him to adopt. My husband says we are “two peas in a pod.” Run, eat, sleep, repeat.
I am filled with gratitude, and my heart feels so full. We didn’t see another soul the entire run, so I was alone with my thoughts and the smells of the woods; pine and wet earth.
As I roll up and down the hills and along the ridges I realize I am moving at roughly the same pace as I was last year. That’s a boost in confidence, same place, same run, same time of year…perhaps I am holding off father time just a bit.
I wonder how much longer I have before I really slow down and can no longer keep up with my younger male training buddies.
As I ran deeper into the mist I began to reflect on the past year, 2014. It had started out a bit rushed, having raced my first 100, Pinhoti in Nov 2013, I had developed hives and and a tired immune system and wasn’t running very much. I had put my name into the Mt Mitchell 40 Challenge the year before and had not gotten in, I did it again expecting the same result…however, this time I got in. It would be an interesting test, to begin it was the first race I would run after running a 100 mile race, and the first time DK would accompany me to a race. With the promise of a “man weekend” I lured him in. While myself and my two girlfriends did yoga, ate, and raced, our husbands bonded over beer, USA hockey and other Olympic games, and chocolate.
I quickly jumped back into training, but with only a month before the February race, I did a lot of short but intense hill training. Though I still feel like I am slower than molasses uphill, I approach downhill running with reckless abandon.
I ran the first 20 miles uphill somewhere around 9th or 10th place, but was able to make up a lot of time and catch up to 3rd place on the back 20 mile downhill. I was happily surprised with some nice pottery and a check for the 3rd place finish. (I figured if DK could take a long weekend to hang around for me to run, the least I could do was win something good;) )
March was a month of oops, I had won Bull Run Run in 2013, which meant that I had automatic entry for 2014. Unfortunately, I misunderstood, and when I didn’t see my name on the entry list, I found out that I still had to put my name in the lottery…oops…ok, no biggie, onto Bighorn 52!
April, May, and June were full of spring running and trips to Boone and the Tanawha Trail for some mountain running. I had no way to train for the altitude, but I did as much heat training as I could. I knew the last 5-6 miles drop into a hot and dry canyon, so I would prepare for that in the NC heat!
June was Bighorn, and we traveled to the west with my my TrailHead family! I did not expect to get altitude sickness, though I suppose the last time I spent any time in any sort of altitude was the summer way back in 1999 I spent a few weeks in Colorado Springs, and I remember just not feeling quite right…I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was a pretty epic adventure, I forget the exact numbers, but about 10+ people were in the 100, me in the 50, 4 or 5 in the 50k and one in the 30k…talk about orchestrating travel! It was a blast thought, some of my closest trail friends, and my husband and a few other spouses all coordinated our schedules and made it work! I will never forget the great adventure we all had that week! A fun bonus was a staying an extra week hiking in Estes Park, Colorado with DK and some great friends!
July, and August I spent as much time as possibly hill training, which in Chapel Hill means getting on a treadmill, bounding up the UNC stadium, and hill repeats until you can’t count anymore on that 3/4 mile hill in town. It wasn’t the most inspirational training, but it was good enough for first place at the Jarmin’s Invitational Marathon (the JIM) in Charlottsville, VA. I love VA running, and the trail community up there, the CATS and CRUT ultrarunners are the best!
September was full of super early weekend mornings and 4 hour drives up to VA to run along the Wild Oak Trail and other parts of the Grindstone Course, in preparation for Grindstone 100; the race that almost got away!
Finally October came and it was time for Grindstone 100. After the government shut down in 2013 and the cancellation of Grindstone, I was finally ready…and had 2 years worth of butterflies! Though I had a rough race (GI-speaking) I managed to rally late and held on to 5th place for the last spot on the podium. Grindstone taught me some hard lessons, for one, I still have no idea what I am doing-there is still a lot to learn. But what I know is that my perseverance is important for 100 mile success. No matter how bad it gets if I can wait out the low moments, and get a little food in my belly, things will get better. (Oh, and this would be the first..hopefully not that last DK crewed and paced me in a 100.)
November was when I finally felt like I could take an off season, my two year hunt for Grindstone was complete and I hadn’t really taken an off season since my Achillies Tendonosis in 2012. This month also brought out the post 100 blues, which seems to be something all runners can relate to.
And now, here I was, back around to December…running through the warm mountain mist with my dog, and soon DK. What a great year 2014 was, I can’t help but be optimistic for more running adventures, more friends, and more smiles in 2015!