Mount Rogers: ECSUT Training

Who thinks about camping Memorial Day weekend in December?  This girl! Right after I registered for #ECSUT; I made reservations for both Grayson Highlands State Park (Mount Rogers) and Spruce Knob.  Why?  Well, those two are the closest highest points near me.  Training at 0 feet isn’t exactly conducive when your race is going to be at 8k feet (plus).  Granted it also isn’t 8k feet, but beggars can’t be choosers.

IMG_9325Grayson Highlands State Park is known as the gateway to Mount Rogers, but they are more famously known for their ponies.  I’ve read oodles and oodles of blog posts about how the ponies are getting rather aggressive because people are feeding and petting them.  (I will get to that.)

My dear sweet friend TennisGirl came along. The plan had been that we would do Mount Rogers the first day and then do six hours the next day.  She is an experienced hiker and backpacker and was game for just about anything.  I was super stoked. Right up until I checked the weather.  It was going to potentially be a major suckfest.  Every day we checked the weather it changed.  We decided to play the gamble and go anyway.  Saturday looked gorgeous, but Sunday and Monday were less likely.  Worst case we got out there and came home early (spoiler alert; we did just that.)

Saturday morning we got up super early, because, well, birds.  We got coffee and  food into us and headed down the road by 830.  The plan had been to do the 8 miles of Rogers and then tack a bit more on.  Um, yeah, about that.  Tactical error on our part when we walked all the way to the trailhead from the campground vice driving up to the trailhead.  Well, we did say we were going to tack on a bit more mileage.  Oops.

It took us a bit to find exactly the trailhead we needed, but eIMG_3626ventually we were on our way.  Early in the morning the only folks that we saw on the AT were the through hikers.  Everyone was super chipper and said good morning.  That was so refreshing.  As we started climbing the first ridge we saw our first group of ponies.  I was pretty excited as I am the girl who went all the way to Denali and didn’t see squat for animals.

We we pushed on down the trail I was absolutely gobsmacked by just how gorgeous everything was.  I can only imagine what it will be like in a couple of weeks when the rhododendrons are in bloom.  Or better yet when all of those raspberry and blueberry bushes we saw are in full fruit!  IMG_3638

We picked up the Mount Rogers spur and made our way to the top.  As others have stated the summit is rather IMG_9333under whelming.  There isn’t even a sign marking the summit, just the USGS marker which is really easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it.  We stopped for a quick photo, turned around and started back down. As we were coming back down TennisGirl was walking with an Air Force active duty guy who was TDY to the East Coast.  I over heard him comment to her, “You know, I want to open up her (referring to me) pack and check for a drum and sticks, she’s like the Energizer Bunny.”  Snicker.  Ah yes, Mountain Pony strikes again!

Making out way north on the AT there were more and more day hikers on the trail.  What scares me more; however, was the number of day hikers we saw on the trail not carrying any water at all.  As I saw those folks I tried to warn them that it wasn’t a good idea, but they seemed disinterested in hearing it.  Yikes!  As we came through the last gate heading back towards Massie Gap (and the campground) we saw ~15 people petting and feeding the ponies.  Ugh.  Ironically, right in front of the “Do not feed or pet the animals” sign.  As we were walking away two of the ponies decided to get into a squealing and kicking match with each other freaking out of the people.  I couldn’t resist, I yelled over my shoulder, “Yes, because they are WILD ANIMALS.”  Ugh.

By the time we returned to camp we had done five hours 56 minutes and 11.85 miles.  Both TennisGirl and I both wanted to draw out that last 4 minutes and do the last .15 miles but we were both starving and food trumps even numbers every time.

IMG_9380Linner and a nap later she and I decided to make our way to the sunset hike.  This time we drove to the trail head.  Snicker.  We were with a group of folks who made the trip up, um, interesting.  Regardless of everyone else, in my opinion, it was TOTALLY worth it.  The sky looked like a water color painting.  Every time I blinked the sky changed hue again.

Even though we wound up coming home two days early, I have to say, awesome weekend. I got to finally hang out with TennisGirl.  I finally broke the five hour mark on my feet.  We managed to grab one of the 49 high peaks marked off (we’ve already decided Denali is off the table). Only 48 more to go!

Milestone achieved

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! 

Pain. Pride. Exhaustion. Elation. Those four words describe my run today. 
If you had told me two years ago I’d be covering 20+ miles I would have laughed in your face. If you had told me a year ago I’d be covering 20+ miles I would have been exceptionally suspicious. Even this morning rolling up to the parking lot there was a twinge of fear. Was I really going to do this?  I really didn’t have a choice. #ECSUT is coming up and my dry run at Eastern Divide (where I really don’t expect to make the time cut off) is even closer. 

Today was the first day in 16 where it was going to be sunny and this weekend (when I had planned to do this) was going to be miserable, again. I submitted a leave slip and told my boss I was calling out waterlogged. He’s a runner too so it’s fairly easy to get him on board. 

I got up at my regular time, had a quick breakfast and cup of coffee and was out the door by 0530. A stop for gas and Perry and I were on our way. After last weekends pain train of elevation I wanted something flat, soft and lengthy. That only left me with one option; the C&O canal. 

There are many places you can catch the C&O; I settled on Caderock. It’s far enough away from the city to avoid throngs of people, but still close enough for me to have an easy drive home. The plan was simple; 11 miles up 11 miles back alternating a mile of run and a mile of walk. 

Why the alternation? Well, if you didn’t know 20 miles is a long FUCKING way. I hadn’t crossed more than 16 previously and the number scared me a bit. I know I can walk 11 miles. I know I can run 11 miles. I’m just breaking the elephant down into bite sized pieces. 

We started off in the mist. At 0630 the only folks out were fellow runners and the occasional bike commuter. It truly was peaceful. 

Mile after mile we alternated running and walking. Enjoying the views and the peace. As we neared mile 8 a crowd of early morning senior citizen bird watchers came along. I didn’t have the heart to tell them all of the birds were already long since hiding. They’re old you’ve got to let them have hope. 

We flipped around at mile 11 heading back to the car. Half way! Hooray. 

At mile 15 there were starting to be gaggles of people. None of whom, that I could tell, had any trail etiquette. Perry and I bobbed and weaved for a bit until we got some distance from them. 

Mile 19-20 was a walk mile and I was grateful. I wanted to savor the moment I flipped to 20. At 19.99 I started to run. Purely symbolic I know but I wanted to run into 20. Ah, the mind games we play. 

Mile 20-22 were rough. I don’t think my knees had fully recovered from last weekend and I was starting to feel it. Plus the sun was out full bore and it was getting quite warm. 

We reached the car at 22.88 miles thanks to a slight detour I took in the AM to get to the trail. I loaded Perry up, who by the way was still raring to go, and I stretched. Taking my sneakers off felt so amazing. I did it. I flipped the 20 mile mark. Go me! Now a nap and food and not in that order. 

Miles: 21.88

Time: 5:13

Elevation: 73 feet

Water consumed; 140 (70 w/Tailwind) plus whatever extra Perry drank out of the puddles and river 

Food:Tailwind (Perry and I split), Picky Barsx2, Justin’s Hazelnut (for me), Justin’s Honey PB (for Perry) 

Climb Mountain Pony, climb

Before the sun was even awake this morning I was pulling together my gear to head out to Shenandoah National Park to get some elevation training in.  I plotted and planned out 16 miles, to include climbing Hawksbill; the highest point in the park. It’s kind of a pain to get out there as it’s 2 hours away, but given that those are the closest ‘mountains’ around you work with what you’ve got.

My plan had been to go down White Oak Canyon Trail to Cedar Run up Hawksbill and then reverse the trip; 16(ish) miles.  The whole reason I was doing this particular stretch was to get some fairly decent elevation changes to get Mountain Pony (my trail name given by my brothers) back into the swing of things.  As you can see things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
https://www.strava.com/activities/577189101/embed/aa389e172186328872f752045bbe95e41bbdce60

By the time I got to the trail head it was a little after 0800 and COLD.  I’m really glad I brought the extra clothes.  The temperature gauge on the car said 37 and with the wind chill it had to be colder that that.  I started down the trail really hoping that I’d be able to warm up fairly quickly.

The first part of the trail was actually decent running.  As I swung around following the yellow blazes turned into a steady climb.  Something in my gut said that I was off path.  The great thing about AllTrails is that if you download your map to your phone, even if you have zero signal it will still ping on the GPS.  Sure enough I was WAY off where I was supposed to be.  I made the executive decision  that I was going to stay on the horse trail as it intersected back with Cedar Run.  I had turned my SPOT geolocator tracking on so I knew that if something happened my family would still know where I was, and I was still in the general vicinity of where I said I was going to be.  In hindsight, I’m REALLY glad I made that decision (I’ll get to that).

IMG_9182We hooked back up with Cedar Run bombed across Skyline Drive and started the ascent of Hawksbill.  I stopped momentarily before making the climb to read the trailhead sign.  The signed said 1.7 miles and 1 1/2 hours.  What are people crawling the up the mountain?  As we climbed the temperature started to drop out a bit.  We kept it moving in an attempt to keep warm. Nearing the top the wind came whipping across and took the air right out of my lungs.  A quick photo opportunity for Perry and one for me and we immediately started to descent back to warmer temperatures.  Or at least out of the wind anyway. IMG_9180Just as an aside, whoever at Ultimate Direction that designed the hand cover/warmer things is a GENIUS.

Not wanting to make the repeat mistake of cutting my run short this time I was absolutely positive that I was on Cedar Run.  I had to unleash my inner mountain goat.  Good googley moogley. Our pace slowed WAY down.  As we picked out way back down to the bottom I was extremely grateful we hadn’t climbed this way initially. I think that we both would have been completely torn apart.

IMG_9188After the Noah’s Ark quantity of rain that we’ve had recently the stream was exceptionally swollen.  There were a couple of spots where I’m sure in the summer you just tromp through the water or just hop over it.  Today, however, the water was at least 3 feet deep in spots. There were some log rock combinations that enabled me to cross, but I had to take Perry off leash to enable me to do so without being dumped in the drink.  He always waited, impatiently, on the other side while I picked my way across.  The look on his face said it all, “Geez mama, why don’t you just take the easy way like I do, THROUGH the water.”

Around mile 10 we started to climb.  This wasn’t just any climb this was straight upIMG_9195 climbing, but not on trail.  Oh no! That would be too easy.  This was mountain goat picking from rock to rock to climb. We powered up the elevation passing all sorts of folks, including several teenage boys who were out with their Scout troop.  I must admit it was rather boosting to the nearly 40 year old ego as we blew past the 15 year olds.

Somewhere on our way back to the car we found ourselves on the horse trail again.  I can’t say I was heart broken.  The trail was in better condition and I knew it was going to drop us on the Old Rag Fireroad which intersected back with White Canyon.  We attempted to jog a little bit when we hit the Fireroad, but by this time the temperature was dropping out again and every muscle in my body was starting to tense up.  We picked up White Oak Canyon and made it back to the car in 4 hours and 55 minutes.

Total miles: 14.05

Total elevation gain: 4,031

Total calories burned: 1651

Snacks for me: Tailwind, 2 picky bars, 1 Justin’s Hazelnut, 1 Honey Stinger

Snacks for Perry: 1 Justin’s Maple Almond Butter

Liquid consumed: 140 ounces (by Perry and myself, not counting the stream and puddle water he drank)

Spartan Beast Ohio: Thank You

“I just want to sit down and cry.” -Random Spartan Racer Mile 12

My asthma doc on Monday had given me (sort of) clearance to run on Saturday.  Ok, really, she didn’t say no nor did I ask.  She did give me several rules regarding any future races (no burpees, no sticking my face in the grass, no full throttle for at least 2 months, etc).  So, with those rules in mind I headed towards Ohio to run the Spartan Beast.  Hey, she didn’t say NO….

Up to this point the entire weekend was already a shit show.  First, because I got wicked sick after the Austin Super my lungs are not exactly where they need to be (Doc said it would take 3 months for them to return to normal) and then my running partner massively twisted her ankle two days prior.  What that translated to was me doing this race completely on my own.  Mentally, physically and emotionally I was fried before I even toed the line on Saturday morning.  I actually called ShooterGirl crying Friday.  She gave me the following piece of advice, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with a DNF.  You need to go, you need to try, but if you get out there and your lungs give out don’t be stubborn and try to power through, walk off course.” 

Friday I left work early and drove out to Ohio.  As I was checking into the hotel there was someone traveling through who was trying to get a room.  They were told, “Oh sir, there are no hotel rooms for at least the next three exits, Spartan is in town.” I don’t know why but that made me chuckle.

Saturday I got up and was so just not feeling it.  My goal for the race was to just survive.  I barely being held together by duct tape and bailing twine physically. I choked down hardly any breakfast which is a absolutely awful thing when you are headed into any race let alone a 14.5 mile Spartan Race.  I think the only reason why I got anything into me at all was that I was seeing it as fuel and not as food (yes, there is a distinction.) 

I texted Dad and told him I was nervous.  His first response was, “What for?”

“This is an obstacle race, like what I did with Cindy only 14.5 miles.”

“Go with God as your copilot”

There may have been an eyeroll on my part. Ugh, of course he would say that.  

“Wait, I thought Perry was my copilot.” I retorted. 

Pretty sure there was an eyeroll on his part with that snarky response.    

As I drove to the race site I IMG_9125used my new Airial nebulizer.  Hey, I may be an asthmatic, but I’m not a stupid asthmatic.  Probably the only way I wasn’t going to get sick or die on course (a real possibility) was if I actually was a “good girl” and take my extra medicine.  The great thing and horrible thing is that now I have no excuse whatsoever to not take my medicine.  Hm, perhaps I should have rethought my whole “let’s get a neb machine that I can use anywhere” plan.   

IMG_9138Getting my number and getting everything situated was much easier when your car isn’t that far from the festival area.  I had an 0845 start time and as I watched the 0830 wave take off there was a super nice lady who was “pit crew” for her husband.  We started to chat a bit and she offered to take my picture and send it to me.  Considering my phone had been purposely left in the car I said thank you.  So to that random lady, thank you very very much. It’s the only clean picture of me.

I stood in the corral next to a nice 32 year Vietnam Era Marine.  He and I started to chat about the race.  His plan was just to survive too.  I like knowing that I’m not the only one out there whose sole goal is survival not competition.  He looked a bit like Santa.  Hm, wonder if it WAS Santa.   I digress. Like clockwork they released us right at 0845.  

IMG_9132This course was most definitely NOT easy.  As I slowly chipped away at the terrain and the obstacles I kept leap frogging with a very cool group of girls; Finn, Ella, and Lilly.  They were friends  doing it together.  Ella was having some allergy issues (she sounded like she had exercise induced asthma to me).  Those three girls kept me going for more miles than I can count.  Just listening to them banter back and forth, checking on each other, and just being around took my mind off of my own pain.  We traveled together so long that by the time we got to the finish line we had to take a group selfie.  To Finn, Ella, and Lilly wherever you are, you guys rock, thank you. 

The first 7 or so miles of the course was where the largest thwack obstacles were.  After the spear throw (where we could see the finish line) they turned us away from the festival area and into the woods.  Gee, thanks, way to screw with our heads. Oh God, the woods.  Now, you would think with all the trail running I do that I would have loved this part of the course.  Yes, there were parts of it that were amazing.  However, the hills, for the love of God, the hills.  These weren’t just ANY hills.  No, no, these were straight up mud slicks.  No real trail.  Just up and down and up and down.  

Now, I was smart.  I knew that the course was around 14 miles.  When everyone around me was whooping at mile 5 that we were “half way” I knew we weren’t.  Being out in the woods, though, sucked every ounce of mental strength out of me.  There was a small group of us that just kept going up and down together.  “Oh dear, God ANOTHER one.” “Please, no more.”  “I just want to sit down and cry.”  I should probably mention that these are comments made by folks who have run multiple Spartans.  The “this is worse than (fill in other Spartan Beast here)” was probably the most prevalent recurring comment. 

My personal opinion is that Spartan doesn’t do anyone any favors by saying it’s 11+ miles.  People aren’t properly planning for fuel.  Granted, they have a couple of aid stations out on course, but in this nearly 5+ mile slog through the woods there wasn’t any aid stations.  I wound up giving out my back up fuel to a couple of guys who were bonking on course.  Out on course I managed to consume; 1 Tailwind (in my water), 2 Picky Bars, Mama Chia, Justin’s Maple PB, Justin’s Hazelnut Butter, and a Honey Stinger.  All of that fuel just to keep me from bonking.  

Just about the point, in this back woods portion of the course,  as I was ready to sit down and give up/loose my mind I met April.  Nothing bonds two middle aged women more closely than hills peppered with slogging up, over, and through mud.  We dreamt of wine, naps, and baths.  She told me how this was her 17th Spartan and how running a marathon was easier.  We mentally propped each other up along the way pulling and pushing each other.  That crazy woman was not only doing the Beast, but the Hurricane Heat and I think the Sprint on Sunday.  Secretly she told me that she was hoping and praying for lightening so they would cancel it because it was her teenage son that wanted to do the Hurricane Heat not her.  April, you rock.  Thank you for being there when I needed you the most. 

Somewhere the back woods we all became demoralized.  Running got harder.  One guy said it best, “I’m just trying to keep moving because if I sit down I’m done.”  Yeah, I’m with you man.  My legs would go forward and back, but every log I stepped over was a searing sensation of absolute pain.  April and I kept trying to “run”, ok it wasn’t a run as it was more of a fast shuffle.  

As we approached the slip wall there were Finn, Lilly, and Ella. I was excited to see them.  IMG_9134Finn scamped up the slip wall first.  After sliding down the wall a couple of times Ella just said, “screw it I’ll take the burpees.”  Finn offered to split them with her.  Lilly, God bless Lilly, she kept trying and trying and finally got over it.  I started up the slip wall and got within 3 inches of the top and was struggling to sling my leg over.  This really nice guy next to me grabbed my leg and slung it over for me.  To that random guy, thank you.  

Four more obstacles and April and I continued to stick together all the way through the fire jump.  I know that if it wasn’t for her I mentally would have lost my shit somewhere out there.  It wasn’t the running, it was the sheer demoralization.   We crossed the fire jump together.  I finished.  I finished in one piece.  I was sore.  I was beat up, but I finished.  The little asthmatic that could. 

As I got in the car (post incredibly cold rinse off) I fired up the nebulizer machine.  I always know when I really needed the neb treatment when I start to get the tingling sensation in my fingers and face, and boy did I get that in spades as I drove down the road.  Guess me being a smart asthmatic isn’t such a bad thing.  

Total Tally: 

13.4 miles

1876 feet in elevation gain

Average HR: 140

Highest HR: 173

Calories burned: 2721