Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Saturday, December 29, 2007

8 Hours of MOUNTAIN Running

I enjoy a long training day much more than racing usually, but of course I like a change of scenery. I decided a couple of weeks ago that I'd take a solo trip to the mountains centered on running. I chose very difficult runs for my two running days- I didn't really know how runable either trail was.


December 27, I went to Linville Gorge, a deep gorge sometimes called, "The Grand Canyon of the East," with old-growth forests and a 50' waterfall. It's been 15 years since I've been there and when I was 18, I got lost in the dark with Tipa and camped who knows where (we shared a Walkman when we were sure we would be mauled by whatever we heard nearby!). I was a little nervous of that this time- or of getting hurt with no one to help me. People get lost for days every year in Linville Gorge. The trails aren't marked or blazed and some of the trails aren't maintained regularly. All of the trails are listed as "More Difficult," and "Most Difficult." I planned on starting on the west side of the gorge, going in on the easiest and shortest trail- Pine Gap Trail. It's only 0.7 mile and links up with the much longer Linville Gorge Trail, which travels the length of the gorge, hooking up with all of the other trails.

It rained the day before, but was clear & warm on the 27th. The trail was muddy with slippery rocks & roots. As I climbed (using my hands in places) further & further down, I wondered if I was on the right trail because it seemed a lot steeper than what I'd read. I ended up at the river & was almost certainly not on the right trail. I ran back up another trail and went out & back 20 minutes or so down three other trails. I ended up at the dirt road I parked on at a trailhead 1/2 mile from my car. I ran away from my car out & back for a total run of 2:50 with half of it on the dirt road. I had planned on runing 2-3 hours, so I was at the top end of that. The dirt road wasn't what I was looking for, but it is nice & narrow & through the woods. Good scenery, good run.

The highest elevation on the run was 4000' and total climb for the day was 2440'. Heartrate average 156. I was at 170-185 on most of the climbs. 50 degrees.


The next day was a lot different. The forecast for Beech Mt. was 50mph winds. At 800' higher elevation, Roan Mt. had to be higher than that. Add to that 2 inches of pouring rain- and at times, a little sleet & snow, extreme fog, sheets of ice covering the trail... it was a pretty miserable day, but I had a good time. It was the kind of day where I got all my clothes on in the car and waited for just the right moment to burst out of the car and start running, as if I'd dodge the rain somehow. I ended up wearing two jackets. According to the National Weather Service, 35 degrees + 60 mph winds = 17 degree wind chill. Being soaked in that, I don't know what that equals... death?

The plan was to run along the Appalachian Trail from Carvers Gap up to Roan High Knob, back down and over to Round Bald, Grassy Ridge Bald, etc. to Hwy. 19 and back. I was planning on running 4-6 hours. I knew I'd alter those plans, given the conditions, but I was kinda proud of myself for running through more than I could have. After the first long climb, I told myself I had to at least run 90 minutes. Then 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, and finally, I told myself, "By the time you run 5 hours, it'll almost be dark. That's a good stopping point." So I ran 5:04.

I ended up climbing Roan High Knob (34 degrees at the top) & going back over to Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald. This was the absolute worst place to run in these conditions! You're running along a 5800' ridgeline with no trees to block the 50-60mph wind! The wind was incredibly tough. Horizontal rain/sleet stung my face so bad! I was almost blown down a few times. This section had 4" deep mud in places. I had to turn around, but ran an hour on the balds. The decision to get back in the cover of the woods was a wise one. I later went back up and over Roan High Knob, towards Hughes Gap, over Roan High Bluff on the Cloudland Trail, and along the road for a little while. I was never more than an hour from the car.

Highest point was 6285' with a total elevation gain of 4270', which is a lotta up & down. Average heartrate was 148. Couldn't quite push myself on those uphills to top out like I did the day before, but more than that, I was negotiating the ice & mud a lot more and my HR would go down to 110-120 for a minute or so. I didn't feel any worse at 5 hours than I did at 1 hour. I was a little sore from the day before (calves & achilles), but not bad. The day after, I barely feel like I ran.

My Gore-Tex Keen Ochoco shoes did a fantastic job on the rocks (most sections were very rocky) and in the rain, but nothing could keep my feet dry once the trail turned into a creek later in the day. Water was flowing down the trail ankle deep in a lot of places. My feet were dry for the first two hours. In the New Balance 810s I normally wear, I couldn't have run a rocky trail like this. Also no blisters. Thanks, Ochocos. You're ugly, but dry and protecting.

I took a picture right before I started running on the Appalachian Trail. I knew there was no way the rain would let up and I'd be able to use the camera. They say the balds are the best views on the entire 2000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail. I wouldn't know. I couldn't see more than 50 meters ahead of me.


The Weasel said...

Brr. Coach you are hardcore.

John F Rash said...

Just like Man vs. Wild. Did you eat any moss or insects to maintain your energy?

Bedrock said...

Welcome to blog land. Both of those runs (but especially day two) sound awesome.


Norman said...

I have wanted to go on a supported 5-7 day run on the AT sometime. This section sounds like a good one in better conditions! But it sounds like you had a blast anyway!

Anonymous said...