Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Coach Spencer Runs in the Woods

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Appalachian Trail Preview

My semi-ambitious goal is to cover all of the Appalachian Trail before I die. Only semi-ambitious, because I don't plan on thru-hiking (hiking the entire 2,100+ miles at once). I'll chip away at it year after year. I just decided to do this a year ago. In 2008, I ran about 150 miles on the AT, but much of that was out & back in sections, so I've really only covered 74.3 miles. I have my work cut out for me. I plan on running all of it I can... well, "ultrarunning" all of it, which includes walking the significant climbs. :) There are parts in New England that are impossible to even think about running. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to finish the northernmost 100 miles with Wren when she's 18-22. She's 5 now. I think that would be an emotional finale. She's a great hiker already, but who knows if my plans will interest her at all in 15 years.

Anyway, I'm setting off on Sunday to tackle the southernmost 107.7 miles- from Springer Mountain, GA to Winding Stair Gap/Hwy 64 near Franklin, NC. I have to run up 1 mile from Forest Service Rd 42 to get to Springer Mountain, making the trip 108.7 & there will be detours for water & views which will make the trip 110+ miles. I'm doing it in 4 days. It's not an easy section at all. An average hiker spends 10 days on this section. I'm not too worried about the distances though. Maybe I should be. It will essentially be 4 of the hardest marathons I've ever done back to back. Each day will be an average of 27 miles- of course planned that way so I can think of it in terms of marathons (or slightly longer). While my marathon PR is 3:22, each of these marathons may take 7-8 hours because of the terrain & gear I'm taking. ...and of course, I'm not racing here.

I've got my pack weight down pretty low though. 12 pounds + water. I don't plan on carrying more than 40 ounces with me. That's 2 hours worth. I'll treat water along the way from springs & creeks. I could make my pack a little lighter by ditching the solo tent & sleeping in shelters or under a tarp. There are a few other minor changes I could make to shave off an ounce here & there, but I'm satisfied with the pack weight.

"A little over a hundred miles split between 4 days is nothing for you." Not true. Yeah, I ran a 100 mile race 5 months ago, but that's 100 miles at once & on a much much MUCH easier trail. In many ways it's harder to do multiday events even if the distance is shorter each day. When I ran the Blue Ridge Relay a couple of years ago, I realized running what amounted to four 10Ks in less than 24 hours was much harder than running a marathon. This should be infinitely harder than the 100 miler at Rocky Raccoon. I think. But again, I'm not too worried about the running.

What I am worried about is the uncertainty of it all. There are a lot of "what ifs" involved in such a trip. Being alone for 4 days & going into areas where there have been recent reports of aggressive bear activity seems a little dicey. They have actually closed the trail to camping (not hiking) from Neels Gap to Tesnatee Gap because of this. Of course, all of the "what ifs" about snakebites, twisted ankles, busted knees, wild boar attack are worrisome too. Most of this fear would be alleviated with a running companion, but at the same time, I like running alone too. My mom offered to come pick me up at the end of each day & drive me to a hotel. It was tempting, but besides the fact that there aren't roads evenly spaced where I'd want them, this is something I want to do. Just like running ultras is a test everytime I do it, this too, is a test. It's unlike anything I've ever done & I'm committed to finishing, but it will be difficult.

Here are my plans:
Sunday- USFS 42 to Springer Mt. to Slaughter Creek Campsite (28.5 miles)
Monday- Slaughter Creek to Cheese Factory Site (27.0 miles)
Tuesday- Cheese Factory Site to Muskrat Creek Shelter (24.8 miles)
Wednesday- Muskrat Creek Shelter to Winding Stair Gap (28.4 miles)

Any advice is welcome! I have a Flip video camera on the way to my house. I plan on making a few short videos along the way & will try to post them. Wish me luck. I'll need it. I've got this trip planned and two other single days on the AT this summer, so I'll be up over 200 for my total. 10% done. :) Chippin' away.


Jason said...

I love the fact that you are laying it all out on the line and pushing yourself into the unknown. From your preview you sound confident in your plans and have done your research. I have no experience in a multi-day run like this (only backpacking) so I can't offer much advice, but I wish you good luck!

Give it your all and try to keep your head clear and I'm sure you will come out of the adventure with a life changing experience. You are fortunate to be able to do it. There are a lot of runners (including me) who would love to have this challenge before them. I'm looking forward to the updates. Good Luck!

David Ray said...

Focus on staying hydrated. You'll have to go off-trail for water sometimes. Don't skip the water because of the distance. I assume you'll be taking S-caps or similar.

I think the big challenge is keeping your head in the game. Can't wait to hear how it goes. My son and I are still working on the GA sections. 3 left, I think.

Best of luck!!

Coach Spencer said...

Jason- Thanks. I've done my research, but it doesn't sink in too much. I have a terrible memory for details sometimes, so I remember all of the place names, but couldn't tell you where many of them fall on the trail. I reduced 40 or so pages of a guidebook into 1 laminated 8.5"x5.5" sheet, complete with maps & everything. Just keep following white blazes & I should be OK, right? :) I've done a pair of 50K races on a weekend & a few 25/35ish back to back days, but this will be the toughest I've done for sure.

David- I sweat A LOT. Hydration has always been a big issue. I've had pretty bad experiences with both dehydration & hyponatremia. On the AT last summer, my hydration bladder broke in the first 5-6 miles of a 25-30 mile run. I'll be popping the electrolytes & eating salty dinners.

I have no doubt I will finish. I will make it to Hwy 64... OK, 95% sure I will, barring something severe. The part I'm not 95% sure of is being able to run 27 miles each day-- or even 75% of it. ...but I'd better. 27 miles on the AT is a LONG hike!! That's where the mental challenge will come- not just moving forward but running as much as possible.


Jason said...

I agree Coach. In my opinion the Georgia section nickles and dimes you all day with ups and downs. I seldom remember seeing long stretches of flat through there.

So if you can maintain at least a 2/mph pace each day with at least 14 hours of daylight you will be on pace. Seems easy when you look at it that way, but we know that its not that simple.

By the way - I picked up some of the new GU chomps that you reviewed and they worked really well for me at Chattooga.