Ever since my first attempt out at Kitsuma, (first fun run with WNC Trail Runner) I've been longing to get back out there and better my time. My time of 1:44:45 was, needless to say, disappointing. Granted, I did have a few excuses as to why my time was so slow. First off, the trail was utterly destroyed when I went out and ran it the first time. Someone had been contracted to "improve" the trail and they destroyed it a day or two before the Kitsuma Kookout Challenge. The run was the equivalent of running in the sand! Secondly, my fitness was just beginning to develop after a lazy summer of almost zero running. Thirdly, that was my long run for that week. I know what you are thinking, "It is only 9.25 miles long, that's not a long run." Granted, but like I said, my fitness was still developing. Yes, these are some valid excuses, but I know that even then I could have done better than 1:44:45! I really just did not give it my best effort.
So, since I was done with this semester's load of school and my fitness had obviously improved since September, it was time to take the trip back down to Kitsuma and lay down a time I would be proud of (somewhere between the 1:30-1:35 mark). I got up with Adam (a.k.a Mad-A), to see if he would want to join me for the klimb. He suggested that I head down and hang at it his place the night before and then wake up and drive the short 20 minutes over to the trail head and give it a whirl. It sounded like a solid plan to me, so that's what I did. Wednesday night consisted of some good brews and some definite "ultra-nerd" talk between Adam and I before we finally got some sleep for the spectacular day that lay ahead.
Thursday morning greeted us with ideal conditions for trying to put down a solid time. Temps were in the low 40's and the skies were clear. After taking care of some pre-run "stomach issues" I was ready to go. The plan was that I would lead on the first miles descending down into the Old Fort Picnic Area and then Mad-A would take the lead at the turnaround and pace me back up the near 2,000 ft of gain to the car.
The first mile of the the trail out from the Ridgecrest trail head is up to the top of Kitsuma peak. I decided that I would push it up hard and let my body recover on the long descent afterward and let gravity do some work. I might have pushed it a little to hard, because I was completely anaerobic (actually Adam told me after the run that he couldn't breathe on that first climb and he is a much stronger climber and better overall runner than me) all the way to the top and it took awhile for my body to recover and it sent my stomach into a fit all the way to the turn around. I just never could let my legs turn over as quickly as I wanted on the descent because of my stomach. Even with this problem, I made it to the turn around in 37:49! That was almost 10 minutes faster than my last split in this direction! All I had to do was hang on through the climb back and I would definitely be posting a time in the range I was shooting for.
Adam began to pace me up the long climb and allowed me a much needed walk break. I tried to get down a GU at this point, but my stomach was still giving me a fit and just the taste of what seemed to me, an overly super sweet energy concoction, almost made me throw up right there on the trail. I could only stomach about a quarter of the GU. Soon, Adam had me running again, which was actually welcomed. Although my stomach felt off, my legs were feeling really good at this point. I was also looking forward to getting back to the water we dropped about halfway up the trail to get the super sweet after taste of the GU out of my mouth. This definitely provided some extra motivation to get up this climb as fast, but comfortable as possible. It was also great having Adam right there in front of me telling when to run hard, when to lay back, and when to just push through. This really helped me from getting over taxed like I did on the first climb of the day and keeping a solid steady pace.
Adam had mentioned trying to get sub-50 at the turn around and I thought to myself that I probably couldn't, but I would give it my best. When we came around a bend in the trail that would signify one last short but extremely steep climb, Adam yelled out that I had about a 30 second cushion on going sub-50 if we kept up this pace. This news acted like a rejuvenating factor to my body and I bombed it down the short descent to the base of the day's final climb back up to Kitsuma peak. That extremely short climb though about killed me! Granted it is about 30%, but it is only like a couple of hundred feet long at that. After grunting my way up to the summit, I had just a bit more than 3/4 of a mile of switchbacking trail to the car. I did my best to push it down the switchbacks as fast as possible. When I got to the last bit of slight downhill, it was all straight an non-technical trail to the end. At this moment Adam yelled out that sub-50 was almost in the bag! Again this news lit a spark in me and all the sudden I became a track runner and about half-way down this stretch reality hit me and I was forced to settle back down into a more tolerable 5:30/mile pace instead of the 4:40/mile I was trying to muster up. Either way, it was still flying for me.
I finally hit the pavement at Ridgecrest, stopped my watch, gave Adam a high-five, and looked down at 1:27:36 displayed across the screen. 1:27:36!!!! I had made the return trip in 49:46, breaking the sub-50 barrier! Adam was more ecstatic than me, but that was because I was still trying to catch my breath and gather myself. I had just smashed my old time and completely smashed my expectations for the day! I didn't even think I was going to get under 1:35 . Obviously, my recent training routine of climbing notable peaks around Boone has paid off. I also cannot thank Adam enough for helping pace and motivate me today. I've joined the rank of Kitsuma Kid's with this run, but now it is time to try and get into the Kitsuma Klub. This would mean I have to shave another 7:37 off of today's run. This definitely seems out of reach in the immediate future, but we will see what another few months of solid training will do. Here is the garmin data: Kitsuma PR run
P.S. If you haven't got out to do this challenge, do it as soon as possible and post your times up on the WNC Trail Runner Kitsuma page!