This is the one! The run that lured me into joining the WNC Trail Runner crew almost two years ago. The run that takes place on my favorite section of the AT and maybe my favorite section of trail period. It's RAM (Roan Adventure Marathon)!!!! I hadn't looked forward to a run with as much excitement and nerves as my own inaugural running of RAM last year. This was the run I had been waiting for since I joined the crew. I had ambitions of running this one in sub 6 hours last year and even after the first half of the run I was on pace and feeling pretty good about my body. I had just run the first 14 miles with Scott (a much more talented runner than I) and came into the aid at US 19E in 2:30. I was right on schedule. But all of that confidence was about to go by the wayside.
The next 5.5 miles were all up uphill, 2500' to the gorgeous and exposed summit of Hump Mtn. After fueling up at the aid station, I began to run back up the mountain. I was feeling pretty strong at this point and ran most of the way up to Doll Flats about 3 miles up the trail, but it was getting really hot. This is where things began to go horribly wrong. I realized that I had already drained a full bottle and was already tapping into my second with another 7 miles to my next reliable water source at Yellow Mtn Gap. So, I refilled at the spring off the beaten path at Doll Flats and then took a Vanilla Hammer Gel. Let me give you a bit of background on this gel. This gel had been sitting in my car for well over a month, maybe two, baking in the hot sun. I'm no scientist, but there is no doubt in my mind that something that has been getting super heated and cooled for the past two months probably shouldn't be ingested. But hey, the expiration date wasn't for another 6 months. Almost immediately my stomach began to turn south and running was making me nauseous. Even power hiking had me feeling the same way and the majority of the last two miles is a gentler grade. I slowly walked up to the top of Hump, briefly joined by my friend Damian, who wasn't feeling much better, and then summited the mountain for the second time that day. And you know what, things were looking up! My stomach was beginning to feel back to normal.
I stumbled/ran down to Bradley Gap and then began my climb to Little Hump. The heat of the day had me hiking, but I was making good enough time. Once I reached the summit of this "little" mountain, I partook again in another Vanilla Hammer Gel, and guess what, this one had been sitting in the car too for just as long as the other. Almost exactly after taking it down, the stomach went south again. I had to walk down this mountain the pain was so bad and my kidneys began hurt in a way I had never felt before in my life. By this point, I had realized that the gels were to blame, but it was a little to late. I thus began my death march.
Things were getting progressively worse as I went own and was soon caught by Damian once more shortly after Yellow Mtn Gap. He still wasn't feeling good either and I believe we were both happy to have someone to share our sufferings with as we crawled up the side of Grassy Ridge. At one point I sat down and began to give Damian instructions on getting someone to come save me once he reached Carver's Gap, but I believe he was thinking to ask me the same thing. I believe it was a telepathic decision to stick with each other until one of us fell by the wayside. After climbing for what seemed an eternity, we reached the side of Grassy and at the intersection of the side trail that leads to its summit we came across a trickle of muddy water bisecting the trail. Both of us had drained both our bottles by this point and Damian only used the water to cool off with and dared not drink it, but was much relieved by its sight. I on the other hand stuck my face down into the puddle and began lapping up the water like the Black Lab that was just there. I didn't care, I was extremely dehydrated, hot, and my kidney's seemed to be in utter failure. I drank from that murky water like I had been stranded in the Sahara for days. Thoughts of obtaining any water born illnesses did not matter at this point as they wouldn't rare their heads for at least a few more weeks. In my mind, this was life or death. By the way, I might add we were only 2 miles from the finish. I was that desperate!
With the end in sight, literally, and my thirst quenched, I began to shuffle back down to Carvers Gap. It was slow going and the last downhill the kidneys flared back up and I began to walk down the gravel singletrack with Damian only to be caught by Doug with a bag of tortilla chips in hand and a huge grin on his face. We all stepped onto the tarmac together in 7:35 and I began to lay in the hot sun on the asphalt parking lot. I was in an enormous amount of pain and was soon given cold towels to put on my body and sea salt chips that I slowly nibbled on for the next few minutes. I stayed like that for the next 30 minutes contemplating if I was going to need to be rushed to the hospital and how it took me FIVE HOURS to run 14 miles! Anyway, I soon recovered and was able to down a beer and then cheer on the remaining runners as they came in until we left. The heat, the bad gels, and the terrain had gotten the best of me and truly humbled and scared the crap out of me. I couldn't wait to get back out there and do it again though.
Fast forward to today, and the run is only 3 days away! The goal of sub 6 hours has been reinstated as the weather this year doesn't look to climb out of the 60's. I had completely thrown this goal out the window after last year's sufferfest, but I believe the cooler weather, along with GOOD gels and solid food, as well as a years experience will make this goal achievable. I still plan on trying to reach the turnaround in 2:30 as I did it last year comfortably and plan to walk most of the way up to Doll Flats and then run the more runnable remaining section up to Hump. I believe this will result in a sub 6 finish, but in reality, as long as I don't have a repeat of last year's run, these Golden Calves will be extremely happy!