First off, I am still planning on running the New River Half Marathon in 2 weeks, but "training" has fallen off the back burner due to FUN! This doesn't mean that I haven't been putting in good miles, it is just that those miles don't fit the specificity needed for a road half. But who cares when you are having awesome experiences in the mountains! Everything else is secondary.
The next two post will concentrate on two back-to-back weekends that were completely awesome in different ways.
Linville Gorge Madness Marathon
The time had finally come and my second favorite run ever was here. I got off early from work to start ironing out some final logistics for the weekend and Hannah and I were on the road to Tablerock for a fun night of camping. I had made all the necessary purchases, printing and laminated maps and directions, and packed up my order of shirts to commemorate the run.
Hannah and I made it up to a near empty parking lot at Tablerock around 5:45pm and began to set up camp, collect firewood, and take short hike over the Chimneys. On our return from the stunning vistas and dramatic cliffs less than 1/3 of a mile away I spotted a hairy black and white creature with one blue and one brown eye starring right back at me. The beauty of this animal had halted me in my tracks and I thought to myself, "It couldn't be?" But I knew immediately who this creature was and cried out, "LUNA!!!!" She ran to me and I to her and soon we were joined by her fellow companions Jon and Melissa. I hadn't seen all three of them since this summer when Hannah and I had returned home from Leadville, CO. We began to catch up on life while eating, collecting firewood, and waiting on our other friends to join us later that night.
Slowly, the others ( Mad A, 4trunks, Lauran) began to show up, even some previously unknowns from South Carolina (Brian and Dana), and we sat around the fire talking of past adventures and speculating on future ones. Around 10pm, everyone began to retire to their tents, or bouldering crash pads, and waited for the sun to rise to start off another epic Pisgah Nation Adventure.
We woke to clear skies and cool temperatures after a windy night near the top of the mountain. The forecast called for crystal clear skies, highs in the upper 60's, and a slight breeze. We couldn't ask for better weather. All others that decided not to camp the night before soon began to show up in the parking lot before our 8:40am summit push to the start, all except one, but more on that later. Everyone settled into a nice conversational hike up to the summit of Tablerock that would mark the start of our run. The views from the side of the trail we already stunning. We soon made it to the summit, took a starters photo, and soon we were off!
I was bounding down the trail alongside Jon and Jeremy all the way to the Spence Ridge trail bridge that spanned the river about 2000ft down and 3 miles from we started. As we turned onto the Linville Gorge trail, my main thought was to not slam my leg into a tree as I did on this section of trail last year, which eventually ended my day 10 miles from the the finish last year. This roller coaster of a trail is definitely not my favorite, but it was nice sharing it with Jeremy again this year. However, I didn't fully escape banging into a tree, but at least this time it was a branch that about punctured into my left arm.
It wasn't long before we started ascending the beautiful and more gentle Babel Tower Trail. I was actually even able to break into a running stride a few times during the climb when the grade got to a more reasonable 10%. Jeremy and I soon met back up with Jon at the road as he was waiting for us to give him directions. We cruised down the road at a decent clip and arrived at our first aid station, giddy to take our first steps onto the Rock Jock Trail. This trail is gorgeous! The views that you get along the trail as you hug the edge of the cliffs almost makes you forget that you've been on a 3 mile steeplechase, almost. I mean there were a ton of downed trees, like every 50 feet, but all the other runners and myself were just mesmerized by the beauty from the trail. After completing the steeplechase, the trail decides to give you a nice easy break, for about a quarter mile, then rewards you with climb of 700ft straight up and completely exposed to the sun. Here I bumped into some GorgeRats and then looked behind me to see a spry Mad A running up this 30%+ grade. Dude is ridiculous!
To be honest, I was surprised I was still ahead of Mad A at this point into the run (~13 miles). After restashing my pack with food and water for the remainder of the run, I tried to keep up with the pace Mad A and Jon were setting on the road to Pinnacle. I did not succede in hanging with them, but only fell behind by a couple minutes once at the summit of Pinnacle. Then came the drop straight down to the pits of hell on the MST. I was alone, it was getting hot, and my knee was like "Slow Down Fool!" Soon the trail leveled out for awhile and I knew I was almost to the river, then BAM, lets go straight up hill over this knob instead of going around it to the river. I had forgotten about this climb, but I will not again. I found a stick to help me over the hill and intended to use to help cross the river and climb Shortoff as well.
By the time I reached the river crossing I had caught back up with Jon and Adam, as they were about half way across as I plunged in. Surprisingly, the water never came above my waist considering the heavy amount of rain the area had just received the day before. The stick definitely helped in the crossing though. But before I got out of the river, I made sure to go for a full submerging before I began climbing the completely exposed ridgeline the lead to the top of Shortoff Mtn. This section was stunning, with brown grass blowing in the breeze and coming up just under my arms. By the time we had reached the spring at the top of Shortoff, we were joined by 4trunks and Action, and my cloths were completely dry.
After filling my bottles at the spring, I was soon dropped by our group as I tried to choke down some cheese crackers. I was only about 6 miles from the finish, so I wasn't too worried and I hoped that I would catch back up after my snack. While crossing Shortoff, which has had some amazing trail work done recently, I finally caught back up with Jon, who had fallen off the pace set by Adam as well. We decided to stick to together to the end and soon were dropping down to Chimney Gap to face our final grueling ascent. I picked up another stick and began pulling myself up the ridiculously steep trail. Looking at my watch, it looked as if we could possibly finish in under 7 hours if we were able to get to the top of the climb in 20 minutes. We succeeded and all we had to do was finish the last mile to the parking lot in about 15 minutes to finish under 7. We did so in about 9 minutes, while crossing the magnificent views from the Chimneys, and back down the parking area where our crew was waiting. My official time was 6:53:54!
After the run, we all hung out for a bit while waiting for most everyone to finish and I was informed that Abran had finally made it to the start about 2 hours behind schedule, but still managed to snag a copy of the map and directions from Hannah as they drove passed each other. It turned out that Abran had used his Nav system and it took him to the middle of nowhere on an ATV trail. He luckily got back to the main road and finally asked for directions at a local gas station. What is even more awesome than that he actually made it out to run, is that he wasn't our last finisher even though he started 2 hours behind everyone else. Dude is strong! Of the 20 starters we only had 2 drop from the course. That number was amazing and I was super proud of everyone who attempted this gnarly run. It seemed like everyone had a comparable day out in the big ditch of the east. This one was a huge success and one of the most beautiful loops out there.
Below is a slideshow of pics from various folks that ran out there.