Sunday, June 17, 2012

Surprise mountain day

Living in suburbia, at least an hour away from a decent mountain trail, can have it's upsides. There's always a Starbucks within walking distance, Target is never more than a five minute drive away; and people tend to drive like they're so important, I should stop trying to cross the street because I'm inconveniencing them by not letting them turn right on red as soon as they get to the intersection. And as much as I love $4 cups of burnt coffee, I realized last week that I needed to get as far away from DC and the surrounding area as I could, go for a decent run, and be back before my shift at 4. So I did. Front Royal was as far as I could go and still have time for a run.

The Dickey Ridge trail is a fun one. The way out is about 90% uphill and the way back is about 90% downhill. I started out just enjoying the great weather, the warm sun mixed with the unseasonably cool air and just being away from everything.  Soon after starting I realized that I was going much harder than I usually would on a trail that is uphill the first half. I ran hard the whole way up. I wanted to find the point where I would crash. I wasn't positive if it would be a mental crash, a subtle crash where I would just sort of slow down, or if I could just hammer out of control for almost 3 hours. I hit the turn around in record time for me and felt good. I didn't think I had pushed hard enough.

(In the picture the downward sloping ridge point that is touching just below my right shoulder is the start: Front Royal.)

I turned around and flew. I ran faster and harder than I had in a long time. It felt fake. I ran hard, yet totally calm. On the two climbs on the way back I found strength I hadn't used before. The odd thing was, I was clocking around 5 minute miles on the way down the mountain. My mind seemed to put my legs at ease and I was running with the mountain rather than pounding down it. I felt at ease. Total peace. Not something I can find in Fairfax on a regular basis. I finished faster than I ever had before.

The following Monday I made the trek down to the Priest and Three Ridges Wilderness. I used to run in this area while I was training for the cross country run because it was closer to VCU. I missed the familiar run so I thought it would be worth the drive. Even though by the time I got there I wouldn't have time to run the whole thing, I was very happy I made the trip. I decided running just the Priest would be worth my drive.

On the ascent, I ran and felt strong. I focused my breathing and calmed my heart. Higher and higher I climbed. The mountain was so quiet. I passed the occasional AT through-hiker but they all seemed to be in the same meditative state I was. The clouds overhead gave the illusion that it was much later at night than it was. I reached the vista point but had no view due to the fog and storm clouds. On I ran. Thunder rolled overhead and I hoped that I made it to the top before the rain started. I didn't mind the rain so much but the humidity made the rocks slippery as is. I reached the switchbacks and wondered if I should walk. I kept running. Toward the top, the trail turns very rocky, and it made more sense to hike it. About 2 minutes before touching the fire pit on the right of the trail that signifies the summit it began to pour rain. I reached the top in 58:30. Not a record by any means, but much faster than I had done a couple years ago. Turning around I decided to run fast. I wanted to see how fast I could run considering the downpour and thunder.

I slipped, and tripped, and careened my way down the side to the Priest, picking my way around the slick rocks. This is what I came for. The Priest was making it worth my drive, worth the gas money. The Priest was killing me, and I was loving it. Soaked to the bone and feeling like I was dodging lightning, I made it back to the parking lot in 29:01. Also, not a record by any means but who needs records when you have a renewed and refreshed mind?

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