Wednesday, March 13, 2013


This was probably the weirdest 35 miles I've ever run. Short version goes like this: Cold, friends,stomach hurt, stomach felt better, snow drift knee to thigh high, rocks, no rocks, more snow, snowman, snowballs, cliffs, hot, no shirt, strong sun, more snow, McAfee's Knob, sloppy mud, everyone and their mom, unseasonable snake, hanging at aid station, run, walk, run, slippery snow, field, finish in 1st (but it wasn't a race). Drive.

The course was hard, and actually that's a bit of an understatement, but it was made harder by the strange snow conditions and the warm temps...and even those are two things that don't normally go together.

Most people use the run as an excuse to get to the mountains and see trails they don't normally run on, at least that's the way I was treating it. That being said, it is an awesome event that hits some pretty defining parts of the Virginia portion of the Appalachian Trail.

I drove down on Friday night after traffic had subsided so I got down to the area around midnight. I slept in my car in the parking lot of the hotel where most everyone was staying mainly because I was too cheap to get myself a hotel room. I woke up early after a few hours of shut eye and went to the B and B where the start and finish is located. The people that own it are incredibly kind and have let Keith put this event on for years.

The start area was full of people gathering last minute supplies and we were all glad that daylight savings time was Sunday instead of Saturday so no one had to run with a headlamp to start. Gary was running around the parking area semi-forcing people to eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts courtesy of Quatro before they started running. In a brief lapse of judgement I succumbed to the temptation of a greasy/slimy doughnut and by the time I realized my mistake, the doughnut was already down the old gullet.

A few words were spoken, and we were off. This year the circuit was run in the opposite (clockwise) direction so we'd be heading up to Dragon's Tooth first. A couple miles into the run I was running with Sean Andrish, Drew Krueger, and Jeremy Ramsey. We ran most of the climb but then the doughnut was wreaking some havoc. I made a brief trip to the woods quite a ways off trail and was fine after but was now several minutes behind the other 3 guys. I ran by myself up to the top of Dragon's Tooth enjoying watching the sun rise higher in the sky and finding my way through the mess that is the rock scramble before reaching the intersection at the top.

Dragons Tooth
I crossed paths with Sean, Drew and Jeremy while they were on their way back from the Tooth. I saw the towering rocks, snapped a couple pics and turned around. I caught up with them just before the intersection and ran the rest of the way down to the first aid station with them. As we reached the aid station, nature called and luckily there was a bathroom in the parking lot the aid station was in. When I came out, they were already gone. I wasn't too worried about it as I had a map in my pack, but it did mean that I'd have to run by myself on trails I hadn't been on before and were not marked.

The next section is notorious for its PUDs after the initial climb. The ridge is just piles of Pointless Ups and Downs. It's like running on an amplified boring part of a roller coaster. They are rarely dangerously steep, but they still drive you nuts. People who had done this event several times said there were 36 of them over 9 miles or so. Adding to the slight annoyance was a new obstacle: deep, windblown snow drifts. Some were deep enough to stop you in your tracks making progress very slow and exhausting. THOUGH, subtracting greatly from the misery that these things caused were the views. They were incredible. The temperature was warming drastically and having no leaves on the trees meant you could see on either side of the ridge. Beautiful.

After about an hour or so I caught up to the group just as Jeremy was emptying sticks from his shoe and stating he had some stomach pains. We all figured that he'd catch back up, but we didn't see him for the rest of the day. Drew, Sean and I rolled through the hills and snow and finally made it to the intersection that took us down to the second aid station at mile 17 ish. The three of us hung out there eating and drinking for far longer than I think any of us would in a race. Brian Schmit joined us for the next section as he planned to run with whoever was in front so he could get to his car (the third aid station) with whoever got there first. That next climb was a good little kick in the teeth. Very steep. Somewhere along this climb we lost Sean and Drew and came upon a couple of people who didn't really know what this trail had in store for them. If I had to guess, they didn't get all the way to the cliffs at the top.

Brian and Sean Tinker Cliffs
 Brian and I decided to make a snowman on our way up. We wanted it to say, "Hey Sean" or "Hey Drew," but both had too many letters in their name to spell out in sticks so we settled for, "HI, Run." On the switchbacks toward the end, we could see Sean way down below and slowed down as we got close to Tinker Cliffs so we could run with him.

Tinker Cliffs
He joined us in fighting the still snowy but now, warm conditions. We descended the saddle and started the long climb up to McAfee's Knob, the very distinctive rock formation that also appears on the AT Virginia license plates. After a long long time climbing and sliding around because of the slushy snow, Brian and I arrived at the Knob but had lost Sean in the mix. There are actually two vistas. We went to the first one but missed the turn off for the second (and more popular) one. The view was still amazing.

From McAfee's, we sloshed our way down the 4 miles or so to the parking lot splashing in the mud puddles, slipping on the snow and passing huge groups of day-hikers headed up to the Knob. Everyone and their mom was out on the trail. I figured I'd wait for Sean when we reached the parking lot because I wanted to run with someone and Drew showed up next. After learning that Drew didn't pass Sean we figured somewhere along the way, Sean must have taken a wrong turn. I must have spent 20-25 minutes in that aid station but Drew and I finally left and decided to take it easy for the last section. The problem was, I kind of just wanted to be done by that point. The moving had been so slow because of the snow and slush and my feet were soaked, so I ran ahead. The last section is very pretty ridge running but again was very sloppy and hard to get into any kind of rhythm.
Not sure why he was pointing in almost every pic I took...
McAfee's Knob
Finally I came off the mountain, dashed across the field and up the road. I wrote down my finishing time which was 2:20 pm. Yep. That's 7:50 for 35 miles. That's almost 13:30 per mile! It wasn't until I did the math that I realized how slow I was going. A few minutes later, Drew came in and then Joe Dudak, then a couple of Virginia Tech guys. The snow was really an equalizer. Eh, at least it was fun.

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