Quest For The Crest on the Appalachian Trail

There I go falling in lust with another mountain. Off to summit the highest peak on the East Coast mainland as a good dose of trail medicine. The Quest For The Crest took 46 hours out of my weekend and a road trip to North Carolina. Add doses of belly laughter, getting chatty with the locals, and eating ridiculously good food. I took in all the southern hospitality and charm of the lower southeast.

Friday.

Aimee pulled up to my condo around 5:30am so I quickly scrambled to throw my bags into the eco rental car. We had a 10-hour drive, took back roads, and had loads of excitement to get us through the drive. The car was all dressed up with our finest art. When you represent the race and your running crew it draws in fun comments from total strangers. At one point we stopped in West Virginia to stretch out and buy some goods. So how do you know when you’re in foreign territory? When the guy parked next to you says something sweet in a deep southern drawl, you smile, and spend the next few minutes trying to decipher what he said. I love it.

 

With stops included, we arrived at Albert’s Lodge about 12 hours later. My senses were on overload. Everything was big and beautiful. The backyard opened up to the Appalachian Trail. The extra large room and kitchen area was easily half the size of my humble condo back in Jersey. On the advice of the staff, we walked up the street to J&J’s Grill On The Green, a Bavarian restaurant. By happenstance, we also met and chatted it up with Marian and Stephanie, two local NC gals who were running the same trails for Saturday. Good food, great company. I ate perfect grilled trout, spaetzle, and red cabbage paired with an IPA made in Boone, NC. The name slips me.

Saturday. Race Day.

It’s 4am and my nerves have me wide-awake before the sun has risen. The RD, Sean Blanton aka Run Bum, calls this the hardest trail race on this coast. Over the past week the mountain has been topped off with snow. We have been warned to crawl on all threes. Aimee and I drive over to a local school for bib pick up and keep switching between more or less layers. Last call for the bus and we’re one of five who get pulled off for lack of space. SWEET! Guess who gets to ride over to the race by Run Bum himself?

 

Stellar props. Sean is so down to earth and chill. He shares a few adventures and points out the summit we’ll be chasing. And I’m thinking, “um, thanks for scaring me even more” as I turn my head skyward to peek at the densely tree lined crest.

I’m waiting for the race to start in a small gravel parking lot surrounded by sky high trees and am surrounded by peace. A seemingly small-sized crowd of trails runners were gathered around chatting. We shared stories about our commute with two guys from Ohio and Florida, respectively. One flew as the other was diverted on his drive down from a massive mudslide. We also had the chance to wish Marian and Stephanie good luck shortly before the start. After a bit, Sean gave us a few tips and we took off for the climb.

The Climb.

My ascent clocked in at about 3,000’ of vertical gain (give or take) according to Strava. I started my watch about 30 min into the race so my numbers are all messed up. That made me anxious. I was able to maintain a slow and steady run for about the first mile. The second mile strategy changed. My run changed to a bear crawl. At one point my right calf became numb and I had to climb backwards for a bit. This seemed to correct the issue. My heart was beating out of my chest and I focused on controlling my breathing without losing pace. It was difficult to find a steady pace with all the changes in terrain. Towards the end of the second mile I began yawning and focused on taking deeper breaths.

The Crest.

There were two other women who closed in on the crest around the same time I did. We shared jokes. It hurt to laugh, but I just couldn’t stop. Laughing was so incredibly important since I was on the verge of total physical exhaustion. And then the view opened up onto miles of fabled mountain. Stunning. The cold wind gusts prevented me from stopping much and at the same time I wanted to lay and gaze into the clear sky. This is the privilege of mountain exploration.

The Descent.

Have you ever had the chance to run downhill for miles, uninterrupted by loose rocks? It was easily the best trail run downhill. I felt as light as a feather and bombed through the last few miles with ease. My thoughts were focused on avoiding a face plant. As I passed two runners my confidence grew. On the last turn the noise of a crew cheering grew louder. I splashed through the final creek crossing and high fived the RD.

Final Stats: 7.5 miles. 6,200 feet of elevation change.

 

Post Race grub at Pig & Grits was delicious. Oh my goodness. You just don’t get food like this up north. Pulled pork on a fruit salad and Root Beer in a mason jar. Served by the nicest waitress in the thickest drawl. I giggled with my head down. Was it possible to clone her and bring her back to Jersey? Speaking of home, I opened my door at 3am. Just shy of 46 hours.

 

North Face Ultra at Bear Mountain

Embrace the sufferfest.  April 30th, 2016 I set out to attempt my third ultra.  What you DO is who you are, not what you THINK about.  Want something bad enough? Grind and kick your own ass.

Training

Back in January I wrote about a pretty simple training plan from the Ultra Ladies 50k schedule.  I am terrible at following plans, but wanted to successfully complete this tough race.  Success meant not getting lost on the trail, not getting too close to cutoff times, and having the chance to take pics on the trail.  For me, it’s all about the pics.  Here’s what worked and what didn’t.

  • For the most part I was able to follow the weekly miles.  It’s a basic plan that works for getting miles in. It was difficult to get all the mid-week miles in due to work, so I focused on quality runs during that time.
  • I didn’t plan enough for changes in elevation.  I was only able to train on mountains in PA a few times during this training cycle.  What I lacked in elevation training was felt on race day.

I also got creative with my training.  I ran the Febapple 20, part of the NJ Trail Series, and Naked Bavarian Marathon in place of two scheduled long runs.  I was joined by some amazing people for all or parts of other long runs.  Shout out to Gladys, who joined me while pregnant in her third trimester, for the last three miles of another long run. I joined Runhole for one of their training runs.  Really cool peeps out of PA. I cross-trained on Sundays with the Uptown Gentlefriends.  That Sunday crew is mostly made up of OCR racers.  Very different from me. Love them madly.

Race Day AM

It’s 3am and I fumble through my gear, get dressed, grab coffee, hop into my jeep and head to upstate NY.  My adrenaline kicks in about an hour into my drive so I started blasting my music and singing like a wild woman. Arrived in just under two hours. It’s beautiful up there. Look over my running plans. Okay. Lets do this. Woo-hoo!

 

After a 20 minute wait for the buses, groups of 30-35 were shuttled to the main race site.  I’m used to smaller indie races and this was a trail set up on commercial crack. In a good way.  The vendors, fire pits, and a three foot high central water jug was pretty cushy.  I kept running into / chatting with familiar faces from my tri-state races.  NY, NJ, PA strongly represented. Roll Call…

  • Balls of Steel. Loved the guy in leopard speedos and no shirt with the Buddha belly.
  • Honorable mention. An amazing mother-runner killing it at 28 weeks pregnant.
  • Beasting it. Type one Diabetic chick; you struggled, but rocked out on that course.

Talk Thirty To Me

This 50k is a challenging race for anyone attempting their first ultra.  If you under-trained, you may finish, but will be in a world of hurt. My plan was to mentally tackle the miles in groups of 10 at a time.  Quick breakdown.

  • First 10 was spent chatting it up with some amazing runners.  I ran a good portion with a seasoned endurance athlete, Katie.  Not only was she badass, but she dropped major knowledge. I shed my layers at mile 5. The morning turned into a tank top & skirt kind of day.
  • Second 10. My mind went bonkers. Rambling thoughts. These hills are killer. Oh, look at the trees! What the fudge, another hill? Am I taking in enough calories? God it’s beautiful out here. Am I normal? Hell no.  Oh, wait, yes I am. I really need to stop talking to myself.
  • Last 10-11. I was tired and had to focus on the downhills.  Tired of kicking rocks. Tired of the hills.  And all at the same time elated to run downhill.  Elated to have this opportunity.  Elated to kick rocks. At one point I pulled out my cell and checked social media. All the well wishes popped up in my feed.  Everything was good.

Runner’s High

I struggle for the last 2 miles. My gps watch died and I went into freakout mode.  Last quarter of a mile I was in tears.  Wild and crazy and lovely, happy tears.  And then the icing on the cake.  I saw Katie at the finish line cheering me on. Perfect. Then I saw an old co-worker from the Operating Room cheering me on. Beyond Perfect.  This race rocked.

31.1 miles. 9 hours and 41 minutes. Beer me.

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