22 May 2011

The Tyranny of Toenails

The other day I ran for the first time since the Art Loeb. Not by choice, mind you. I was buzzing from that experience and itching to go days later. Unfortunately because I spent ten hours slamming my feet into the front of my shoes, I had contracted the apparently common malady of black toenails, with blood blisters on both feet. Painful, unsightly, ominously portending the loss of my precious nails--I was alarmed and queased out, and so have avoided running until now.

I don't often go so long without running, and lordie how I have missed it! I didn't realize how deeply, happily addicted to it I've become. It wasn't the usual twitchy irritable need for exercise--I've been feeding the rat a steady diet of mtb rides--but more of a wistful longing. When I run it's so quiet and simple. My brain shuts off except for the slow trickle of filigreed phrases I store up to write down later. Running has none of the folderol and riskiness of riding; lace up, head out, alone, undaunted.

Since my nails hadn't fallen off yet, I anticipated that first run like a birthday. Back on the trails! Please! After a slow start up the so-familiar rises of Sycamore, I took off. And felt like I was flying.

09 May 2011

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

2,200 to over 6,000 feet...31 miles...

Go look up Bridges Camp Gap on the Pisgah Ranger District map. Go ahead. I'll wait.
...See where it intersects with the Parkway? That's where I finished my day yesterday. Now see if you can find the Art Loeb--it's very brightly marked (on the map. Not in real life.) The two trails are pretty durn far apart, wouldn't you say?
But more on that later.

I leapt out of bed with the first chiming of my alarm clock. Had breakfast, drank some coffee, listened to some tunes, was out the door. I felt like a rock star.
A big crowd turned out at 7am at Davidson River Campground: Jackie, Sara, Cason+Kira, Sadie, Lydia, Leah, Gordon+Gary, and me. Only the last four of us had any intentions of doing the big mama--everyone else was peacing out at Gloucester, about 12.5 miles in.
It was a wonderful run. I felt like a little filly prancing uphill and everyone was in high spirits, chatting and smiling, with nary a whiff of competition or jostling for position. The forest was bathed in apple green with heady bursts of color from the flame azaleas peeking around every corner. Grasshoppers fled before us, ricocheting off leaves like leggy ball bearings.

I think my smile was this big most of the time. (The good pics are courtesy of Gordon Murray)

Then at Gloucester the bailers fed us and watered us and we said our fond farewells. Up the stairway to hell, up Pilot Mountain we clambered for what felt like hours, only to descend (oh Art Loeb, you brutal mistress, always stealing the elevation gains back from us) to Farlow Gap, where Todd Branham and some SORBA friends were doing trail work. It was nice to see familiar faces.
A beautiful day on top of Pilot Mountain. Obviously my camera phone doesn't do it justice.

The vistas were choice, the weather was amazing, and I felt spry all the way to Black Balsam, although I was out of water and a bit daunted by the remaining mileage. However, I was still within my limits mentally and physically, refueling like a champ, and feeling gregarious and talkative.
Between the Parkway and Black Balsam

I'll just say it: everything we did past Black Balsam kind of sucked. The trail is a warped cavity eroded into the hillside and the signage is inadequate to say the least. Fortunately the 360 degree views almost make up for it. And I am biased against the final leg now because of what happened. I blindly trusted the experience and map skills of my companions but after a couple of missed intersections we went way...way...way off course. We plunged down miles of steep, debris-cluttered trail into a deep valley, which was nice and all until we came upon a camper who told us just how far off track we were (possibly on the unpleasantly named Greasy Cove, although it could've been any unmarked trail). Fortunately we were only a couple miles from the Parkway, and what could have been a very serious issue was only a minor inconvenience. We sustained no injuries, suffered only a little bonkage, and emerged from the woods with our sanities and friendship intact, albeit feeling a little sheepish and disheartened. And still did almost the same mileage, even if we didn't accomplish our goal.

The final word? Aside from serious navigational issues and not enough water, it was awesome, especially the first two-thirds. It did not destroy me in body or soul and unlike the Shut-In, which I may not do again, I would run the Art Loeb again in two weeks. Really. It was an experience worth having.

06 May 2011

Permission to Gloat?

Guess what I'm doing on Sunday.
The Art Loeb.
Guess what I'm NOT doing today.
Collegiate Road Nationals.*
Guess what I'm NOT doing tomorrow.

In a weekend of interminable suffer-fests, I think I win; mine is the most relaxed and least intimidating.
Seriously though, there are 3,478 painful and terrible things I'd rather do than race Natz, and there are almost as many (902) painful and terrible things I'd rather do than race PMBAR. Good luck and many sympathies to the folks doing those painful and terrible things.

*Seriously. Road nats '09 and '10 were awful. Lower-circles-of-hell awful. Mommy-why-won't-the-pain-stop awful.