Sunday, August 21, 2011

Just Follow the Blue...

It all started at the crack of dawn on Saturday with an early 7am start at the Trail Dawg PUTZ run.  Not twenty minutes after the start of the run, I found myself in the middle of the woods, blindly led by the pink flags that loosely marked the "23K" course for the day.  My legs felt pretty good but I started out keeping a pretty tame pace, probably due to a bit of an uneasy stomach feeling (ate a bit close to the start..unfortunate mistake). 

I took my first plunge of the day at the second creek crossing, with water levels high enough up my thigh that I pulled my shorts up in attempt to keep from soaking this early in the run.  There were two guys were a few yards ahead of me as we began the creek forge.  I wasn't even halfway when my footing slipped on the slick rocks and I fell sideways into the creek, bashing my tibia on a rock somewhere beneath on the landing. Yawzaaahhhh!  One of the guys called back asking if I was ok.  I was just climbing back up to say yes, when I slipped again.  KURPLLSSSSHHH.  And somehow hit my tibia again in the same point on a rock.  Some small voice inside my head that was somehow still remotely in touch with the real world reminded me that that's going to be a nice one to show off on Monday:-)

From the start of the run, I took the lead with two other guys who were running together, and we really didn't see anyone else for the entire race, with the exception of some random 9Kers who had gotten lost and somehow wound up running backwards on the 23K course.  I ran some of the course with the two guys, keeping good company, and a couple of times pulled away, only to find myself back with them after I was stuck at a fork in the path with no visible markings or ran off course (which was very easy to do when you're eyes are on the trail trying to keep up with the rocks and roots beneath your feet) and had to trace back my steps.  It was great fun though, and the trail was pretty muddy, always keeping  things interesting.  There were a couple of short segments when there was no way around the deep mud in the path, so I was forced to cross straight through it.  Just fractions of a second later I found that this mud was really more like quicksand and I had to use my arms to pull my legs up and out of the stuff, now halfway up my shin!

The real swim happened with less than a mile left to go (thank goodness, but not that I was not already completely soaked).  It was the 5th creek crossing of the day and I was getting hot and grimy  from all my detours (which included a not-so-friendly encounter with a thorn bush) and sporting some fresh cuts and scrapes, so I was kind of looking forward to getting my legs in the cool waters again.  I splashed through the first few steps into the water, but each time I took another step across, it got deeper...first the knees, then waist, chest, shoulders...and one more step and WOAHhhh! Yea, nothing there.  Really, Traildawgs...Swimming???!! And there I was, feet kicking wildly beneath me as I desperately threw my hand holding my handheld up in the air to spare it from entrapping some parasitic creek water (NOT going there again).  My pathetic one handed doggie paddle was not helping with the current washing me downstream though, and I was soon clenching my waterbottle in my teeth as I bust out my best front crawl under the conditions to make my way across. 

Once finally completed the swim, I clawed my way up the muddy embankment on the other side and took off squishing my way to the finish line.  On my way  I saw Traildawg Phil, the organizer of this madness coming towards me.  Oh god, am I going the wrong way again??  Nope, I was actually right this time, he was just going to find some more hopelessly lost 9Kers.  "You must be the really fast girl who keeps getting lost!"  Apparently I have established a reputation. 

When I finally rolled into the parking lot of the finish, I saw the two guys I was with earlier already there.  I had pulled ahead of them a bit at the end, but then went off course for probably close to a mile when I missed a tricky turn towards the creek, and then wasted a few minutes getting caught in a mean thorn bush and earning a few more battle wounds.   It was a great early Saturday morning run though, and good to get out on some unfamiliar Fairhill trails that I normally do not run myself (for fear of getting lost on the unmarked single track).  I was only disappointed that we did not see any dog sled races like the last Traildawg Fairhill race.  Always next time though!

I was feeling really good by the end of this run.  So good that I decided to head out for a few more miles when I got home to call it a good long run day.  I was not really ready to take on the trails and mud again, so I defrayed from my normal White Clay Creek route, pulled on my road shoes and headed up to the Reservoir to enjoy some sunshine and a nice breeze.  It was turning into a really nice day, not too hot.  I ran the three or so miles up to the Reservoir from my place and at the top of the hill, was feeling motivated to do a couple of fast mile repeats to wear myself out.  I was more that satisfied with being able to pull two 6:18 min miles  after all of that.  Training is coming along just fine:-)  Then I ran back to my apartment, pushing the pace a bit and called it a day.  I headed to Philly to get a bike tour from Trevor, on somewhat tired legs.  Good thing Brett decided to sport his monster downhill mountain bike on this one, and so miraculously I was even still passing some people up those hills:-)

Still have some left in the tank at the end of the day to sprint up the Rocky steps!

Sunday MDLD Training Run

Sunday morning was another early start, arriving at Steve's around 7am to catch a ride down to the segment of the Mason Dixon trail I would be doing with Traildawgs Steve and Patty.  We had planned to do the last 14 hardest miles of the MDLD, but somehow I convinced Steve to tack on an extra 4 miles for us at the beginning, which was quite nice of him to agree to, especially since none of us would exactly be running on fresh legs.  With Steve just doing the PUTZ run, Patty a 105 mile bike ride, and myself the PUTZ run plus whatever other subsequent mileage I had managed to tack on at the Reservoir, this could turn into a true test of endurance.  We parked a car at the finish line of the race and planned a point-to-point run of about 18 miles. 

We started off on some up sloping road and were on the single track within a mile or so, pounding down what seemed like an almost straight vertical descent.  Downhill single track is usually my absolute favorite terrain to run on, but the steepness of this mountain was intense, and I found myself having to slam on the brakes more than I like to just to keep some form of control.  I could instantly tell this was going to do a number on my quads, and I couldn't imagine having to control around such a decent after just running 50 miles like I would have to do for the MDLD next year.  It was pretty fun though, as you always had to be looking ahead on the drop for the next thing, planning how you were going to take on the next treacherous swithback.  That is, if you were lucky enough to actually get a switchback to help provide some level to this madness.

 We had all stayed together for the first road segment, up until this downhill, at which point I found myself pulling ahead a bit, and I planned to either wait at some distance up ahead or turn around and run back to them at the first point I got lost.  Well that didn't last long.  I made some stupid mistake turning down the wrong path when I looked at the blazes from the wrong direction as the terrain finally leveled off.  I ended up going back across the creek down another footpath for about half a mile until the missing blazes made me turn around go back.  I caught up with Steve and Patty at one of the first real beauties of the day. 

First creek crossing after the tough descent!

At least I was able to stay dry on this one.

We came back out on a road before heading back on the single track to take on the four infamous "raging bitches" (aka 'RB's).   I knew this next part was going to be tough, but I really had no idea what to expect.  I don't think anything I have ever run would have ever prepared me for what we were about to face.

Enjoying a little dirt road and feeling in my quads before heading to the RBs!

We were back on the single track and I stayed with Steve and Patty for the first bit of it, as I had been warned about a tricky part to the navigation approaching.  Some parts of the trail are confusingly marked because they are rerouting old sections into new sections of it, but have not taken down the down blazes.  This could leave even the best blaze follower yet unsuspecting runner into a maze of backwards loops, doubling back on the trail you just came from and headed in the wrong direction, the whole time still following the blue.  Very confusing.  Gladly we had veteran Steve there for some of those turns, as even Patty admitted she would not have known where to go (really, it's not JUST me!)

And there we were ascending some of the first switchbacks.  It was tough work, and I found myself succumbed to the power hike on many parts of the climb.  I was alone back on the single track for a while after the mountain leveled off and descended again, parts when I took advantage of the opportunity to run as much as I could.  Now the downhill was still steep, but not too bad compared to the first one we had just taken on.  . Since the start of this run, I had immediately come to realize that one of the roles that comes with being the leader of the pack on this trail was taking down the spider webs.  And man, was I taking some.  If anything was slowing me down on these runnable segments, this was it.  The first time I looked down and saw a big black furry spider stuck to my stomach I shrieked.  But after the fourth or fifth occurrence, I decided it was time to put on my big girl pants and deal with the spiders and the baited meals of their webs stuck all over my sweaty body.  I even took a few full webs equipped with creatures directly to the face. 
Steve's ingenious water aid station.  Find it right behind the tree, and just walk right through the huge aggregation of......POISON ??!

The good thing about this downhill as opposed to the last was that I did not feel like I was killing all the toenails I might have left jamming up on the forceful braking.  It was also nicer to not be so concerned that I might lose footing and tumble down the side of a cliff at any moment.  Ok, so there was a little of that on some of the switch backs, but still fun!  One second I was gasping for breath coming up over the peak of the mountain, and the next I was flying back downhill.  And on some of those sections, I was flying, about half a notch off from the point of complete uncontrol.  My brain almost couldn't keep up with the turnover of my legs, and it was almost more mentally challenging than physically to stay tuned to my surroundings as they zoomed by, and always aware of that intermittent flash of blue that assured I was actually flying in the right direction (hopefully). 

View from the middle/ top(ish?) of the first RB. 

After one of the earlier creek crossings, there was a pretty technical part of the trail that forced me to break my run to a tip toed climb up and around some pretty large rocks.  At the time, I considered that this must have been the famous "bouldering" that we were going to be doing for the day.  I was so wrong.  When I finished the descent from the downhill and was back to running on a single-track paralleled with the river, I came to face the true bouldering of the day.  

Real bouldering. 

And just in time for the thunderstorm.  I heard the drops on the leaves of the trees before I felt it on my skin.  It actually felt great, but bouldering up the top of wet mossy rocks beneath your feet presents some traction issues.  So there I was, handheld waterbottle now in mouth, climbing up boulder cliffs, searching desperately for the next blue blaze, which I could not seem to find.  After some time, I heard Steve's voice coming from another direction, at which point I realized I was doing all this climbing the wrong way and had to climb back down.  I was finally back on the path now vertically ascending again (but not before I fell completely through a huge rotting log. Gross.)  Annnnndddddd back up we go, up the next RB!

At the top of this one there was a pretty sweet looking rock crevice that looked like it had been especially chiseled through the middle of the massive boulders on either side just for people passing through the Mason Dixon trail.  

Inside one of the crevices within the side of the boulder there is a log and a container with pictures (and snacks!  definitely traded in a Powerbar gel and some block shots for a Cliff bar:-)  We made our mark and signed the log.  

It was a long and challenging adventure, with some stunning views and breathtaking scenery.  We had another spectacular downhill, followed by another steep RB ascent, followed by one last switchback downhill quad pounder.  I was by myself again and had absolutely no sense of mileage or time.  I was just on a mission to reach the end location of our run, to never let blue blazes fade from my sight, and to cross the finish line of the MDLD.  When the single track finally let out on a road, I knew I was close, and I sprinted the last mile or so in with whatever I had left in my legs.  I have to say that the Mason Dixon trail is probably my favorite trail I have ever run, even more so that the Appalachian.  And I have explored quite a bit of trail in my day so far.  It's like you never even have to leave the trail to experience what seems like running through a dozen completely different worlds all in one.  It's so hard to believe that it's all the same trail and you can be led through everything just by following the blue blazes.  Blue blazes.  Blue blazes.  Good god I am going to be seeing those freakin blazes in my sleep! make me suck up some wind, but sure is worth the spectacular views along the way:-)

MDLD Finish!!

Ahh, accomplished weekends.