I used my Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday to put in some serious miles. And by "serious", I mean "up the side of a mountain" - at least for about four miles.
But the really cool thing about this run was that it was my first trail run in the snow:
Okay, it's not a LOT of snow, but it made the footing a little slippery. Especially as I went up the mountain.
Well, that's not really the mountain, just a little mound on the way there. But I wouldn't want to slide down the side of it.
I started where the Appalachian Trail crosses Trindle Road and headed North. I knew that a 21-mile run would put my turnaround point somewhere in the vicinity of Blue Mountain. And it did - more on that later. This trail would not only serve as my long run but also to scout for my "Cumberland Valley Rim-to-Rim" that I'm hoping to do this year.
I knew this would be a slow run what with all the snow and the fact that I would probably be on or around Blue Mountain at some point, so I made the decision that I wouldn't worry about time and would stop to take pictures anytime I felt the urge to.
I started out surprisingly fast. Well, not fast really, more like "not as slow as I thought." I maintained about a 12 minute-per-mile pace for about the first seven miles. One thing I noticed about running in the snow is the evidence of how widely used the Appalachian Trail really is - even in winter. I saw other (human) footprints for probably all but a mile or so along the way. And there were definitely prints of all kinds of critters. If you look carefully you can see squirrel prints along the top of this log:
I also took notice of trail improvements from the last time I had run in certain sections. In particular was the building up of the trail and drainage system in what had been in the past a very muddy cow pasture. (At least I assumed it was mud...)
After about 7 1/2 miles I noticed the grade of the trail increasing significantly. Along the way the approach to Blue Mountain had been obscured by trees, but I was pretty sure I was on the mountain by this point.
I watched the average pace on my GPS unit slowly drop...12:15, 12:28, 12:32, 12:59... And the trail got steeper and steeper. Snow Flurries started to fall.
Around mile 8.5 I decided to run two minutes then walk one...eventually I decided to just walk until I caught my breath.
On one flat section of trail on the side of the mountain there was a sudden opening in the trees and you could see the whole Cumberland Valley:
That is, you could see the whole Cumberland Valley if it weren't snowing. And the snow was increasing. As I ascended the mountain I noticed the snow getting deeper. I mean, it still wasn't deep, but it was deeper than it was eight miles back.
At mile 9.85 I reached the point where the Tuscarora Trail and Darling Trails meet the Appalachian Trail at the top of Blue Mountain.
Still having .65 miles to go before my turnaround, I had the choice of taking one of the branch trails along the top of the mountain or head down the other side on the AT.
Like any idiot, I hurtled off the other side of the mountain on the Appalachian Trail. I was enjoying the ease of the downhill so much I didn't bother to think about the fact that I would have to go back up the mountain once I turned around.
At 10.5 miles from my start and about 500 feet of elevation below the mountain ridge I stopped and turned around. It took me 15 minutes to get back to the top of the mountain where the junction with the Darlington and Tuscarora Trails were. That's about a 23 minute-per-mile pace. Yes, I walked most of it.
At the top of the mountain I checked my GPS and it indicated my average pace had dropped to 14:19. No problem, I'll make it up on the descent.
The descent was a bit harrowing. Not incredibly harrowing, just a bit. And I probably would have made up some time if it weren't for the snow obscuring roots and rocks on the trail and making smooth surfaces especially slippery.
Discretion is the better part of valor, so I took my time coming down. Being careful didn't prevent my second-ever fall as a trail runner, though. On the edge of one of the switchbacks there were some stone steps and even though I had come to nearly a complete stop when I stepped onto the stone, I still slipped and managed to catch myself by putting my hands down behind me with my rear end mere inches off the snowy ground.
The snow continued to pick up on my descent and I just couldn't seem to gain any time. I'd hit a spot where I could safely accelerate for a short time only to have to slow down on a rocky section or a spot where the trail made a sharp turn.
By the time I reached the valley floor, fatigue had set in and I still couldn't manage to gain any time. After 18 miles my average pace was still nearly 14 minutes-per-mile. But I had said from the beginning that I wouldn't be deterred by a slow pace. I had stopped to take pictures (and once to relieve myself) and gone up the side of a mountain (twice) so 14 minutes-per-miles isn't so bad.
I did finally get a second wind with about 2 miles left and got a couple seconds back. 21 miles in 4:52 slow, but it definitely was some serious work.
I woke up Tuesday morning with my quads aching - which is pretty typical after long runs, but now it's Wednesday and they are still burning. But it had to be good training. The HAT run has 9,800 feet of climbing, so I guess about 3700 feet of climbing over 21 miles is pretty good training.