Bradley's View

Bradley's View

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Homecoming Race

     Friday morning around 9 I caught wind of my dad's Saturday race, the 2010 YMCA Mistletoe Run.  By 10 o'clock I had decided I could squeeze a sub 20 hour visit in to Winston-Salem to cheer my dad on through his third, and what would come to be his fastest, half marathon.  This visit would be squeezed in between rehearsals for the Asheville Ballet's presentation of The Nutcracker.  Once noon rolled around, I was informed that I would be signed up for the race, and immediately started mentally preparing.

      It was far too late for physical preparation as the race was less than 20 hours away, so I just attempted to handle the mental game.  Goal A was to cross the 1:40 plane.  My previous best half marathon was 1:42.02 set in September of this year at the Asheville Citizen-Times Half Marathon.  Goal B would be to break 1:35.  I started attempting to reconcile attempting to break 1:30 when I remembered that my body had not been training for a half marathon.  The rude awakening came from my calves; they were still rattled from the six mile day Thursday, not to mention the two ten-mile days that preceded that.

    Needless to say, this altered my expectations.  I decided to resolve for simply beating my previous best and staying alive to run another day.

    Upon arriving to my parents house in Winston-Salem, my dad and I had one goal in mind that would remain the focus of the next few hours for us: to convince/hoax/coax/sucker David (one of my younger brothers) to join us in the race the next morning.  It took a lot less persuasion than we had anticipated to get him to fold.  Though he ran cross country, his long run prior to the race had been somewhere around 7 miles and that was completed a couple of months before.   He wasn't discouraged a bit though, he knew that finishing was what he wanted to do and all he had to do to finish, was finish.  Say that three times fast...

    Saturday morning we were up dark and early and ready to run.  Calves still aching, I reluctantly pulled on my running wardrobe.  It was a cold day; really cold.  I started with sleeves and tights, hat and gloves, and ended up with just short sleeves and tights on.  The route of the race was great, it essentially went across my parent's neighborhood, my former stomping grounds.  A nice tour through Wake Forest University added enjoyment to the run, as well.

     My goal was to run 7:15 miles.  The first mile flew by in about 7 minutes, I had intended for that one to be about 7:30.  Getting caught in the crowd can prove detrimental to one's timing.  The next couple of miles were right at 7:15.  By mile six, however I had been running for 42 minutes, which meant that I had dropped back down to at least 7 minute miles.  At mile 7 I clocked in at 49:40-something.  I think from this point on my pace continually slowed.  My body was truly fatigued.  I never found a very comfortable groove during this race.  Typically, come race day I feel fleet footed and quick and light; but yesterday, everything just felt sluggish.

     The 13.1 miles came to a close with 1 hour and 37 minutes of time elapsed.  I was extremely exhausted.  Apparently I looked faint as well.  I heard a familiar voice saying, "Pre!  Prefontaine!- Stay there!"(I had earned/been given the nickname Prefontaine during the race; some may say it was due to my mustache, but I will choose to attribute it to my lightning fast race[not]).  This hombre led me to a suitable sitting spot and brought me some water.  Gracias.  Once color had restored to my face I found a spot from which I could cheer on the incoming runners.

    David did an awesome job of sticking out the race.  He finished in under 1 hour 55 minutes; a feat many struggle for months to achieve.  As I hinted at earlier, my dad, Paul, set a new personal best averaging under 9 minutes a mile for the entirety of the race.

    The race was a success by all measures, I'd say.  David set the bar for himself establishing his first PR.  Dad and I both worked hard and lowered our PRs as well.  The biggest disappointment of the race was that all the snacks and drinks were passed out in styrofoam plates and cups.  I mean- there we thousands upon thousands of these things getting used.  Its a crying shame that they cannot make the effort to encourage more sustainable practices, especially on such a large scale.  I don't foresee myself participating in this race again until that has changed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mini-Mitchell Challenge/First Marathon

    Having run quite well over the past few weeks I felt compelled to test my body and see just how hard I can push it and still elicit the desired outcome.  The desired outcome being having traveled a couple of dozen miles and remaining uninjured.  For this test I knew that I wanted to get my first 26-miler under my belt and also get to somewhere with a stunning view.  Given the recent Blue Ridge Parkway Closures my options were slightly limited making it very easy to decide on Mount Mitchell as my destination.
    After coaxing(or hoaxing) Adam Hill into joining me for an hour or so of the run, I finally got underway.  We began by Lake Susan in Montreat and made our way up Appalachian Way.  I chose beginning with Appalachian Way because on a map it looks short and sweet; upon beginning the run I realized that this decision would result in about 15 or 20 minutes of running up an 11+% grade.  That woke up the legs...
    For whatever reason, my legs were under the impression they were carrying an extra 30 pounds around.  It may have had something to do with the Camelpak on my back, but, sheesh...  I did not find myself running with the typical fleet-footedness and ease that I have come to expect during the first hour and a half of the run.  Heavy legs combined with stomach cramps led to a flood of frustration that, without the company of Adam early on, may well have washed away my ambition of summiting Mitchell that day.
    After Adam turned back an hour and fifteen minutes in, I continued on carefully controlling consumption of fluids in hopes of keeping my stomach from lashing out at me once again.
    Once I reached the Buncombe Horse Trail at the foot of Mt. Mitchell State Park I felt a  sense of relief knowing that most of the uphill was over.  Camp Alice Trail was a rude re-awakening for my quads featuring little short steps for a steep mile with the shady areas covered in ice and snow.  Alas, I reached the summit!  I was one of few people there.  I stood out like a sore thumb in that I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt while everyone else wore scarves and jackets reminiscent of marshmallows.  Here I rested and soaked up the view for about 20 minutes before beginning the return trip.
A stunning photo taken and sent to me by a nice man from Lancaster, PA
    On the way back down my insides had settled; unfortunately, by this point, my legs had been worn down.  I was unable to find my "happy place" on the way back down either, but persisted nonetheless.  During the final two miles, my legs were pretty tired of running(especially pounding downhill).  Had anyone else been on Old Mitchell Toll Road I may well have been mistaken for a zombie.
    Upon arriving at the top of Appalachian Way again, I began running down in hopes of pushing through the pain in my feet.  I felt as if I was left with no choice but to succumb to the cries of my feet.  I elected to remove my shoes and continue down the mountain wishing all the while I would stumble upon a bicycle or vacant golf cart to expedite my descent.
    All in all, I had a fantastic adventure.  The pain was part of the process.  In running for nearly 6 hours, nearly twice as long as I had previously, I realized the pent up potential that my body holds with regards to running.  In covering somewhere between 28 and 30 miles, between 8 and 10 more than I had previously run, I was elated in anticipation of the magnificent stretches of trails I could watch pass beneath my feet in years to come.

   Being in nature one is left with no choice but to marvel at creation.  Be it vast flatlands, rugged mountain tops, or a simple stream snaking its way down a mountain, it is sure to inspire awe in even the hardest of hearts.  Despite this, I truly believe that the finest of all God's creations lies in the mind of man.  One can shatter a rock with the proper hammer, dam any river with enough concrete, burn any forest in conducive conditions, but the will of man is something far harder to shake.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hanging Out With The Ladies: Second Encounter With The Seven Sisters

    My body has had plenty of time to rest recently.  Two days ago, in honor of the Pitchell Challenge that took place this past weekend, I started on Mt Pisgah and ran 12 miles down to Chestnut Cove clocking in at 1 hour and 50 minutes.  I felt fantastic the whole time, yet slightly unfulfilled.
    To satisfy my hankering for a good, hard long run I elected to spend my vacant Tuesday afternoon running the Seven Sisters Summit Challenge (about 16 miles) for the second time.  Last time I ran it was mid-April of last year with a great group of runners.  The group time was somewhere around 3:20.  Given that I was now in much better shape than I was then, I set a goal for myself of finishing in 3 hours.

    I felt like a million bucks through the entirety of this run.  I exceeded my expectations with a time of 2:46.08, and recovered quite well.  This run was a success by all measures and can't wait to do it again!

Lookout- 31'43.17
Graybeard Falls- 1:21.43
Walker's Knob- 1:34.26
Big Slaty- 1:47.11
Graybeard!- 1:51.18
Big Piney- 2:23.48
Car- 2:46.08

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Process of Trail and Error

My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”    -Mahatma Ghandi

First off, I am fully aware that I spelled "trial" incorrectly- it is a poor effort at a play on words.  
     My first fast packing excursion- I did not accomplish my objective, but I cannot consider the trip a failure.  I learned a lot about my bod and about how I can plan and prepare differently for future trials such as this.  
   Melissa watched me start running down the Appalachian Trail from Davenport Gap at 9:26 AM on Friday.  I unfortunately started later than intended due to conflicts with reserving space in shelters.  My first obstacle arose before I even started running.  Since I didn't think to make reservations before the morning of I was unable to assure sleeping room at my intended checkpoints.  I settled for running only 21 miles on day one and I would feel out the situation from there.  
      I had a backpack on my back which weighed about 2... 2 much!  But seriously- it weighed close to twenty pounds when I started at Davenport Gap.  What follows comes from a journal that I took with me on the excursion, it doesn't say much; but I don't feel that I have much to say on the experience at this point.  

     "Upon topping this rock, my body was momentarily stunned by the landscape before me.  I was faced with no choice but to pause.  Speed is less of an issue today as I've been informed my desired shelter will be full.  I have roughly another 8 hours to cover less than 15 miles- I will shoot to do it in 3.    Made it to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, roughly the 15 mile mark.  I've been moving pretty well, especially since the first six miles were an uphill battle.  The elapsed time at my arrival was 4 hours and 17 minutes making this easily the slowest half-maraton I've ever run.  Its nice to sit; unfortunately, when standing comes again in about 30(once my water is purified) I will likely be aware of every sore spot on my body.  I can foresee that those will include the following: 1)Big toes, running downhill takes its toll; 2) Heels, not as calused as I wish I was, but the blisters will subside; 3) Shoulders, I can safely say I overpacked- it feels like someone is giving me a deep tissue massage but never relieving the pressure.  The first thing I remember that I had forgotten is Ibuprofen.  I reckon waking up tomorrow will be difficult.  
    Seven more miles remain today.  I wish I had reserved my desired shelters in advance- its really thrown me a curveball.  Judging by how my body feels now, I'm not sure that I'll complete my goal on this outing.  I won't say I've given up hope, because I haven't, but I would rather preserve my body- train a bit more- and try to tackle it another time than attempt to knock out 36 miles tomorrow. 
    Fun night with the folks in the shelter.  Laughter, stories, jokes.  They thought I was stupid to attempt 36 miles tomorrow.  I thought they were right.  So now you may say I'm "loli-gagging".  I've already run an extra 2 miles today raking the false trail away from the Peck's Corner Shelter.  I reckon I'll be at Newfound gap in about 3 hours, maybe more, its 11 miles.  
    Arrived at Newfound Gap, alas.  Pretty wretched blisters to prove it.  From Peck's Corner my elapsed time was 2:48.  Delightful.  My wonderful sister-in-law, Brittany, and friend, Alex, will be picking me up on their way home from Gatlinburg.
    The amount of cars and humans here at Newfound is obscene.  People hop out of their cars, read a sign or two, take a picture and leave.  "Its just a bunch of hills", they probably think, with expectations of the Grand Canyon or something.  Unfortunately, from the roads they can't recognize the grandeur of the park.  After speeding through 32 miles and witnessing its many, many layers I have found a new appreciation for Great Smoky Mountain National Park and now have a burning desire to share it with everyone I can."

A series of haikus(better called Hike-kus) that came to me during my run:

Fall colors appear 
Below, the valley enchants
 Legs must keep moving  

Trail winds, blisters swell 
Trees beckon me to push on 
Panoramic views
Ruffed Grouse taking off
Reminds me of helicopters
Lovely mountain home  

Now I can see it 
Distant mountain, next victim
Blessed with two strong legs

Trails always hide surprises
Whats ahead excites

Isaiah Forty
Verse thirty-one never fails
Always gives me hope
   *Isaiah 40:31 reads:
 "Those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint"

Friday, October 8, 2010

Preparation For The First Fast Packing Endeavor

     With the arrival of my fall break I was granted a couple of extra leisure days.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to get some running in, but just how much- and where, I hadn't get figured out.  Unfortunately, my partner in crime/wife, Melissa, is tied down with work leaving me to embark on an adventure alone.  I decided my next best bet would probably be Axel.  Axel is a pup recently famed in an article in this month's Blue Ridge Outdoors for his running prowess and the passion and audacity he possesses in the woods.

    I had a vision for the weekend, a couple of days of running 20+ miles, beautiful scenery,  and close to home, and all it took was mentioning it to a friend, Adam Hill, and a plan was laid out.  The original suggestion was a 43 mile loop in Pisgah National Forest starting at the Davidson River Campground that I would knock out over the course of two days.
    This plan was quickly thwarted once I started thumbing through Ken Burn's The National Parks: America's Best Idea for the first time in a while.  Seeing pictures of the Smokies' Chimney-Tops and a stunning sunrise seen from atop of Clingman's Dome two things happened:
        1) I reprimanded myself for still-- after living in North Carolina for more than fifteen years-- never having visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park,
       2)  I decided I would keep the theme of my adventure but change the venue.

   After discussion with Adam, he confirmed the Smokies as a fantastic option for my first fast packing endeavor.  I have a projected start time of roughly Saturday at 10:00 AM.  The starting point is at Davenport Gap and, after just over 71 miles of running, I will end at Fontana Dam.

    How blessed I am to have a wonderful wife who is willing to drop me off in the wilderness for my half-witted, wholly distorted ideas of fun!  Either she is secretly trying to get rid of me, or she is the perfect wife.  I'm fully convinced that its the later.
     Anyways, I'm mostly packed.  I have food, a flashlight, a sleeping bag, a couple of legs, a journal, a bible, and a whole lot of heart.  The forecast projects nothing but sun and chilly nights.  All systems are 'go'.

    So here is my goal: to run the 72 miles across Great Smoky Mountain National Park (North to South) by way of the Appalachian Trail in under 55 hours.  The only drawback of this plan is that dogs are not permitted in the park meaning I'll be flying solo- with the exception of thousands of leaf-peepers and about 1600 black bears.