Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to (sort of accidentally) run 15 miles in the pouring rain.

Location- Pocahontas State Park 

Trails- Fendley Station, Lakeview Mt Bike Trail #1, E. State Park Rd, Old Mill Bike Trail

Distance- 15.1 miles

Avg Pace- 10:30 min/mile

Time- 2hr 41 min

 Idiot's Guide to Accidentally Running 15 Miles

1.) Start with fairly lofty expectations.

In my case, the goal was 13 miles. Not too far off from the 15 that I ended up doing; not too wimpy of a goal...but not exactly 15 miles, either. My better half took the day off to watch our kiddo at her Christmas program @ preschool (cute-ness levels= OFF the charts!). This was great not only for the way-important family bonding time; it also meant he'd be available to pick her up later... Voila!  Looks like I'm free to scoop up a random long run on a rainy Tuesday morning. SCORE! I planned to run Fendley Station, a 13(ish) mile loop route around the south end of the park. This trail includes long and short hill climbs; single-track mixed with fire-roads, well-packed dirt and rocky sections; bridges and creek crossings. In other words, trail-running awesomeness. I usually park in a pull-over lot on Qualla Road and pick up Fendley heading south. 

Planning to kick 13 miles of trail-booty, I smooched my hubby and headed to the park.

2.) Disregard the fact that its raining.  

I'm not usually someone who sees rainy weather as an excuse not to go running. Unless, of course, I'm looking for an excuse that day, anyway. I get most of my running gear @ Wal-Mart. I know, Wal-Mart is awful; however, their line of Danskin work-out stuff is totally on-par with the more expensive versions at Dicks and other sporting goods stores. As somebody on a budget, I'm all over it. So, I layered on my cold/wet running gear, doubled up my socks, put my hood up and hit the trail. 
Take that, Andrew Freiden. Your forecast don't scare me OR my long johns.

 3.) Underestimate severe rainfall and its consequences. 

As I set out on the trail, the rain isn't pouring down too hard, but the trail itself is SOAKED. I've never seen so much standing water on that trail; it was pretty messy. Eh, this isn't so bad. I have in the back of my mind the creek crossing at the Swift Creek Dam about 8 miles down the trail, wondering how high the water will be but not really worrying about it too much. If my ankles get damp, so what? It'll be all good. 

Those first 8 miles were maybe the strongest and smoothest 8 miles I've ever run. I mean cruisin'. My legs felt great, my cozy Wal-Mart rain hoodie was warm and Pandora was rockin' out my favorite songs on the "Pop Fitness" channel. My breathing was smooth and the hills came and went easily. 

Then, as I'm nearing the dam and the creek crossing that I'd almost forgotten about in my euphoric "muddy trail-runner" state, I start to hear what sounds like a giant waterfall and the rushing river beneath it. I start to wonder just how intense this tiny water element might be. 

Here's the sign I usually smirk at right before rock-jumping to the other side. 

Ohhh, snap. 

Yep, that's the trail, on the other side of that raging river. Even though I'm already soaking wet, I'm SO not trying to travel the last 5 miles of this so-far-ahhhmazing run with the lower part of my body frozen to the bone. Its 30-something degrees out here, ya'll! Normally, this creek is about 3ft at its deepest, and pretty easy to cross using the rocks that are (usually) poking up from the bottom. Currently, its looking about waist-high or higher. So, I spend a few minutes doing what any normal trail-runner would do...taking photos and stalling.....err... I mean planning out an alternate route. 

Swift Creek Dam


4.) Ignore that little voice in your head.

At this point, I'm 8 miles into what was supposed to be a 13-mile trek. Part of me was ready to turn around, suck it up and tackle my first-ever 16-miler. As fate would have it, I happen to have a severe dislike for an out-and-back style route. It just seems silly to travel the same trail in reverse when there are so many different trails to explore. So, I decide to set out on a new path and find another route back to my car. That little voice reminds me..."your beat-up Sentra is on the other side of a 7,000 acre park, you dodo." Turn around!

Awww...I got this

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.  

5.) Overestimate your sense of direction. 

 Although I knew pretty much which direction I needed to be headed, I wasn't exactly sure of the best (direct-ish) route to get there. I ended up on one of the main park roads (which is paved, blah!), and somehow got mixed-up in one of several campgrounds at the park. I knew the main road would eventually take me where I wanted to go, but wasn't sure how far down the road it was or if one of the many small trails jutting off to the side might offer a better (and more interesting) option. 

I had a trail map handy (I'm not a total moron), but couldn't really tell if this park road was 1 mile or 5 miles long. Hmmm, tricky. After pounding the pavement for about 4 miles (4 miles?!) I finally reached the intersection of Old Mill Bike & E. State Park Rd near the park entrance. I knew this path would take me back to Fendley Station and to my finish line for the day. 

The frustration of being somewhat turned around and running on pavement made me wish I'd just done the blasted out & back least that would have been all-trail. Anyway, once I hit Old Mill Bike, I had about 3 miles to get over my aggravation of being navigationally challenged (and stubborn) and enjoy the rest of my run. 

6.) Just keep going. 

Now that I was on familiar ground and solidly NOT lost, I did a quick assessment of how I was feeling and how my legs were handling the mix of hills, distance and mental irritation. I really believe that running, especially long-distance running, is almost all mental. Feeling annoyed and not knowing exactly where I'm going can sometimes have a real impact on what my body can and does do. Thankfully, those first (blissful) 8 miles were still fresh enough in my head that I bounced back from the semi-lost debacle; surprisingly, my legs felt solid and ready to finish strong. 

My cell phone, on the other hand, went dead right after the (very pleasant) Map My Run lady announced that I'd just finished 15 miles. My Bruno Mars went poof! and I was left to finish out the song (and the run) on my own. Looks like I outran my own expectations and my iPhone4.