It’s my first time mentioning this on my blog, but I do a (ostensibly) weekly podcast/radio show where I play music and talk a little bit about the songs and artists. It’s a mix of older music and new. It runs pretty eclectic but has a strong vein of Indie Rock, Americana, and College Rock with occasional tangents into Rock en Español and electronic soundscapes.
This week, the show features the Drive-By Truckers, Josh Ritter, Guy Garvey, and Hello Seahorse! I also share a little Walt Whitman and speak a bit about the terrorist attacks in Paris. I hope you’ll give it a listen below.
This morning, I decided to do my long trail run at Carvin’s Cove up near Roanoke. It’s clear that the trails there are geared to mountain bikers more so than runners. There are lots of constant elevation changes with whoop-dee-dos and berms as well as hairpin turns. I’m sure that’s fun on a bike but those are momentum-killing features for trail runners.
After leaving the Bennett Springs parking lot, I started out on the Hi-Dee-Ho trail with the intention of turning off onto the Four Gorge trail but the trail markings are in a strange spot so I missed the turn. The Hi-Dee-Ho trail climbs up and up and up to Brushy Mountain Fire Road. I realized my mistake just at the foot of the hill but I decided to climb up it anyway. I had planned my route and it was about two miles short of my desired workout, 11.5 miles. This climb up and down Hi-Dee-Ho would add the two miles that I needed. It was a great choice because I was treated to views like the following.
I’m not a great or even good descender, probably due to fear of injury and existing weakness in my knees and ankles. So, you might notice that I don’t get the big pace bump that many folks do when descending hills. It was also made difficult because much of the trail was buried under intense leaf cover. Often, it was to my mid-calf or higher. You can see an example of it below.
After finally getting back down almost to where I started, I turned off onto the seemingly poorly named Four Gorge trail. I didn’t count but it seemed more like the Fourteen Gorge trail. This trail is absolutely beautiful but difficult to run. The trail picks way around over and across several gorges, or gulleys, challenging a runner with lots of turns and no consistent elevation. There’s always some climbing or descending going on. It was difficult for me to get a consistent pace going.
Now, about five or six miles into my run, I made my way to the Kerncliff trail which at this point winds back and forth under some big power lines. It’s here you can see the devastation to an ecosystem when power lines like this are installed. They appear to tear out all the existing vegetation and so lots of crowding of species that take advantage and maybe don’t fit well with the rest of the ecosystem that’s there already.
While the area was without its tree roots and ground cover, erosion begins and the Kerncliff trail shows some bad signs of this erosion especially around the intersection with the Jacob’s Drop trail. It’s sad to see because I suspect this could be ameliorated with some smart trail design or maintenance.
I eventually turned left onto the Comet trail which makes a steep climb and even steeper descent down to our only glimpse of Carvin’s Cove Reservoir. There is a boat dock on the opposite side of the reservoir from the trails I was on. There are quite a few stream crossings here. Along the way, I also found a guillotine tree that would be pretty scary for the cyclists using the trail.
After crossing a few streams and getting my Altra Lone Peaks soaking wet for the second weekend in a row, I moved onto the Tuck-A-Way and Enchanted Forest trails which got me back to another fire road called Happy Valley. Along the way, I was followed by a couple of deer that didn’t run away but just walked along occasionally looking up at me.
Happy Valley got me up to the Songbird trail which turns back toward the Bennett Springs parking lot where all this got started. It’s a gorgeous trail that hugs the side of the ridge opposite the valley from the ridge we were on top of at the top of Hi-Dee-Ho. The Songbird trail still has a bit of challenging sections but it’s much more consistent and even sports a special Holiday surprise.
I had originally planned on getting back to the parking lot via the Rattlin’ Run trail, which is somewhat new and isn’t even shown on the maps at the trailheads and parking lots at Carvin’s Cove. The Rattlin’ Run trail continues along the same path as Songbird which dips back down into the valley to meet up again with the Happy Valley fire road. When I got to the Rattlin’ Run/Songbird junction, I found this sign.
I only had about 1.5 miles to go to finish the run and I made a command decision to not tackle the double black diamond trail with a warning sign on those tired legs. I did walk a bit onto Rattlin’ Run and about 20 yards in I couldn’t even see where the trail went. Instead, I followed the Songbird trail down to Happy Valley and found the end of Carvin’s Cove Road where there’s a barn. Horses can use these trails and there were a lot of trailers and trucks parked there. My wife is a horse rider so I was excited to discover this new spot for her to come ride her horses.
I had a pretty easy one mile run on Carvin’s Cove Road to get me back to the parking lot where I was extremely happy to see my car get something to eat that wasn’t a Gu.
While the run was slower than I’d like with more walking and stopping than I typically do, it was likely a good training run helping me practice dealing with some mental adversity and some challenging trail conditions. I’m not planning my next run to be at Carvin’s Cove but I’ll come back before all my training is done and see what I can do. It’s great having such resources this close to home and I want to make sure I take advantage of them.
Lots of people talk about the amazing community that has been built around ultrarunning. While I’m not yet officially part of that community, it’s easy to see the passion of that community if one starts reading blogs or liking specific things on Facebook. There does appear to be a tight-knit, if off-kilter, community around this sport. That said, the sport necessitates quite a bit of very selfish behavior.
There are, of course, the innumerable number of hours away from your family and friends simply running. Whether it be on the roads or the trails, most of us are pounding out miles alone. At this point in my training for a 50k in March, I should have spent over 200 miles on the road. (I say “should have” because I had an injury that cut out a few weeks of training.) At a average speed of 12 minutes per mile, that’s 40 hours in 7 weeks. If we add in some time on either side for warming up, cooling off, getting ready, showering, etc. we are easily talking about 7 hours a week or one hour a day.
It doesn’t seem like much. However, for many people, removing themselves from the daily grind for an entire hour a day is likely quite difficult. For people with young children, like me, this time away can be an even larger burden on their loved ones putting them in positions of handling child care for longer periods than they might typically do so. It also robs us of that time with our loved ones which is clearly cherished, at least by most folks.
Additionally, there’s the selfish, or self-centered, thinking that happens around running. Talking about and dealing with injuries or just aches and pains. Being picky about what you eat or, maybe more so, when you eat. Spending money on clothing, race fees, fancy sugar food, shoes, my god, the shoes. It all means that a lot of our head-time is spent thinking about what we want or need.
So, if running ultramarathons is so selfish, why do people continue to do it and why do their loved ones seem to support it so passionately?
It’s because this sport, not exclusively, but surely, makes those of us doing it or aspiring to do it into better versions of ourselves. For me, it keeps me in much better physical shape than I was in or would likely be in. Yes, I get aches and pains and injuries, but those pale in comparison to the long-term toll my previously sedentary lifestyle was taking on me.
In my experience, it’s the most effective mental health medicine I’ve found. I’ve tried a bunch of others, Effexor, Paxil, Alcohol, Self-Harm, and nothing works as quickly or as predictably as going for a long run. Anxieties and thoughts of self-doubt or meaninglessness simply don’t exist in my head when I’m 9 miles into a run and see squirrels racing ahead of me on the trail.
We also become, in many cases, unwitting, examples for those people in our lives who see us striving for the rarely attained. They see that it’s done not for glory or riches, in most cases, but simply for the ability to celebrate our continued existence. I never feel love so much as when my son says something like, “Did you have a nice run, Dad? I hope so. You smell terrible.” I feel like I’m setting an example of working hard for your goals.
None of us are promised tomorrow and some of us struggle with the desire to even want tomorrow. So, if it’s a bit of selfish behavior that keeps us on this Earth and lets us contribute, even a tiny bit, to the goals of others, it’s likely time well spent with oneself.
One of the most important points here is that there are so few people who do this that the studies can be wildly biased. The author points out that many runners come to ultramarathons to reverse other health issues or as a sanctuary from “racing and winning” mentality that many marathoners adopt. In short, we are just different kinds of people who are likely looking for community and personal fulfillment over recognition.
I’m being generous when I say “we” because as I write, I am not an ultramarathoner. I’m not even a marathoner. But if things go according to plan, I will become an ultramarathoner at the Bel Monte Endurance Races in March of 2016.
This article doesn’t tell me much more than the books one can find about ultrarunning. Two solid ultrarunning books that have helped me build confidence are Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning and Bryon Powell’s Relentless Forward Progress. Both books are introductory in nature and while they may not be exquisite writing, they are functional in helping someone build confidence and avoid common pitfalls. Both also include training plans with detailed information on how to modify them.
I’m hoping to document my journey on this blog as March approaches. I’ll be thrilled to announce that I am an ultramarathoner should I finish the race. If I should fail, then I’ll document that too and share my feelings and thoughts on what happens when you don’t reach your goals.