Roan Mountain Adventure 09/30/16

Roan Mountain Adventure 09/30/16

On Friday, September 30th, Hope and I drove up to Roan Mountain, TN, to run/hike the Roan Highlands section of the Appalachian Trail. I had been on that section once before, and it is probably the most breathtaking stretch of trail I’ve been on. I hadn’t been up there in 2 years, and I was itching to get on the trail there before it got too chilly up on the mountain. This stretch of trail is a series of “balds,” meaning mountain peaks without trees. This makes it possible to see 360-degree views in some areas, but it can also be very windy up on top since there are no trees to shelter you from the wind. So this is a great stretch of trail to run/hike in the warmer months.

The last time I ran this stretch of trail it was June, and the rhododendrons and flame azaleas were in full bloom. I can’t tell you how breathtaking that was, but June is also a time when the trail is the most crowded. The last time I was up there Craig and I camped at Roan Mountain State Park for the weekend and had a wonderful relaxing stay there. I kind of didn’t feel like camping this time, and I knew about Mountain Harbour Bed and Breakfast from my prior visit and also from my friend, Tim Moe’s, blog. Tim has been section hiking the AT for several years and writes an excellent blog about his experiences on the trail. (See Tim’s blog here: http://tbmmoe.blogspot.com/). Mountain Harbour has a hiker hostel in addition to their B&B rooms. I had never stayed in a hiker hostel, but I was willing to try it out and see how it went.

When I started planning this little trip, I knew I had a select few friends who would be willing and able to enjoy an overnight trip like this. My friend, Hope, and I have enjoyed many trail adventures together, but we haven’t been able to do so in recent years. I was busy with all my medical issues, and Hope has been joyfully raising 2 precious little boys. I was missing our time together, and so she was the first person I reached out to. I had a few backups I planned to call if she couldn’t make it, but thankfully she said YES immediately when I asked her! I think she was craving being out on the trail in the mountains, and we were only gone for 1 night, so she didn’t have to be gone from her sweet family for too long.

We drove up on Friday afternoon after Hope got out of school, stopped in Morganton, and picked up a bag dinner we could eat at the hostel later. We then drove up the mountain on Hwy 181 and stopped at the Brown Mountain Overlook for just a few minutes to take pictures.

We arrived at Mountain Harbour B&B before 7 P.M. and checked in with Shannon and Dave, the owners/innkeepers. I had scheduled a shuttle for us on Saturday morning to Carvers Gap, where we were going to begin our run/hike. Total cost for each of us for hostel bed and shuttle was $35 each. Bargain!

After checking in, we went back to the hostel, found our room, and parked our stuff there. The hostel was full for the night, and we met the other hikers who were staying there. Gas Can from Pennsylvania was in the middle of a 2-week section hike. There were also 4 ladies from Columbia, SC, who were staying the night before heading out on a 2-day hike from Hughes Gap back to 19E. We went out on the nice porch of the hostel to eat our bag dinner and enjoy a few beers. We were joined by the 2 hostel kitties, whose job was to keep the mice out the of the hostel, I presume. They did a pretty good job as I saw nary a mouse while I was there!

When it got too cool to stay on the porch, we came inside and sat on the sofa with Gas Can for a while. The hostel had a TV with only videos (no cable), and he was watching Meet the Parents. We talked for a while with him, and he was a really nice guy!

We went to bed and slept great in our cozy little room. It got a little chilly during the night, 46 degrees in the morning. We had declined the breakfast Shannon and Dave offered and opted to eat bagels and bananas we had brought with us in the hostel as we felt like something lighter before the day of running/hiking. (Later we heard how good the breakfast was, so on our next visit we are going to make time to enjoy the breakfast at Mountain Harbour!) At 9 a.m. we met Shannon for our shuttle to Carvers Gap, and we were joined by 2 other women from the Concord, NC, area who had driven up that morning and were going to do the same hike we were doing in 2 days instead of 1.

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Our room in the Hiker Hostel.

Shannon dropped us off at Carvers Gap, and we knew already it was going to be a beautiful day. We posed for pictures out by the big Carvers Gap sign, taking pics of each other. As we were doing so, this very nice young couple came off the trail and walked right over to us, offering to take our pic together. We talked with them for a few minutes, and they had been backpacking for a few nights on the trail together and were just coming off the trail to go home. It was obvious they were experienced backpackers, and they were so friendly to talk to. This set the tone for the rest of our day, as we spent a lot of time talking to people on the trail all day long.

When you start a run/hike at Carvers Gap, the payoff is pretty immediate there. Before you get to the 1-mile mark you reach Round Bald, and the views are already phenomenal. Keep going to Jane Bald, and the views are at least 180-degree if not more. We were blessed with a beautiful clear sunny day, and we could see for miles and miles. Around Jane Bald, we ran into a group of guys who had camped the night before in a beautiful spot. They were cooking on a campfire. I can’t remember who called out to who first, but I remember asking if they had coffee, and one of the guys said, “Sure! Come on and have some!” We went over and talked to all 4 of them and enjoyed visiting for a while. One of the guys offered me his coffee, and, yes, I drank right out of his camp cup! They introduced themselves: Jesus, Doc Holliday, Zeke, and Gadget. They were so friendly and invited us to join them at the Overmountain Shelter that night as there was a party going on there! We had to decline the party invitation, but they told us about how beautiful the area around the shelter was, so we decided then that we would take the spur trail in order to see the shelter on our way through.

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We ran on and then stopped to talk to Mike and Ashley, who were out doing an out-and-back run/hike together. They were from Greenville, SC, and were missing their little baby daughter but thankful to have some time together also. We took the spur trail over to Grassy Ridge and enjoyed the view there. Hope scouted out some potential camping sites for her and Jose in the future!

We headed back to the AT and then began a section of trail that came off the balds and went back into the woods. I had already noticed a lot of flowers and berries growing along the trail and had taken pics along the way, but when we went into the woods we saw so many things blooming. It’s always amazing to see the different wildflowers that bloom practically all year long. I’m glad that I can now slow down and enjoy them!

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We reached the trail intersection with the Overmountain Victory Trail and the spur trail to Overmountain Shelter. Since the guys had told us earlier about how nice the Overmountain Shelter was, we took the spur trail down there to check it out. It is nice, as far as shelters go, and there was a very nice grassy meadow next to it where hikers could set up their tents. There was a beautiful view off the front of the shelter. I can see why there is a hiker party there every Saturday night!

We headed back up to the trail and then headed on to Little Hump Mountain. Here we stopped and sat on a rock while we had a snack and enjoyed the view. We then had an even greater climb up to Hump Mountain, and, boy, my legs were on fire by this time! Hope was a trooper and stuck by me the whole way. By this time I wasn’t doing much running, mostly hiking with a little jog mixed in from time to time.

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Hiking up Hump Mountain.

There is a nice memorial to Stan Murray at the top of Hump Mountain, and we tried to soak in the views all the way down the backside until we hit the forest. We then had about a 5-mile run/hike through woods to get back to 19E, which would take us back to the hostel. This was a very pleasant trail through the woods, and it was downhill the whole way, which proved to be a challenge for me with my sore legs and knees. We stopped at Doll Flats, sat on a log for a few minutes, and had a snack. I then “sucked it up, buttercup” and got my butt back to 19E! Hope was sweet and stuck with me the whole way. We ended up with 17 miles total, 14 miles on the AT plus an additional 3 miles on the spur trails and the hike up 19E back to the hostel.

Once we were back at my car at the hostel, we changed into some dry clothes, had something to eat and drink, got back in the car, and drove back down the mountain to Morganton! We stopped in Morganton at Jake’s Burgers and got a burger and fries, boy were they good. We took a little stroll through downtown Morganton looking for a bakery to get something sweet, no luck. By the way, I always think downtown Morganton is so cute, I would like to check out more of the restaurants and breweries there!

We were back home about 8 P.M. It’s amazing the wonderful things I can do in just an overnight trip from my house!

Hope and I are already planning a return trip, and we are thinking we want to invite some girlfriends and rent out the whole hostel for a weekend. We could do the same hike/run we did on Saturday, enjoy the breakfast at Mountain Harbour on Sunday morning, and then plan a shorter hike for Sunday on the way back home. I can’t wait!

I am very blessed in my life with wonderful friends, and Hope is one of those wonderful people. We haven’t been able to spend much time together recently since we’ve both had different things going on in our lives, but I was glad to reconnect with her. She is a kindred spirit, and I love the way she thinks. She very much marches to her own drum, and I like to think that I do the same, so it’s great to spend time and talk with her about staying true to ourselves, doing what we think is right for us and our families regardless of what people around us are doing, and disregarding the crap the world tries to tell us to do or be.

Looking forward to the next adventure!

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Big milestone weekend…..

Two years ago on July 12, 2014, I ran Grandfather Mountain Marathon for the 4th time. I had a wonderful weekend with my running friends at the race and the post-race festivities. I stayed with my friend Paige at her wonderful mountain house for the weekend, and Don and I hiked Snake Mountain the day after the marathon.

I had spent the previous 6 months running a bunch of marathons and 50Ks, 7 in all since the first of the year. I was having a lot of fun and felt really strong and healthy.

The week after GMM I had a mammogram scheduled. A few days later I had a biopsy, and 2 days after that they called me to tell me I had breast cancer.

My life then came to a complete stop for about 16 months while I went through surgeries, chemotherapy, and more drug therapy. I had surgery and recovered. Had 2 more surgeries and recovered. Went through 4 months of chemo, all my hair fell out, and got progressively weaker and weaker and recovered again. Had another surgery and recovered again. Then I had to complete 6 more months of IV drug therapy.

This past weekend I went back to Grandfather to run the marathon once again. Since it was the last marathon I ran before my cancer diagnosis, I thought it was fitting that I should make it the first one I ran now that the cancer craziness has settled down and I’ve been able to run enough miles to make training for a marathon possible again.

I’ve been running a good many total miles in recent months but not very many long runs. My body does not seem to do those as easily as it used to, and quite frankly they’re just not as much fun as they used to be. I did manage to get in a couple of 18- to 20-mile runs, and each one had a lot of climbing, so I figured I was minimally prepared for the marathon. At least to finish in survival mode.

It was tough, and I was pretty wrung out the last 6 miles or so, but I finished my 5th Grandfather Mountain Marathon in 4:44 and some change. It was by far my slowest GMM ever, but I was glad to conquer the mountain and finish once again. This finish makes 37 total marathons/ultras that I have completed.

That makes 5 GMMs for me. I thought maybe I might hang up the hat after this one since the training was no fun. But I had so much fun at the race I feel sure I will return next year, God willing, for the 50th running of the Grandfather Mountain Marathon. I’m sure there will be some special activities of some sort to commemorate the 50 years, and I wouldn’t miss that for anything. It’s my favorite marathon of all the ones I’ve run, and I’ve run it more times than any other marathon. I love the challenge of the mountains, the beauty of the course, the laid-back atmosphere, the small field, the ease of parking and logistics before the race at the ASU track, all my friends who run the race year after year, and just all the other people that this race attracts. It tends to draw a different kind of runner, as you can imagine, and I dig the crowd.

I don’t think I will ever get back to running as many marathons/ultras as I was before my cancer adventure, but I think I enjoy the challenge enough that I will probably run 1 or 2 a year anyway. At least as long as I am physically able and I enjoy it. If it stops being fun, then I’ll move on to something new! There are always new things to do.

For now I thank God for a body that is healthy enough to run and enjoy being active. A healthy body is a huge blessing never to be taken for granted.

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Richmond Recap: America’s Friendliest Marathon? Yup…

This past weekend I traveled to Richmond with Deb to run the half marathon at the Richmond Marathon. This was my third time running at Richmond after running the full marathon there twice before in 2007 and 2010. I had great experiences there before and was looking forward to running it again. In recent years I have focused more on trail running and have done very little road running, so it was fun to get back to the road again.

Deb and I were originally supposed to go with a group of other friends, and, as so often happens, everyone else backed out of our group except for us. I knew I could count on Deb to go with me no matter what, so it ended up just being the two of us. Since we were supposed to go with this other group of people, I didn’t get bossy like I normally do and take charge of the hotel accommodations. There was some talk among the group about renting a house, so I was waiting to see what would happen with that. As it turned out, by the time everybody backed out it was too late to get any good hotel rooms in the downtown area near the start/finish. So we ended up with hotel reservations about 10 minutes out of town.

But Deb, being the resourceful person she is, happened to call Marriott to cancel another reservation the week of the race and asked if there had been any cancellations; low and behold, she was able to snag us a cancellation at the downtown Marriott. This turned out to be the icing on the cake of a wonderful weekend.

After three runs at Richmond, I must say it’s one of the best organized running events I have ever done. Everything always seems to go off without a hitch at this race, and things just glide along, even with 20,000 participants.

First and foremost, I love the marathon course. It is a very scenic course, starting in downtown Richmond, taking you down historic Monument Avenue, along a beautiful stretch on the James River, over the Robert E. Lee Bridge, and then another loop through some beautiful neighborhoods north of town before finishing at Brown’s Island Park on the James River. The new finish festival area at Brown’s Island is new since I ran the race last, and it adds tremendously to the race as it is a beautiful area for a big event.

I’m not in marathon shape since I’ve been kind of busy this past 18 months with some other “issues,” as you guys know, so I ran the half marathon. When I looked at the map of the half course I was immediately disappointed because so many of the wonderful parts of the marathon course are not included in the half. Alas, this seems to be true of so many races, but I understand that you just can’t logistically include everything in half the distance. This makes me feel a little bit like I “missed out,” and I really did, but I was glad to have the option to run the half and to be healthy enough to run it and run it well.

Deb and I walked right out the front door of our hotel and only had a couple blocks to the start line. And even though there were 20,000 participants in the 3 races, the timing and set up were such that the sidewalks were never too crowded to get where you wanted to go with ease. I have run so many road marathons where they have those gates up all along the street with very few entrance points into the corals. This makes the sidewalks so crowded you can’t maneuver around people to get where you need to go, and then you have to find a way into your coral. Richmond doesn’t have any of these problems. For one thing, they have very few of those gates in the start area. The corals are all wide open. They are clearly marked but no gates, and they don’t police the corals before the race. But the problem of slower people trying to start in a faster wave is not a problem, and they handle this effortlessly by monitoring each wave as it steps up to the start line. As people stepped up they looked at your bib to see what wave you were. If you were not starting with the correct wave, they very quietly with no drama turned people back. I started seeing people passing me as we were moving forward and I wondered why they were doing that. Then I figured out they were being turned away by the “security” guys. There was no drama, no raised voices. It was the best way I’ve ever seen a race actually enforce the wave start.

I don’t run races for the shirt or for medals, but both are nice for this race, which is just icing on the cake. And the finisher’s swag being passed out in the finish chute included fleece blankets with race logo instead of the space sheets, and we also got technical hats with the race logo on them. There was plenty of aid on the course with water stops and gels and even a “junk food” stop. They encourage spectator support through “fan zones” dispersed throughout the city, and these are well attended by the locals.

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I like to do races that are put on by local organizations as opposed to a big national company, and the Richmond Marathon is a product of SportsBackers, a local Richmond non-profit sports organization that coordinates several running events and other sports opportunities in the area. The main charity of the marathon is their Kids Run RVA program, which is a school-based running and fitness program for kids in the entire Richmond area with a focus on Title I and low-income area schools.

The only negative about this race for me is that instead of having the expo downtown near the host hotel and the start/finish, the expo is located in an arena about 20 minutes from downtown. They run shuttles every 20 minutes from the host hotel to take you to the expo, or you can drive out there if you want as there is plenty of parking. Even this works perfectly smoothly as Deb and I were easily able to catch the shuttle to get out to the expo and back.

We have a tradition of doing a “hike” on Sunday morning after a big race, and I always find the hike really helps my tired legs recover. I knew I wanted to see more of the city of Richmond than I had seen in previous visits, and Richmond has a lot of history, so Deb and I took a little History Hike on Sunday morning to stretch our tired legs. I found an app for my phone called GPSMyCity and downloaded several walking tours of Richmond. We selected a Civil War History tour and strolled the Virginia State House grounds, saw the White House of the Confederacy, and walked down to the area known as Shockoe Slip.

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This race has earned it’s tagline of “America’s Friendliest Race.” The local support of the race is evidenced by the 8-page separate section in the Sunday edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch dedicated to the race with 5 articles, complete marathon results, half marathon and 8K results up to 20 deep in each age group, and many photos.

Once again I had a great experience at Richmond and look forward to going back again one year soon.

Back to running and racing: Springmaid Splash, Iron Mountain, Run for Green, and Wild Vine

Since chemo was finished for me the second week of March, I’ve been gradually increasing my running mileage. By the time of my last chemo treatment I had been reduced to pretty much just walking. I understand why they only give you a 6-treatment cycle of that stuff. My body had about had all it could take by the time I got to the last treatment.

About a month after chemo was finished I started feeling better and gradually returned to running, mixing in a lot of walking and just walking/running until I could run more and more. Now I’m running almost as much as I was pre-cancer. I’m running a little less total mileage, and my longest run is usually about 10 miles or so. I’m still taking it very easy on my runs and walking when necessary. I’m still on Herceptin, and I know my body is still recovering from chemo even though I feel pretty well. So I’m not pushing it and am just enjoying getting out and moving.

I never stopped lifting some weights and doing strength work all during chemo, but, again, by the time I got to the end my muscles were achy and weak. All that chest surgery messed with my pectoralis muscles, and they feel kinda weird still, but I’m getting my strength back with pushups, pullups, etc. I’m not pushing it really, just doing what I can, and I feel stronger. A lot of women have trouble with flexibility in their arms after mastectomy, and I definitely had some difficulty with this. But once I had healed up well and starting gently stretching things a bit, my flexibility started to return, and I would say I have about 95% of my flexibility back, and that’s pretty good.

I ran a few races in recent weeks, and it was good to get back to participating in some events again. I ran the Springmaid Splash 10K back in August and really enjoyed it. This was a challenging course that took you through the Toe River 4 times. Craig and I enjoyed camping at Springmaid Mountain the night before.

I ran the 16-mile race at the Iron Mountain Trail Run in Damascus, VA, on Labor Day weekend. I knew 16 miles was going to be a bit of a stretch for me with my current level of fitness, but I figured I could hike out of the woods if I got really tired. There was also a 30-mile and 50-mile race going on, so I wouldn’t have to worry about a time limit. As it turned out, I had a good day and felt good the whole race. I did hike a lot and just went on feel, hiking/walking when needed. I enjoyed this race and would go back again. It was a nice mix of surfaces with the first 5 miles being totally flat and smooth on the Virginia Creeper Trail. We then took a rocky single track up the mountain about a mile to connect with the Iron Mountain Trail, running this trail to the turnaround point. On the Iron Mountain Trail we ran along the ridge with some more gentle ups and downs. You could get some nice running in along the ridge. On the return we continued on Iron Mountain Trail as it drops a couple miles back into Damascus. I’m not a good downhill runner and was somewhat careful on this stretch as it was rocky and steep downhill in some sections. All in all, it was a nice mix of trail that didn’t allow for boredom or that tired feeling when you are on some tedious trail for too long.

Don and I stayed with our friends, Beth and Dan, for the weekend, and we were so glad that Phyllis got to drive over from DC to spend a couple of nights with us. It was so good to see her. The day after Iron Mountain, Beth took us up to hike at The Channels. This was a great 7-mile recovery hike with a good view at the top and some interesting huge rock formations with “channels” between. Click here for more information on The Channels.

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A couple of weeks later I drove up to Davidson and ran in the Run for Green Half Marathon. I enjoyed this road half. The course was nice with a nice mix of some paved greenway and very nice neighborhood roads. I had not run a half marathon in ages, and I really had no idea what kind of time I could run. I sort of had it in the back of my mind that maybe I would aim for about a 2:00 half and just see how it goes, and about halfway through the race I realized that time was going to be completely attainable. I ended up finished about 1:57 and some change, and I was completely happy with that effort. Praise the Lord that my body can run like that despite everything I’ve been through! I’m so blessed.

I had never been to Davidson before. What a neat little town! I enjoyed walking around the town area looking at the shops, drinking some Summit Coffee, and checking out the Saturday Farmer’s Market that was going on. I also enjoyed a stroll through Davidson College on my way back to the car.

This weekend I ran in the Wild Vine Trail Half Marathon at the Whitewater Center. I haven’t participated in any races at the WWC in recent years since I ran a trail series there back a few years ago that was a fundraiser for Outward Bound. I enjoy the trails out there, but I thought these races were pretty expensive for what you got in return. So I have been hesitant in recent years to do events out there. This event wasn’t cheap, but I thought it was fair for what I got. The course was great, very challenging and well marked. The finisher’s medal was very nice, and I really liked the design of the shirt. Whoever is doing their graphic design for these events is doing a good job, because I really liked the logo design. There was plenty of aid on the course with 5 water stops and plenty of the usual post-race food. They were having a wine tasting festival afterward, so that would be a nice draw for some folks. I think I was a little overconfident after my good performance last weekend at the road race, so I went out a little too fast at the first of this race. I paid for that later as the last 2 miles were a death march. But I made it!

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In recent years I haven’t participated in a lot of the local races in the Charlotte area very much, and I really haven’t done much road racing at all since I’ve focused more on trails. It’s been fun to participate in a few local events and also get back to a road race. Reminds me how great it is that there are so many events and different types of events available to participate in right in our own backyard. Sometimes I think it’s crazy how many events there are, but I guess it’s a nice problem to have from the participant’s perspective. Maybe not so much for all the race directors out there who are competing for the runners!

Although I may try to squeeze something in in October, the next definite on my calendar is Richmond Half Marathon in November. I’ve run the marathon there twice and really enjoyed the event and the course. I’m looking forward to enjoying the weekend with some friends who are going up with me. Once again, I’m glad that I’m feeling well enough to get back to running and racing again. I have a lot to be thankful for!