Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cool training runs, part 2: The Wild Oak Trail

Earlier in the summer I decided I would write about some of the gorgeous and challenging mountain trails that I love to train on. In June I blogged about Three Ridges and The Priest, and this past weekend we ran on The Wild Oak Trail as part of a 33+ mile training run for the Grindstone 100.

The Wild Oak Trail is affectionately known in the VHTRC as TWOT. Like Three Ridges and the Priest, it gives trail runners a huge bang for their running buck, as it offers a full day of running on smooth single track, rocky downhills and big, big climbs. Total elevation gain over the 25 miles has been reported to be at least 8,000 feet, with the highest point, Little Bald, at 4,351 feet. My best time for the 25.6 mile loop is around 6:45 in cold weather, and my best time in hot weather is 7:11. I always like to run a loop of TWOT as part of my final 100 mile race preparation, because I know the trail will not lie: either I am fit and ready to run 100 miles, or I am kidding myself.

The Wild Oak Trail was created as a National Recreation Trail by the Forest Service. According to the Forest Service website, "Loggers, farmers and cattlemen lived in the area about the trail before the land was purchased between 1915 and 1935." The trail is part of two very challenging endurance events: The Shenandoah Mountain 100 Mountain Bike Race and the Grindstone 100. The TWOT 100, a low key fat ass run hosted by ultra legend Dennis Herr, is held twice a year (a Cold TWOT and a Hot TWOT). Only 6 runners have ever finished the TWOT 100, which boasts similar total elevation gain to Hardrock---around 32,000 feet for 100 miles. Keith Knipling currently holds the CR for the TWOT 100, set in 2007.

Vince and Bobby Gill atop Hankey Mountain, before we descended Dowells Draft trail

A loop course such as TWOT is a fun challenge, as it presents the question of which direction to take. Yesterday we took the clockwise direction because it would allow us to add on a 3.5 mile out-and-back section from the Grindstone course early in the run. This section, the Dowells Draft Trail, is often the place where TWOT newbies mistakenly get off trail. It is easy to confuse with the TWOT loop since it merges with TWOT at the top of Hankey Mountain. During Grindstone, Dowells Draft comes at miles 22 and 79 in the race, and I suspect that any west coast runners who run Grindstone would liken it to the trails in California: smooth, shady and winding at a perfect grade. Yesterday it took us 30 minutes to run down and 40 minutes to run back---we were able to run the entire climb back as the grade is perfect for an easy, aerobic hill running effort.

Dowells Draft (right): one can run it like a "marble in a slot" ---Scott Mills

The road crossing at mile 10 (or, in our case, mile 17 because we added Dowells) is a perfect place to leave water and other aid. This is an important place to tank up as the next section up Big Bald includes a 50 minute climb and another 2 hours until aid at Camp Todd. Bobby, Marc, and I worked hard on the climb up Big Bald and only had to stop once (that's Bobby Gill below):

After cresting Big Bald we descended down to the North River, where our friend Vince Bowman had kindly left enough water to get us back to our cars in once piece...temps were now into the 80s and we were feeling it. The refreshing waters of the North River cooled me off a bit before the 45-minute climb up to Little Bald, but Marc and Bobby opted to cross the river and pose for pics instead of submerging (big mistake, fellas!).

The climb up to Little Bald was a mostly silent gut-check this time around. At this point in the loop, you are either feeling good or you feel like crap and wish you had bailed at Camp Todd for a ride back on the road. I was testing Perpetuem Cafe Latte in my bottles and was very pleased with the taste and how I felt. Two thumbs up for the Perp! We did have a few choice words for Little Bald but were nowhere near as bonkey as our friend Mike Frazier, who was running a counter clockwise loop with Vince and his brother. We came upon them at the junction where the SM100 and Grindstone courses merge with TWOT at the top of the bald:

Poor guy. He had almost no water left in his hydration pack and couldn't keep any down. We gave him some of ours and wished them well on the descent to the river, where fortunately they had left their car. At this point I was ready to roll down the 7 miles to our cars and call it a day--we had already been out for 7:15 and I knew we had about 1:25 more to go. This downhill from Little Bald was a perfect ending for my last big Grindstone training effort---it is part of the course (coming at mile 60 in the race) and unrelenting---a great quad trasher, which is exactly what I was looking for. We made it back to the cars in 8:45, very satisfied with our 33+ mile adventure!

4 weeks until race weekend...I am feeling good and ready for the taper, and looking forward to spending some time on the Wild Oak Trail in race mode!


Rick Gray said...

You are ready Sophie! It was a warm weekend for the last long run and I agree that the boys probably made a mistake not taking advantage of a cold dip. Grindstone - Here we come!!! Rick

run4daysbill said...

Wow. Fast. Gstone is in BIG trouble! :-)