Monday, March 5, 2012

The Run That Shall Not Be Named

People often ask me where and when my blog title photo was taken (above). It was in 2010, after a "real" winter of heavy snow, and a group of friends and I were running on trails in southwest Virginia. A bluebird sky, fresh 6 '' of powder, and temps in the 40s made this run beautiful yet very challenging. My friend Hallie took the photo as I posed atop the most photographed place on the AT. To me, this photo symbolizes everything I love about ultrarunning: a celebration of freedom, health, and nature while moving swiftly and light on trails with good friends in beautiful places.

2012 was the tenth year of friends gathering to celebrate on these trails with a run that we do not name and is not advertised. In fact, I hesitate to blog about the run at all...but given the fact that ten years have come and gone for this iconic, old school trail run, I thought a little homage was required. The reason for the secrecy? To keep the run pure and under the radar, so that it can continue as long as the runners want it to continue. And I bet there are runs just like this one across the country in Cali, Oregon, Colorado, and other places where "events" are not permitted. Ours is certainly not an "event," but rather a gathering of friends who enjoy nature and one another's company.

This run was my first mountain "adventure" run. The year was 2004, and I was a lurker on the VHTRC website. Someone posted photos and a link to a "non" website. Hmmm...this looks cool, I thought. I was a newbie ulturarunner then, having only run Holiday Lake 50K and Mountain Masochist 50. But I was itching for something more, something really hard but not life-threatening or stupid. My friend Quatro mentioned that he was going to run it and so I asked if I could tag along. And over the course of the run (which is about 35 miles but runs like a 50), I found myself getting exactly what I had come for: really tough climbs, never-ending PUDs, quad trashing downhills and endless views of where we had run and where we were headed. It took me 9:25 to run the 35 miles, and when it was over, I knew I had turned a corner in my ultra career.

This year brought together some of my closest friends from all over the Mid-Atlantic: runners from the VHTRC, WVMTR, CAT, IMTR, and Lynchburg. The group naturally split into thirds, with the fast boys and girl kicking butt and taking names. Neal Gorman ran the Fastest Known Time on this course in 6:25 and Eva Pastalkova was the first woman to break 8 hours. The group I was with took lots of pics at overlooks, and goofed off with our friend Knob Creek:

Just goofing off with the usual suspects
We ran easy and caught up on eachother's lives. We talked about recent races, 100 milers looming in the distance, and plans to crew and pace at upcoming events...and about our children, our jobs, our career decisions, and the losses of our loved ones. In short, we solved all our problems over 35 miles...the best kind of therapy!

The entrants list from past years lists everyone from Grand Slam record holders, Team USA members and Western States winners to back-of-the pack tough guys and dirt chicks. We come for the trail, the views, and the fellowship, but mostly, I think, for the chance to try something really hard. I know I am among the many who are grateful for the chance to explore this beautiful and wild place each spring. Here's to ten-plus more years of adventure!

Happy Trails!