Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mountain Madness! - Part II

Last Sunday was the training run for the Twisted Ankle Marathon.  I had just run a 10K PR the day before and was still floating on air.  The weather promised to be cool and dry, and I was eager to see what I was in for.  It took about 1.5 hours to reach James H. (Sloppy) Floyd Park in Summerville, GA from my house, and it was certainly a beautiful drive once I left the interstate.

I passed many meadows cloaked in wildflowers, several sparkling ponds and streams, and even a few pastures with mama cows and goats tending to their little ones.  It was bright and sunny, breezy, and green all around.  The temperature was in the mid-50s, which was just perfect for running.

This is a view of the lake from near where the start/finish will be.

The parking lot was empty when I got there a few minutes early, but soon others started to arrive.  We immediately began to sum each other up, and estimate who the toughest ones were.  I was sporting my new Brooks Cascadia 7s.  They are designed for trail running, and therefore have spiky bottoms to grip the trail.  I did find that they helped my traction, especially on the ascents.  Like my Brooks PureFlows, these shoes have a roomy toe box.  In fact, I couldn't really tell much difference in the feel of them except for the grip.  They are a bit heavier than the PureFlows or the PureGrits, which are also designed for trail running.  However, since speed is not going to be my goal in this race, and safety is important, I think they are just perfect for the course.

Everyone exchanged names and a few stories while we took last-minute potty stops.  I was expecting a few others from our local Adventure Runners group.  When they arrived, I managed to get a group photo.  Max, if you are reading this, I'm sorry I didn't realize you were in Adventure Runners too!

Left to right: Joe, Paul, me, Tom (all doing the full marathon)

By the time everyone arrived, there were 14 runners in all.  I borrowed this group shot from Tom's post on the Twisted Ankle Facebook page.  The photo includes Lance (far left), our fearless and rugged guide, who led those of us marathoners doing the 15 mile training course.  I am not sure, but I think his wife led the half-marathoners, who were doing a slightly shorter training run.  Becky, the race director, is 4th from the right.  The bridge in the background of this photo is the last thing runners will cross before running through the grass  through two trees which mark the race start and finish.

Becky explained to us that, due to some snafu with some national agency (my eyes always glaze over at this kind of thing, so I did not get all the details), the race course had to be changed this year.  However, she quickly added that we were still going to be treated to a run up Becky's Bluff!  Actually, we marathoners will hit it twice, once at mile 9 and again at mile 22 - oh boy.  The half marathon course, as it stands now, is in two loops, a "red" trail and a "blue" trail.  The marathon does each of these two loops twice, hence, the two doses of hell, um, I mean, fun, on Becky's Bluff.  She did warn us there may be some minor changes, so don't worry about studying this map too much.  Also note, the first loop was about 6 miles, bringing us close to the start point.  The second loop, therefore, is slightly longer.  Miles 13-17 on the map below were where Tom, Paul, and I ran up a paved road in order to get a few more miles in.

Here's the corresponding elevation chart.  As you can see, Becky's Bluff is quite the climb!

A little after noon, we started out on our run.  Tom, Paul, Joe (and his sweet, adventurous dog, Jasmine), and I followed our leader, Lance, around the lake and past a visitor center.  He hit it at a pretty good clip, so I just tried to keep up the best I could.  He did at least stop fairly soon so that all of us could catch up.  Then, shortly after the first mile, we parted from the half marathon group and headed up the first incline.  I ran for a bit, but quickly realized that I was going to need to walk...a lot.  It's a humbling process.  Mile 3 took us on a bit of pavement through some of the campsites.  We waved to some folks as we passed.

My Garmin seemed to indicate we had gone 5 miles instead of 3.  Later, I realized that I must have inadvertently switched the setting to metric units.  That was okay because everyone else was glad to tell me how far we had gone.  Mile 4 started on grass as we wound around the South side of Upper Lake.

At the edge of the woods, Lance pointed out where we would be going next.

Just past Mile 4 (I think), we reached the beginning of Marble Mine Trail.
I might look a little blurry, and at that point, was starting to feel a little "blurry" too!

 From left to right: Paul, Lance, Joe, Tom

As you may have noticed at this point, I was the only female along for this first stretch.  (On the second loop, Lance's wife and her friend did join us.)  It made me feel kind of bold that I could keep up with "the big boys."  :-)

Here we are at Marble Mine, somewhere near Mile 5), taking a pose while Jasmine takes a little dip in the cool spring water.  We all were a little jealous of her!  Things are kind of jumbled up in my mind, but I think not long after that, we hit a really rough part that was a fire break.  It could have been just before this or just after.  In any case, the going was slow and it was quite technical.  The group saw a couple snakes along the way, but luckily they had slithered off before I could spy them.  I'm hoping the faster runners spook the snakes for all the rest of us on marathon day!  Below is a photo of part of the rocky fire break area.

Finally, we made it back down from the first loop and stopped for some water and to take a potty break.  Then, we started out on the next leg of our adventure.  We headed back around the lake and back to Marble Mine, but from a different direction.  Here again, my mind is a little fuzzy on the details.

Finally, we were ready to head for Becky's Bluff.  As the elevation profile indicates, there is quite an ascent even before you get to the really tough part.  I did not even begin to kid myself that I could run this.  Wistfully, I watched Lance bound up like a jackrabbit on steroids.  The rest of us mere mortals picked our way the best we knew how up the steadily climbing path.  At that point, most of us were huffing and puffing and not blowing any houses down.  Lance gave us one last chance to catch our breath before the hardest 0.6 miles of the run.  The beginning was marked by a sign warning us of steep grades.  Lance told us it was about a 19-20% grade.  Yikes!

These photos do not do it justice.  This second one is actually looking down the mountain.  You can just barely tell that there is a valley below.  I was too tired to try for a more professional-looking shot.

The thing I noticed most was that my calves were kind of burning.  It also dawned on me that this was going to really hurt the second time around!  At the top, I was so busy breathing that I didn't get any photos.

As we headed down, it was kind of fun actually running.  My legs were starting to feel a little sloppy, though, and a couple times I could feel the bottom of my shoe graze the top of a rock.  This humbled me as I considered that if my shoe had been one millimeter lower, I would have met the earth face-to-face, if you know what I mean!  I also started feeling the Gatorade I had consumed start to jiggle around in my belly.  This caused side cramps, and I had to slow my pace.

Here's one last shot, somewhere close to the end.

I kept thinking how hard it would have been if I had planned to do the course twice that day.  Yowsa!  However, at the end, we were treated to generously slathered PB&Js, bananas, and homemade cookies with yummy icing.  I said YES to all, and scarfed them down without a trace of guilt.

Then Tom approached me with some lie that I had promised I would run a few more miles with him so we could get 20 in.  After much begging, Paul and I agreed to accompany him.  We headed out on the road.  The trouble was that the road kept going up and up.  Finally, we gave in and headed back with just 17.  I was done!  DONE, I say!  I plopped my aching self into the car and headed for home.  I didn't feel totally beat, but I kept thinking about having to double most of what we had run today.  Ouch!

Now, several days later, my quads are still quite sore.  However, I feel stronger and more reassured by having gone through this process.  It's going to be one of the hardest runs of my life, but I know I will get through it, especially knowing Danielle is going to be there with me!  I have a feeling we will need to encourage each other quite a bit on that second half.  I just hope and pray that we do not get injured.  They don't call it the Twisted Ankle for nuthin'!


  1. Splendid!!! This is going to be an awesome race- I'm so glad we'll get to suffer through it together!! I'm both nervous and excited to test my grit on Becky's Bluff, though I think it's really going to be thrilling the second time around (see, I'm trying to use positive adjectives).

    I think the front pack runners will take care of most of the wildlife for us, do hopefully we'll be snake and spider web free :)

    1. I meant to add in my notes that it sounds like your recent run to South Carolina was very good preparation for this race. Yep, I do indeed think we will walk every stinkin' hill...and that's okay!

      Did you read my Part I post as well? I had to break it into two because it was so long.

    2. One other thing - did you read Part I as well? I felt I needed to lead up to how this race came to be. I can't wait for you get down here!! We'll have a nice serving of hills for breakfast!

  2. Thanks for this, Gail! It's awesome. Love the last shot of y'all with the sign holding you up:-). Nice to meet you, & see you SOON!! Becky

    1. Thanks, Becky! The training run was awesome and it was great to meet you as well. I can't wait to get up there again to those beautiful trails!