As the ten legs of trail we set up filled, I started to think about what I would do during the event. There were not any hikerless legs that I absolutely had to cover and I needed to get a long training run in for an upcoming race, so I decided to take another crack at last year's Table Rock to Beacon Heights run. To make it interesting, I emailed a bunch of runner friends and asked them to take part in a wager. If I could cover the distance in 9:30, they would donate $20 to the MST. If it took me longer, I would donate $20 for each person who took the bet. It took me 9:45 to cover the distance last year under less than favorable conditions. Of the 50 or so people I contacted, 20 took me up on the bet, so $400 was in the line. The MST would win no matter the outcome.
As the date of the event approached, I began to think I should lower the time goal and after speaking with Dennis, changed it to 9 hours even. I wasn't in the best running shape, but the weather forecast promised much better conditions this year with a high in the 70s, probably 20 degrees cooler than in 2016. Ray, who was originally going to run the first leg with me, had to back down to just driving me up to the Table Rock parking lot and meeting me a little ways down the trail.
|Linville Gorge from the Table Rock Summit|
I started the MapMyRun app on my phone, hoping it would not only time the run, but also map the route and distance to prove I wasn't just driving over to Beacon Heights. At 7:16 a.m., I began my trek towards Beacon Heights, some 31 miles away. I was geared up with my trusty running pack, two Salomon soft flask water bottles, S-caps, Tailwind sports mix, various granola bars, and my Sawyer water filter with the matching water pouch. I had a cap attached to my pack in case I got hot and needed to soak it in water along the way.
At around 7:26 a.m., I crashed and caught my face on a rock, having barely gotten onto the MST itself. This was the first time my head has ever made contact with the ground in a fall. The rock was fortunately flat but it left a nice bruise on my eyebrow and cheekbone. It happened so fast, I hardly had time to react. I don't recall a trip but think my back foot possibly slid out from under me on a slight downhill. The only blood was a small scrape on a knuckle, but it was enough to make me a lot more cautious the rest of the day. I was going to be out there alone and while there would be hikers coming through during various parts of the day, if something happened where I needed immediate assistance, I'd be in trouble with a bad fall.
A sign back at the Table Rock parking lot warned of bear activity and I couldn't help but think of that in the back of my mind. An unfortunate bear encounter could bring the plan for the day to a quick halt. As I made my way down to Steele Creek and then back up towards the Highway 181 crossing, I could see to see my cheek bone swelling out of the corner of my eye. The familiarity of this leg (part of our Table Rock Ultras course) helped it to go by relatively quickly. And it didn't just feel quick, it actually was as I got to Highway 181 a half hour quicker (two hours) than last year. I had stashed a collapsible bottle here, used it to refill one of my other bottles and stuffed it in my pack.
|A very dry version of Upper Creek|
I don't know if it was the earlier fall or something else, but I found I was catching a lot of roots and rocks and not picking my feet up. I didn't always fall but it was a bit annoying and concerning. I had honestly forgotten how runnable this section was and tried to take advantage of the terrain. While I felt generally ok, I felt kind of leg-heavy. I don't know what it was, but it certainly was connected to my not picking my feet up and tripping so much. As I felt like Harper Creek (my next "checkpoint") was getting closer I made an effort to drink up all my water because I planned to refill everything in the creek.
I was about an hour ahead of last year's pace when I did come to the Harper Creek crossing. The water was cold at first but then felt pretty good as I stood shin-deep in it refilling my bottles. Five minutes later, I was climbing out of the creek and continuing along the MST.
|Harper Creek Crossing|
Somewhere beyond the mid-point of this leg, I caught up to my friends and the couple (Barry & Jamie) I knew they were hiking with as part of the MST event. We spoke for a bit, noted that our phone GPSs seemed to have lost signal, and then I headed on. It wasn't until five or ten minutes later that I realized I should have gotten a picture of their group. I emerged on Pineola Road knowing what was next and that I was not as close to Beacon Heights as I thought I was last year. Some nice gravel downhill, past the bear hunters reloading their dogs into the trucks, and then down to Huntfish Falls where I noticed a profound comment beside the "Trail Adopted by" sign. It read "At what age do you tell a trail that it was adopted?" Some people just have to leave their mark, I suppose...
After passing the Falls, it became a mix of runnable/hikeable trail so I just did what I could. I still generally felt pretty good. The few times during the day I had gotten warm, that was soon followed by a cool patch and/or a breeze blowing through my sweat-soaked shirt. At 3.6 miles, this was by far my shortest leg of the day and it certainly passed quickly. Like I mentioned earlier, when I arrived at Pineola Road last year, I confused it with Roseborough Road and made it even worse by thinking there was only three more miles to go after Roseborough. A final water bottle refill stop that took way longer than it should have thanks to a partially clogged filter, I was emerging onto Roseborough Road and this time knew that I had six more miles to go.
I was part way up the old road bed that I remembered from the prior year when I began remembering last year's brief rain shower at this point and how I held out my water bottle, hoping to catch a little water. I was badly dehydrated last year but today I felt really good. I even ran some of the less-steep sections of the road where I had walked all of last year. A couple groups of motorcycles came by me, heading down and then I encountered David and Arlene coming toward me. I knew they'd be hiking as part of the MST event but didn't know I'd be on the trail with them. David warned me that he had accidentally stirred up a yellow jacket nest just ahead on the road so after we parted ways, I kept to the opposite side of the road. For some, unexplainable, reason, right after starting up again, I bonked pretty badly. It was as if some hummingbird had sucked out all my blood sugar. I was light headed and weak. While I could still walk, albeit unsteadily, I couldn't even run the flat parts. I tried eating something and drinking more of the Tailwind in case my electrolytes were low, but nothing had an immediate effect.
When the MST split off the road and onto an actual trail, I was still not feeling very well. Remembering what the trail was like--steep and rooty--I knew I'd be walking most of this last few miles, but had hoped to be able to power hike it rather than stagger up it. It was right about 2:30 when I started on this part of the trail. The MST guide lists this point as being 2.8 miles from Beacon Heights. My nine hour goal meant getting there by 4:15 p.m. So, I had 1:45 to cover the threeish miles. While that sounds like plenty of time, I wasn't convinced it would happen. I pressed on, trying to extract every drop of water from my bottles so I wouldn't have to go through the time-consuming process of getting the water pouch from my pack and filtering it into a bottle. I walked as fast as I could, the trail never really lending itself to running for someone of my ability. Even though I remembered being frustrated with how long it felt before, it still frustrated me this time. There were many times it felt like I was coming up to the top of the climb, only to drop back down again. Some times, I found myself going for long stretches in the opposite direction of Beacon Heights. I tried to remind myself that as long as I was moving, the distance left, no matter what direction I was going, was decreasing.
Finally, I could see the wooden trail directional sign ahead that meant I was close to the parking lot and overlook. I'd like to say I picked up the pace out of an adrenaline rush, but I couldn't. All I could do was move forward. I had glanced at my phone because a text message came through shortly before seeing that sign and I knew that I was fine on the nine hour goal but still wanted to do the best I could. As I made my way up the trail, I could hear voices ahead on the overlook. We passed in opposite directions as I emerged from the trees onto the massive rock. I'm sure I looked a sight, but I didn't care. I stopped my tracking app on my phone and took a picture of the view and then sat down for a minute and dug the salmon jerky a friend had given me out of my pack.
My app recorded an elapsed time of 8:14 and a distance of 12.18 miles. So, while the clock was correct, the distance was off by almost 19 miles. MapMyRun Info
|Beacon Heights Overlook - With Table Rock way off in the Distance|
In the end, I was happy with the way the day went, other than the wipeout right at the start. I think that was the longest I've run alone without it being part of a race event, and possibly even including races since I tend to fall in with people off and on during races. It served its purpose as a fund-raiser, training run, and participation in the MST's anniversary. It was a great day to be out there and I can rest easy knowing that I never have to do it again!