Monday, April 6, 2015

Indiana Trail 100 Documentary

I'm both excited and honored to have been included in the Indiana Trail 100 documentary.  Viewing parties are already happening around the state. Expect one in southern Indiana soon!  Check out the trailer:

Expect my race report from 3 Days of Syllamo very soon!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Race Report: Louisville Lovin' the Hills 50k, 2015 edition

After a long hiatus...I am trying to revive my blog!  Kicking it off my race report from Lovin' the Hills.

Louisville's Lovin' the Hills is one of the toughest 50k's in this area.  The event is put on by Headfirst Performance, and the event is well run.  Special thanks to the race directors (Todd and Cynthia Heady), Jefferson Memorial Forest, and all the volunteers that made this race possible!

LLTH 50k Elevation Profile

The race offers three distances:  6 miles, 15 miles, and 50k.  The three race distances start together and share the first portion of the course.  The course consists entirely of beautiful single and double track trail through Jefferson Memorial Forest.  If you haven't run these trails, you should! The 50k course is challenging with plenty of long steep hills for every runner to love!  By my count, there are 13 climbs of more than 200 feet and a few of those are over 300 feet.  According to my GPS, the total elevation gain for the 50k was 6381 feet.  The course for the 50k consists of 3 lollipops (out and back runs with a loop at the far end) with a trip around the Purple Heart loop thrown in for good measure.  There were 7 aid stations and three chances to access drop bags (if you packed some). 
At the start with Troy and Maddy
After racing in November, I took some extended time off for rest and recovery during the holidays.  I did not train at all in December and only logged about 80 miles for the entire month. My plan heading into 2015 was to take as much down time in January as I felt I needed and only begin training in earnest when I was ready - possibly not until the beginning of February.  As such, I planned to skip LLTH this year because I felt I would likely not be ready.  However, in the weeks leading up to the race, I had some strong training runs that led me to believe that my relatively high
mileage in the fall combined with extensive holiday rest had left me in surprisingly decent shape.  On the Saturday before the race, I pulled the trigger and signed up.

The weather forecast for race day was sunny with high's in the mid 50's.  The weather did not disappoint!  We had a cool, sunny day with a light breeze.  Perfect weather for a race.  The race started at 8:00am.  The temperature was in the mid-30's at the start of the race, but the sky was clear and the sun was out.  I started the race in shorts, a t-shirt, and a light jacket.  I planned to ditch the jacket after the first 6 miles when we returned to the start area.  I stood around nervously awaiting the start, chatting, and greeting folks I hadn't seen in a while.  After some instructions from the race director, we started off a few minutes after 8:00am.

On your marks...

Near perfect conditions made for a great opportunity to really push the pace and see what could be done on this course.  If I felt good on the course, my plan was to really push the pace beyond the level of effort that I have previously been able to maintain at this distance.  As such, the had the potential to be a good one or a truly bad one!  I started off with Mark Linn and Maddy Blue, and the opening pace was fast for my liking.  Too an extent, this was good.  I wanted to get out ahead of anyone that might want to take the first downhill too slowly, but I didn't want to burn myself up early.  I hung with Mark and Maddy for the first mile and then decided it was in my best interest to let them go a little.  I settled into a pace that I liked, an uncomfortable pace that felt good.  I hoped I could maintain this level of effort to the end, but I didn't worry too much over it.  It felt like a good day.  I hit the first loop in Horine pretty hard, making quick work of the climbs, cruising quickly on the flats, and bombing the downhills. Perceived effort seemed like something I could maintain so I decided to embrace it.

Finished Horine in 55:10. I had a solid aid station plan that began working for me at Horine.  I had all the GU I would need to get to Scott's gap (my next drop bag around mile 20) in a ziploc plus a full water bottle and a disposable water bottle waiting at Horine.  I ditched my jacket, gloves, and water bottle then grabbed the water and GU and took off - no more than a couple seconds.  I ran the next section with a couple of 15 milers and chatted a little.  Pace was still good, and I felt good, too.

Ready for a refill after Purple Heart
Finished the Purple Heart loop, refilled my bottle at the aid station, and started Siltstone at 2:10.  It didn't require much mathematical prowess to figure out that this was quite fast for me.  I felt good but decided to back off just a smidge for a mile or so.  I felt like I did back it off, but you can't see it in my heart rate data so I must not have backed off much!  Made quick work of the climbs on Siltstone, running by myself and really enjoying it.  Stomach was a little queasy feeling but still working fine.  I took a salt tab and popped a few tums between GU's.  The relatively warm and breezy weather was requiring extra water.  I quickly topped off my bottle at Bearcamp Road - normally I would run Siltstone on just one bottle.  Perceived effort was high for most of the trip out Siltstone - close to 8 out of 10 - and I knew the return trip would be brutal.  Mentally, I prepared myself for the darkness that was to come.

Finished Siltstone at 3:21 elapsed.  Out Siltstone in 1:11, quite fast for me.  When I got to Scott's Gap, I found Maddy and Mark at the aid station.  I still had a couple GU’s on me so I grabbed a full water bottle from my drop bag and took off, taunting them a little as I went by.  I moved well through Scott's Gap, trying not to push too hard.  I started getting lightheaded and felt like I was going to crash about mid-way through Scott's Gap.  I immediately popped another GU even though it wasn't quite time.  This helped almost right away.  Throughout this loop, Maddy was stalking me with Mark somewhere behind her. 

Finished Scott's Gap at 4:03.  Grabbed a new water bottle, a disposable bottle, and my pre-packed bag of GU.  If all went to plan, I wouldn't need to stop on the return trip.  I was hurting fairly well by this point but was excited to push hard on the return.  I stuffed everything in my vest to sort out during the first climb and popped in my music.  I had a good mix of fast, jarring heavy metal on tap, the perfect mix for rockin' out on Siltstone. 

Maddy had caught me, and we started Siltstone together at 4:04. She took the lead and I followed.  On the first big climb, she was climbing slowly and I jumped in front, but once we reached the top she took off!  I was still putting in a solid effort.  Indeed, I was putting in the max effort that I had.  No holding back from here on in, run with abandon!

Throughout the return trip, I was eating every 10-15 minutes.  As soon as I started feeling lightheaded or dizzy, I would eat a GU.  This was usually 15-17 minutes after the previous GU.  The entire return trip is a blur.  I was jamming to music, singing, yelling, and just trying to maintain good form.  Perceived exertion was through the roof, and I was deep inside myself.  As I met others on the trail, I just said good job or on your left.  What they said, I’ve no idea.  Mark passed me and later told me that I merely grunted as he went by.  I was in a good place, embracing the pain that is the Siltstone return.  Both intensely focused and completely free.  I was running and moving well but splits were indeed slower than the trip out.  I was trying to figure out whether or not I had a shot at beating 6 hours but my brain couldn't do any math.  I thought I might so I just kept pushing.

Collapsed at the Finish Line
Finished Siltstone at 5:26, a 1:23 siltstone return.  It was a little slow, but the effort was great and it was all I had.  From there, I knew I could get to the finish in under 6 hours if I kept pushing.  Passing Purple Heart, I took my last GU of the race and polished off the last of my water.  Nothing left but to run to the finish! I pushed hard all the way to the end, giving it everything.  Finished in 5:56:40. A new LLTH PR for me by just over an hour!

In summary, this was a great race.  Likely could have run a few minutes faster if I had paced a little more conservatively early on.  However, I accomplished what I set out to, racing at a much higher level of effort from start to finish!  I attribute this partly to an increase in fitness and partly to a burning desire to really push and dig deep.  Of course, the latter means my endocrine system was rested and fully stocked for the race.  I think the big mileage from the fall, followed by rest, and topped off with a few tough workouts and lots of hills paid off. 

Nutrition was sound.  20 GU's or about 333 calories per hour.  Took one salt tab during the race and only peed one time.  Stomach was queasy but tums held it at bay.  After the race, my stomach was still a mess for a few hours.

Special thanks to my coach Troy Shellhamer and Shellhamer Endurance Coaching! Troy is not only a phenomenal ultra runner but also an amazing coach!  This race would not have been possible without his help over the last 15 months.

Here's a quick run down of my performance:
First 15.5 miles:  ~2:40
Last 15.5 miles:  ~3:16

Finish Time:  5:56:40
Place: 13th out of 83
Here is a quick run down of the gear I used at Lovin' the Hills:
  • Inov-8 Race Ultra 290 Running Shoes
  • Injinji Toe Socks
  • Brooks Running Shorts
  • REI Running T-shirt
  • Lightweight Patagonia Jacket
  • Super thin glove liners
  • A thin headband
  • Ultimate Direction Water Bottles
  • Ultimate Direction AK Vest
Here is a quick run down of my food intake before the event totaling 160 calories:
  • Honey Stinger Chews
  • Water
Here is a quick run down of my in race nutrition totaling 2000 calories (333 calories per hour):
  • 20 GU gel packs
Happy trails!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Race Report: Pinhoti 100

Pinhoti 100 Elevation Profile
As most of you know, the Pinhoti 100 was my focus race for my last training cycle.  In fact, I didn't run any races during my 18 weeks of training for the Pinhoti 100! Leading into race week, I was well rested, and I felt good about my training. Most of my spare time leading up to the race was spent packing and preparing food.  My nutrition plan for the race included eating almost entirely my own food.  As such, all of my food had to be planned and packaged in advance.  It's amazing how much planning and packing time this can take.

My crew chief (Johnny), pacer (Aaron), and I made the 8 hour drive to Alabama the day before the race.  That night, we joined another friend, Andy, at Coleman Lake Campground about 6 miles from the race start.  Andy would be running the race as well, and we had spent a good deal of time training together for this day.

Normally, I don't sleep well the night before a race.  However, I had been so amped up for this one that I hadn't slept well all week.  This caught up to me the day before the race, and I was able to get a solid 7 hours of sleep the night before the race even with the 4:00am wake up.  I'm sure it helped to be sleeping in a tent in perfect fall weather, too.  Nice!

With everything packed and prepared the night before, I got up, dressed, ate a bagel, and was ready to go.  Johnny, Aaron, Andy, and I piled into the truck and headed to the start around 5:00am.  An hour later, a mass of roughly 230 runners crowded together in the darkness at the start line.   After some last minute instructions from the race director that I couldn't hear, we were off! A mass of runners, headlamps gleaming, headed off into the dark cold morning.

I knew there would be a log jam as all the runners hit the single track.  After a couple hundred yards, we hit the single track and came to an abrupt halt.  Over the next few miles, there were many creek crossings.  We would slow to a crawl at each of them due to the crowd.  I embraced the slow pace.  A few extra minutes early won't hurt.  After all, 100 miles is a long way.

Johnny the Crew Master!
I arrived at the first aid station in good time, right on 24 hour pace.  I had hopes of finishing this one in 24 hours if all went well.  This pace felt very easy, which was good.  I continued to make steady progress, and my crew (Johhny and pacer-to-be Aaron) were rocking at the aid stations.  I was getting in and back out at every aid station with little wasted time.  This part of the trail was beautiful.  Rolling single track, fairly smooth, very soft.  Much of it was covered in pine needles. There were many creek crossings.  Most of them could be done without getting your feet wet but not all.  As it started to heat up, I shed my shirt and hydration vest.  It felt great!  The first marathon ticked by quickly, and I was still feeling good.
Running into Lake Morgan

Leading into aid station #5, Lake Morgan (27.7 miles), I starting making a mental list of what I would need there.  Sunblock to make sure I didn't get a burn.  Change of shoes, oddly I was developing a hot spot on the inside of right foot. Reapply body glide (just in case).  I spent a few extra minutes at Lake Morgan taking care of these items, but was soon on my way.  At this point, I was still right on 24 hour pace.

Andy atop Mount Cheaha
From Lake Morgan, I knew we would soon be making one of the big climbs on the course to Bald Rock.  From the elevation chart, this is a 1500 foot elevation gain over 5 miles to the highest point in Alabama.  Once I got to the top, I'd see my crew again.  As we drew nearer to Bald Rock, the smooth single track gave way to some rocky footing.  Still, I moved smoothly through this section.  The climb didn't seem taxing, and I was at the top before I realized it.  What a view!

I arrived at the Bald Rock aid station, found my crew, bumped fists with Steve (another runner from Indiana that had dropped due to a turned ankle), and headed out.  There was a short road section here before we jumped back on the trail to climb down Blue Hell.  This is a steep rocky section that doesn't last long enough.  It's a neat section.  As I entered the trail, I came upon Andy!  We stayed together for while, and I enjoyed getting to run some of the race with him.  We made our way out Silent Trail.  This is the most beautiful section of the course in my opinion.  We ran a while along this awesome mountain steam with large rocks and cliffs on both sides until we eventually crossed a bridge to the other side, leaving it all behind.  Wow!

Somewhere along the way, Andy and I got separated again but we would continue to leap frog each other for the next 20 miles.  I had a lull in energy during that section, and I came into aid station 10 (Adams Gap, 55.3 miles) about 13 minutes behind 24 hour pace.  I was still feeling good and was looking forward to picking up Aaron (who would pace me that last 40 miles) at the next aid station.  Early in this section, I took time for a pit stop (4 minutes, not bad!), but still made good time.  I arrived at Aid Station 11 (Clairmont Gap, mile 60.3) and picked up Aaron.

As we headed out, I was passing through another lull in energy.  I told Aaron to lead, and I'd keep up.  We made what seemed like good time, in spite of the increasing frequency of climbs and the rockiness of the trail.  Soon, I was feeling great again, and we continue to move well.  When we arrived at Aid Station 13 (Porters Gap, mile 68.8), we were about 35 minutes behind 24 hour pace.  Damn!  Still, we deliberately took a few extra minutes to make sure we had the clothing we would need for the next section.  It was 11:00pm and it would be almost 17 miles until we would see our crew again.  We knew the temperatures would be dropping and the wind would be picking up as we climbed to some exposed ridges in this section.  Still, we were at the aid station less than 5 minutes.  As we headed out, we once again saw Andy, and we left the aid station with him.  Soon, however, Aaron and I left Andy behind without realizing it. 

I felt great throughout this section.  I had heard this section was challenging due to the tough climbs (especially up to Pinnacle at mile 75).  The climbs didn't bother me.  In fact, Aaron and I ran many of the climbs, and we passed quite a few runners doing so!  I enjoyed the climbs.  However, the rocks were another story.  This section was quite rocky.  Lots of loose rocks that wanted to move around and beat up your feet.  And my feet were hurting.  I had a blister on the inside of my right foot, and I was fairly sure I was developing a blister on the fourth toe of each foot.  Approaching Pinnacle, my headlamp batteries were running out.  I had used my headlamp on high for too long to navigate all the rocks.  Of course, this would have been no big deal if I had brought some extra batteries.  My crew chief Johnny told me to, but I refused!  Hmm.  We made the climb to Pinnacle, power hiking most of it and passed a few people on the way up.  My headlamp was more or less dead by the time we got there.  Fortunately, the aid station workers at Pinnacle saved me with an extra set of batteries. After a few minutes to round these up we headed on.  

Someone at Pinnacle told us we would be on the road for 4 miles heading out of there.  We were glad to hear that as we wanted to stretch our legs and make up some time.  Soon, however, we realized that describing this section as a road was generous.  Describing it as a scree covered boulder field would have been more accurate.  Also, it was uphill.  We tried to run some of this.  However, it was simply too painful.  For whatever reason, neither of us could run in this stuff without beating the sides, tops, and toes of our feet on the rocks.  To add to the difficulty, Aaron's headlamp batteries were starting to get low now so we were both relying on my light.  We were glad to get off that "road"!  Back on the single track, we found that terrain was still quite rocky and also covered in pine needles.  Again, tough to run on.  We hiked much of this portion down to the next aid station, Bulls Gap (mile 85.6).  

We spent some time at Bulls Gap.  We were probably there for 15 or 20 minutes.  It had to be done.  I had three blisters that needed attention.  Two had already burst.  I lanced the third one and wrapped them all in duct tape.  Normally, I don't get blisters.  I didn't get any at the Indiana Trail 100. so I was surprised to have this issue.  Heading out of Bulls Gap, Aaron and I were cold!  I immediately regretted having ditched the tights I had carried on my back for the previous 17 miles.  

Crossing the finish
With my blisters taped up, my feet felt good.  Since we were cold, we had extra motivation to run.  Now an hour and forty minutes behind 24 hour pace, we picked it up and began gaining a little ground.  I felt good and was happy that I was still running smoothly with 85 miles on my legs.  We passed quite few runners that weren't moving fast in this section.  We made good time, and we soon rolled into the last aid station, Watershed (mile 95.2).  Johnny was there.  I grabbed a new water bottle from him, some Clif Shot Blocks, and a swig of coke from an aid station volunteer.  We took off.  Aaron and I were feeling good and we were ready to finish.  This last section was smooth and more flat than anything we had run across in the last 40 miles so we moved along.  Just before we spilled out onto the road (the last 3 miles or so are on a paved road leading into Sylacauga), another runner and his pacer passed us!  
Sitting at the Finish

As they went past, I told Aaron to stay with them so we could pass them on the road.  We stayed behind them for half a mile or so on the road.  They started to slow a little, and we picked it up.  We passed them and two other runners on the road before reaching the stadium.  As we came around the track, we could see the clock, and I gave it a final push to finish in 25:29:40.  

Johnny was set up and ready for us with chairs, blankets, and even hot tea!  We sat at the finish line for a little while trying to recover.  I was fairly wiped out.  It wasn't long before Andy came along, still looking strong!

Here's a quick run down of my performance:
  • Finish Time: 25:29:40
  • Place: 54th out of 164 finishers and roughly 230 starters
  • The first 45 miles of the race had taken 10:36 (14 min pace).  The last 45 miles of the race took 12:04 (16 min pace).  I had hoped for even pacing.   Some of this positive split was due to the terrain, but some of it was also due to a slow down on my part.  Still, I was quite happy with the effort and the result given the challenging terrain.
Here is a quick run down of the gear I used at the Pinhoti 100:
  • Inov-8 Trailroc 245 Trail Running Shoe (2 pairs)
  • Swift Wick Socks (2 pairs)
  • Race Ready Running Shorts
  • Solomon T-shirt
  • New Balance T-shirt
  • Pearl Izumi Fly Jacket
  • Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest with bottles
  • Champion Long Sleeve quarter zip
  • Thin Nike Running Gloves
  • Pearl Izumi Gloves with fold over mitten
  • Pearl Izumi Headband 
  • Buff 
  • REI Headband
  • Nike Visor
  • Petzl Myo RxP Headlamp
  • Extra batteries
  • Timex Run Trainer Watch
  • Garmin Footpod
  • Timex Heart Rate Monitor
Here is a quick run down of my food intake before the event totaling 300 calories:
  • One and half hours prior, breakfast: whole grain bagel with pumpkin butter
  • In the two hours before the run, I drank roughly 1 liter of water. 
Here is a quick run down of my in race menu.  I estimate that I consumed roughly 6700 calories (262 calories per hour):
  • Clif Shot Blocks
  • Roctane GU
  • Tortillas with Quinoa Porridge
  • Tortillas with Peanut Butter, Honey, Apples
  • Lara Bars
  • Saltine Crackers
  • Broth
  • Ginger Ale
  • Grape Juice 
  • Coke
  • Perpetuem
  • Raisins
  • Trader Joe's Fruit Leather
Before I wrap up this post, I would like to take a moment to thank many of the people that have helped me with this effort.  A challenge such as this one is impossible to complete without the help of others.  Without help from the folks on the list, I would not have been able to finish this race!
  • My Wife, Nicole - Thank you for supporting my training and my goal of completing this race. Thank you for taking up my slack when I'm out running and for putting up with me when I'm whining about my legs being sore!
  • Aaron Walker - Thanks for giving up your weekend to crew and pace for me during the race.  Thanks for getting me through the night! 
  • Johnny Eldridge - Thanks for giving up your weekend to crew for me!  Thanks for keeping me on track! 
  • Andy Borst - Thanks for all the time we spent training together for this one!
  • Indiana Trail Running, Sportzbizz Massage, and Terry Fletcher - Thanks for all your support and advice during training. Thanks for figuring out how to fix my ankle when no else could!
  • Elizabeth Brodfuehrer at Louisville Strength and Endurance - Thank you for helping me stay injury free during training!
  • Jackie Dikos at Nutrition Success - Thanks for all your help with my in race nutrition!
  • Race Directors and Race Volunteers - You all did an awesome job!  Thank you!
Happy trails!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pinhoti 100 Training: Weeks 8-9

After two 61 mile weeks in a row, I planned a recovery week for Week 8 followed by another 60+ miles for Week 9.  Here's how it turned out:
  • Week 8 - 28 miles, longest run: 13 miles
  • Week 9 - 60 miles, longest run: 31 miles
In addition, I managed to fit in 4 strength training sessions and about 10 miles of walking during these two weeks.  I'm still not hitting my goal of 10 miles per week of dedicated walking!

Again all of my runs were logged on hilly trails, including my long runs:  13 miles on the Siltstone Trail and 31 miles on the Knobstone Trail.   With the temps in the 90's, the Knobstone definitely kicked my butt!  Look for a post on this soon.

Happy trails!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pinhoti 100 Training: Week 7

Topo of Scott's Gap Loop
After a solid 61 mile week during Week 6, I felt great and ready to tackle this week.  As such, I plan on another 60ish mile week.  Here's how it turned out:

  • Week 7 - 61 miles, longest run: 30 miles
Again this week all of my runs were logged on hilly trails, including a 30 mile run at Jefferson Memorial Forest on Sunday!  I did the Siltstone Trail out and back twice plus once around the Scott's Gap loop for a total of just over 30 miles.  I hadn't run the Scott's Gap loop since Lovin' the Hills - it's still as brutal as I remembered it to be! 

At the moment, I'm still recovering from yesterday's 30 miler.  I'm planning a light recovery week for this week. Just 11 weeks until the Pinhoti 100!  Happy trails!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Running Vegan

I have been eating an entirely vegan diet now for 45 days.  Nearly everyone asks me the same question about my diet:  "Why?"  This is often followed closely by something along the lines of "so you don't eat meat or dairy?  What do you eat?" and, of course, "What about protein?"

Leading up to this change, I was already eating a fairly healthy and well balanced diet.  Essentially, I was following the recommendations from Matt Fitzgerald's book, Racing Weight  This means eating whole foods as much as possible and, each day, eating 4 servings of fruit, 4 servings of vegetables, 3 servings of lean protein, 3 servings of whole grain, 3 servings of lowfat dairy, and one essential fat.  I had been following this diet for about a year and half, and I felt good and accomplished a lot of hard training and racing while on this diet.

Why change?  For the last year, I have been somewhat frustrated with the amount of time my body requires to recover from endurance workouts of 6 or more hours.  Most recommendations that you read on recovery are focused muscle recovery.  Muscle recovery has rarely been an issue for me.  Within 1 or 2 days of a hard or long workout, my muscles are typically recovered.  If trash my quads, this might extend to 3 or 4 days.  What has limited me from a recovery standpoint has been the fatigue that results from long workouts.  I have always felt that I should recover faster.

In addition, I have been hearing from other ultra runners and reading accounts from endurance athletes claiming that a plant based diet has increased their performance and decreased their recovery time. Famous examples include Scott Jurek in his book Eat and Run and Rich Roll in his book Finding Ultra .  Finally, I decided I had to give this a try and measure the results. 

My plan was simple:  cut out meat and dairy; eat whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts; avoid processed foods.  I would follow this for 30 days and evaluate how I felt. I am now 45 days into this plan.  In short, I feel great.  I am recovering faster.  In spite of consistently hard training, dips in energy are short and slight.  I am logging more miles than ever before yet I am energized and feel ready for more.  In addition, I am balancing family, work, and training yet I don't feel too stretched.  The jury is still out, but initial results suggest that this change is going to be huge for me.

So what about protein?  There is a common misconception that athletes require vast amounts of protein to repair damaged muscles.  However, there doesn't seem to be any scientific evidence to support this notion.  In fact, there's plenty of evidence to the contrary.  In Racing Weight, Matt Fitzgerald notes that the typical diet of the best runners in the world (East Africans) includes only about 10% protein. 

Happy Trails!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Running the Art Loeb Trail

On the weekend of July 27, I had an opportunity to knock off a great bucket list item:  Run the Art Loeb Trail. The Art Loeb Trail is a 30.1-mile trail that runs through the Pisgah National Forest in Western North Carolina. The trail runs from the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp at the north end to the Davidson River Campground (near Brevard) at the south end. Along the way, the trail traverses several significant peaks, including Black Balsam Knob (6,214 feet), Tennent Mountain (6040 feet) and Pilot Mountain (5095 feet). The trail also passes near the peak of Cold Mountain (6030 feet).  In total, the trail offers approximately 10,000 feet of elevation gain.
Andy on top of Cold Mountain
My friend Andy and I headed down to North Carolina on Friday.  We found a great pull-off campsite in the Pisgah national forest.  The site was right next to a beautiful, fast flowing mountain stream and a huge patch of wild, ripe raspberries.  In addition, it was just a couple of miles from the trail's southern terminus.  We set up camp and prepared for a 5:00am wake up.  The plan was to meet our shuttle driver (compliments of Pura Vida Adventures) at 6:00am, leave our car at the Davidson River Campground, shuttle to the northern end of the trail, and be on the trail before 8:00am.  Neither Andy nor I had any idea how long this adventure would take.  This plan would give us about 13 hours of daylight.  We packed a headlamp and a flashlight just in case.

We hit the trail at 7:45am.  We each had a small pack with some clothes, food, and around 2 liters of water. We planned to treat additional water found along the way as needed.  The first 3 miles of the trail climbs around 3000 feet so we started out hiking at a brisk pace.  This was actually a great warm up.  When we got done with the climb, we promptly turned the wrong way and continued climbing up cold mountain.  The trail was quite over grown, but we didn't realize we were off track until we got to the top and found the USGS elevation marker.  We earned nearly 2 miles of "extra credit", as Andy calls it. However, we burned well over an hour of daylight in the process.  The steep, over grown trail made for slow going, and we spent some time figuring out where we went astray.

Me near the climb up Black Balsam
Andy running on Black Balsam
Back on track and still in good spirits we moved ahead, not having fully learned our lesson about paying attention to the map and our heading. This section of the trail was quite rugged.  The trail itself was winding single track and quite rocky.  In many sections, waist high vegetation growing alongside covered the trail from view. The combination of the rocks and the plants made running tricky at best in these sections.  The tall vegetation, covered in rain from the night before, also ensured that we were soaked from the waist down.  We moved steadily along, atop a steep ridge (called "The Narrows" on our map) that fell away on both sides, the trail often skirting just below the peak of the ridge.  The day was overcast and humid.  Clouds and fog draped the surrounding mountains.

View from Black Balsam
Next of the big climbs was Tennet Mountain.  During the climb up this one we began noticing the number of nearly waist high "steps" in the trail.  These would be tough late in the day.  We made it over Tennet Mountain and on toward Black Balsam Knob.  Approaching Black Balsam, the trail opens up.  The knob is covered with low vegetation, but trees are scant.  As such, this area is especially scenic and great views abound, even on a misty day.  I enjoyed this section immensely.  Coming down the other side of Black Balsam, we somehow got off course.  We suddenly realized we were headed northeast instead of south!  After this, we kept the compass and the map out.  Without losing much time, we managed to find our way and headed back into the trees toward Deep Gap.

Another great view from Black Balsam
Me at one of the great vantage points
Deep Gap was our first water stop, and I was glad for it.  I ran out of water a couple miles before we arrived.  We found water downhill from the deep gap shelter in a small stream.  Water bottles refilled, we forged ahead, summitted Pilot mountain, and began heading east toward Davidson River.  We still had a decent amount of ground to cover, but we had a chance of getting done before dark.  Our next water stop was at the Butter Gap shelter.  The water source here is a spring right next to the shelter - you can't miss it.  Not long after passing Cedar Rock (a really huge and cool looking white-ish rock), I started feeling pretty bad.  I had packed 10 hours of food for what was turning out to be a 13+ hour run, and I was starting to feel it.  I slogged along, keeping up with Andy for a while, but eventually fell behind.  After 10 or 15 minutes of Andy being somewhere out in front, I came upon Andy sitting on the trail waiting for me.  We took off again together, but I was still feeling it.  We were about 5 miles from the trailhead and it would be dark soon.  I told Andy to go on without me and that I was going to walk.  He went on ahead.  After a few minutes of walking, I started feeling better.  I tentatively tried running and found that my body was ready to move a little.  I went slowly for a mile or so and then picked it up.  It was getting dark, and I was ready to finish!  I enjoyed those last few miles - moving, mostly downhill, in the dark, as quickly as a could in spite of being light headed and queasy.  It's truly amazing when your body taps that next reserve.  It was a great feeling!

I continued moving at a good pace and came off the single track and onto a wide, flat crushed stone path along the river.  I was almost there.  The last mile or so (seemed much longer) to Davidson River Campground followed this path.  With a few hundred yards to go, I caught up to Andy! We finished the run together and were both glad to see the car.  We walked back across the parking lot, opened up the car to grab some food, and promptly laid down on the pavement.  Fortunately, there wasn't much traffic in the parking lot!

Total Distance:  32 miles (including about 2 miles of "extra credit")
Total Time:  13 hrs 22 min
Tips/Lessons Learned:  Don't underestimate this trail.  While the elevation change is a significant challenge, the ruggedness of the trail (rocks, uneven terrain, large steps, hole, washouts, overgrown vegetation) can really impact your overall pace.  In addition, the portion of the trail north of the mountain parkway is not well marked (mostly it's not marked at all).  It's essential that you have a map and compass when attempting this route.\

Happy Trails!