Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wayah Bald Run and St Patrick's Day 5k

On Thursday, I ventured up to Fontana Dam to pick up Bryan. Fontana is where the Appalachian Trail enters the Smokies going northbound. He'd decided not to go on because of the national park "no dogs" rule (except in Shenandoah and parts of North Cascades), which is funny considering we took Coy through the Smokies in 2003, and she's even been through Yosemite. We did get caught with her in Crater Lake National Park and slammed with a $200 ticket, but we still wouldn't let Miss Perfect Ranger drive us out of the park; we walked the road 11 miles out of the park. Take that, Ranger Girl.
So, anyway, we picked up Bryan and drove Rt. 28 (probably the curviest, slowest road I've ever driven on) to Franklin to pick supplies for trail magic. After that, we drove up to Wayah Picnic Area to camp. When we arrived, we found 3 older gentlemen camping there for the last night of their section hike. We had a great time by the camp fire under the moon with them. They were old classmates from the Citadel who had decided to section hike the AT over the next few years. That was definitely a treat, and it's what I love about the trail. Camaraderie, despite age, background, whatever.
The next morning, we bid them farewell, and I prepared for my 8.8 mile round trip run on the AT up to Wayah Bald and back. The trail started out somewhat steep, but after it crossed a forest service road, it leveled out pretty much all the way to the top. I stopped at the FS road for a drink out of a piped spring.

Once I reached the top, I spent about ten minutes hanging out. The view was superb and the weather wonderful. I ran into a couple of people but only spoke to them for a few seconds. I tried to get my dang camera to work for self-portraits, but it seems to be having problems focusing. Oh well. It was time to get back down to the picnic area anyway. The way back was super fast. A little rocky and rooty in some places, but I was down in no time. We had one hiker there when I arrived, and over the next 5 hours, we had a good flow until we were nearly out of food and drinks and packed it up. I love how small of a world it is. One guy who came through had worked with my aunt on St. Simons Island, Ga. for 10 years and was now out on the trail. Another group of guys used to live in Fayetteville, NC, where we just came from. Another guy lives in the town just north of where we're moving in New Hampshire. Such a great community; I really enjoyed chatting with them all and providing some much overdue trail magic. In the last 13 years since we became thru-hikers, we've never been givers, so it was time. Even cheap hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and soda can make a thru-hiker's day (fortunately, we didn't have any vegetarians or Bryan would have gotten a huge, "I told ya so!" since I told him we should get some veggie burgers, too).
We came back to my parents' house in Hayesville for the night and got up early for my 5K race. This was the Young Harris St. Patrick's Day 5K held in Young Harris, Ga. When we arrived to check-in, the woman there told us John was the only kid signed up for the Kids Fun Run (say, what?!). John immediately burst into tears. That was it; he was already in a bad mood, so he went back into the van and didn't come out until it was close to awards time after the race. That meant Bryan had to stay up there with him, and I had to venture down to the starting area by myself. It was pretty weird being in a place I didn't know anybody. I'm used to my peeps in the Fayetteville Running Club or all the trail runners I met over time in the Raleigh area. So I just spent the time checking out the other runners. I had on one of my best "you-can't-tell-I'm-kind-of-fast" outfits, so no one was really checking me out. The Young Harris College men's and women's cross-country teams were there warming up. I chuckled to myself remembering those days and how ridiculous I always thought it was to do a mile warm-up for a 5K. I still refuse to do it. I saw one girl that looked like she was running an entire 5K before the race, and she was moving along at a good clip. I figured she'd be the one who might give me some competition.
A little after 9am, we lined up at the start. Warm-up girl got in front of me with some of her other running buddies, and about 6 guys from the cross-country team got in front of them. I decided to go out fast, and I did. By the time we reached a half mile, I was already first female and about 7th overall. The course wasn't actually flat like I thought it would be; it was pretty hilly. Nothing crazy steep, but the first half was mostly uphill. I passed two of the guys from the cross-country team right at the first mile. Just before the turn around was a short steep downhill which meant a short steep uphill right after it. I have been doing some really good treadmill training that I think helped because I hit those hills strong and fast and passed another of the cross-country guys. After a good stretch of downhill and flat, the course hit a small section of the cross-country course before finishing on the soccer field. I thought for sure I'd blown a chance at a PR (my previous was 20:17), so I was shocked when I realized I'd just run that 5K in 19:28, finishing 1st female and 4th overall. Talk about a major PR. I don't even run many 5Ks or train for them, but I guess the training I have been doing really paid off in the speed department. Warm-up girl came in about 2 minutes after me, followed by some of the cross-country girls 3 or 4 minutes behind me. I should have gone to Young Harris! I wasn't as fast then as I am now, but I still could have made the team.
I hung out for awhile to watch the finishers. My favorite was a girl who was so nervous beforehand and running a 5K for the first time. She came in last with a big smile on her face. It was good to see, and people would be surprised to know that I've been there. I could barely run 2 miles after I had John, so I had to work my way back into it. I was that slow, larger girl huffing and puffing up the hill, but I just kept training and came back faster than I've ever been.
John eventually got out of the van to play on the playground and grab a cookie from the snacks. I got my award and we went on our way back to Fontana Dam where I dropped Bryan back off for his hike south back to Springer Mountain. He's going to run into those people we gave trail magic to, as well as some old hiking friends, Miss Janet and Hopeful. I'm so happy that Bryan has been able to do this. It's what he needed after over 7 years in the Army. I'm already noticing a calmness coming back to him that I haven't seen in a long time.
So, I still have one more 20-mile run to do sometime this week. Normally, it would have been today, but it's going to have to wait until we pick Bryan up in a few days so that he can hang out with John while I run. I'm tempted to run the Dupont Trail 12K Race over near Brevard this coming weekend, but I don't think it's going to work out. It's just a little too far away. But that's okay. Boston is coming up, and, surprisingly, I'm starting to get excited about it. I downloaded Greg Maclin's Boston Marathon Pacing Spreadsheet (which, by the way, is a pain the ass if you have a Mac, but I finally got it working). I think it's going to be the best thing for me, and I'm so excited to use it.
I signed up for the Pat's Run Boston Shadow Run for April 16th. It's going to be a 4.2 mile fun run along the Charles River to support the Pat Tillman Foundation. The real run takes place in Tempe, Az, but there are shadow runs that take place all over the country on the same day. I'm looking forward to that, as well. It will be a good way to start off that Saturday in Boston, since I'll hit the Expo/packet-pickup after that. And if we have time, we'll take John to the Children's Museum. It should be a really good day. I'm definitely starting to look forward to it all.

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