Saturday, April 23, 2011
Wednesday afternoon - Thursday morning I did a 44 mile run/hike through the 1st part of the Shenandoah National Park. I had to carry all my food, emergency supplies and a change of clothes (just in case the weather got bad) in my pack so that really slowed me down. The other issue I had was that I really need new trail shoes. At mile 5.5 I was already feeling hot spots, so I stopped, added a 2nd pair of socks and it took about 5 minutes to decide to keep going instead of turning around and going back to the car. I could feel the pack really slowing me down on the climbs, many of them done at only about 2mph. At mile 13 there was a camp store at the Elk Wallow wayside, so I got a few things to have for "dinner", tried to doctor my feet and then kept going. There is a really steep climb out of Elk Wallow, and at the top I had a cell phone signal. I needed to call Steve and tell him my plans. It was here I had to make a decision. My turn around was at mile 22, Thornton Gap. I could have him come get me there, and it would have been a nice long trail run. But despite the foot problems and everything else, I really felt like I hadn't pushed myself in so long. So I told him not to come get me. I was going to do an out and back. Those last 10 miles weren't bad, a lot of very runnable trails and I was able to pick up the pace, but somewhere in there it had turned dark and I had a few miles of adjusting to running with the headlamp. At the turn around I drank a bottle of gatorade that I had purchased at the store and ate the rest of my "dinner". Then it would be the long run back through the night. I felt pretty good, the wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping, but as long as I kept moving I felt okay. Right before I returned to Elk Wallow (which was shut down since it was about 1am) there was a long rocky descent. Every step hurt! I knew I was in for a long night, but I thought if I could just get to Elk Wallow, I could get a drink from the drink machine, sit down for a few minutes and regroup. Finally I made it! But the relief was short lived. The wind had picked up and sitting there I started shivering. I knew I had to keep moving. I put my arm sleeves on and that seemed to help. I also took some Aleve to try to ignore the pain in my feet. From Elkwallow there is about a 2-3 mile 1200ft climb. It actually felt good, the exertion of climbing warmed me and the uphill didn't hurt my feet as much as the steep downhills. The only issue was that because of all the rain, the trail was like a creek. I felt like a salmon trying to jump upstream. After I made it to the ridge top there was another excrutiating 1.5 mile descent. I was in tears by the time I made it to the bottom. My feet felt like they were shredded. And I still had 9 miles to go. They were a long 9 miles. I could "run" when the trail was mostly dirt and either flat or slightly uphill. It was more of a shuffle than a run. The temperature continued to drop, the wind was whipping especially on the ridge tops, and because of my slow speed I was having a hard time keeping warm. I just had to focus on moving forward, of getting done. Every ridge I crossed I thought I was closer to the car than I was. I remember going down a long descent thinking my car was at the bottom. Imagine my dismay when it wasn't and the sign said Compton Gap(my starting/ending place) was 3.6 miles away. At the pace I was going I knew it could be over another hour before I got back. I just wanted to sit down on a rock and cry. But I had gone 40 miles, surely I could manage another 4! The trail here was really quite manageable and I kept thinking that when I had better shoes and didn't have the pack on my back, I was going to come back a run this like I know I can. The sad part was this was also one of the sections that the fires in February had destroyed. So as morning dawned I was running through blackened and bare trees. Spring would not come to this section of the mountain. It seemed to symbolize some of my struggles these past few months - feeling like I'm having to let go of the past 25 years of my life to start a new adventure, but instead of seeing a future full of bright sunshine and green grass, I've been running through the darkness, through burnt out scars, and emotions that threaten to overtake me, of bad habits returning, and I'm trying to run away from all that but it is so hard and it hurts. And so I keep running and running, but the finish line seems all the farther away. Finally I am at the top of the last ridge - now I just have to make it down one last steep descent. Pain and cold are my only friends at this point. They block out all other thoughts - I can only think of taking one step at a time, of finishing. Slowly but surely I descend. Step by step I inch closer, then suddenly the car is in view and I am done. I limp to my vehicle, fumble to find my keys so I can get inside and out of the wind. In the car I relax, take off my shoes and socks. I am finished. I actually feel good. It is the farthest I've run since October's 100k. I kept going despite the temptation to call in the calvary to come rescue me and two days later I feel ready to run again. I know that fires happen for a reason - they are a refining,and a cleansing. They purge the ground of deadwood and brush. And I know that the next time I run through there, I will see among the blackened trunks and limbs, little green shoots will be working their way out of the soil, starting over, starting new - new life, new hope. And I will smile.