Backpacking in the Pisgah Mountains, NC
The epic Wiley vacation began on Sunday July 5, 2015. All five of us, and only us, headed out west to the land of mountains, trees, bears and cooler weather. Three out of four “ain’t” bad! Once in the car, everyone was pretty excited and nervous.
The plan was to drive to Pisgah; park, hike, camp then drive to next location. We arrived at the base of Harper Creek Trail.
We planned to hike South Harper Creek Falls then continue up the mountain and find a camp site on a ridge. As we neared the waterfall, excitement was elevated until screaming. And more screaming. Lead hiker disturbed a yellow jacket nest on the trail and everyone behind him got stung. The youngest took the brunt of the the bee wrath getting stung twelve times.
After the child chilled and we filled our Camelbacks in the stream, we hopped on Raider Camp Trail, part of the Mountains to Sea Trail to look for our camp area. About one mile up we found a nice clearing and most importantly with enough trees to accommodate our Hennessy Hammocks.
I can’t believe I slept in a hammock! Needless to say I didn’t sleep much the first night or any night for that matter.
The next morning we, ate breakfast, packed up and hiked back down the trail. The trail was single track and dense. We saw our first sign of bears–one big, fresh pile of berries in the middle of the trail. I thought my husband was going to leave his own pile right there next to it.
“We in the bears house!”
I’ll admit, I first wanted to cry and then wondered where the bear can spray was and how fast could I open the 25 hooks and pulls of my backpack to get to it.
We hiked out of the woods and drove to Hunt Fish Falls trailhead. We hopped on the Mountains to Sea Trail and hiked to find our next camp site. We set up camp near the river this time in between Hunt Fish Falls and Gragg Prong Falls.
The reward after the hike and setting up camp!
Everyone went to bed this night happy that there were people about 10 minute walk away and didn’t feel so isolated. Morning came and middle child announced that the people down the way must have let their dog out because he heard it sniffing around his hammock during the night. OY!!!! Looking at youngest, we all said, “yes…..must have been a dog.” Then the next child awoke, heard the sniffing story and then told his story that he had hoped was a dream. He felt something brush against his head. I really don’t know how we continued this vacation in hammocks.
We were anxious to get out of the camp site and hike. We headed for the hills to hike Little Lost cove cliffs then Dark Side cliffs.
The theme of this vacation was flexibilty. We decided to go to Hot Springs, home of the famous hot springs and stop on the Appalachian Trail. On the way we stopped at Linville Falls and Wiseman’s View.
After visiting Linville and a long drive to Hot Springs, moods began to unravel. After much ado including the unfortunate waking of the campground manager, a stoned dude sleeping on his front porch, we found a place to hang our hammonks at the Rocky Bluff Campground National State Park.
There were other campers and bathrooms raising our comfort levels for the sleeping arrangements. We set up camp and set out to Hot Springs for real food! On the way out of the campsite, we suddenly heard a loud hissing noise which turned out to be the bear spray fallen off the truck spinning and spraying out of control on the road. Good bye protection and $45 but we don’t care we’re going to eat!
We found a Mexican joint and immediately ordered beer and food. Things were looking up until the youngest burst in to tears over the thought of sleeping outside again. Poor vacay planner was tired, in pain and crushed. We carried on; we had to. We walked around the adorable, crunchy town of Hot Springs and went to the Hot Springs. Wow what a difference soaking in hot and relaxing water makes on the body and soul!
That night sleeping was at a minimum as usual. Lots of weird sounds to keep me wondering if the single man camper next to us was an axe murderer or what animal is out there looking to eat us.
We woke to hope: Zip lining and white water rafting on the French Broad River!
We ziplined in the morning, drove to Madison County, another cool and crunchy town and ate at Good Eats. Our rafting guide was the coolest. She has rafted and worked all over the world and was amazing to hang out with all afternoon. As we were chatting, vacay planner imitated the odd sound we had heard the previous evening while trying to sleep. Without pause, she said, that was a bear. I heard it and was terrified but it could have been a bug and would have scared me. So the first night we don’t have bear spray and we are in a real campground, bear are wandering around our site. Another sleepless night ahead!
The youngest asked to sleep in the truck and wanted his momma so we slept in the truck on our final night. The next morning we ate, and headed to Boone so I could run Grandfather Mountain marathon the next day.
The vacation was successful but probably a little too ambitious for the first backpacking/camping trip. Would love to hike a trail from resort to resort. The hiking was great fun.
My first 50K and my first race with Southern Pines Ultra Running Club. Jessica, the club manager, hosted a preview run a couple of weeks prior. It was good and bad to know what was coming on race day. Only an hour away from Raleigh, Raven Rock State Park is a great place to run trails, explore the Cape Fear River and the woods.
The race is two 5ish mile loops of single track trail. It was a sweet set up with bathrooms, an aid station and picnic shelter in between the two loops.
There were 55 runners in the 50K so the crowd spread out pretty quickly. My plan was to run the first 10 non stop and then re-fuel after each 5. On mile 11 I fell. Full on, Superman slide down the trail. That hurt. Luckily, the damage wasn’t enough to end my day but wow I had 20 more miles to go. That hurt.
It was a tough run. With one more loop to go, I never wanted to quit a race so bad but I carried on. I like the ultra events and the runners. They’re laid back and in to the pure joy of the run and the people.
I got to hang a little while with Aaron who I met through Triangle Runners on Google+
I learned a few things:
If you’re breaking spider webs, you’re going the wrong way.
If you want to run trails, you need to run trails.
trail photos courtesy of Ray the K
I finished 22 overall with time of 7:04:58
The Spring race season kicked off at Myrtle Beach Marathon in February. I have to admit, it was nice not to be racing. My friend Tara and I had the pleasure of volunteering on Friday night and walking out the condo door to cheer on the runners. We had the opportunity to see Bill fly by at mile 15 looking like he had just started running.
As Bill sped past us and Fred PR’d his half and I knew it was time to fill out my spring race schedule. Too much FOMO going on!
nOg St. Paddy’s Run Green 8K kilt run in March has become a tradition in Raleigh. I needed a few more miles that day so I had run 7 prior to the nOg thinking I would have a “fun” 8k to reach my goal but Kelly of River Run Club was after an 8K PR and needed company.
Isnagged a bib for the sold out Tobacco Road Half -perfect training run towards my 50K. This was my 3rd Tobacco race and I reluctantly have run some long training runs on the trail but it’s not my favorite. Love surface, but the tree lined, straight, flat trail gets mundane. It attracted Runner’s World attention this year as a great Boston Qualifier option. The race atmosphere improved this year offering a better beer garden tent and band. The tent was great pre-race for warmth. I finally broke through my half to PR of 1:51 and finished at 1:50.
Next up was All American Marathon with a few River Run Club folks and Ambassadors: Todd Griffin and Paul Laviska. This is a great race I highly recommend. It was easy to park close to starting line, well organized and a great course. I had never been on a military base before so it was cool running through it with Todd as my tour guide. This was the most inspired race I’ve ever ran. #thanksTodd. The bonus of running with Todd is his fan base cheering us on and the fans he picked up along the way. Todd holds the record for running with me longer than anyone. You learn a lot about someone running 26.2 miles and he’s a good one. Todd didn’t beat Oprah but he will in 2015.
Last training race before Run the Rock 50k was Rock and Roll Raleigh. In it’s second year, Competitor Group changed the course and reportedly had fewer runners. But I had a good time and I love running downtown, hills and all. My run buddy was Julie who beat cancer finishing her last chemo merely weeks before race day. This was her last training run before her 3rd trip to Boston. We began in wave 2 at the rope-ahead of where we needed to be and resulted in starting out faster than we planned. Once the 1:50 pacers caught up to us, we stayed with them. The plan was to help me run at my race pace and to keep Julie from going too fast and seeing if she could maintain the pace. I almost immediately had to go to music because the costume clad pacing girls weren’t just pacing, they were coaching; loudly and enthusiastically. Most people hanging with the 1:50 group don’t need and didn’t sign up for coaching. After the 7-8 mile climb, music wasn’t enough to drown them out so I took off. Julie kept me in sights and we finished together. A PR for me at 1:48. I love running downtown- hills work for me! The party afterwards with Smashing Mouth is not worth writing about-they sucked in the 90’s and still do. Also Michelob Ultra sucks. Runners in these parts prefer craft beer, local even better.
Went to a working lunch today at a burger joint; I was excited because I had heard their veggie burgers were good.
We all sat with our burgers and I guess I was distracted and began eating. And you know what’s coming next… I took two bites and decided that either it was a great imitation or not a veggie burger. Not veggie and didn’t freak out. I only took two bites; I wasn’t worried about it.
Now, 7 hours later, I hurt so bad I feel like my stomach needs to be pumped. Could it be the two bites of beef?
I’ll never know but I learned that I don’t miss meat as much as I thought I did. Before every race, I imagine how good a juicy cheeseburger reward would taste. I never give in to it but now I know: It sounds better than it tastes and feels.
I’m not ashamed to admit I became a vegetarian (really pescatarian) because I wanted to run faster. Here was my thinking behind the change:
- I’ve read enough running books to know that many elite athletes are vegetarians.
- Jon Odgers told me he lost weight and his times got faster.
- I had gone to see Matt Frazer, No Meat Athlete and read his first book, No Meat Athlete.
- After running my first full marathon at City of Oaks in 2013, I decided to run Myrtle Beach Marathon 3 months later thinking I was already trained and it would be easy.
Not a great idea for me: my body hurt a lot; I had a hard time sleeping; I had cranky knees and plantar fasciitis. I realized very quickly, to become a Marathon Maniac would not be a goal for me.
“You know the quickest way to get faster, don’t you? Lose 5 pounds.” ~Jon Odgers, @beerandracing
So, in an effort to complete my second marathon, I decided to give up meat for the month of January and see what happens. It was too soon to really say whether it made a difference or not but I did PR by 9 minutes. Elevation between Raleigh and the beach was a factor.
Overall, I have been satisfied with my veg decision. There are times it hurts: smelling bacon, BLT’s in the summer, Chic-fil A sandwiches and my fave after a long run or morning after a night of drinking: a Bojangles chicken biscuit. I haven’t found the perfect vegetarian foods for these occasions yet.
Fast forward 6 full months as a vegetarian and training begins for my fall marathon. My training for Richmond went great; I trained smarter and harder, never felt aches and pains, no cranky knee, slept like a baby, and PR’d my full again by 18 minutes.
Most notably in terms of running performance, my recovery from long runs is hands down easier and quicker as a vegetarian. I can run 20 and easily run the next day–on tired legs but able to run. As a carnivore, I needed about three days to recover from a 20.
My only disappointments are I didn’t lose 5 lbs and I was hoping for more energy. Neither of those things happened. I still have adjustments to make to my diet and overall fitness to get faster, have more energy and discover the fountain of youth.
No one would dispute that Julie is an amazing athlete; some would argue that she isn’t human. She began training for her first half marathon and midway through decided she should train for the full 26.2. She did that and qualified for Boston. First half, first full and a BQ. I thought that alone would make her the most remarkable runner in my circle but I was wrong.
This past September, Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her course of treatment would be mastectomy, reconstruction and four chemotherapy treatments. She would be in the midst of chemo when she had planned to start training for her 3rd Boston Marathon. She chose to focus on healing and not on what she couldn’t do. In between chemo weeks, she continued to work out as much as her body would allow; mostly Pilates and cycling classes. She felt as though working out in between, helped her recovery after each round of chemo.
Twelve days after chemo, she started running and considering whether or not she could handle 26.2 Boston miles with less than 2 months to train. She asked me to put a schedule together and training began.
You have to understand a girl such as Julie. She is a fierce competitor. Deciding to train for Boston would only work if she could truly accept and embrace a slower, non competitive pace. We didn’t want to risk her health. Her husband had his concerns. I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. I know her. I’ve started out a run with her where she says, “I’m just running easy tonight.” And then BAM Julie is gone girl. She just can’t help herself!
On the weekends, we gradually added longer runs and she was great. She ran slow, she stopped when we had planned even if she didn’t feel the need and she kept to the plan. In March, she did a half marathon and bandited 4 more miles at the All American Marathon, she gained the confidence that she could run Boston. #thanksTodd. We ran 18 the following week and 20 at Umstead State Park this past weekend. She is ready for Boston. It will be different from the others because she will focus less on the competition and more on being present in the most amazing race in the world. She will see this race with new eyes and embrace every mile like never before.
It has been an honor and an inspiration for me to run a few miles with this woman who has beaten her cancer with such grace and faith. I am in awe of her journey and sheer determination to beat cancer and run Boston. She earned her spot and she is going to take what is rightfully hers.
I’ve been talking about my “2015 working race calendar” for about two months now. I have finally signed up for my first race; it scares the hell out of me. It actually makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it.
My big scary race is Run the Rock Ultra & Mini. It’s a 50K and described as: fairly challenging due to the technicality of it. Also psyching me out is all the pictures are of dudes, no chicks. There is a limit of 75 runners; I will surely finish last.
This will be my second ultra and fourth trail race. I will follow a training plan, have a race day strategy with the goals of finishing in the allotted time and not dead last. I’m scared and excited and alive.
Richmond is my 3rd marathon almost exactly one year after my first at City of Oaks. I made several changes in 2014 that contributed to my success at Richmond.
After City of Oaks in November, I decided to run Myrtle Beach in early February. For me, there was not enough recovery time in between. Even though I PR’d Myrtle by 9 minutes, my legs and feet hurt every day and I wasn’t sleeping well because of the pain. At the start of 2014, I had decided to try a vegetarian diet for one reason: Faster recovery from runs and consequently be able to run more. One month of training as a vegetarian wasn’t enough time to determine whether the diet worked or not.
The more you run, the faster you get.
The first real test of recovery was Black Mountain Monster ultra. My family travelled with me and I told the kids that I didn’t know if I would be able to do any touristy things the next
day, let alone walk. To my great surprise, my legs and feet felt really, really good after 40 miles. After that, I knew the vegetarian diet was making a difference in how my legs felt.
In July, I started ramping up my miles before initiating Hal Higdon’s 18 weeks Intermediate 1 training plan. I signed up for Fleet Feet’s Summer Speed Series meeting 2 times a week for track workouts for four weeks. I learned a lot and made an adjustment to my running form by distributing my weight more evenly over my knees and cranky knee disappeared.
During the weeks of training, I tried to make every run count; not just running to get to the weekly mileage. I ran lots of hills and tried to stay off the flat greenway as much as possible for my long runs. Training went well without aches, pains or injury.
I was ready for Richmond and legs felt perfect. Starting temps were in the 20’s but it was sunny; it would be my coldest marathon. I found friends in the 4 hour coral and off we went. We stayed ahead of the pacers until we finally lost them. I refrained from music so that I could be present to the run and have something to look forward to if I needed it.
I ran without music for about 16 miles. At mile 19 is when I started to realize that if all kept going as it was, I would run sub 4 hours. At this point I’m starting to get dazed and confused about my time. It seemed so unreal. When I got to the clock at mile 20; I knew for sure I would run under 4 hours and could even qualify for Boston. I only had 6 more miles to go. It was an exhilarating thought and I took off feeling tired but good and strong. I crossed the finish line in shock. I spent the whole next couple of weeks in shock.
I have a lot of people to thank; most importantly the people that live with me and my running friends. I can run alone but it’s so much more fun and easier with friends. Thanks @thillruns, who rode her bike with me for 3 hours, to everyone who would agree to meet me at Umstead for torture, to @nanfbd, @easymiles, @chasingoprah, @triangleexplorer @smilinsasquash, Julie and River Run Club.
Richmond 26.2: 3:51:54, 8:51 average pace, AG 28th
I won! I won! Thanks to Ron Wahula, Director of City of Oaks and Big Boss Brewing run club, I won a race registration in a raffle drawing. Scheduled two weeks before Richmond; it was a perfect, final 13.1 training run.
I chose City of Oaks last year as my first full marathon; I love this event. Great route through downtown Raleigh, lots of familiar faces, great crowd support and the best beer garden in the Triangle.
It was a great race, my legs felt great and I saw lots of friends along the way. I finally broke through the 1:54 barrier I’ve been stuck at all year with fresh half PR.
The best part of the day was watching @triangleexplorer accomplish his goal of crossing the finish line in sub 4 hours.
Medoc Trail Races are legendary and they didn’t disappoint. This was set to be my last long run before Richmond Marathon. One week too early but I thought I would be ok. I always feel really strong in subsequent runs so I thought this would be perfect; and it was.
The 8+ course around Medoc Mountain was really wet and pretty challenging with wet leaves, roots, sticks etc. I loved the course besides the wet parts that I had to walk through. I ran very cautiously not wanting to fall, break or twist anything. I did twist my ankle but was able to run it off once I got to dry land so those sections made it difficult.
On the last lap, 5+ hours in, I became dazed and confused. I was alone, passing landmarks I didn’t remember, thinking I had made a wrong turn. I became scared of being lost or eaten by Medoc Man and turned back. The first runner I encountered assured me I was going the right way and on I went to finish.
Best part was meeting twitter friend, @pstarlings IRL, and going to the nOg Okotberfest for beers and friends. Best long training run ever!