This weekend has been my belated birthday weekend with a trip to Birmingham to spend some time on our flat together and do nice city sort of things. We saw Animal Farm at the theatre last night which was just a brilliant production. It felt very weird being amongst people and we weren’t sure we would go right until the last minute. Honestly, I was disappointed at the lack of mask wearing overall but that’s a whole different blog post. We planned to get out for a run this morning and we woke up relatively early but had a lazy morning sipping coffee and watching gulls out of our apartment window. They still confuse me slightly, I associate gulls with seaside – and we’re in Birmingham.
Eventually we decided we would still do our planned run to have a look at the route and see what it’s like. It looked like a nice day outside and it seemed a real shame to miss the sunshine. We set off without any pre-set intervals for run/walking and I think I only ran for very short periods of time and annoyingly it wasn’t at all long before my feet started to be sore. Still, it was nice to be plodding along the canal. It was relatively busy with cyclists, runners and walkers but there is something familiar about canal running. After roughly 1.5 miles we crossed the canal and doubled back a little before heading off along the road up to Edgbaston Reservoir. My feet really hurt here and I got a bit grumpy. I was grumpy because it hurt, because I wanted to run (and felt like I could if it weren’t for my feet) and because this wasn’t what I had envisaged when we set off. It was tempting to just give up and turn round and go home. But I wanted to see the reservoir. I wanted to know whether this was a route worth persevering with and whether I can run it safely on my own.
We walked the road part until we found the route onto the path going round the reservoir. We watched some coots and ducks go about their Sunday and I played with my laces a bit to see if the would help my feet. Then we made our way clockwise round the reservoir. I ran a bit more on this part of our adventure and that felt good. We stopped every now and again to look at things and lingered for a while when we saw a heron. I was so glad that I didn’t just turn back, I would have missed the heron.
We plodded the rest of the loop with one or two walk breaks thrown in and then ran down the first stretch of road downhill. Then we walked home mostly. We did have one little jog towards the end because we couldn’t be bothered to stop to chat to the Canal and River Trust people (sorry) so it was easier to just run past and as it was all downhill, it was easy enough to just keep going. As we were running that last bit I suddenly remembered that I had joined a January strava challenge to do 10km and I hadn’t yet run or walked the distance. We therefore walked around the block a bit – it actually ended up being useful because the road locally is closed for a stretch and we were wondering where we needed to go when we drive home tomorrow. Now we know because we walked it.
We ended our adventure at Saint Kitchen where we grabbed a takeaway bagel and a brownie which we enjoyed with coffee at home. It might not have been the run I wanted and I do really need to sort my feet but it was a nice adventure and a route I will definitely run again and it was lovely to spend some time together in the city. We have had a lazy afternoon other than doing a few bits in the apartment. This evening we are going to see The Lost Words: Spellsongs at Symphony Hall which I am really looking forward to. It’s been a very good weekend in the city.
Ok, well, we are half way through the calendar year. Nearly at the end of another academic year and nowhere near where I wanted to be in all sorts of ways. Earlier in the year I was storming ahead with ambitious research plans for my sabbatical, more ambitious plans for all the other things I’d do while not caught up in teaching and administration at work and with my bid to run 1000 miles this year. After a super successful December of running clocking up over 100 miles, January was the same (helped of course by Dopey) and then February and March also came close to the 100 miles mark. April was a little lower with tapering for London but still I clocked up nearly 60 miles. May and June were rather crap – I came in under 30 miles both months.
It’s not that I have just been sitting on my arse – although I have done rather too much of that too! So I didn’t run much in May, oh well, it was just after a marathon, perfectly justifiable rest. June – well, I started with some Washington DC running but then didn’t do much else. The running was all tourist running with lots of stops and excuses to catch my breath and if that didn’t work, I could always blame the heat. We did a few good walks on the rest of the trip and a couple of runs at Chesapeake Bay. Then we got home and I did nothing. I nearly pulled out of the Solstice Saunter on the 21st June because I didn’t like the idea of running 5 hilly miles on basically no training.
However, I did go do the Solstice Saunter and it was a beautiful run. It was hard but I ran quite a lot of it and just walked the hills really. I was expecting to be significantly slower than the year before but even with my stops for a few pictures along the way, a chat at the water station and walking the hills I was only about 5 minutes slower and I very much enjoyed it. Then I did no running for the rest of the month. I did do the 10k Leeds Legal Walk on the Monday after and I went to Pilates class on Wednesday and then we had a lovely 10 ish mile walk yesterday.
We drove up to Malham and parked up and walked to the cove. There were a few people about but not many and for a little while we had the cove to ourselves. We lingered and listened to the gentle gurgle of water and the birds. Then we made our way up the steps at the side of the cove to the top. We stopped to help some kids with a map who then got told off for asking for help. At the top of the cover we waited for the kids to get going and as we were about to set off a peregrine gave us a lovely little display before flying off into the distance. We crossed the cove and started our descent on the other side and because we were chatting went the wrong way.
We realised after about half a mile and doubled back and got ourselves back onto the pennine way and made our way onwards to Malham Tarn. There we sat at the water’s edge with a sausage roll enjoying the views before moving on. We headed towards Gordale Scar and started making our way down. I don’t really like down. We got to the first water fall and talked to a couple of people coming up – they said the next bit was wet and slippery and technical. We decided to turn back. When we got back to the top we had a little sit down and a look at the map. We knew where we were exactly but the path we thought we should take next rather than going all the way back to the road didn’t seem to be on the map. We took it anyway.
We walked along the ridge and eventually made our way down into the valley and bought an ice-cream at ‘Gordale Refreshments’. It was lush. We walked with it to look at Gordale Scar from the bottom. It confirmed that we made the right call not coming down the last bit. Lots of people were going up it and there was a bit of an audience and it was definitely wet and looked a bit steep and slippery. Up might be a possibility for another time but I am not sure I’d want to climb down it.
From there we walked on to Janet’s Foss and then back to Malham for a coffee and a chip butty and the Old Barn Cafe. It was a lovely lovely walk. We did very little for the rest of the day. Today was a complete waste of a day really. I never got going and got naff all done. At lunchtime Kath dragged my sorry butt round our sheep look and in spite of initially being anxious about actually running and finding it very hard it was good to be out and running. July starts more positively on the running front.
So half way. I am at about 420 miles. So about 80 miles behind my mileage target. I am disappointed. I started the year ahead and I let that slip. But I also think I can probably catch up if it turns out I want to. I’m not sure I do. I enjoyed the run today and I feel ready to run more again now but I might change my mind next time I run. So I am half way to wherever – it doesn’t matter. Let’s just see where I get to – miles, work stuff, other stuff. Or at least that’s what I keep trying to tell myself. In reality though I am grumpy. I am grumpy about the first 6 months of the year. I am grumpy about things not done and fitness lost and at the moment they are the things dominating my thoughts rather than the things achieved. Hm
Well, we are home and jet lag is a bitch. My grand total of achievements for today is to get out of bed briefly and to make some hummus and then some lemon drizzle cake. I might add eating said cake to that list shortly. Still, there are tourist running blog posts to be caught up on!
We left Shenandoah on Friday morning and on the way out of the park stopped at the Northern Visitor Centre called Dickey Ridge and did a little loop walk from there. We just did the short Fox Hollow Loop which was a nice leg stretcher. We kept our eyes peeled for another bear, there were signs that one was in the area and warning people not to talk the loop with dogs as the bear was aggressive towards dogs. We didn’t see one though but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
Then we drove to Gettysburg watching the landscape change again as we went. After a little walk round, a drink at the bar and a shower we headed to the Mason Dixon Distillery for food and a drink or two. After trying a spirits flight and then another cocktail our morning run was never going to be all rainbows and unicorns.
We set off and went in a straight line from our hotel until we hit the Gettysburg National Cemetery. It was too hot, too humid, too everything. I was struggling to breathe and my legs were heavy. I huffed and puffed my way for that half mile feeling pretty crappy. Well what do you expect drinking a mix of vodka, rum and rough as a bear’s backside stuff the American’s call whiskey.
We walked round the cemetery and then into the Military Park. We walked through the park from monument to monument. It felt a bit odd to run so we didn’t. I was more than happy to walk! It is a quite spectacular site and the scale is hard to capture.
After a quick pee stop and after having seen lots of people running through the park we decided to run back to the hotel. It was roughly 2.5 miles ish and had some hills in. I wasn’t optimistic but clearly walking round the park had woken my system up and as soon as we started running I knew I felt better. We plodded our way back through the park and then along the road rather than through the cemetery and actually it was a good little run in the end.
We entered the National Park in our trusted Neville at the most Southerly Point – at Rockfish Gap. We started our leisurely drive up Skyline Drive stopping at many of the look out points. We stopped a few miles in to do a short walk to the summit of Turk Mountain (all the trails we did have information on them on the website if you want to look). It was a really clearly marked and easy trail. I am not hill fit at all so it was a little more sweaty and huffy/puffy than I wanted it to be but it was a great walk.
It took us maybe an hour and a half to go up and come back down and there were some good views from the top. After that we continued our drive up to Big Meadow Lodge. We had lunch (with really poor service), drove back down to the waystation, visitor centre and shop and looked at that for a bit and then eventually got checked in after being told to be back at 3pm for our keys and waiting until 3.20. When we got to our room the housekeeper was still there. It was not a great start and we were both tired and a bit grumpy.
We decided to head out for a little explore and were soon cheered up by chipmunks which are darting about all over the car park. We walked up to the Black Rock summit – an easy ten minutes from the car park and watched the weather blow in. We managed a selfie in a bit of a cloud gap but that was all we got. After a bit of a chill out we had food and a bottle of local white wine in the tap room and planned the next set of adventures.
6thJune didn’t start well. I struggled to wake up. Even after coffee I felt sluggish and sleepy. Probably the wine – which had been nice but clearly hangover inducing. We set off for a little run and it was so so hard. The plan was just to run down to the big meadow, have a walk round that and then run back up. I really struggled and as we turned off one trail onto another and started going up a little bit I felt really sick. I stopped and we walked a little. Kath had some polo mints in her vest and having one helped with the nausea. We saw a deer and that cheered me up.
We got to the big meadow and followed some little tracks through for a while watching some deer in the distance and people with ridiculously sized cameras watching the deer and probably looking out for bears too. Then we ran/walked our way back to our room and I had a little cry. I felt utterly crappy and unfit and like the best thing would be just to stay in the room and let Kath go explore. Then I got over myself and we went for breakfast and set off on the days adventures.
First up we were going to to the Hawksbill summit loop which would take us to the highest summit in the National Park via a looped trail that was described as moderate and busy in the guidebook that we had bought the day before. We pulled into a car park and then realised that we had pulled into the one before the one we were actually meant to park in. A quick look at the map determined that we could get to the summit from this spot and that it would take us up a fire road and would be an out and back walk. We decided to do that to avoid a busy trail and to give me some confidence. It was a nice walk up and while a little huffing and puffing definitely happened, it wasn’t too bad. We were rewarded with some stunning Blue Ridge Mountain views.
After the Hawksbill summit we walked back down the way we came and saw quite a few people making their way up now so we had definitely timed it right and chosen the right trail as there was a steady stream of people on the other one as far as we could tell. We drove onwards a little and stopped at the Skyland resort for a pee. It was a little early for lunch but we had read about a short easy trail which was only a roughly 1.5 mile loop and close to Skyland so we decided to walk that. It was called the Limberlost Trail and was a path aimed at families or those struggling to walk longer or more challenging trails. There were frequent benches and an activity sheet for kids at the start of the trail. We walked round listening to the birds and chatting. When we were done it was time for lunch.
After lunch at Skyland we drove back towards Big Meadows to do the Dark Hollow Falls walk as an out and back or, if we felt like it, with tagging on the Rose River Loop. The Dark Hollow Falls trail starts with a gentle but steady decent. It’s a definite trail rather than track with roots and rocks and later on some muddy sections but it really isn’t too technical. I was doing ok and really enjoying being out. I was thinking about how much trail running has taught me about my ability to do this sort of thing and some of those reflections formed the basis of my latest #Run1000Miles ambassador blog which went live today.
We arrived at the top of the Water falls – just above the Dark Hollow Falls where there is a little cascade. We sat for a bit on the rock, sipped some water and waited for the walkers around us to clear. Then we moved on. It was steeper downhill here and I had a few moments were I didn’t really want to be doing this. However, the setting was too stunning to consider not doing it. It was busy though so we just kept moving, stopping only to let people who were making their way up the path come past us. When we eventually arrived at the bottom we had a proper look at the falls. They are stunning and then decided that we would walk on.
We looked at the map. After having come all the way down the way we did we thought that going back up that way with the number of people and the steep bits would actually not be fun so we decided to walk part of the Rose River Loop but then pick up the horse trail that runs between Skyland and Big Meadows and walk back along that to the car park. That would avoid the worst up and should avoid people altogether. I looked at the map and declared ‘that sounds good because we are nearly at the lowest point now so should start gently climbing again soon’.
And off we went. Down. More down. And then more down. Clearly I can’t read an elevation map. We were not in fact nearly at the lowest point. We were about half way down at this point. We wound our way along the river which was a stunning and set to a wonderful soundtrack of trickling water which got stronger through the cascades and quieter in the pools. We spend about a mile and a quarter going down a fairly technical trail. Every time it evened out and we spent a bit of time walking alongside a pool or slow flowing sections we thought we were at the bottom and then came the next cascade. Eventually we were as low as we could go though, crossed the river over a bridge and started going up.
We came to some more water falls. They were busy again which struck me as odd because on the trail itself we hadn’t really seen anyone at all. As we made our way further up a family coming down told us that they had just seen a bear. I was a bit scared and excited at the same time. We kept our eyes open but there was no bear to be seen. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or disappointed.
Once at the end of the trail we needed to find the horse trail. The map in the book turned out to be inaccurate but luckily we had the paper map the visitor centre had given us. With the help of that we found the trail and continued walking up hill a while. We were a good mile or so into the trail, maybe even more when we say our bear. There it was. Maybe 60 metres off the trail munching on leaves. It knew we were there as it looked over a couple of times. We stood and watched, in awe. I felt very grateful for being allowed to be in its space, to watch it and to share a brief moment with it. Then we moved on and left it to it. Given how quickly it could just disappear from view even while we were watching it, I am sure we had probably been seen by quite a few bears all day – this one just chose to let us see it.
After a shower and some tlc for my really quite impressive heat rash we bought some Limberlost Lager to celebrate a good day of hiking (and having hiked the trail of the same name) and sat with that in the Great Room in some rocking chairs to talk about the next day, plans and to wrap our heads around the fact that we had seen not only deer and all manner of birds including a peregrine but also a black bear. It had been a 38000 step day though so we didn’t last very long before falling into bed.
So I am still in catch up mode… this was written on the 5th June and edited today.
We left DC on Monday and that is not a drive I ever want to repeat (and I wasn’t even driving!). We picked up our car (a Nissan Kicks we’ve called Neville), negotiated our way to Arlington Cemetery and walked round that for a bit and then headed out into what can only be described as lane chaos. It seems that exits and turn offs are located anywhere and that every car seeks to take the most direct route to theirs thus cutting across however many lanes of traffic there happen to be switching places with each other and generally causing panic in anyone who is trying to figure out where they need to be.
Eventually we were out of the worst and dared to breathe again. Satnav didn’t really help and the signs are next to useless because they do not seem to say anything useful or be based on any sort of logic. Then we got stuck in traffic for quite a while before eventually the road cleared and we could begin to enjoy the drive. At about the same time the landscape began to change and we were clearly heading into rather more rural Virginia. I thought running here might be fun and interesting.
We arrived at our hotel just on the edge of Charlottesville, checked in and went for a little walk round some little walking paths at the back of the hotel. We’d had enough though. The drive had been pretty full on so we decided we wouldn’t try and do anything or go anywhere but instead have dinner at the hotel and get an early night. We were thinking about maybe running the next morning but then changed our minds on Tuesday and headed to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, pretty much as soon as it opened and immediately after breakfast. We still had some vague ideas about running later.
After that we looked at Charlottesville itself including a walk up to the University of Virginia campus. I think we were both tired because we struggled to make decisions about what to do or where to eat etc and we weren’t communicating well. Again we decided an early night was needed so we didn’t run. I felt a bit crap about not running. We had printed loads of running maps for Charlottesvile and there was a trail by the river which we should have been able to get on and I was vaguely conscious of now being behind my #run1000Miles target and not having run very much since the London Marathon… But it was the right call. Running would not have been positive and sometimes not running is the best thing you can do for future running.