Marathons from the other side of the drinks station

I spent the last day of my leave (well until Wednesday) doing one of the drinks station for the Baht’at Trail Half and Full Marathon. It felt good to do something positive because I have been struggling since we got back. Yesterday was horrible. I was barely awake and when I was I couldn’t really be bothered to be. Maybe I was just really tired because after another full night’s sleep I felt much better when I woke up this morning.

There is something about volunteering and cheering people on that is exhilarating and fun. The course they were doing is pretty brutal! The elevation is just silly! Or as they say in the course description, it’s a tad hilly. Well yes it is, it’s basically just under a mile of flat and then just over three of fairly relentless up – then I am not quite sure of the Ilkley Moor loop they do but it involves very little flat. Marathon runners do the entire thing twice.

We set up the drinks station and then waited for the marathon runners to come through. They were looking good and strong but one or two admitted they had underestimated the hills – I’m not surprised, I live here, I have run those hills, they always seem utterly unreasonable! The views however are stunning. Not long after the marathoners the half marathoners, the sane people in this lot, started coming through. And then the first lot started coming back down…

I enjoyed cheering people on, filling up their drinks, encouraging, handing out sweets, having a quick chat, being part of it for a split second and sometimes a few minutes. There were a few things that struck me about this event in particular

  • It is incredibly friendly. Maybe that’s easier because it’s small. 30 odd marathon starters and 80 odd for the half. It made it easier to really care about people and for them to be more than just a race number. I felt a little bit invested in each of their runs.
  • The course really tested everyone and stretched out the field. I loved how everyone was just running their race; some taking it seriously and going for it; others stopping for a good chat every time they came to see us; others taking their drink and fuel and giving us a nod. #TheirRunTheirRules and it was fabulous to see.
  • The event was as plastic free as possible. There was almost no rubbish at all really. The picture is the total rubbish from our drinks station and most of that was stuff we picked up in the lay-by as we set up – we left it cleaner than we found it!
  • All runners were great about the no plastic cups. One lost his hydra cup on the way somewhere (I hope he found it or could get another) so he got a plastic one which he then took with him to use at the other stations and there was one other occasion where the cup was too tangled up so we used a plastic one to save time. Yes it takes a few seconds longer but it makes a huge difference and I think all events should think about this!
  • The no plastic etc seemed to have a really positive impact on how runners dealt with their own rubbish. Everyone seemed to keep hold of their gel packs and other wrappers etc and use the bins at the drinks stations. We had to pick almost nothing up and those bits we did were dropped sweets and things falling out of pockets.
  • The last runner got the same experience as the first. We were the last as well as the first drinks station and we did not pack up anything until we knew he was safely through and had what he needed to complete. There was no way we were running out of anything and the same was available to the back of the pack as for the front runners. That’s important to me – obviously as a back of the pack runner – but it was nice that the whole event had that same ethos.
  • I kinda want to run it. Just the half mind, there is no way I could persuade my brain to get my legs to go back up the hills if I made it round the first loop!
  • This is my sort of event. I felt like I belonged, like I was part of something. I know I wasn’t running so there was no pressure on me to move but still. It was such a contrast to London. It was what running should be about – being out doing your thing in beautiful countryside.

So it’s been a good day. I had a great time watching people conquer the course (even where they felt a little defeated by it!) and also watching swallows, the cows in the field opposite, red kites, some farm cats and a kestrel. So for those of you who run or those of you who don’t – volunteer. It’s such a good way to get involved. It’s such a great way to be inspired and see people achieve great things. If you want to redefine possible – and watch determination, a special sort of humour and just pure awesomeness, volunteer at a half and/or full marathon! It’s great to see it all from the other side!

For those of you who ran it: Thank you for doing it. Well done. You rock! I hope your tomorrow is a gentle one without stairs and without hills and with cake, lots of cake!

Gettysburg Tourist Run

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.

After breakfast we set off for 3 nights at Chesapeake Bay to wind down completely before home. The first run there I have already blogged about here.

Shenandoah National Park – hiking and a little bit of running

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.

Charlottesville, Virginia – Not Running

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.

Washington DC running 1

Well, as promised, here is the first of several catch up posts.

It has been a pretty full on week or so. I haven’t had time to blog at all really. We flew out to Washington DC a week ago – I think. Though I have lost track. I am writing this on Wednesday 5thJune but I am not sure when I am going to get chance to upload it as I am currently in Shenandoah National Park at Big Meadows Lodge and the wifi is intermittent (I am surprised there is any at all). So DC.

DC was hot and humid and I wasn’t at all sure about running but I wanted to. I am beginning to think that tourist running is just the best way to see a place and get a feel for it. So the first morning, with the time difference on our side, we headed out early – before sunrise although there was plenty of light. We ran up the hill from the hotel towards the Capitol Building and then turned right from there towards the National Mall. We ran, stopping at the crossings – this is rather a thing in DC, the traffic lights seem to take forever to change for the pedestrian signal. On this occasion though it was a welcome break. It wasn’t yet hot or that humid but enough for a film of sweat to form – the kind that makes you feel slightly smug.

The path on the National Mall is pleasant to run on and we took in the sights as we went, trying to get a sense for where things were as we passed museum after museum – the Capitol behind us and a seemingly endless stretch of path with grass on one side and Madison Avenue on the other with Constitution Avenue another block over. After a little while we crossed another road and headed left into the middle of the Mall so we were right in the middle and could, for the first time, see the Washington Monument spiking the sky. It really looks quite striking in a slightly odd sort of way. We stopped and took some pictures and then carried on running round the back of the Monument and towards the World War 2 Memorial. We turned left and looped round the other side of the Washington Memorial and made our way back towards the Capitol on the other side of the Mall passing the Smithsonian Castle. Now beginning to feel the heat we put a couple of walk breaks in and stopped to have a chat with a police officer and taking a picture with his bike. Bizarrely the thing he was most interested in was how to make good Yorkshire puddings (Lots of beating of the batter and hot hot hot oven and oil is the answer in case you were wondering). Then we were back. A great 4 and a bit mile loop to start getting a sense of the city. Later that day we covered some of the same route on a Segway which was more fun than I thought it might be and also much easier to ride than I had feared.

Day two in DC also started with a run. A short 2 mile loop round the Capitol Building and past the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. I’d seen the US Supreme Court from the inside the previous afternoon on a tour which was a bit crap. The guide just didn’t react to his audience and spent rather a long time explaining what a dissenting judgment is to an audience of academic lawyers. I enjoyed running past it again though with no people there and just thinking about some of the big decisions of our time that were argued and made in that building. Just a few steps further along the road is the Library of Congress. I hadn’t been in it yet but I could still sense the impressive nature of the building and I was instinctively drawn to it for some reason. I stopped and stared at it for a bit before running on to come down the opposite side of the Capitol.

I then looped right to head back towards the hotel and Kath went onwards down the Mall and towards the tidal basin. I was just going to go back up the path but as I crossed in front of the Capitol I looked up and thought that running up the steps towards it woud actually be quite fun and might make for a good photo or two. So I did that instead and once finished with that headed back towards the hotel, passed the hotel and to Starbucks which I hit at bang on two miles. 

Then it was time for some pretty serious conferencing before escaping later in the afternoon for a Capitol Tour and some time in the Library of Congress.