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.

Tired, Humid, Grumpy

I have some catching up to do! I have several posts drafted but not edited and no photos in yet. I will sort them when I have finished this post. We are currently staying at the Hyatt Regency Golf Resort and Spa on Chesapeake Bay. It’s posh which on the one hand is nice because the service is fabulous (apart from chaos kitchen it seems), the facilities great and it’s just an all round nice place to be. On the other hand it’s full of the sort of posh people who play golf and know what to do with a marina. It is also one of the main hotels for the Eagleman Ironman race which was on today so it is full of triathletes and I am finding them rather intimidating. It’s pushing my already over sensitive buttons to see all these super fit people who not only run but also bike and swim. Honestly I think they are a bit mad – there is not enough body glide in the world to make me cycle and then run in a wet swimming costume even if it is one of those with shorts.

Anyway this post is not about triathletes and how I think they are weird. We are at the end of our holiday and I am still a bit bemused by how tired I am. But maybe that’s obvious, we have put an awful lot into not quite two weeks. That tiredness is impacting on running, as are heat and humidity. If I am honest, I am not loving the running. I haven’t really enjoyed a run since before the London Marathon. I do enjoy what running gives me though. I was thinking about that earlier today as I plodded away from Kath after having had a ‘disagreement’ about running during which I decided I would just go back to the room and hide under the duvet. I didn’t though and instead just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

It was humid and breathing seemed hard. My calf muscles were complaining, my right quad was almost as grumpy as I was and my achilles is still being a selfish whingey little fucker and of course, because I was grumpy, that’s what I focused on: How it was all so hard and miserable. Then I saw a heron fly into the rookery ahead and I smiled. Then I saw another follow. Just a few steps further along there were birds of prey circling overhead. I am not good at recognising birds of prey and am not even sure what sort would be here. I do know they have ospreys and I saw one a little further along. More smiles. Then a little rabbit shot across my path and fled. As I watched it go, my eyes were drawn to the edge of the golf course where I saw a deer disappear into the distance.

Kath caught up with me and we ran another mile or so together leaving our grumpiness behind and running along the marina to take some silly selfies. As we left the marina to finish our loop I realised that I was no longer focusing on how hard things were. It was still humid, my body was still complaining a bit but I was thinking more about how running allowed me to see all these things and be out in some beautiful places watching wildlife in a way that I would just never otherwise experience. I’d just never get up and go for a walk in the same way and neither would I cover the distance I do when running. I see more and I see it differently. When I run my focus is different. People often ask me why I don’t simply walk and enjoy seeing the wildlife etc and whether I miss things when running. Well interestingly I see more when I run. When I walk I get lost in thoughts about, say, my endless to do list, a session I am teaching the next day, a paper I am writing… I’m rarely in the moment. When I run I am right there with me and that means that my focus is on what is right there with me and as a result I get to see things I wouldn’t otherwise. So while I am not really looking forward to running again tomorrow, I am really looking forward to running again tomorrow!

‘Everyone is at exactly the pace they are meant to be’

Well, honestly, I have been struggling a little with running post marathon. It feels like a huge effort and while it has sort of been nice to be out, I haven’t massively enjoyed it either. This morning was gorgeous though and it seemed like a good day to head to Bolton Abbey and do a little loop. Kath went further to get her miles in (she has a half marathon in mid June which I am not running) and I decided I would do the Barden Bridge loop using run/walk. I wanted to enjoy it and not worry about huffing and puffing my way around.

Bolton Abbey was perfect for running this morning. It was warm enough to be comfortable in short sleeves but the trees provided cover from the sun. It was also very very quiet. After the usual pee stop I said bye to Kath as she set off in the opposite directions and plodded my first 2 minutes. That felt a bit like hard work. I was grateful for the walk break. I tried to consciously look around, note the green ground cover from the wild garlic, the odd patches of blue from the bluebells, now at the end of their glory and the comings and goings of lots and lots of little birds. I tried not to think, just react to the beep of my watch – run – walk – run. Don’t think, just be.

I watched the river gently make her way, nudging the ducks to where she wanted them and giggling softly as the ducklings tried to resist. I felt content. I hit a mile and glanced at my watch. Wowsers I was going super slow. It felt like I was working so much harder than the pace would suggest. I felt disappointed. I carried on. I was now conscious of my breathing, I seemed loud, I seemed heavy footed, I could hear my heart beat and the blood rushing round. I could also hear the negative chatter. For the next mile I concentrated hard on ignoring the noise, on watching a dipper and a wagtail and on putting one foot in front of the other: Beep – walk, beep-run, beep-walk…

I briefly stopped at 2 miles – on Barden Bridge where I saw the first human since leaving the Cavendish Pavilion. I let two cars cross the bridge, took a couple of photos and continued, feeling slightly grumpy about being slow and now struggling to enjoy the run. It felt like all I could hear was my running noise and chatter about how crap I was. I don’t know what drew my attention but it suddenly occurred to me that there were so many far more positive noises I could be tuning into. Whatever it was, it made me listen and suddenly the bird song grew louder, the gentle breeze was singing in the trees and next to me the river was gurgling and sounding content.

‘Hello’, the river goddess Verbia whispered to me ‘how’s the running love?’ I don’t know why she has an accent like my grandma’s but she does – very West Yorkshire with slight hints of Lancashire in the vowel sounds from living so close to the border all her life. ‘Oh, it’s nice but it’s slow and feels so hard’ I said – not out loud I don’t think. ‘Oh, but why rush?’ She gurgled. It was rhetorical of course ‘ Look around, everybody is just at the pace they are meant to be’. She was gently teasing me I think. Nudging me along, letting me know that I was ok but as with any goddess, you just never quite know, there’s always a mystery, always an edge. She seemed all knowing and a bit bemused by me as she made her way slowly along the familiar path. But I did look around, I saw the cows in the field lazily chewing the grass, I watched some sand martins (I think) play around me seemingly flying high, swooping down and looping round for the pure joy of it. I giggled, Verbia gurgled back.

I saw a very speedy runner with a dog come towards me. She was past in a flash and briefly I felt crap about being slow and so laboured. ‘But you’re not her’, I glanced at the river and understood. Me and the other runner were each running our own run, with our own thoughts and our own battles. I smiled, I was enjoying the run again, the pace seemed unimportant now. I nodded a thank you towards the Wharfe as I turned very slightly left to go past the aqueduct steps and onwards into the woods.

I saw Kath. We stopped briefly for a quick chat and then continued on our ways. I had about 1.5 miles to go now, she had about 3. There were a few more people about on this stretch, not many though and mostly I ran in glorious solitude with time and space to notice the different greens, the changing feel of the footpath, the nobblyness of the tree roots. I ran the intervals as they fell, no cheating and it felt hard but my head was in the right place. It wasn’t even that I used mantras or tried to drown out the negative with positive chatter. It was just that after my little ‘chat’ with Verbia it felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing this morning. Like this was my time to run, my time to be at each point along the way exactly at the time I got there. Just as the Wharfe meandered along with a calm inevitability, so did I. I felt slightly disappointed when it was over. I even briefly considered going on in spite of feeling physically quite tired and being a bit of a sweaty mess but arriving at a gate and the bridge back across the Wharfe to the Cavendish Pavilion which seemed busy with people had broken the spell. The magic had gone even if some of it has lingered all day.