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.
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!
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.
Stick with me, I’m not quite sure where this blog is going but I felt like I wanted to blog and I felt like I wanted it to be about running rather than work so I just opened the blog site and started typing really.
This time next week it will all be over. I will, if the universe agrees, have finished the London Marathon for the second time in my life and for what I am fairly sure will be the last time. I have learned never to say never when it comes to running but I do think I’m done with marathons, or at least with road marathons. I’ve already explored some of the whys in the context of Dopey so let’s not go over them again now. There is something oddly calming as well as slightly stressful about deciding that this is the last time I will attempt to cover 26.2 miles as quickly as I possibly can. I’ll come back to that.
I realised the other day that everything has been focused on marathon day in a way that has split life into pre and post marathon. Post marathon always seems aaaaaaaaages away which means that things that are happening quite soon after have not been given their due time and attention. I finally remembered to book some leave and I still need to move a couple of meetings and maybe plan for the trip to see our friends the weekend after because who knows what I’ll be capable of or not come the 29th April! It’s also only a month and a week until we fly to Washington DC for a conference and then a bit of leave tagged on and doing a bit of planning for that might not be a bad move! But you know, all of that is post marathon in a way that doesn’t quite seem real. Post marathon is like Narnia, like Hogwarts or like a Galaxy Far Far Away – clearly there but just not quite believable or real. Post marathon exists in another dimension.
But there are some things post marathon that I am thinking about a lot. What will happen to running post marathon? In fairly typical fashion I am wondering about the next challenge. What is my next impossible? At the same time though I am looking forward to not running to a plan, running just because I want to and running as far, fast or high as I want to. Just because. But then what if I don’t want to run? That would be awful wouldn’t it. I mean running is now part of who I am and what I do even if I’m not actually really a runner. Imagine not wanting to run. What then? I keep looking at races and challenges, something to keep me honest. I hope I’ll be ok. I think I will be. We have entered the 5 mile Solstice Saunter at Bolton Abbey in June and the Ilkley Half Marathon in July but I am also trying to tell myself that if I don’t want to run for a bit post marathon that’s actually ok…. Overthinking much?
Anyway, the last marathon. Yes. I feel quite settled in that decision. I don’t have anything left to prove. To be fair once would have been enough. 4 is awesome. I don’t feel the pressure to do 5 for a sort of magic number. 4 can be my magic number. I like the symmetry of 2 London, 2 Dopeys and I like the idea of finishing my marathon ‘career’ with something as iconic as London. It has a long cut off time, a familiar route, awesome support and atmosphere and there’s a great chance of me being able to soak it all up and enjoy it – or at least some of it. Finishing in London works for me and feels right. So mostly I feel calm about it and the notion of this being my last is adding to calm rather than adding stress or pressure.
Every now and again though I get a little panicked – if this is my last marathon then this is my last chance to achieve my marathon goals, my last chance to do well, my last chance to really conquer the distance. Ok well yes but let’s remember that my marathon goal was only ever to drag my arse across the finish line. Let’s remember that I have improved my time with each attempt and that I am fitter than I was 3 years ago for London round 1. And let’s remember that this is my marathon victory lap. Yes I have a time in mind but if it is ‘get the time and be miserable’ or ‘miss the time but enjoy’, I know what I’m choosing and that’s what I need to keep in my mind!
I haven’t run for a week. The little run/walk that was more walk than run was the last outing. My cold shifted to a chesty cough and the wise and beautiful hive mind that is the #Run1000Miles group on Facebook unanimously advised me to not run. They were undoubtedly right. Yesterday we did our last fundraising event and walking backwards and forward to the car carrying cake tins I really struggled to breathe. I have been quite worried that it wouldn’t shift and I’d have to pull out last minute because of it. Today however things are looking much better.
After our Sunday lunch with Kath’s Mum we walked a little loop that includes the little wood in which I started my trail running education. It’s the first proper trail (rather tan just towpath or track) I really ran on and I still find it really tricky when it’s wet and muddy. Today though it was stunning with the bluebells out and fragrant and hints of wild garlic in the air (the pictures dotted in this blog are from that walk). We walked round it at a leisurely pace but I could tell that my lungs and chest have cleared. Breathing felt normal and I wasn’t out of breath. We walked along the canal to my Mum’s, dropped off some cake and then went the most direct (and thus steepest) way back home and lungs and chest were fine – still a bit of snot go get rid of though! I feel happier now that I’ll be ok. I’m going to try the short loop at Bolton Abbey tomorrow morning.
So with a week to go I feel quite settled. A little anxious, a little excited, a little just wanting it to be over but generally settled. I was training well for a 5hours 30 (which would take 48 minutes off current PB) finish but didn’t manage to maintain the weekly miles on the plan for the last 6 weeks so not sure really – I still ran and I ran my long runs but not quite to plan and I didn’t really do the speed and strength runs listed in the way they were intended and then I got this cold. So really I have no idea how well trained I am. I just know that I feel fitter than I was last time but perhaps not quite as fit as I was in January for Dopey – but then I am not doing 4 races this time, just the one, the long one but still just the one. I have my A, B, C, D and E goals in my head. I don’t think I am ready to share them. They feel like they’re mine at the minute. D is finish and E is be healthy and all of them are premised on enjoying the experience.
The coming week is all about rest and hydration. I am rubbish at drinking enough so I find this really hard but going into a marathon properly hydrated makes such a difference. So if you see me or send me messages on social media or email – keep reminding me to drink water! And if you’re looking for me chances are I have gone for yet another pee. Luckily I don’t have much on this coming week and can mostly stay at home and write. I have an annoying London Trip on Thursday but that too should be relatively stress free and easy.
For those of you running in London- you’re awesome; for those of you marshalling, volunteering and coming out to cheer us on – thank you. To all those of you who helped us reach our fundraising target – we appreciate your support and as cliched as it sounds, it really does mean loads to us! Our fundraising page will stay open a while longer for anyone who still wants to help support Mind: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/KathandJess
No doubt I’ll have more pre-marathon thoughts but in the meantime. Happy Easter to those who celebrate and Happy Sunday for everyone else.