Monday, August 4, 2014

Rugged Red Simulator

Hungry runners have been chewing on the sign

I was running up a long, steep, technical rock slab.  The dropoffs on both sides were treacherous.  I felt no gravity. I didn't feel the pull of the deadly voids to my right and to my left.  I wasn't breathing hard; my legs didn't burn; I just climbed into the bluebird sky overcasting the Red River Gorge landscape.

At the top I turned and looked back down just in time to see Bean--who I had been encouraging to "keep climbing" as I churned legs on my own ascent--I looked down in time to see my seven year old daughter misstep, tumble over backwards, and continue violently down over outcroppings and logs until she was out of sight.  In horror I could only listen as her screams built in intensity and faded as she fell further away from me.

I sat bolt upright in bed.  It was 4:35 a.m. Saturday morning.  My night was over.  I couldn't get back into a proper sleep mode after that.  I got out of bed at 5:45 when my alarm went off and began getting ready to go out on my most recent ambitious trail run.

Earlier in the week I decided it was time I ran a significant portion of the Rugged Red course.  I've been kissing at it for a few weeks, but now I am finally up to mileages that are within striking distance of a half marathon.  I decided I would start at the start, run down Chimney Top Road, pick up Rough Trail and trace the race course all the way to the swinging bridge where I'd turn around and retrace the Sheltowee up Chimney Top Creek to Rough Trail and I would climb it up to the road and return to my car.  That would fulfill my 12 mile check mark on this weeks training plan. 

Sounded good.  But I got a later start than I'd intended so I moved my starting point to the trailhead at Rough Trail with the intention of running the road portion (3.4 miles) after returning to the car if I felt like it and had the time.  I would have the time, but  not the gumption.

I was slow warming up to the rigors of downhill running, and the descent heading east on Rough Trail from Chimney Top Road instantly begins shedding elevation.  In half a mile you lose an insane amount of footage.  By the time I was climbing up the Koomer Ridge Trail from Chimney Top Creek I was warmed sufficiently, and I felt pretty good on that climb.  By the time I crested the ridge and began my descent down Buck Trail I was on my game.  The trail blurred past as I easily found the normally elusive state of flow.

I walked most of the big stuff, but ran and ran and ran as I had opportunity.  I knew once I returned to Chimney Top Creek after traversing Pinch Em Tight Ridge I'd have a good opportunity to open 'er up and boost my overall pace.  I felt fast.  The GPS record shows I wasn't as fast as I thought I was, but knowing that there is a solid mile and a half of relatively flat and smooth trail after the initial ruggedness is good.  

On that section I descended deeper into flow and all of the pain and stiffness melted out of my brain.  I dwelt beyond my mortal coil and ran like I meant it.  I felt good on the far side of the swinging bridge.  I paused there long enough to suck down my last gel, chase it with water from my hydration pack, and then took off again for my elusive finish line.

I knew somewhere along Chimney Top Creek as I plodded back toward the trailhead that I most likely wouldn't be adding 3 miles after returning to the car.  I held out hope, but it just didn't feel like it was going to happen.  And that's when I knew I needed to tack on that extra distance.  After all, it would be an easy three miles.  Right?

I definitely underestimated how much the climb out of Chimney Top Creek on Rough Trail would drain me.  Back at the car I opted to bail.  9 miles of such rough running was good.  I've still got a few weeks to work on speed and building up more endurance on the rugged trails of the Red River Gorge.  I saw three other runners while I was out.  Trail running is definitely the new thing in the Gorge.  There's  not been a weekend run this past month I've not seen someone else out running the trails.

My ankles and knees are getting stronger and I'm able to run down hills like I used to.  I'm also climbing much faster than before, but still slower than a lot of people.  Finding those elusive natural altered states is nice too.  But the runners' high and the state of flow are far out on the trail for me.  It's taking me over 5 miles to get to them, though I was able to hold on to it for about three miles.  

Yeah, this is going to be good.

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