I reach Philips Branch Rd. and had been curious about it's course so I turned onto the gravel one lane road. Quickly I had passed an old farmstead and was in the shade of the forest canopy. This meant that I was making my way away from the creek side and up toward the ridge above. Within a mile I was fully engorged in the stingily steep climb. I made a game out of guessing which course the road would take through the camouflaged knobs above. In these cases I always prepare to run to the highest point I can spot light, and then expect that is a false peak with another climb hiding beyond it. At 48 minutes I was at the top of the ridge and looking out towards Boone, NC. The blue hue of the distant ranges were special to see from the vantage point that the legs and lungs can only provide one step at a time.
Somewhere off Phillips Branch Rd.
Down the other side and cruising along a primitively paved road passing neighborhood dog gangs, benevolent yet curious they longed for my visit with anxious barking and swift running. I greeted the bravest pups and moved on down the road... thinking of my next move which would come with the next road junction.
Upon reaching Hwy 321 I made the left turn and proceeded into the sleepy town of Sugar Grove, NC. I was just shy of 90 minutes and guessing as to how far it was to the car from here if I were to make a loop. I had plenty of water, Nuun caps and Gu gel so it didn't really matter... I was just hoping it wouldn't be too short.
Passing by 'The Triangle' in Sugar Grove...I contemplated keeping on towards Valle Crucis to run a loop back on the Watauga River Rd... but that seemed a little ambitious for today... mostly because of the climbs that would wait around mile 23; let's not get carried away accomplishing everything in one day. (Now I have a seed to grow in the back of the mind.)
So reaching the Cove Creek School I made a quick search for water, found none and set out and onward towards George's Gap.
Cove Creek School
Now I was at George's Gap and climbing gently for about 3 miles to the saddle. I used this elevation gain to push while a little tired and found that I was feeling very strong and swift as the hill fell behind in quick, flowing steps. I reached the top of George's Gap in 1:38 and knew that now I was only to glide downhill toward Bethel (to complete the loop I had formed) and then a few more miles to the car. All of the big climbing was gone and now it was just a matter of staying upright and forcing down liquids, mainly to become accustomed to the feeling of the sloshy stomach come race day.
The downhill was enjoyable and soon I had reached Phillips Branch Rd again. I had only 3 miles to go now and had just hit 2 hours. I settled in and focused on adding a little intensity, since the run was going to be short of three hours... does it compensate? Well, 2:30 seems sufficient with 3 long runs remaining and finishing with quickness and efficiency does seem worthwhile at this point, to know it is there when needed.
I reached the car and turned on the radio. The Sox were playing Chicago. They lost. I had a nice long nap and then Lynnea and I went to buy a new range at Lowe's. All in all a really pleasant day!