Sunday was my second 20+ miler of the week as final preparations are in full swing for next month's Chattooga 50k. This race is a tough one and the challenge this year is going to be in the knowing better... no longer do I have the advantages of ignorance.
In what would have to be considered a tradition now, I set out yesterday afternoon for my final long run for this particular race training segment on the Appalachian Trail at Watauga Lake and Hwy 321 in Tennessee. The plan was to run 3 hours at a steady effort, somewhere around 8 minute pace or whatever, just want to be on the feet on this undulating terrain.
So, setting the watch for 90 minutes I set out with my 44 ounces of water and various flavors of Gu. The initial miles to the Watauga Dam are very gentle and I was feeling comfy as I reached the first significant climbs of the day. Climbing the ridge away from the dam the trail is joined with asphalt which sometimes bakes you, this day though was cool and breezy. Soon I was back on the single track and heading back downhill toward the next trail head where the real work of the day awaited my arrival.
Laurel Gap starts with a prolonged climb which takes the patient version of my legs about 30 minutes to ascend before any significant break is allowed. The trail has been refurbished and is very runnable this year but by the last 5 minutes your heart and lungs have received the intended message from the land beneath you... get ready for some work.
Now that your legs have been softened by about 50 minutes of running the sense is that the rest of this out portion will be fairly gentle as the trail rolls over the ridges above Watauga Lake. It is beautiful in this area both far and near. Absolutely perfect Appalachian running scene, complete with the sneaky hills which begin so tame and lead to sharp inclines after snaking through thick rhododendron patches. 40 minutes of this attitude and I reach the shelter which is my turning point. I stumbled into the smoldering ashes of a dying fire ring and head back home.
Now I have put myself away from the car some 10 miles or more... unsure what mileage has to do with these hilly runs really. The numbers sounds and feel nice, but when you consider this particular day I listed my out time at 1:29+ and the in time at sub 60 minutes I have a hard time thinking that the first portion of the day was not physically longer somehow. I generally look at the average between the discrepant times and base mileage on that. So, somewhere around 20+ miles at 7:30 effort seems just about right. Last year this same run went down at 24 miles in my books because it took a full 30 minutes longer for the return trip.
The best part is that this year I was feeling better, fresher and my legs were almost unaffected by finishing this second 20+ run of the week capping off 75 miles in 7 days even with some speed work. The strategy to run fewer long efforts and more consistent day to day mileage seems to have helped to this point. I just hope for a good day come June 6th. A day where I am able to run patiently and enjoy the wilderness of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River.