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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Long Haul

Sunday morning I had a looooong run planned. Driving toward Watauga Lake in the spring drizzle I set my mind for a 4 hour trail run into a land of fern lined, rocky, rooted and muddy single track. I knew the trail well, but didn't know what might be waiting out there for me to experience. My only notion was that I would return to my car much different and much dirtier than I had been with those initial steps.

Here is a supply list for my trek:

  • (2) 22 ounce Nathan hand held bottles with the following contents:
    • The 30 Mile Milk Shake. Bottle one with the following mixture: water, vanilla protein powder, lemon lime Nuun tablet and Cherry Hammer Gel... give it a shake.
    • The Pick Me Up. Bottle two with this mixture: 12 oz. water, 10 oz Larry's Beans coffee, Lemon Lime Nuun tablet, Cherry Hammer Gel... give it a shake.
  • (7) Gu Packs- Espresso Love
  • Brooks split shorts, Dupont 12k Tech-T, Smartwool socks and Inov-8 Roclite 295 for my feet
  • (2) Band-Aid brand cloth band aids... for the sensitive areas.
Stringing the Steps
I got off to an EASY start. Just moving along as easy as I could and allowing my body to find the rhythm of the trail as it climbed and fell over the terrain. This initial portion wound around Watauga Lake dropping to its shoreline and easing back up away onto the ridges through camp sites. I followed the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail and was feeling less than strong at 15 minutes in. My energy was low, my head was spacing and the lethargy and leg weakness worried me a bit... 15 minutes is hardly a drop in the 4 hour bucket ahead of me. My instincts told me that I was just not running hard enough, once I got moving I thought the ease would come along, at least I hoped.

About 30 minutes out I reached the TVA Watauga Dam and popped a gel. The initial warm up was behind me and now I would have a strong 30 minutes of climbing ahead of me as the trail worked itself onto the ridge line above Watauga Lake. Their are not too many aggressive climbs but this is one of them as they paved service road kicks up to the first step of the climb. Up on this ridge top there were many down trees from the recent tornado activity in our area. I pretzelled my way through these, bopped my cabeza once, which was painful and then took in a downhill rest to the Big Laurel trail head and the biggest climb of the day.

Elevating Experience
Here the trail gets to its highest point in one 2 mile assault on the ridge line. This is a section that you have to run patiently and stay aerobic while running with strength. I cut down the stride, pumped my arms in tiny bursts and ate up the trail about 2 feet at a time. An hour or so in to the run I had reached the top and entered into the bright green growth of conifers with their new growth in the misty air. I felt like I was running through the pacific northwest in a few spots.

As the trail rolled along the ridge I took in another gel, my schedule was every 30 minutes whether I felt like it or not with water every 15 minutes. I really enjoyed the 30 mile milk shake early on, feeling that the protein kept my stomach settled against the sweetness of the energy packed Gu which I would wash down with a sip of the Pick Me Up and its magical caffeinated goodness. The Nuun tablets worked their miracles as well, keep my chemistry balanced with a taste of lemon lime while staying away from the mega sweetness of some electrolyte replacement products. And Nuun has a whole new line of flavors out this year so go check them out here. Or on my side bar -> over there...

Entering the Unknown
This section of the AT usually brings me to the shelter at 12 miles out and then elicits my return for a solid 3 hour run. But, if you were paying attention you know I had a 4 hour run scheduled. So, this meant an entirely new section of trail for me!! With 24 minutes to go to reach the 2 hour mark I headed down, down, down through slick muddy trails, very steep in sections and I wondered if I would end up sliding down my backside! But that was not the case as my new partners in crime kept me solid on my feet without the hint of a blister. I have to say that the grip and feel of the trail are amazing in my Inov-8 Roclite 295 trail racers.

Heading Home so Early?
15 miles out from my car my timer beeped signalling my turning point at 2 hours. I took a moment to look off the back side of the ridge toward Tennessee and Virginia and gulped down another Espresso Love before pointing my toes home. The wind kicked up, the air misted and I locked into a steady state and gobbled up trail. My thoughts drifted as my feet sought out the steps without though, everything was clicking, everything was automatic and an hour later I was back to the edge of the ridge and ready for the long downhill section. 

Feeling Time and Distance
Down to Big Laurel trail head I began encountering day hikers and dogs, and I began crashing a little bit too, an extra gel and a sip of 30 Mile Milk Shake would pick me up again so I decided to double of the Gu for a turn. This put me right back into a relative sense of strength. 3 hours and 15 minutes and 26 miles into the run I found myself feeling pretty fresh considering. Back down to the Watauga Dam I check my watch and compared splits to see that I was about 10 minutes faster on the return trip. Largely due the terrain but I was holding it together well too. 

Wrapping up a 30 mile Journey
With 4 miles back to the car and 4-5 decent climbs ahead of me I patiently moved forward and babied my left hamstring which was threatening a strike any time a high lift was required. Relentless forward motion brought me up one climb at a time and soon I was back at the lake, at the camping areas and then back at the car! Amazing how 4 hours and 30 miles can pass so quickly like clouds vapors vanishing from the sky all those miles are now just a memory!

Happy Running!


  1. Nice work!

    I am a little curious about the mixture of lemon lime & cherry in that shake....I could totally get behind the cherry/vanilla combo. We will make a protein shake, using vanilla protein - it's fun to add just a little banana pudding gelatin mix(just a smidge).

    I've been looking at the elevation graph of Chattooga lately - I lvoe the "V" from the winding stairs trail. I can't wait to get up there for the weekend!

  2. You're ready for breaking the course record for Chattooga once again!

  3. You're ready to break the course record at Chattooga again this year!

  4. great run Sean! your experiences are very well written (easy to picture) and like how you've added in some commercial twists and turns. ha ;)


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