Although I’ve been dreaming about this trek for 36 years,
I’ve “only” been training for it for the last 25 years – since January 1, 1980
to be exact.
That’s the day I started running.
Oh, sure, I ran here and there as a kid, but not as a
sport. I was almost 31 when I took up running and it was specifically to
get rid of the extra pounds I “suddenly” acquired. I’d always been skinny. How
did I manage to put on twenty excess pounds in my late twenties??
Little did I know that running would become a passion that
would be a major part of my being and basically dictate my lifestyle for
At the time, I lived near Stone Mountain Park east of
Atlanta. It had lovely shaded trails along a large lake, as well as paved
roads. I soon learned the joy of running trails in lieu of pavement. I was even
happier when I started running the plethora of trails in the north Georgia
mountains, including the famed Appalachian Trail, where I had previously hiked
By the time I switched from running road races to running
trail ultra marathons in 1992, I was running almost exclusively on trails.
Although my mileage isn’t as high now at age 55 as it was
when I was younger and faster, I’ve been able to do the 50K distance or longer
in about fifty* ultras up to 100 miles, and many training runs in the 26- to
30-mile range. (* Some of those were DNFs where I went beyond 31 miles; I have
officially finished about forty ultras.)
I enjoy about any kind of trail - I like a variety of
surfaces and elevations. I’ve run everything from deserts
to knee-deep icy swamps, from sea level to over 14,000 feet, from soft pine needle
and sandy desert surfaces to boulder-strewn “trails,” root-infested trails, and “squirrel paths” through
muddy (that WAS mud, wasn’t it?) cow pastures.
That should be good preparation for the wide variety of
trail conditions I'll encounter along the length of the Appalachian Trail.
Prep4 describes those conditions pretty thoroughly.
I prefer hilly or mountainous terrain to flatter trails.
Good thing, considering the jagged elevation profile of the AT. My research indicates there are areas where the trail
builders apparently never heard of the concept of "switchbacks." Another
common complaint among thru-hikers is the proliferation of "PUDs" - pointless
ups and downs. (One of many acronyms I've learned reading their trail journals.
I'll share more later.)
Anyway, I should get enough elevation gain on this
adventure run to satisfy my craving for "hills" for a good long while - an
estimated one million feet of elevation change over 2,175 miles.
At least I shouldn’t have to worry about the altitude too
much. Sucking air at 6,700 feet on the AT won’t be anywhere near as difficult as
14,000 feet in Colorado.
SUB-ULTRA DISTANCE PRs
There was a time long ago that I was competitive in my age
group in road races when I lived in the Atlanta, GA area. Most of my PRs
(personal records) in
those races occurred when I was 37 or 38. Oh, how I wish I’d taken up ultra
running earlier so I could have been more competitive in them!
These are my road race PRs:
1 mile 5:59 Peachtree Mile, Atlanta, GA 4-86 Age 37
5K 18:49 Macon
Running Festival, GA 11-85 Age 36
8K/5 miles 31:53 Strong Legs, Atlanta,
GA 5-86 Age 37
10K 39:36 Macon Running Festival,
GA 11-86 Age 37
15K 61:37 during Philly
Half Marathon 9-87 Age 38
½ marathon 1:27:27 Philadelphia Half Marathon,
PA 9-87 Age 38
Marathon 3:05:16 Shamrock, Virginia Beach,
VA 5-87 Age 38
I was disappointed for years that I was unable to break
hours in the marathon; I can barely run a MILE at that pace now!!
I was 43 when I started doing ultras in the 50K to 50-mile
range. I didn’t do any 100Ks or 100-milers until I was 49 and had slowed down
considerably in the intervening years thanks to several stress fractures and
sprained ankles, osteoarthritis, and mid-life hormonal changes.
Hope springs eternal. I think I can still improve on
the 100K and 100 mile times below:
50K (road/trail) 4:50:40 Aiken Ultra Classic,
50K (trail) 5:55:26
Frosty Trails, Denver, CO 2-99 A50
50 mi. (dirt rd) 8:20:58 LeGrizz,
Hungry Horse, MT 10-93
50 miles (trail) 9:53:28 Sunmart,
100K (trail) 14:56:-- Miwok,
SF Bay Area, CA 5-00
100 mi.(rd/trl) 28:35:13 Vermont
100 7-00 A51
100 mi. (trail) 28:36:02 Arkansas
Traveler 10-99 A50
TESTING MY LIMITS
I’ve gone from placing in the top quarter or third overall among women AND men to
middle- and back-of-the-pack in my 50s. <sigh>
Beating cut-offs in mountainous 100K and 100-mile trail
races, the ones I enjoy the most, is becoming a real challenge. I usually do
fine in tough 50K and 50-mile races, but I haven’t been able to finish a 100-miler
I’ve DNF’d seven 100s, including The Bear, Leadville 2x, Western
States, Rio del Lago 2x, and my first attempt at the distance in 1998 at
Vermont. The main reasons were altitude (LT), problems finding markers at night
(Bear, RdL), injuries during the race (WS), and being unable to train
adequately or consistently because of injuries I've incurred in training.
I’ve gone from kamikaze-style downhill running to carefully
picking my way through rocks and roots so I don’t fall and hurt something again. That now-necessary caution plays havoc with beating time
cut-offs in some races, but a DNF is preferable to me than one more injury that will keep me
from running for several weeks or months.
The astute reader is thinking, “Well, dummy, why not just
do shorter ultras that you know you can finish? Or easier (if there is such a
If you ask me questions like those, you just don’t
understand what makes me tick.
Like many of my ultra running peers, I love a good
challenge. I don’t WANT to run only “easy” courses. I want to run the gnarly
mountain courses where I can see magnificent scenery in one day that it takes
most people three days to reach. I like to test my limits of endurance.
WHO AM I?
Since I love good quotes, here’s one that explains my
mindset pretty well:
”Perhaps the genius of ultra running is its supreme
lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers
to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently
not even the approval of peers.
But as poets, apostles, and philosophers have
insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common
sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively.
And they know something else
that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that
the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such
long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their
being – a call that asks who they are.” - David Blaike
One of the beauties of
this adventure run on the Appalachian Trail is that there are NO CUT-OFFS. I can
go the pace I want, while still facing the greatest running challenge I’ve ever
set for myself.
I am anxious to
get started! Less than two months now . . .