The Wild Oak Trail…a 27 mile loop with 8000 feet of climbing. My favorite trail to play on.
Scenes from a wet, cold, windy and fun January day.
We went back out to The Wild Oak Trail this weekend because the trail had been calling my name for two weeks since I ran four loops of her awesomeness. I just couldn’t stay away. This has quickly become my favorite trail. It’s the perfect mix of challenging climbs, sweet single track, technical descents, pine needle loveliness, spectacular views, did I mention the challenging climbs?, runnable double track and meandering ridges. I have truly fallen in love with the Wild Oak Trail and she did not disappoint this weekend. With temperatures in the lower 20’s, it was a chilly sunrise start but the clear blue sky and endless views made the cold not feel bad at all. The loop is a little over 27 miles, but when one gets too excited that they have managed to stay on trail through the trickiest part to navigate, they just might miss their turn and get 5 bonus miles of ridge running. Oh well, it gave me a sunrise and a sunset on trail (YAY!) and a bit of a darkness run that was a fabulous way to spend a Saturday. Happy running indeed.
2013 has been an amazing year of running for me. My nutrition, training, meeting the most fabulous running friends in Team Gaylord and my passion for ultrarunning all came together this year to give me several personal bests and more fun than I could have ever imagined on trail. All year long I had Grindstone 100 as my goal race. I was excited to return to the course and significantly improve my time over last year. When rumors started that it may be canceled due to the government shutdown, I really didn’t think that could possibly happen. Until it did. When Clark, the RD, sent out the first email alerting runners that it was postponed a week and would be cancelled if the government didn’t open by Wednesday, I knew I had to have an alternate plan. My dear friend Kirstin suggested the VHTRC “Hot TWOT” – a low-key 100 miler run on The Wild Oak Trail (hence the name, TWOT). I signed up for Hot TWOT…just in case. It was a good thing I did, as Grindstone was cancelled. I turned my thoughts to Hot TWOT and repacked the drop bags. Again. Nothing like a 3-week-roller-coaster-waiting-game-taper ride to get you ready to run 100 miles! YAHOOO!
Hot TWOT is a basically unsupported 100+ miler. The course is a 27+ mile loop that you run four times. It is not marked, other than with the white trail blazes. You can have two dropbags that are placed on the side of the trail at mile 10 and 16 (with fingers crossed that no one messes with them) and your car back at the parking lot (the TWOT Lot) as your sources of aid. This year we were lucky to have several volunteers who manned an aid station in the TWOT Lot and helped out by supporting runners throughout the weekend at Camp Todd and the road crossing. A huge thank you goes to Quatro, David Snipes, Hannah, Jill Quivey and Deb! Seeing your smiling faces every loop made such a difference.
The day started off cool and cloudy, but luckily the rain held off for the first loop. Seventeen of us gathered in the TWOT Lot for the brief briefing from Quatro and then we were off for the 8am Friday start. We all started out counter clockwise, which meant Little Bald was our first fun mountain to
climb! I spent the first loop chasing Art and Larry and absolutely loving the feeling of running on these trails. After a 3 week taper, my legs were so ready to go. I felt like a puppy who had been cooped up in a kennel for a week. I couldn’t wait to get out on trail and RUN! The Wild Oak Trail is beautiful, rustic, pure and pristine. It has grueling climbs, rocky descents, some sweet and welcoming jeep roads to run, spectacular views and a lot of autumn magic in October. The first loop flew by and in exactly 8 hours I found myself back in the TWOT Lot. Antoinette, who completed 4 loops the prior weekend and was back again for another 4!, had advised me to change clothes after each loop and I took her advice. I put on a fresh change of clothes, ate some chicken sausage, sweet potato gu and a banana and took off. My pacer Kelley hadn’t arrived yet for my Loop 2 but Quatro assured me she would meet me at Camp Todd – 10 miles later. A huge thanks to him for giving her a ride there!
I started Loop 2 with Betsy – Art’s pacer, who was trying to catch up with him – and enjoyed a few minutes of climbing with her. I quickly realized that there was no way I could maintain THAT pace and let her carry on to meet up with Art. I settled into a steady pace, climbing, running and enjoying the early evening peace on the trail. I really loved running a good portion of those first 37 miles by myself. I did a lot of reflecting, thinking and celebrating all the good that has happened in my life over the past year. I realized that afternoon on the trail how genuinely happy I am. Even (especially?!) while climbing a mountain in the rain.
I picked up Kelley at Camp Todd right after dark. After having a little scare by some lost guys in a pick-up truck yelling at us, we flew up the trail leaving Camp Todd and settled into a comfortable pace. The rain had started and it was quite cold on the ridges but Kelley and I were having fun, talking and laughing – enjoying being out on the trail together. I don’t get to run with her very often and it was just great spending some trail time together. Then the first wave of sleepiness hit me. I knew I had some strong Tazo Awake iced tea in my drop bag so I powered through, knowing that caffeine would soon rescue me. We arrived at the drop bag and I sat down to get out some more fuel – GoGo Squeeze fruit pouches, a sweet potato, a banana and the wonderful caffeinated tea. And then came my lowest point of the entire race. I spilled the tea. I watched as it dumped over in slow motion….debating how much I could suck out of the pile of moss it spilled on. I remembered the wonderful advice Bill Gentry gave me going into this race, “Think Small. Translation: control what you can control. Ignore the rest. And the worse it gets, the smaller you need to think.” (advice that got me through the week before the race and works quite well in life outside of ultras too) I may have yelled some choice words…but quickly realized there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Kinda like the rain…it was out of my control so no need to spend any time thinking about it. No worries, Hankey Mountain was up next. And that was sure to wake
me up. We climbed Hankey (wow, that mountain is a beast) and then ran the jeep road – moving at a pretty good pace despite the rain, wind and my tiredness. Kelley was an awesome pacer, keeping me awake and chatting it up as we climbed and descended. We finished that loop in about 10 1/2 hours and arrived back at the TWOT Lot with Loop 2 done. I had been warned that continuing after Loop 2 could be the most challenging point of the run. It never entered my mind that I would not do the full four loops. I was tired, but otherwise felt great – and tired could be easily fixed! The parking lot was full of people and a lot of people had dropped after 2 loops. It was a huge boost seeing everyone and hearing so many encouraging words. I went to my car and changed clothes. I then found a caffeine pill (the only one I had to take the whole time), drank some iced tea and kombucha, ate some chicken sausage, chicken broth, a banana, veggies and goddess dip and got ready to head out on Loop 3!
Kirstin woke up from her cozy nap in her warm Element, and was ready to pace me for Loop 3. We took off around 3:30am Saturday in a cool rain and began the climb up Little Bald – for the 3rd time. Kirstin and I had a blast talking about everything under the sun – including favorite vegetables and shouting a few obscenities at the lack of switchbacks on the trail. As the sky began to lighten, we arrived at Camp Todd for a quick refuel and then we continued on our merry way. The rain continued off and on, and the ridges were cold, wet and windy. Our rain jackets were on and off and on and off and on and…until Kirstin’s ended up left on the trail. Thankfully Dave Quivey found it and delivered it safety to her in the parking lot. Loop 3 was a lot of fun – we refueled again before Hankey with cashew butter, bananas and sweet potatoes. Then we tackled that bitch Hankey with a vengeance. At the top of Hankey we saw a bunch of mountain bikers (or unicorns?) getting ready to ride down and back up
Hankey. Seriously?! Now that’s a special kind of crazy. After the climb we ran strong on the jeep road. It felt so good to run after that climb. KIrstin was an amazing pacer – giving me lots of encouraging words, good conversation and many laughs. Halfway up Hankey our talk of food and recipes got the best of us and I had to text my mom to bring us hamburgers to the TWOT Lot. We were both starving! The rocks were quite slippery by this point so we weren’t able to run as much of the descent back down to the bridge, but still made pretty good time – arriving back in the TWOT Lot at 2:00pm Saturday, in a little under 11 hours. My mom met us with WARM (amazing) hamburgers from Jack Brown’s in Harrisonburg which I ate with avocados and kombucha. It was a little slice of awesomeness. OK – maybe a BIG slice. It tasted so good…almost as good as knowing that I was headed out on my final loop!
Brett was there and ready to pace me for Loop 4. He told me that Nick, Dave, Bur and me were the only ones still going for 100 miles. I had the privilege of meeting Dennis Herr and thanking him for letting me run this amazing race. He promised me my apple butter if I finished the last loop. Best prize ever. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. Four loops is what I came here for. I felt great and was so excited to be headed out on Loop 4. I ate my hamburger, changed clothes again and put on dry shoes. At this point my feet were fine. No blisters, no hot spots and feeling really good in spite of being quite pruny from being wet for the previous 12+ hours. My legs were still feeling strong and the tiredness from the night before had not returned. Jill and Deb
were in the parking lot and were pacing and crewing Dave. They took a cooler with my food and iced tea to have at Camp Todd. I was so grateful for this because I was really sick of the sweet potato gu and GoGoSqueeze fruit pouches that were in my drop bags. Thanks to them, I had shrimp, olives, V8, sweet potato chips and bananas for the final loop. Brett and I took off and the miles clicked by. We saw several of the runners who were there on Saturday doing one loop and I loved hugs from Carter and Kate. Nothing better to brighten the day! We climbed Little Bald in the blowing rain and wind for the last time and arrived at Camp Todd just as it was getting dark. We navigated across the river with only one foot getting soaked, and found the drop bags. I had crossed that river three times before with no problems, but for some reason the fourth time was quite a challenge! I was getting quite cold at this point and was so grateful to have an extra dry shirt in my drop bag (thank you Bob Gaylord for that advice!). We put on the head lamps and started up the next climb. The rain and wind continued but we were moving pretty steadily. I got a little nervous through the bushwhacking section where the trail was difficult to spot. I hadn’t gotten off trail at all the prior 3 loops (which was HUGE for me – since I’ve been known to have some navigational issues…) and I really wanted to stay on trail for the final loop. We navigated through that portion without any problems, other than a few more gashes on my legs from the thorns, and happily saw the pond – a welcome sight that assured me we were on the right trail and done with the thorny overgrowth. The fog had settled in and it was a bit surreal. The wet leaves glittered like crazy and the rain and fog played major tricks with my vision through the headlamp glow. We arrived at the road crossing around mile 93 and saw
the Quivey’s Element with Jill and Doug inside – a beautiful sight from the trail. Brett and I stopped to refuel and had “freaking Thanksgiving dinner” as Brett put it – Key West pink steamed shrimp, olives, V8, sweet potato chips and iced tea. It was amazing. My stomach felt good, I was hungry and taking in a lot of calories with no issues, my legs felt strong and my feet were ok – just a few hot spots forming. I changed into dry socks and lubed up my feet – hoping they would hang in there for the final miles. We left and began the final climb up Hankey. I must say I was pretty happy to have that one be the last journey up Hankey for a while. As we were starting up Hankey we saw headlamps. We assumed it was someone doing the loop clockwise. It was Nick and his pacer Dave Frazier – but they were not doing the loop clockwise. We found out later that they had gotten turned around in the fog at the top of Hankey and ended up doing the “Hankey Yo-Yo” – climbing it, descending it, realizing they were going the wrong way and climbing it again. Ack. Now those are some bonus miles.
Brett and I ran most of the jeep road – with his gentle and awesome pacing reminders to “let’s run!”. I was still feeling pretty good
but could feel some hot spots on my feet and a few small blisters forming on my pinkie toes that were hurting a bit when I ran. I started seeing some hallucinations – cats in trees, cars on the side of the trail, and SO much glitter everywhere – the rain on the leaves and rocks was like running through a field of diamonds, it was amazing – but no dinosaurs like last year, unfortunately. Ha! The last few hours were a weird deja vu like loop in my head. I was certain that we were running the same stretch of trail over and over again and was convinced we were off trail (we weren’t). Thankfully, Brett calmly kept reassuring me that we were on trail, that we were going the right direction and that we were almost there! He was an awesome pacer! I was so happy to see the swinging bridge and the headlights on the road. We saw Quatro, crossed the road and then ran to the finish at the TWOT Lot. We finished around 3:15am Sunday – 43 hours, 13 minutes total time. It was a 108+ mile race, with 32,000 feet of climbing. I was the second finisher (out of four) and the only woman finisher.
I truly loved every minute out there on that beautiful trail. It was such a fun, extraordinary experience. Running trails in the mountains makes me feel alive and happy. I’m so lucky to be able to do this and to have the amazing friends I have who support me in so many ways. Thank you to my wonderful pacers, Kelley Fitzsimmons, Kirstin Corris and Brett Lance. I couldn’t have done it without you. It was a pleasure sharing laughs, quad busting climbs, slippery descents, good running, lots of stories and a rollicking good time on the loops with you. Thank you to my mom and Susan who delivered the burgers. Holy yum. You got me through that final loop. Thank you to Team Gaylord – for taking me into your group and making all those training miles this year so fabulous. Each of you helped me finish TWOT. Thank you to the many friends who texted me, messaged me and believed that I could do this. Having people believe in you and not think you’re just plain crazy – or at least consider you a “special kind of crazy” in a loving sort of way, (which is a totally different kind of crazy), makes all the difference in accomplishing a challenge like this. And thank you to Dennis Herr, Quatro Hubbard and David Snipes for organizing and making TWOT what it is – a pretty awesome Fat Ass on a sweet little trail with good people, good running, good climbing and good vibes. Happy trails and happy running!
Many people have asked me about my nutrition before, during, and after this ultra. I fueled the entire race in a strict Paleo way (no sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, processed food) and I will write up another post in the near future with the details. It worked amazingly well – I had no stomach issues, constant and steady energy and recovered very quickly. Check out this post for more information.