I’m not much of a trail runner. I used to aim to get in the woods once a week, but I think I’ve been on a trail run about once this year. It’s not that I don’t like trail running. It’s just that it’s a lot of work to plan and drive and go and not fall down and get out in all that nature. I’m more of a minimalist when it comes to running. I just like to go out my door and get it done.
Did I say fall down? Yes, I fall down a lot trail running. Almost every time. I typically end up with a scraped knee and sliced up palms. So now I wear gloves, no matter how hot it is. Not full winter gloves, but the fingerless kind that weightlifters wear. Even if I don’t happen to fall, I think of them as a good luck charm. Kind of like bringing an umbrella to guarantee that it doesn’t rain.
When I saw Natalie post about getting a group to run the Big East Fork Loop, I really wanted to make it happen. I’m officially not training for anything (nope, nothing) right now, so I don’t have to stick to a set schedule of mileage, pace, or intensity. I can just run. Or in the case of this trail, hike, crawl, climb, sort of run, hop, and almost swim. I had run this with her group last year and really loved it, so I said I was in.
The climb up to Shining Rock along the Old Butt (tee hee!) trail is so steep that you have to use your hands at points as it ascends about 2500′ in 3.5 miles. Thankfully, I learned a while ago that trail runners walk uphills a lot to save energy for the rest of the run, so it was sort of like being on a big steep staircase for the first hour or so. As we got higher, there we several lookout points to stop and take pictures and generally be cheesy.
The top of Shining Rock is marked by huge outcropping of white quartz rock. Even though it was overcast, it was still so beautiful up there.
Most of the uphill ends at that point and the trail meets up with the Art Loeb trail. The rhododendron tunnels open up to a wide, grassy field at the top of the ridge.
It was so nice to see the rhodos and mountain laurel blooming this late in the season. At several points, pink blossoms covered our path. Just beautiful.
The trail heads down to the river and crosses the Grassy Branch and the Big East Fork. There is no escaping wet feet and it felt great to have a cool soak on a warm day. I suppose no one loves running in soaking wet socks, but after squishing in them for a mile or two, I forgot about it.
I was really starting to feel tired on the descents after the river crossings and really out of the rhythm of trail running. Mentally, you have to be very present while on the trail to make sure you are avoiding roots and rocks, brambles and branches. At one point, Maura said, “I’ve forgotten how mentally tiring this can be!” She’s absolutely right. But it’s a good kind of tired.
The loop was somewhere around 13 miles and it took us around 4.5 hours with lots of stopping. It ends with a short 100 yards of running on the road. After all that rock and root hopping, my feet were treated to a little slice of sweet, smooth asphalt. It’s almost silly how good it felt.
I’m not sure if I will be able to get back to weekly trail runs or not, but I will be making a point to go more often. It’s nice to have a little more balance between trail and roads.
And you know what? I didn’t fall down once!