Last Saturday, I travelled to Virginia for a training run on the Yeti 100 course. The race will take place over a repeat of 33 miles of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a rails-to-trails project that spans from the Virginia-North Carolina border to Abingdon, Virginia, with several towns in between. The run was organized by Yeti 100 RD/trail running punk-ass Jason Green, and fifty-ish people showed up (some of whom will be running the 100, some the 50, and some not at all, just coming out for fun) to the minimally-supported 33 mile run.
I arrived on Friday afternoon, picked up from the airport in Atlanta by my mother. We drove to Abingdon (with mandatory stops at Waffle House and Chick-Fil-A, because a girl’s gotta get her calories/I miss that shit when I’m in New England), a gorgeous little town bursting with historic buildings. On Saturday morning we gathered at the Abingdon terminus of the trail and took shuttles to Whitetop Station, the highest point and starting line of the race. As the vans climbed higher and the driver, a native to the area, told me stories of every curve of the road, morning broke over the southern Virginia mountains and I remembered the specific beauty of Appalachia. Mountain laurel was in bloom and the rhododendrons were close behind. Soft light cut through humidity that was still lingering from late-night thunderstorms.
The immediate downhill of the trail was not obvious, until I started staring at my watch. Legs stiff from a full day of travel warmed up within a few minutes, and the large group spread out. I caught pieces of conversations and learned too many names, few of which stuck (sorry, y’all). The Creeper crosses forty-something trestles, and weaves along the Appalachian Trail. The downhill continues through Alvarado Station, at the twenty-five mile mark on the trail.
Once we arrived in Damascus, the halfway point where some of the runners would stop for the day, I was getting pretty hungry and my water getting low. The temperature and humidity rose as we got into the valley, but it was far from unbearable (the high for that day was 85F, with around 80% humidity). I went to Subway with a few other runners and downed a turkey sandwich with a bottle of coke, then walked the two hundred yards or so down trail to the Creeper Cottages. There was a mini aid station set up there, and several people sprawled on the ground to nurse their various scrapes and bruises (the crushed limestone trail masks few roots or holes, but houses a handful of stubborn rocks that threaten to bite distracted toes). Light rain broke the humidity and, when the beer cooler got too tempting, I headed back to the trail.
The first sip of water delighted me; having my pack filled from a water hose and washed clean of the horrible nuun I’d decided to test that morning meant that every drink would elicit the childhood joy of drinking straight from the hose. Bottled nostalgia.
The next section, seven miles from Damascus to Alvarado, with exposed cow pastures (close the gates!) and low elevation made for a notably hot stretch. I certainly was not suffering, though, as the views continued to impress. A sort-of water station was available, in the form of Jason turning on the water spigot for whoever needed it. He said that he was afraid we wouldn’t know that the water had been turned on for the season–exemplary of the sort of care he puts into his race and the community that has formed around it, or maybe it’s just because we’re all dumbasses. After soaking my head, I took off for the final nine mile stretch.
Trestles crossed corn fields and more cows turned to watch me run past. I felt like I was holding a nice pace, and I walked less often. Thoughts of the September race got more distant and I thought about the moment: thirty-three miles, longer than I’d run in over a year, and I felt like flying. Of course flying, in this context, meant a 10min/mile, but that’s irrelevant.
Crossing the recent rebuild of Trestle #7, destroyed by a tornado several years ago, my phone started pinging with acquired cell reception. I realized that I hadn’t had service all day, but by time I pulled it out of my vest pocket, the tenuous connection had already been lost. I trucked past a hay barn (Kaci Nash has a great picture of Tony Taylor perched atop the stacked hay bales), past golf courses, and onward to the end of the trail. A few people lingered at the finish after their runs and we discussed plans for the night before going to our respective cars.
I was about to think about the day and implications for The Big Show, like the fact that I would have to turn around and run back up the hill, then down again, but instead I went to Wendy’s and ate a big ass cheeseburger. As I type this, my only regret from the day was that I forgot about Wendy’s chocolate Frosties…
That night, runners and families gathered in Damascus for beer and pizza. We swapped stories and soaked in the swollen, muddy creek. Clark Archibald was generous enough to bring growlers of his fantastic homebrew (the promise of more serving as motivation enough for the fall), and Jason told radio unfriendly stories of his childhood in the area. I’ve lived in New England just long enough to be able to enjoy the richness of Southern accents.
All in all, I left feeling inspired and strong. I am happy with where I’m at in my training (shoutout to Jenn Shelton for kicking my ass the past few weeks), and I am ready to push even harder. All the hills and track workouts and nutrition tweaking feel like they have purpose and this run served as a reminder that there is a tangible end goal. I’m already left wondering what’s going to happen next.