Catawba Run-Around

March 5-7, 2011

Catawba, VA


Climbing Dragon’s Tooth – the first of many off-trail Catawba adventures

The Adventures of Team WUS continued exactly one month after Uwharrie (March 5-7, 2011) in a similar general direction down Route 81, only this time tearing off at the Roanoke exit to a little town in Virginia called Catawba.  Unfortunately, Team WUS had experienced some serious attrition since Uwharrie: Sean was off at this winter’s Colorado ski trip #2 of 3 (does he have a job?), Brittany and Brian were home drinking off their injuries, and Rob – well, we again forget entirely about Rob.  Fortunately, our off-site WUSer Mike Mason came up strong in the clutch, although again made only a fleeting running-focused appearance that missed most of the affiliated post-run fun and games, including the famous all-you-can-eat family style meal at the Home Place Restaurant.

Fortunately, others were happy to step up to the take-care-of-Martha plate.  Ragan Petrie is a former Montrail great whose running had to give way in recent years to the mighty tenure track of economics.  But now Professor Petrie has full tenure at George Mason U. and with that kind of job security we are expecting a major return to form – she just has to learn to stop caring about whether those pesky students actually learn their macro or not.

Oh, the luxuries of traveling with someone who doesn’t live in the ultra runner frat house!  Our little Scion bounced right by all the signs for McDonalds, Taco Bell, Sheetz, and Shoney’s (Ragan did not know what Shoney’s was, but I assured her that we could not eat there).  I’ll admit that after an hour or so of passing nothing on the road but fast food joints, things on Route 81 were looking so dire that I confessed softly to Ragan that I would not object to one of those sandwiches at Sheetz as dinner fare if it came down to it (my, how far I’ve come as an ultra runner!).  But Ragan was confident we could do better, and at the clutch moment, somehow nestled along that gnarly fast food strip, we happened upon La Italia Restaurant.  Cue the aria and shining God rays of light!  My over-sized chicken cacciatore filled me with a hope that perhaps I would have the strength to run the next day (my legs had felt pure dead running with Selena and Dave that morning).  And when we finally rolled into the Quality Inn in Salem, VA, Ragan and I each nestled into our own comfy beds, where my full sprawl allowed for a much needed pre-run beauty sleep.

Beauty sleep was rudely awakened by the 5am alarm.  My body groaned.  I looked at Ragan’s Nathan pack and it occurred to me that maybe I should have brought another water bottle.  Darn Andrish for being in the mountains and not answering my frantic what-do-I-need? calls.  But I had a foolproof plan.  My legs were feeling dead – I’ve put in way more long runs this winter for marathon training than I ever have before, due to the strong influence of my ultra buddies, and the legs had begun clamoring for a taper for a week or more.  So I had carefully examined the map and planned a more manageable short-cut route where I would cut out a section at the end called Dragon’s Tooth and just run straight for home.  This was exciting: I had never before looked at a map or had a plan for a run – I was learning to be self-sufficient!

Yeah, not so much.  A couple miles into the run Aaron Schwartzbard totally burst my plan’s little bubble: apparently we were running up Dragon’s Tooth now because we were running the route in the opposite direction.  Blasted.  I could not run this whole thing, my legs were tired and this was a 35-miler that ran like a 50-miler.  I’ve only run 50k before, I have a half marathon and marathon coming up, and there is no need to trash the poor legs now.   I decided I would drop somewhere at an aid station, I had no other choice.

Dragon’s Tooth ended up being my favorite part of the run, with big boulders to scamper up (see pictures below).   Aaron actually waited for me there (the only time he waited for me all day – he had a noticeable habit of sneaking off at the aid stations – perhaps he doesn’t find me charming running company?) because I went out really far on the Dragon’s Tooth outcrop and I think he was afraid I’d break my neck and he’d have that hanging over his conscience.

Getting up was much easier than getting back down....

Aaron desperately fleeing my advances

But, in due fashion, Aaron left me at the first aid station, where I cried and moaned, trying to convince Keith Knipling and Keith Dunn to give me a ride to aid station #3, bypassing North Mountain, so that I could run the cool part of the course at McAfee’s and Tinker Cliffs and bypass the boring part that came before.

But the Keiths were not game.  And they had the weather cruelly on their side.  After eating and drinking until bloated full, the wind and rain picked up and my body temperature dropped precipitously and I started shivering.  Given the choice between hypothermia and continuing up the mountain, I begrudgingly ploughed on ahead (although I only made it 400 ft to the road before I realized I had no idea where the trail went and had to run back to the Keiths for further direction – signs of things to come).

I spent most of North Mountain feeling dead sorry for myself.  I plodded along only on the promise that if my legs made it to the next aid station they could call it a day. They were so weary, had no life in them, no bounce.  But they pattered on through the rain, sullen and dejected, feeling homesick for State College and missing their dear old running partner Tom Cali, who would never in this world subject them to such an absurd amount of distance.  I kept telling myself I was a road runner.  But I just took my time, walking up most of the inclines, wallowing in my negative thoughts about how when I got home I would put a stop to all of this ultra running foolishness and excuse myself from Bel Monte and Cascade Crest and all those other races I was being put up to.

My gloominess was finally lightened by the sight of Paul – a human, hooray!  Obtaining the information that I was supposed to make a right turn at some point onto blue diamonds ended up being extraordinarily useful.  I was downright thrilled when I finally made the right turn onto blue diamonds and was rewarded with a huge luxurious downhill.  Bombs away!  God, what a shift in mood: I pranced, I frolicked, I rolled into aid station #2 like a hot filly.

But I had a lot of pent up unhappiness from all those dreary miles on North Mountain to release, so I spent a long time at the aid station whining and eating (I took an extreme liking to the peanut butter cracker packets).  Aaron was there, but quickly took off in due fashion.  Paul came and left as well.   All the while I kept yacking about how lonely I was running by myself, how I had fallen in the mud and now every sip of my water bottle included grit, how my poor tired legs didn’t deserve this, how it was time to taper and lay off.  But the Keiths promised that this was the last good section and I could drop at the next aid station, so eventually when I got real cold again I headed up the mountain.

Partway up the mountain I reached an intersection where I had to go left or right.  Keith’s pre-run instructions were When in doubt, go right.  But there were big No Trespassing signs to the right.  And low and behold, there were big No Trespassing signs to the left.  Shit.  I heard a ring of gunshots in the distance.  All I could imagine was a big bearded dude bounding after me with a shotgun in hand, my blood pouring out onto the trail, the newspaper article quoting the bearded dude rightfully claiming that I was on his property and he had the right to shoot.  Lord, get me out of Virginia!  I didn’t even think, I just turned around and shot back down the mountain fast as I could, back towards the Keiths.

In the meadow I came across Anne Lundblad, who exuded a strong sense of knowing what the hell she was doing and whom I very happily followed back up the mountain.  Although slight like a runner, Anne is so chiseled and tough looking, I had confidence that she could totally take the bearded dude with the shotgun if it came down to it.  When we got to the No Trespassing signs, I followed Anne to the left like a puppy that would have followed her anywhere.

I ran my mouth like a freight train, blubbering on about anything that came to mind.  I had been so deprived company on all those lonely miles on North Mountain.  But fortunately for Anne, going uphill puts a major crimp in my verbosity and I was also trying to conserve water and talking dries out my mouth, so she managed to squeeze some words in herself.  I was astonished to find out that her favorite distance to run is the road 100k (sounds like absolute torture to me, neither fast nor traily), but that she did not take to the 100 mile distance at all.  She said that she whined the whole way her husband who was pacing her.  I told her that probably boded well for the future of their marriage, that they could run 100 miles together and still want to be married to each other.  If every couple had to run a 100 together prior to tying the knot, we would have a way lower rate of divorce.  But I don’t think this story bodes well for my CCC 100 plan in August.  I mean if Mrs. Lundblad didn’t take to the 100, what in hell are the chances that I will?

As I had rightly predicted (this was the first of many fibs spouted by the Keiths), after all that climbing there was nothing to see at the top of Tinker Cliffs but a think fog.  But that was okay, I was just excited about the imminent downhill.  Anne was a bit cautious on the downhills (something about having recent back surgery), so we parted ways.  Eventually I caught up to Aaron again – try as he might, he could not escape me~  We ran together up to McAfee’s Knob, where the highlight was a giant human feces right in the middle of the trail, because again there was nothing to see but fog.  Fog and poop.  I was running low on water, so we tried to find a spring that Keith had mentioned, to no avail.  I tried not to talk too much to conserve water, but I love to run my mouth.  Poor Aaron got an earful.

The downhill beast returned and I was off, running for the finish, counting on the Keiths to fulfill their promise that I could drop at the next aid station.  After the downhill there were rolling hills that went on forever, but eventually I reached aid station #3 and my personal finish line!  I felt nauseated, my hip hurt, those little rolls at the end had just about spent me.  I’d been on my feet longer than I’ve ever run in my life.  I had even added on at the No Trespassing section.  But here I was at the end, finally.  I sat on the bumper of a car, taking down heaps of Gatorade.  Done!

Actually, the Keiths are big fat liars.  They had no intention of letting me drop.  They threatened to withhold my shirt if I didn’t finish.  They told me I was in the lead.  I exclaimed in my defense, This is a Fun Run!  I’ve run more than enough.  I’m dropping here.  I was determined to stay put, but again the frickin cold rolled in.  God dammit.  Aaron arrived at the aid station.  I started trying to replenish: YooHoo, more crackers, more Gatorade.  Finally in one big push I dragged myself out of the aid station.  Only 4.5 miles more to go, I could do that.

God, my hip killed.  Sitting at the aid station was probably not a good idea.  And since I thought I was done I forgot to refill my water bottle!  It was dead empty.  Dammit to hell.  Through the hip pain, I rolled through the trails, finally bursting out into a meadow where I crossed a bridge and entered a field of cows with no clear trail markings.  I searched to the left: no markings.  To the right: no markings.  I thought something far off to the right was a trail but if was just a dried river bed.  Drat.  I returned to the bridge and sat down, putting my head in my hands and hoping Anne or someone would come find me again.  Finally I saw in the middle of the herd of cows two white posts.  Could those be the white markings?  Seriously, we have to go between those cows?  They have horns!  But I was desperate to get home and getting speared by a cow was preferable to languishing out there, so I picked my way through the animals, trying to talk reassuringly to them that I was of no concern.  I scampered over the fence and then saw another white blaze ahead and crossed the road and jumped another fence.  Hooray, I was back on the trail for sure.  Suddenly I saw the house in the distance where we had started – I was almost home!  But how cruel of them to make us run away from the house before we could finish – where are these white blazes taking me?

Apparently back into the woods.  Man, this sucks.  This run is never going to end.  Maybe I should just turn around and make a beeline back to the house.  I don’t care if I go off course, get a DNF, don’t get my shirt: I just want to stop running.  But I hunkered down and stayed on the trail – it couldn’t be that much longer.  I tried to squeeze another drop out of my water bottle – I was so thirsty.  And my hip screamed.  Lord, they are cruel!

And then I realized it.  Crap.  I was doing the loop all over again.  I was heading back to Dragon’s Tooth!  No, no, I am turning around and running straight back to the house, I don’t care where the course is supposed to go.  This is not right.

Freedom!  I ran through dried crop fields, weaseled my way through a barbed wire fence, passed the burned down barn.  I didn’t care what was in my way, I was running home!  I reached a road, figured out where it was in respect to the house, and made a beeline back.  Anne had already finished – apparently after the field with the cows we were supposed to make a quick right for home at the road instead of jumping over the next fence and heading back up the mountain on the trail.  I collapsed on the lawn, staring up into the sky, just completely mentally fried.  Neal Gorman came over and I told him about my extra miles and apparently he had noticed some girl running across a field in the distance and had marveled that someone else happened to be running in the same area as us that day.  Go figure!  Nope, that was I, deciding I hadn’t run enough that day and wanting to add on some extra miles……

~                     ~                     ~

Ragan, Gaby, and Adam followed shortly after, at which point the rain had picked up.  After some fun chatter in the parking lot, including delicious chocolate chip brownies made by Anne, Ragan announced she was departing back to DC.  After a day full of adventure, nothing seemed more enticing than a warm dry ride back to DC where I could curl up with my kitty and take a hot bath.  My stomach wasn’t feeling very well, so the allure of the Homestead was not particularly strong at that point.  But no!  I am not Sean Andrish!  Who cares where I sleep tonight or how I return to DC and my kitty.  The party must continue!

I was victorious in convincing Neal, Gaby, and others to return to the Quality Inn for a post-run shower before heading to the Home Place, something which apparently went against tradition but which was absolutely essential for my happiness.  I still had not figured out where I would sleep that night, but Neal and Gaby graciously offered me first dibs on their shower.  I created a Lake Martha on their bathroom floor and then devoured the entire pasta dinner I had brought in case Ragan had wanted to take me to Taco Bell the previous night, and then we proceeded to the Home Place parking lot, where I was offered a beer out of the back of Neal’s car.  Apparently, god forbid, the Home Place is dry.

I had barely drunk half my beer when it was time to go eat, so Gaby and I snuck our beers in our coffee cups from the hotel, providing Gaby’s Guinness with a lovely coffee tang.  The Home Place wisely put our large group of rowdy runners in the basement, where we would be least offensive to other diners.  I was put at the Kids Table way in the back with Gary, Quattro, Neal, Gaby, Aaron, and some other runners who did not partake in our antics, alcohol, or lowbrow conversation but did not seem the least bit put of by them (maybe they were too engrossed in their fried chicken).  The lovely staff also turned a complete blind eye to Quatro’s heaps of plastic UVA drinking cups on the table and the beers Neal was stowing under the table, and filled our table with an unending all-you-can-eat ($14) supply of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, gravy, green beans, and corn, topping it off with apple crumble and vanilla ice cream.  Oh boy, would this have tickled Greeley’s pickle!

In the parking lot we made plans to run the next morning (by that I mean others made plans to run – my hip still really hurt to walk), and Keith kindly invited me to stay with him and Quattro, room 139.  We drank more in the room, Gary and Michele Harmon joining us for a bit.  Michele told me about how she spent 3 days in a coma after she ran her first 100 miler.  [More signs that CCC 100 is not such a good idea.]  Michele also will never live down my performance at the Visitor Center Aid Station at MMT last May.  I thought I did good stuff.  I called out runners’ numbers when they came in, I gave them food and snacks and offered words of encouragement.  But I’m mostly remembered for drinking a lot of beer and passing out in a chair in a sleeping bag.

When the party ended and we set off to snooze, I discovered that Quattro snored quite a bit, and I wore my noise-canceling headphones and took periodic sips of whisky & ginger to make it through the night.  My hip ached.  In describing this night to Sean and Brian when I returned to DC, I announced that I would be reluctant to sleep with Quattro again, but that I’d do Keith any time.  This got good chuckles.

In the morning we hit up the breakfast buffet – make-your-own waffles, just like at Uwharrie!  Everyone was dressed to go run up to McAfee’s again, but the rain came down in buckets, so Neal, Gaby, and I hopped in the car and drove back to DC, stopping to meet Sophie in Charlottesville for more food and then making my whole weekend by stopping at Wegmans (!).  Sophie had lots of sage tips for me about ultra running:

-Do not listen to Sean Andrish.  It is impossible for someone that gifted to understand that his personal style is not feasible for mere mortals (like as blasting  out of the gates and then holding on for 90 miles).

-Do not listen to anyone who has not been ultra running for at least 5 years.  This includes all the youngins out there who think that once they run 100 miles they know their shit.

-Do not listen to Keith.

These tips made a lot of sense to me.  Pretty much this leaves me taking advice from, well, myself.  And my internal voice has been speaking loud and clear lately.  Number one: I am not going to do Bel Monte and the Mountain Cup.  Trail running should just be low-key and for fun and getting all wrapped up in some uber-competitive point-based series of race matchups is no good for my running karma.  I love the trails, and at the end of the day I loved Catawba, but these crazy kids will run me to the ground if I let them.  So back to the roads we go.  National half marathon March 26th, Cherry Blossom April 3rd, and Charlottesville Marathon April 9th.  Phew, after all that load of pavement I will be dying to return to my beloved trails.


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