I like perversities. When things turn out curiously the opposite of what you expect. As a recent example, Aaron and I discovered that having a baby actually made us more likely to join group runs. Our ten-month old Bjorn gets full credit for us finally making our first Pub Run in Thomas, WV in February. And it wasn’t because new parents are in desperate need of alcohol.

No, the explanation is pretty simple. In the past, the biggest barrier to joining group runs was the early start times. We had the whole day to kill and weren’t getting anywhere by 8am. But now we have our own little human alarm. It doesn’t matter if we put Bjorn to bed at 6pm or 9pm, he starts chirping at 6am every morning. Now we can finally do Sundays in the Park.

Joining group runs means meeting new people and getting invited to more group runs. By doing the Pub Run, we learned of Katie’s plan to do a FKT on the 24-mile North Fork Mountain trail. A trail that Aaron had always wanted to do. And which would apparently be the first documented FKT in West Virginia. How could we say no?

Running NFM trail south-to-north is mostly downhill, but there are some walkers. (That’s it for trail info. For useful course information ask Lucas for his nicely detailed FKT write-up.)

Bjorn’s 6am wakeup call eliminates a primary barrier to group runs, but introduces a secondary barrier: childcare. One of my major roles as Momma Bjorn is to direct his weekly circus of caregivers, who punch in and out in 4-5 hour shifts. Bjorn is extraordinarily accustomed to being in the arms of different people.

One of those people is Gary, Aaron’s boss. Gary’s main charm is his extreme enthusiasm for certain things (from the Washington Capitals to a certain Greek pizza). Fortunately for us, he has recently directed his enthusiasm towards Bjorn. Who, we must admit, is the world’s biggest charmer of a baby. Still, it was a big ask to have Gary come out to WV for an entire weekend and babysit for a good chunk of a Saturday (we left at 6:45am and returned around 3pm). We spent a portion of our run wondering if Bjorn had managed to bite Gary’s nose.

Bjorn uses cuteness to help recruit babysitters.

Childcare issues aside, the chief challenge of running the North Fork Mountain trail seems to be the logistics of shuttling folks on a point-to-point course. There were at least 20 emails exchanged about this particular problem, none of which I read (no human has enough bandwidth for baby AND vehicle logistics).

Eight of us met at a designated parking lot, including some WV folks I already knew (Lucas, Adam, and Katie) and some new out-of-towners (Tom, Todd, and Kate). We met our 9th guy Bill at the trail head. I didn’t quite understand whether the FKT was intended to be run socially, maybe running as a couple groups and maybe splitting more at the end, or whether everyone was supposed to go balls-out. I realized it was the latter when Bill took off before we’d even finished our group photo at the trailhead.

No Bill.

Being pregnant and having a baby takes you down a couple notches. It had actually been two years since I had done a mountain run over 20 miles. Or any run over 20 miles, for that matter. Fortunately, Aaron and I are into equal parenting, and he felt just as beat-down as I did. I didn’t pressure him, but I was secretly hoping he would just take it easy and run with me.

I fished my wish, and Aaron and I ran together start to finish, setting a new FKT on the trail for women (4:06). The men’s FKT was set by Lucas (3:10), who earned the moniker ‘Honey Bear’ because he ran the entire trail carrying nothing but two 10oz plastic bear-shaped honey containers filled with water. Boy’s a camel. I had two large water bottles, went totally dry, and spent the last hour or so feeling loopy, thirsty, and feeling like there was a reason I had been keeping my runs short lately. Most of the North Fork trail coasts along a forested ridge line with good tree cover, but it was an unusually hot day with strong sun. Aaron and I went off course for about a mile on a hilly and completely exposed gas pipeline, and that took some wind out of the sails. Apparently we weren’t the only ones to succumb to the heat. Tom went miles off course and got so loopy he started hallucinating and asking perplexed hikers on the trail if they had any margaritas.

At least there were killer views on our silly pipeline detour.

Coming back to running after having a baby is a gradual process. I’m almost completely physically recovered from childbirth and pregnancy (thank you, pelvic PT), but there’s a lot of mental fatigue. I found myself having a hard time staying focused on the trail, which was mildly technical (at least by WV standards). Aaron noticed how I uncharacteristically kept stumbling on rocks and roots and coming frighteningly close to falling, even at the beginning of the run. Highland Sky is coming up in three weeks, and while I do believe I’m physically capable of covering the 40 miles (even if this FKT attempt was my only training run), I worry about being able to stay mentally focused for that long.

I had to steal at least one view. Too gorgeous.

The best thing about getting hot and dehydrated on a long run is how good it feels at the end to recover. I told Katie I would do any run she wanted me to as long as it ended with sipping a beer in the sun at the lovely waterhole we found at Seneca Rocks. ‘We’ refers only to the diehard waterholers, as Aaron and others decided the creek was too cold. I’ll admit, it was frigid and you couldn’t stay in long. But Todd made my day by swimming beers across the creek to the opposite side where we were sunning on rocks. Pro gear tip: Altra shorts have perfectly beer-shaped mesh pockets for transporting up to four cold ones.

Maybe it was the beers, but we all agreed we would definitely do the North Fork trail again, and maybe make an annual tradition of it. If I ran it again, I know I could easily slash my FKT time by doing simple things like (a) not going a mile off course (maybe Go Big this time and actually glance at a map the night before), and (b) having at least one prior mountain long run as training. A cooler day would help too. And a little less new-baby-sleep-deprivation. But it would also be fun also just to run it socially and with a chance to stop for all the beautiful views along the ridge. I stole enough peeks through the trees just to have a sense of what I was missing.

Acknowledgments: 1- Katie (event organizing), 2- Aaron (gamely running with me), 3- another guy named Aaron, friend of Bill’s (supplying a gatorade at the finish when all my stuff was in car parked elsewhere — I told you the shuttle stuff was complicated), 4- Todd (swimming beers over at the water hole).


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