One of the great things about trail running are the frequent, close encounters with nature. Some are spectacular and awe inspiring, some are very painful and some scare the “hell” out of you. Occasionally, they all strike at once!
A couple of months ago during my first really long, 7 ½ hour run in preparation for the Wasatch 100, I had such an encounter. I ran late in the afternoon so I could finish after dark. (Running at night with a headlamp and flashlight takes a little practice). I was doing hill repeats on my usual trail (the white trail) and it was past sunset. As I reached the top of the first rock outcropping, (rock step) I noticed something about 20 feet down a very steep gully that just didn't look right. I stopped and backed up to take a second look. A doe was standing below looking back at me. She stood there a few seconds and decided I was too close for comfort and disappeared. Just a few weeks ago, again on the white trail climb, I was about 50 feet from the turnaround up top when a large shadow pass over me and stop. I looked up and a large hawk had landed in a tree just a few feet above me and to the right. I stopped and stood motionless. It slowly turned its head and looked at me for about 30 seconds. I guess it decided it didn't like the way I looked and flew off. For the last several weeks there have been several turkey hens with a bunch of “chicks” (what ever you call baby turkeys) on the side of the road in the park. I had never seen baby turkeys.
Of course, with the good sometimes comes “the bad” and “the ugly.” (Frequently, the bad and ugly go together). If you run trails, you fall. Most are minor and do little or no damage. Some are a little more exciting. Since I started trail running about 2006 I have a broken a rib, several sprained ankles and a fractured ankle. Then there was the time I did a “face-plant”on a rock and had to get 24 stitches in my forehead. I was 8 miles from my car so I had to call Marye Jo to pick me up at the north trail head. She took me to the doctor to have my eyebrow reattached. Fortunately, the ER physician was Marye Jo's cousin. (I was definitely the ugly). But there was good in it too. It was two weeks before Halloween and I had a really good, ugly, “mask.” Ever since then, I try not to call her during a run, it scares her.
Saturday before last was my final “hell” run before starting my taper for the Wasatch 100 Trail Run in Utah. The race starts 18 days from today. (It starts Friday at 5:00 am, September10, and I expect to finish Saturday afternoon.) My plan for that final long training run was 6 hours of hill repeats on the White Trail followed by a couple of hours doing a loop that would get me back to the car in 8 hours total. I started about 6:15 am and on the first climb I noticed quite a bit of thunder but there was no way to tell where it was or which way it was going. As I started up for the second climb I could tell it was closer but still seemed a safe distance away. The climb I do for hill repeats goes up the west face of Double Oak Mountain (at the north end of Oak Mountain State Park) for about half a mile where it reaches the ridgeline. The trail then continues up a series of steep rock steps for about another third of a mile to my turnaround point. The entire climb gains about 600 feet in 7/8th of a mile. The thunder was even closer and I was beginning to see flashes from the lightning as I reach the ridge crest. I was hoping it would miss the park altogether but by then it was extremely dark and very calm. I climbed to the top of the first rock step when suddenly there was a blinding flash followed by a pop then a very loud bang. I did not actually see the lightning bolt but it was really close. I did set a new record for descending off the ridge!
I decided to change over to the Yellow trail which stays of the high ridges and and is mostly sheltered deep in the trees. It continued to pour and the trail was becoming a small creek, but that makes it fun. It was still very dark as I circled the “Old Lake” at Oak Mountain. This is a beautiful lake set down in a valley a couple of hundred feet below the lower ridges around it.. The dam is in a deep, narrow and very steep gorge. The trail follows the lake to the dam then drops down to the creek below the spillway. The trail down to the creek below the dam is literally cut out of the almost vertical walls of the gorge. It was a little scary running down the jagged rock trail below the dam. The wet rocks were slippery and a misstep could send you to the creek about 50 ft below. It was also very dark and got even darker descending to the bottom. (I guess I could have walked down) I was somewhat relieved to reach the flat section that followed the creek for about ½ a mile although it was very hard to see. The trail is covered by large, dark roots and you really have to watch you step. It was then that I noticed something move off the trail as I passed over. I stopped and looked back but at first saw nothing but roots. Then I noticed that one of the roots had a head. I had just come within inches of stepping on a 4 ft water moccasin. It did not look happy! I apologized and promised I would not bother it again and headed on down the trail. I really slowed down for the next ½ mile though. There were dark roots all over the trail as it followed the creek. Did I mention that it was very dark. I wanted to be sure there were no more roots with heads and forked tongues on the trail.
I was really glad to reach a small hill where the trail climbed away form the creek. The rain continued to fall for almost 4 hours. I ran an uneventful full 20 mile loop of the park, picking up the mountain bike trail at the south end and following it back to the North end. I then finished with hill repeats at the end of the run. I did manage 8 hours 22 minutes in all. I had expected a miserably hot run but it stayed overcast and very damp and the temperature stayed far below the forecast 97 deg. For my first taper workout this last Saturday I decided to ride my bike. It was nice to sit down for a 5 hour workout.