Running on the Appalachian Trail
If you are someone who loves the outdoors you have probably heard of the Appalachian Trail. The trail runs from Maine to Georgia. I had heard of the trail and read about the trail, but I had never stepped foot on the trail. That was about to change.
I was so excited when we planned a trip and we were able to find a place to camp that was located right along the Appalachian Trail I was so excited to get a chance to explore this legendary trail. As it turned out our campsite was literally on the Appalachian Trail. There was a blaze on a tree at the entrance to our site.
There was a time when I would have hiked on the trail and loved every second of it. But now as my outdoorsiness has evolved to include trail running I was super excited to have an opportunity to run on this trail. I did do some hiking on the Appalachian Trail especially to get some initial exploring in before I set out for any running and that was a great experience in its own right. But still going for a run on the AT was the one must do on my list of activities while we were camping.
Trail running is in some ways a double edge sword for me. No matter what pace you are moving at during a run you are going faster than you would be if you were hiking so you inevitably cannot soak it in for every mile that is spent on the trail quite like you can if you are on a hike. I think your senses just can’t process all that amazing nature quite the same as you move through it at a running pace. It’s a slightly different experience. The other side of the coin is that when I am running I can explore at least twice as much as I could if I were hiking because of the faster pace. So I get to see and experience more but maybe perhaps not experience it at quite as deep a level. This is especially true for me as a photographer as I am constantly seeking ways to incorporate my photography and increasingly videography into my trail running. But I also se and photograph things I would never see without the running.
Before I went for a run I scouted out a little part of it as it left our campground in either direction. I determined to first run the trail leaving our campsite from near the entrance. I chose that direction because what I had seen was relatively flat if not slightly downhill. My goal was to run 10 miles, 5 out 5 back. As I started out the trail was just as I had anticipated it was flat or downhill for the first two miles. It was the start of a perfect run. Near the end of the first two miles you run down a very nice boardwalk that is a part of a trail that leads to a waterfall just a short ways away. (We would later return to that waterfall during our trip. Part of the discovery during running I mention.)
After crossing a road and then entering the woods the trail began to go up. The AT went up and up and up. I am not a strong climber and I do not like climbing, but I would not relent and I continued to climb. That section of climbing went on for at least one and a half miles. Nothing but going up. That climb so completely drained me that when I reached what seemed to be the top, as the other side started to appear to go down, I decided I would call it good enough here at just 3.5 of my 5 mile goal. I wasn’t too disappointed as I know climbs wreck me and it was a tough climb. Not just steep but twists and turns and rocks and roots.
I turned around and descended the mountain I had just climbed. I recorded the decent with my GoPro. I love descents. I like to run them fast if at all possible. This descent took a lot longer than I expected. That is because it was a lot more difficult than I realized it would be even though I had just climbed it. For me climbing is more about strength and exertion and just powering through it. However on the decent it is about being as agile as I can as I watch the terrain ahead of me and try to place my feet accordingly. The unforgiving Appalachian Trail was making that very difficult for me. I was trying to go fast but there were so many rocks and roots and trees and twists and turns and edges to watch. It was above my skill level to run down that trail as fast as I would have liked. AS I reached the bottom I took a moment to appreciate how difficult that section of trail was. How it repelled me and turned me away and sent me back home and taught me a thing or two even on the parts of my running that I felt are my strong suit.
My next adventure on the AT I left the campground in the opposite direction on a trail that I expected would begin with a bit of climbing and I was not wrong about that. There was a significant amount of climbing to start off. One reason I wanted to explore this section of trail is because I knew that I could use this part of the Appalachian Trail to check out another area we planned to hike later, Dear Leap. I wanted to see how difficult it would be to get to Dear Leap from our campsite. The answer, very difficult.
Once again I started out with a goal of 10 miles. I powered up the climbing in the beginning. Eventually I arrived at the intersection of the AT and the Dear Leap trail. I turned on my GoPro thinking this will be cool to record the run out to Dear Leap and show what the view is like. I started running up the trail. Up being the operative word. There was much more up than I had anticipated. I was very quickly hiking at a relatively slow pace up that climb because it was longer and steeper than I had anticipated and in my excitement I had started out to fast.
I ran out to the scenic view at Dear Leap took a panoramic video of it that hopefully turned out ok. Then I headed back the way I had come. I expected to rejoin the AT where I had left it but instead ended up staying on the Dear Leap Mountain Path and reconnecting with the AT farther along. I eventually came to this nice long gradual downhill. I think it was one of the most runnable sections I experienced on the AT and it came at the perfect time for me. I was getting tired and this section lifted my spirits and helped me recover physically as well. Eventually I crossed a road and ended up getting on the Long Trail and going out on the part of the long trail we should have hiked if we wanted to hike Pico Peak instead of doing it accidently earlier in the weak.
As it turns out time was moving faster than I was and as it got to be the time I would have expected I would run for to get to the half way point in a 10 mile run I was at mile 4 instead of mile 5. I decided that I should turn around anyway. I didn’t want to be gone to long and make my wife worry. Also, I was tired. The way back was not too bad. Going up that nice long descending runnable part wasn’t too much fun, but at least the path was relatively smooth. Instead of going on the Dear Leap Mountain Path I stayed on the AT to hopefully same time and energy. As I got close to camp I began descending the climb that began this adventure I was exhausted. The rocky outcroppings and boulders sticking out of the ground were tormenting me. I couldn’t go at much of a decent pace at all. It was one of the least fun descents I had ever had. But I powered through it and got back to camp all in one piece.
I have done a fair amount of trail running and run on a variety of different types of trails. So far in my experience the Appalachian Trail is the toughest trail I have ever run on. I am impressed by all the through hikers that take it on. I am even more amazed by those that have attempted and those who have succeeded at Fastest Known Time attempts on the Appalachian Trail. It has to be brutal. I cannot even imagine. I ran a total of 15 miles on two different days at it kicked my ass. But I would go back and run it some more in a heart beat.