Back when I was training for marathons, I would occasionally take part in the Runner’s World Run Streak. The premise is simple: Run at least one mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It was a great motivator for me when the busyness of holiday life (and in Maine, the crappiness of weather) conspired to suck the mileage from my running log.
This has been a down year for both running and hiking. I established an expected minimum combined running+hiking mileage total for the year back in January (not a resolution; a GOAL) and, thanks to packing and moving to Virginia, have fallen way off the mark. Well, the chances of my hitting that target are practically non-existent, but I’m thinking maybe participating in the RW Streak would be a nice way to end the year and give positive momentum to the start of 2018.
But I may have to tweak the purity of the running streak a bit, as hiking definitely figures into my plans over the next six weeks. The way I see it, I have three options: One, I can simply run a mile while I’m on the trail for a hike. I have a few thousand miles of trail running experience, and my daypack typically only weighs ten or eleven pounds, so that wouldn’t tax me too badly. I also tend to hike wearing my Garmin running watch, so I could actually time an exact mile and have access to pace, elevation gain, etc. Two, I could simply run a mile around the subdivision before I head out for my hikes. I won’t work up much of a sweat in November and December doing that, and it would fulfill the requirement. Or three, I could simply adhere to the spirit (and not the letter) of the streak’s rules and count my hiking days as “running” days. I am now keeping a training log with combined running/hiking miles, so that would fit my own personal narrative.
I have a week to decide. But I do plan on attempting The Streak regardless of which plan I choose to follow. And I’m determined not to give up my chances to hit the AT before the snow flies for a running-only streak…
…but luckily for me, it was in this case. Let me back up: I revisited the Blackwater Creek Trail a few days after last week’s post to take it for a run. The goal was an easy six miler from the Awareness Garden (mentioned in my previous post) to the start of the downtown Riverwalk and back.
Well, the first half went as planned. I enjoyed taking in that stretch of tree-filled solitude that slips through the woods, across a wooden traverse, between small cliffs, beneath a couple of high bridges and through a well-lit stone tunnel before it crashes into the bustle of downtown. I made the turn and headed back. About a mile into the return trip there’s a confluence of three different trails. On my way towards the Riverwalk, I paid attention to the well-placed signage and chose the correct route. On the way back, I was daydreaming and veered left. A quarter of a mile or so into this side journey the trail started going uphill (there are none on the usual section), and I knew I’d made a mistake. I kept cruising along to make sure, and a few hundred yards later blasted out into an area with buildings and chain-link fencing. Chagrined, I turned back. I buzzed down the hill and, once back at the junction, made the correct turn and finished what had inadvertently become a 7.2 miler. I shared a good laugh with a few folks when I fessed up, but it sure did get me to thinking about how easily I had missed a pretty obvious turn because I dozed off mentally for a couple of minutes.
I immediately thought of the good people who have missed a turn, gotten lost and paid the ultimate price for that while hiking. The saddest one for me is the story of “Inchworm”, Geraldine Largay, who stepped off the AT into the Maine woods to answer nature’s call, couldn’t relocate the trail and ultimately died alone in the wilderness. It took nearly two years to find her makeshift campsite and remains:
You have to hike the Appalachian Trail in that area to understand how easy it is to go off-trail and lose your bearings. The trees, the understory, all of it looks so much alike along several sections of the trail in Maine. When I day hiked short sections in and south of the Hundred Mile Wilderness I kept my feet on the trail, or well within sight of the trekking pole I planted on the trail’s edge as a marker, for that very reason. “Inchworm” had hundreds of miles under her hiking belt and lost her way. As a novice hiker/backpacker, I wasn’t taking chances.
So while my little turnaround during an easy run on a well-marked and well-traveled trail system was funny to me and others, it also served as a reminder to keep my head in the game when, in the near future, I’m enjoying the outdoors in a place that is miles from civilization in every direction…
In the span of less than a week, I discovered two thru-hiker news stories online. The first told the tale of 75 year-old Tom Young from North Myrtle Beach, SC who conquered the stretch from Springer to Katahdin in a week shy of six months. A few days later I came across the story of 26 year-old Joe McConaughy, who did the same deed, but in the course of his trip shattered both the supported and unsupported (he carried a 25-pound pack the entire way) speed record by landing at the “Northern Terminus” sign in 45 days, 12 hours and 15 minutes.
Most people fall heavily on one side of the following argument or the other: Is it more fulfilling to hike for enjoyment, like Tom “Grey Eagle” Young, or hike with a mission, like Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy?
I land somewhere in the middle. Back in my halcyon days of 26.2 milers, I was totally mission minded. A marathon was something to be conquered, not enjoyed. The enjoyment came after the race. And when I tackle my first week-long section hike on the AT, there will definitely be a mission mindset at play. Given X number of days to complete X number of miles, one can’t help but assign goals to the thing. However, I’m hoping to schedule myself enough hiking days so that, while staying focused on time/distance markers, I’m not hammering my body to achieve them and allowing myself some rose-sniffing opportunities along the way.
Of course, age and ability play a part for me, too. I was never an elite marathoner; my PR was 3:28, so I never expected to run with the human tornadoes when the gun went off. Likewise, even if I was in my twenties I couldn’t maintain the pace of a world-class ultra athlete like Stringbean. I’m thinking shooting for 100 days would have been an aggressive enough goal for me.
Today, being north of fifty and all? Let’s just say that this blog isn’t called “Slowing Down to Enjoy the View” for nothing…