Sunday, August 22, 2010

Running on top of the world

At an elevation of only 1,527 feet above sea level, it's hardly the top of the world, but it sure felt like it was when I reached the summit of Mt. Tammany yesterday. And I think it's made a trail runner out of me.

I had planned an early 8-mile run on the road for yesterday morning, but when the alarm went off at 6:30, my head was pounding with want of more sleep, and I turned the alarm off and buried my head in my pillow. When I did get up, it was about 8, and my head felt like it would begin pounding again if I moved around too much, so I decided to postpone the run until the next day.

The only hitch was that the weather was beautiful. It was sunny and about 61 degrees with no humidity - which has been almost unheard of this summer. I had to do something outside. I thought about taking the Trek for another spin down the trail, but then I thought about hiking. I hadn't done that for a while. It seemed like a perfect way to spend the beautiful day.

I checked with one of my running buddies to see if she'd like to come along for a hike, but she was busy, so I planned to go myself. I told my parents when and where I was going and even gave them a park map showing which trail I would take. I used my iFitness belt, which carried my cell phone, ID, keys, and food. And to be extra careful, I wore a whistle.

I got to the park and decided that I wasn't really in the mood to hike. I wanted to run. So I jogged through the parking lot and onto the Appalachian Trail. That section was heavily traveled with people, so I slowed down and walked when appropriate. At one point, though, I heard someone tell someone else to stop for me. It went something like "Anyone jogging the Appalachian Trail deserves the right of way." That part was actually not difficult to run on. The ground was rocky and the path was moving steadily uphill, but I didn't have trouble picking my way. Then I turned off the AT toward Mount Tammany.

Once I moved farther up the mountain, the rocks in the path became looser and more numerous. I started feeling the effects of not stretching or warming up, as my calves started to cramp up. I stopped running and hiked up the loose, rocky spots and began running again when my calves felt better. It was a thoroughly good workout. I stopped one or two times to drink from my water bottle and take a breather, but for the most part I was steadily running and hiking up the mountain. As I moved up through the forest and the trees thinned out a little, I noticed that the sky had clouded up a bit, and some humidity had crept into the air. Instead of being green and gold with sunlight, the forest was green and gray and had a calm, subdued atmosphere.

After one steep, exceptionally rocky slope, I came to a grassy space which I knew must be the top of the mountain ridge. The trees were sparse, and the ground was covered with scrubby vegetation. The path was still rocky, but grass grew up all around the rocks. I followed the trail blazes until I saw a break in the trees and went to take a look. It was a scenic overlook. I stepped up to it and got my first view of the height I had just climbed: miles and miles of valleys and hills sprawled out below. I snapped a few pictures with my phone (Maybe someday I'll get text-messaging and be able to actually post the pictures from my phone. For now they're stuck there.) and went back to the trail to follow it over to the summit.

I started running again here, albeit slowly - as I picked my way around rocks - and came to a brush-covered pile of boulders and the blazes marking the end of the trail. In between some of the larger rocks was a little pathway. I stepped through and came out, it felt, on top of the world.

There were the mountains of Pennsylvania rising in a peak directly in front and stretching on in a line. The Delaware River snaked through the gap below, looking like a little creek beneath the mountains. Leaning over, I could see the parking lot where I started far below.

A lot of other people were at the summit. One girl was wearing flip-flops, and I can only wonder how long it took her and her boyfriend to get up there. I took a picture for a family that had hiked up together, and in return, one of them took a picture of me with my phone. I keep looking at that picture and remembering how good it felt to run (and hike) up a mountain.

When I began to make my way back down, I was rested and really felt like running again. I ran over rocks that on the way up I had walked over and surprised myself with how much easier it was to run. There were definitely places that were un-runnable, but I took those slowly and carefully and had a blast running down the mountain the rest of the way. I really felt it in my quads by the time I had come to the end of the mountain trail. I felt so good, though, I thought that I'd run a little further up the AT before heading back to the car. I turned onto the AT, which headed uphill. I was tired and took it slowly on that incline, but I didn't get far before I realized that I had a party to go to that night, and if I didn't get home soon, I wouldn't have time to get ready and eat dinner. I also didn't want to fall asleep the minute I got the the party. So I turned around and ran back toward the parking lot.

This was one of those amazing runs. The kind that comes around every once in a while that reminds you of why you love running. It made me feel good in every possible way. And it made me want to run trails much, much more often.

I know that I'll be following the Tour du Mont Blanc next weekend -- awed by the mountain peaks that the runners in that race will be ascending. And I am almost definitely going to run a trail half-marathon in November.

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