Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bartram II. To Be Continued.

During a brief period of fatigue and frustration this weekend, I pondered the fact that my brain forgets what suffering feels like. I remember that I have suffered, sometimes horribly, during runs and races, but I don't really remember what it actually felt like. This disconnect leads to some interesting decisions, such as my decision to run the Bartram again in search of a faster time.

Logically, it made sense. If you run without having had a bad cold for two weeks and you can keep your IT Band intact, you ought to be able to knock hours off your time. I am sticking with that hypothesis, despite the fact that forty miles into the Bartram this weekend, I got into the car and went home. The Bartram apparently eats knees.

Okay, so maybe it was my fault. I run in Brooks Ravennas and I have a large box in my closet of shoes that all look the same. A smart person would label their shoes so they know how old they are, but I never took the time to do that. I planned to wear my "newest" old pair to start out with and switch to an actual new pair halfway through. But even if I could accurately determine which was the "newest" old pair, I really couldn't remember when I got them or how many miles I had on them. Apparently too many.

Tony and I hiked 2 1/2 hours to the start of the Bartram at Cheoah Bald early Sunday morning. He turned around and hiked back to the car at Stecoah Gap and I started the 5.1 mile downhill section that crosses Ledbetter Creek 5 times. The last couple times I was on that section, there was only one wet creek crossing. The others could be rock-hopped with no problem, but not after the 4 inches of rain this weekend. I had thought that by Sunday the creeks would have gone down quite a bit, but if that creek had, I would have hated to tackle it the day before. It was roaring. (As an example, there is a nice waterfall halfway through, but instead of the water falling down, it was shooting out horizontally.)

When I got to the first crossing, I seriously thought about turning around. Tony had just told me that I ought to have someone run with me on ALL the sections on a run like this, and I dismissed it, saying I was very comfortable running these first sections solo, since I was fresh and very familiar with them. So, I pondered this rushing creek, which was probably only a little more than knee deep, but the water was coming down so fast, I couldn't see the bottom to see where to place my feet or to judge precisely how deep it was. A few feet beyond the crossing is a small waterfall and I pictured losing my footing, being swept over the cascade, hitting my head and getting knocked unconscious and then Tony would have said "I told you so."

With a little prayer and a lot of faith, I crossed it quickly, hoping momentum would propel me toward the bank, and it did. I thought the first one would be the worst one because the water was channeled into a pretty narrow spot. As I continued to run downhill however, I crossed numerous side streams that were just little trickles in the past, but now were contributing more and more water to Ledbetter. Suffice it to say, the crossings didn't get any better. However, it got to the point where it would have been just as difficult to go back as it was to go forward. I breathed a huge sigh of relief after the last crossing, knowing that I only had two more bridgeless creek crossings in the next 105 miles.

I was running ahead of my predicted time, despite the tricky crossings. On the next section though, I realized my shoes were bad. Coming downhill earlier, it felt like I was pounding really hard despite going easy and softly. Here on this rolling section, my stomach was getting upset with each jarring step and my legs really started aching from the knees down. When I arrived at Appletree, still on schedule, I felt pretty bad and "camped" (as Tony called it) for about 20 minutes. I changed into the new shoes, took off and quickly felt better. The shoes had a lot more cushioning in them, my legs quit aching and the nausea went away. I did still have a slight pain in my knee, but I assumed that would work its way out. It didn't.

The climb from Nantahala Lake to Wayah Bald is the most difficult climb and while I did feel tired, most of my energy was focused on the fact that my knee hurt. I stopped several times and retied my shoe, thinking that might help. It didn't. At this point, crawling uphill with an aching knee, I remembered what suffering feels like. This is why they say never make decisions about your next run in the middle of your current run. If you did, you would never run again.

At Wayah, Alan planned to start running with me, and I went ahead and ran the next section to see if the knee got any better on the downhill. It didn't. This time, I had no reason to push through it and I stopped at Harrison Gap.

The next two days my legs felt like I had run 100 miles, but I had only done 40, and part of that was the hike to the start. As I unpacked my gear, I used a sharpie to put a big X on the back of the bad shoes and relegated them to yard-work duty. And then I labeled the new ones.