2009-11-05 - Appalachian Trail and Canal Towpath

~20 miles @ ~15 min/mi

On Sunday evening I feel sharp twinges in the left metatarsals following the 2009-11-01 - Potomac Heritage 50k 2009. Taking the excellent advice of friends Caren Jew and Mary Ewell, I go to the doctor's office on Monday afternoon—by which time the sore foot feels entirely better. The physician who sees me writes, "Patient reports foot pain after running two marathons in the past two weekends."

"No," I correct her, "it was one marathon and one ultramarathon!" She laughs, and advises me to wear thicker socks and better-padded shoes, as well as to watch my gait. X-rays come back looking fine, so after a little arm-twisting comrade Kate Abbott agrees to let me run with her on Thursday, provided I'm careful.

In two weeks Kate is doing the JFK (see JFK 50 Miler 2008 for her report on last year's) and has multiple missions today:

My mission is to have fun and not get hurt. Our route covers the terrain of last year's 2008-10-14 - JFK AT Familiarization run, during which I stumbled, fell, and broke my left arm. Kate recognizes the spot, near mile 12 of the trek. "Shall we run it?" I ask.

"Do we dare?" Kate responds.

"Yes!" I reply, "We've gotta exercise the demons!" (Well, actually I say exorcise — but exercise is funnier, so I'll revise my remarks retrospectively if Kate doesn't object too much.)

As for the rest of the experience, it's as uneventful as all good training runs should be. I arrive at Weverton late due to bad traffic. Both Kate and I are wearing identical sky-blue long-sleeved technical shirts from the 2009-02-15 - Washington Birthday Marathon—pure coincidence, no prearrangement! A fat and friendly black-and-white cat is lurking near where Kate parks her minivan, and she's tempted to take him home. I drive us to the Old South Mountain Inn in Zittlestown where we commence our run ~10am.

We reach Gathland in one and three-quarters hours, right on schedule in spite of several cellphone interruptions. I tweet: South Mountain Appalachian Trail - a few raindrops - chill breeze - my thumbs are numb at Gapland Gap. A deer hunter stalks past us in the woods, and we meet a dozen AT backpackers.

Alluding to a catchphrase around Kate's household, as we trek along I tell Kate, "Lucky I didn't tell you to 'Run from your heart' back there at the scenic overlook."

"Yes," she responds, "and you're better not remind me when we're on the switchbacks at Weverton Cliffs!"

Two hours later we're safely back at Weverton; I refrain from tempting fate during our descent. We average ~17 min/mi on the AT. A trot past Kate's car gets us safely across the train tracks and onto the C&O Canal Towpath. We progress upstream comfortably at ~12 min/mi to milepost 61, and then turn back. A few cyclists pass us. As we near Harpers Ferry I lure Kate into diverting across the pedestrian bridge. We tap our toes on the West Virginia soil, then dash back past tourists taking photos. A noisy freight train rumbles next to us, heading south along the Shenandoah River towards Massanutten Mountain.

Back on the towpath we continue downstream past loud rapids and another idling freight to the turnoff at Weverton. We go a few tenths of a mile more to milepost 58 so Kate's GPS achieves 20+ miles. The sleek stray kitty is nowhere to be seen, though a bin of food is in the bushes waiting for him. We ride together back to Zittlestown where we part ways. Kate feels no blisters. Her walk-break towpath strategy seems sound.

^z - 2009-11-09