Thursday, January 10, 2013

Proving Grounds

It’s been roughly 14 months since we moved to Charlottesville and with each passing day since our arrival I become more and more certain of one thing: we live in a beautiful place.  The town, the community, the surrounding landscapes, each measure well against the high ideals and expectations we sought when deciding to move here.
Running certainly played a large role in our decision to move to Charlottesville both in terms of where we could actually run outside conveniently from home (preferably un-tethered from busy city streets as much as possible) and with whom we might run frequently or infrequently.  For the style of long distance running I generally prefer the westerly vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains pretty much sums up the where; though there are respectable off-road options located in town- the Rivanna Trail being one.  The with whom is comprised of a vast index of fellow runners, from all walks of life, many of whom could easily clean my clock around a track, on an open stretch of pavement or up and down (and possibly up and down again) the nearest high mountain.  One of the things I love most about Charlottesville is that it is a runner’s town, yet as far as I can tell there is no true sense of the enormity of talent here because there are so many every-day folks with careers and families who show up out of nowhere at races and events, deliver more than respectable performances, then disappear returning to behind the talent shadow from whence they came.  Or perhaps this is just my perception.
There might be a few folks around town with a yardstick of general knowledge on who is who- the Lorenzonis being the most obvious.  Their store, Ragged Mountain Running, being the nucleus of all things running in the greater Charlottesville area must house teraflops of information just in pictures alone of the running community.  To say nothing also of the vintage event posters, time sheets, medals, ribbons, bibs, plaques, trophies and so on plastering every bit of available wall space.  Entering the store, through its glass door on Elliewood Avenue a few steps off University Avenue, located smack dab in middle of the University of Virginia’s (UVA) central commerce district, the hub and heartbeat of all things student socializing otherwise known as the “Corner”, one cannot help but feel transported to another place and time.  Not a place from the past necessarily.  Nor the present.  Definitely not the future.  But to a place that is so unique and so focused on one thing- helping people maximize enjoyment in life through running- that it feels time is standing still.  To enter Ragged Mountain Running feels like entering a running museum, nay, a Chapel; a holy place dedicated to spreading the gospel of running, both in Charlottesville and afar.  As a runner, to enter this Chapel is willfully easy, yet to leave not so much.  It’s just impossible to leave the store I think and not take a piece of it with you.  And the lucky ones, as far as I can tell, have left a bit of themselves inside the store as well.  Look around the walls next time you’re there if you haven’t already and you will see what I mean.  Charlottesville is most likely in large part a running town because of Ragged Mountain Running.  If you’re a runner in Charlottesville you already know this.

A typical t-shirt image I see around town just about every time I leave the house.
If you’re a runner in Charlottesville and your thing is road running odds are you still run on the soft sections of the Rivanna Trail from time to time, no?  What about track runners?  Triathletes?  I know for sure trail runners do.  No matter your thing- road, track or trail- we all share the Rivanna Trail.  It is one of our primary holy places for recreation in Charlottesville, a must-have source of inspiration for each of us.
What would you say if I asked how fast do you think you could run the Rivanna Trail?  The entire Rivanna Trail.  Yes, all 18.5 continuous, town circumnavigating miles of the Rivanna Trail.  What would you say?  Four hours?  Three hours?  Two hours?  Could you even answer it?  Would you like to answer it?  The last Saturday in February, the 23rd, is the day for you to answer this question by putting your skills and guts to the test on a personal mission: to run the Rivanna Trail unsupported as hard as you can in a personal best time trial effort.  Think of the Rivanna Trail as your proving grounds.
Here is the plan myself and a few friends so far have committed to:
8:00am - haul ass out of Riverview Park and head north (counterclockwise) on the Rivanna Trail.  Don’t stop and don’t stop your watches until you return to Riverview Park.  Be sure to wade Moores Creek at Woolen Mills (and not cross the railroad bridge) just before arriving back at Riverview.  Also, always, always, follow green “RTF” signage; never brown.  Them’s the rules.

A typical green Rivanna Trail marker.
11:00am – re-group at Beer Run for suds and brunch and share stories of your adventure.
If you would like to join the fun but think you might take longer than three hours consider starting earlier than 8:00 because your company would most definitely be appreciated at brunch.  In fact, you can start whenever you want because this is not a race or sanctioned event of any kind.  There could even be a 7:00am wave.  For those who start at 8:00am there might be someone to hand out water or bottles for you (drop bag style) at the intersection of Earhart Street and Emmet Street, on the other side from Bodo’s Bagles where the Rivanna Trail crosses.  If that is the case, and there are enough runners, I will provide jugs of water, Clif Blocks and Gels and a handful of S-caps for those who might want some. It is easy enough to run sans water up to that point and if you want to carry a bottle from then on that is a good place to pick one up.  If there are enough 7:00am runners we could arrange an earlier volunteer to greet runners at this location.
I broadcast this message from the leafy confines of my abode at the base of Lewis Mountain in downtown Charlottesville, steps away from the Rivanna Trail and O Hill.  I hope it reaches the monitors and cell phone screens of Charlottesville runners who worship and seek inspiration on the Rivanna Trail, no matter their preference for road, track or trail.
Attention also friends from Richmond, Lynchburg, Harrisonburg and all points north up to DC, you are most welcome to join the fun.  One thing, though, it is important for you to know the Trail.  Here is a website with map resources.  It is important to recognize there are a few tricky turns - which will not be marked for this run- which means a dry run or two might be in your best interest.  That is, so you can maximize your personal best effort time.  This Sunday at 7:00am Andrew Krueger and I are running the Rivanna Trail from Riverview.  Depending on the level of interest I am happy to lead one or two other weekend dry-run tours of the Rivanna Trail leading up to February 23rd.  If you're interested in a dry run you can reach me by leaving a comment here or by emailing me.
One last thing, anyone who is gunning for running less than 2:09:47 know that my previous "reward" offer still stands.  Also know that I will be chasing you!


  1. Neal,

    My experience in C'ville in the late 80s sounds almost word for word like your's. I credit Mark and Cynthia for taking my running to a new level--I paced with Cynthia in the 1986 Ten-Miler to go under 60 minutes, and CTC track workouts and summer meets pushed me even farther than that. When I returned to grad school at UVA (English) I ended up working some at Ragged Mountain--there used to be a picture of me lacing shoes and solving the world's problems with Mark. those years were certainly my best racing years, spurred by the awesome running community and great places to run--and we didn't even have the Rivanna Trail. The birth announcment for my first child (born after I left in 1990) has me in one of my Ragged Mountain t-shirts, which my friend who made the announcement changed to Ragged Mountain Running Pop. Thanks for giving me the opportuntiy to revisit so many great memories.

  2. Ned,
    Thanks for commenting and sharing your story. I enjoyed it. Something tells me there are many others like it.