There are a few loose ends still I intend to tighten up prior to Grindstone, in terms of my training. A long night run being one of them. Some really fast, long, downhill running being another. One loose end that has been on my mind for a while has been clocking a decent time at running The Wild Oak Trail (TWOT) in western Virginia in Augusta County, near the West Virginia border. TWOT, a rocky, technical, rugged, partially over-grown-in-the-summer 27 mile, 7,500 ft-ish loop located west of Charlottesville, on the other side of the Shenandoah Valley, a 70 minute drive from home.
TWOT is one of the local trails made famous for running by Dennis Herr and the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC) and the many events and training runs that the Club hosts on the trail and in the general area throughout the year. TWOT also happens to take up a portion of the Grindstone course, including the notorious climb up Little Bald at mile 37, as well as the quad-trashing decent down Little Bald at mile 59.
This past week was my birthday. On September 5th I turned 37 years old. As a present to myself and to celebrate the occasion I awoke at 0’dark-thrity and drove to the TWOT trailhead. The plan was to run the loop hard, surrender myself to the dirt, the rocks, the climbs, the overgrowth, run with no cares and let the mountains tell me if I were in shape or not and ready for Grindstone. I ended up running the loop in an elapsed time of 4:21:19.
For those who know the trail and who might care here is a link to my GPS data and below are my splits:
-1:13:17 – from the TWOT parking lot trailhead sign, counterclockwise on TWOT, up Little Bald to the summit sign post at the trail intersection.
-23:28 - the road crossing at Camp Todd on other side of the North River. I waded the river, by the way. No bridge crossing for me.
-1:00:20 - FDR96 road crossing after Big Bald descent and before Hankey Mountain ascent.
-23:18 – Hankey summit sign at the trail intersection.
-1:20:45 - Finish at TWOT parking lot trailhead board.
The climb up Little Bald is a classic. 6.7 miles of rock-strewn, single track ribbon coursing a ridgeline 3,200 feet up (with 550 feet down) to the summit. It’s not that the climb is so big, it’s just that on the ascent one is rewarded with endless mountain views of one of the largest wilderness tracts on the east coast sans roads. Basically, it’s a good place to run in the wild with big climbs if that’s your thing.
1:13 to the summit sign from the parking lot trailhead board is strong not but it’s not great. Great would be sub 1:10. But I’ve never known anyone to run under 1:10. Then again, I don’t know of anyone who has run under 1:13 either. Though I’m sure some have. Sub 1:05 would be sick. Sub 1:00 is never going to happen. Not because it isn’t humanly possibly but because anyone who I think could actually do it has no reason to come and give it a go. They’re too busy getting paid for their running.
The summit of Big Bald was overgrown as I expected. I didn’t get too beat up fortunately even though I ran shirtless but my left eye did get poked by a branch. While attempting to bomb the descent my eye teared up like crazy. I could barely see out of it as I constantly whipped away a river of tears.
I ran with one bottle and filled up first at the stream at the base of Big Bald after crossing North River and the dirt road. The second and only other time I filled up was on the backside of Big Bald at the stream located by the trail next to the two car-sized earth water traps. At the second fill up I guzzled nearly two bottles since I had 11 miles to go several of which would be exposed under a warm sun atop Hankey Mountain. The last few miles of trail after turning off the jeep road on Hankey Mountain were make or break for me. I kept my foot on the gas while descending the last section of rocks mixed in with trail before crossing the North River for the second and final time, this time on a suspension bridge. Along this section I hammered so hard my vision went a bit blurry. The 4:22 FKT cut off time was just oh so tight. As I crossed the bridge I looked at my watch and it read 4:17:xx. Damn it! I was terrified that I wouldn’t make it under 4:22- Dave Frazier’s TWOT FKT from two years back. I’d run hard and was disappointed (to say the least...) that my effort might not be good enough. Still, I continued running hard. Believing. I banged the final right-hand turn off the trail and pounded the 200 hundred yards of pavement. That’s when I realized I would actually finish under 4:22 after all. I sprinted into the parking lot, tapped the trailhead sign board and stopped my watch.
As mentioned, Dave Frazier’s TWOT FKT was 4:22:xx. Mike Morton’s previous FKT from several years prior to that was 4:23:xx. Both very fast times indeed. Funny thing, Dave would lower Mike’s time by a minute, then I would come along and lower Dave's time by only a minute as well.
I admit, I envied Dave’s time ever since I learned of it and thought that I might like to get to know TWOT. Perhaps Dave felt the same way of Mike’s previous time which must be the reason why he decided to run a fast loop in the first place. Well, that plus Dennis Herr pushing him. Perhaps Dave or someone else will be inspired by my recent run and work to lower the TWOT standard all over again. In fact, to Dave or anyone who might consider it I envy you as well. It is exciting to have energizing running goals to work towards. However big or small they can be life changing.