I have heard of now many people who have run their years worth of age in miles on their birthday. One friend of mine ran his years worth in hours; putting in a 90+ mile run in 26 hours on his 26th birthday. Although, not quite that ambitious, I still liked the sound of the challenge of completing the same number of miles as years of age on my birthday. So the idea stuck in my head.
With my birthday on the horizon, the original plan was to hit the Duncan Ridge Trail. One of the so-called toughest trails east of the Mississippi, the DRT is a 32 or so mile trail that intersects the Appalachian Trail twice in north Georgia. Back in July, seven of my running buddies attempted to complete it, but only two did. Granted it was a hot day, but it definitely proved the ruggedness of the trail. I wanted to try it. However, recent torrential rains that dropped over 24 inches in the Atlanta and north Georgia area, quickly made us have to reconsider the idea of running the DRT. Mainly due to the fact that one end of the trail is only accesible by forest road and all the rain would have made getting through the mud impossible. so the back up plan was to run about 39-40 miles on the Appalachian Trail, starting at Woody Gap and traveling southward to Springer Mountain and then back.
We then had to ditch the idea when I learned about my dad having to go into see his cardiologist for a procedure on the day we had set aside to make this birthday run. I almost cancelled the whole idea until we came up with yet another alternative that would allow me to get my b-day ultra run in and still be there for my dad. Instead of running up in north Georgia on the Friday we selected, we decided to run over night at a local state park through the night. Not quite the same bragging rights, but it would still accomplish the goal of getting my birthday miles in. It would mean sacrificing that night of sleep, but it sounded like fun to me and my running buddy, Woody. I did run 9 miles that morning, however, this was before I realized that I would be running through the night that evening. I was committed to getting in the 30+ run in with one run.
I gathered all my gear together, water bottles, hydration pack, food, headlamps, fresh batteries, extra clothes, etc. I picked Woody up at about 10pm and we made our way to the park. On the way, we stopped to get coffee knowing we would need it and also discussed where the best place to park the car would be. We didn't want to park it in the usual spots of the park, because we wanted to avoid any unneeded attention by park rangers or area police. We found a quiet spot in a subdivision about a mile or so from the main visitor's center at the park. Entrance to the park and the trail was a little over a mile away. 11pm, time to get on with it. Just like that, we were off!
We soon encountered a problem, a bridge on the road towards the park was out due to construction. Normally, the bridge goes over a railroad track, so we had to back track a ways to find access to the rail bed and run on that to find a way out on the opposite side of the road. A little bush-whackin' later and we were on the other side. This set us back about 10 minutes, but we were not going out to beat any time.
Visitor's center is at the north end of the park. There is a trail that begins at the center but the ranger's quarters are also near by. So we had to run down the road past the entrance and parallel the park until we could get on another trail entrance that connects with the park's trail. Fired up the headlamps and for the next eight hours or so, we would be running on park trails for the most part. One thing you get right away when running in the dark with a headlamp is this unusual feeling of running with tunnel vision. It takes a little while to get used to it, but once you do, your peripheral still suffers. Careful to pick up our feet over the roots and rocks, we got into a groove and within the first couple of hours covered quite a bit of miles.
Being used to running at this park in the day time, it was a completely different experience running it at night. The park trail crosses a couple of local roads. In order to disctract attention, we would turn off the headlamps as we neared these roads to cross. The trail was quiet and for the most part, we were covering alot of ground with out much trouble. The night was moderately humid and in the open fields there was a low lying fog. At one point, we noticed a couple pair of gold dots in the trees and quickly realized that it was two pair of deer eyes. The white tails ran away and from that point forward we would see several pairs more through out the night, always hoping they were deer and not coyotes.
We were both carrying our own water with a bladder hydration pack and a couple of hand helds. With the humidity, it was important to stay well hydrated. Luckily at one end of the park, there's a water fountain which allowed us to top off our hand helds. A couple of times, we stopped to eat a sandwich or take a gel. It was important to stay well fueled too. Pace was easy going and although there are several good inclines in the park, we stayed away from taking the trail that goes over the top of a couple of substantial summits. The run was about getting the miles in. that was the goal.
Towards the last couple of hours, we were definitely walking more. Woody had more legs than I did, but he was being a friend and keeping with me. Great pacer! In order to cover the miles we needed, we had to double up on sections of the trail. Sounds simple enough, but sometimes covering the same ground is discouraging. Particularly hard when we were getting closer to the car and then have head back out the opposite way. Regardless of the self-inflicted cruelty, we were enjoying the run and counting down the miles.
We noticed that the glow in the sky was slowly, but surely, changing to daylight. We were on the trail on the way back past the visitor's center. Soon that was it, we were done with the trails. Out on the roads, civilization had come to life. Commuters were making their way to work and we were wrapping up an all night run. I'm sure our idea of fun, was their idea of crazy. I guess it's just all perspective. We backtracked along the train tracks, made our way back to the other side of the downed bridge and in no time were back at the car. Mission accomplished!
Neither of us carried a Garmin, but knowing the distances in the park and calculating the various trails we ran and the distance back to the car, we called it 39 miles. If we are off, it's only by plus or minus a mile or so. Eight plus hours of running and it is safe to say we got the distance in. Also, recall that I ran nine miles that previous morning, so all in all, I got almost fifty miles of running in within 24 hours. Not shabby.
We changed into dry clothes at the car and cleaned up some. What next? How did we celebrate? Breakfast at Chick-fil-a. Chicken biscuit, hash browns, coffee and a chocolate shake. Too much reward for my birthday miles.
By the way, my dad did great with his procedure and I was able to be there for him along with the rest of my family.