Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wild Oak Trail Hoedown

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting The Wild Oak Trail, affectionately known as TWOT to the local runners.  TWOT is a 27.2 mile loop of thundering, whole-grain goodness located in the George Washington National Forest of central Virginia about 20 minutes southwest of Harrisonburg.      

Just when I thought I was all that and a bag of chips for getting a PR at Myrtle Beach Marathon a few weeks ago, I was violently and humbly brought back from orbit.  (I like my crow medium rare, thank you.)  What was the lesson I learned?  For starters, I do quite a bit of running on the rail-trail in Morgantown.  It's easy to delude yourself into thinking that when you trot along the rail-trail for a couple of hours that you are logging "big miles".  However, make no mistake, it wasn't long into Saturday's run before I recognized the distinct character, shall we say, of TWOT.  This might be one of the tougher trails I've run since the Zane Grey 50 and I was definitely caught off guard.   

Allow me to introduce the cast of characters in this blog post.  The host of the parade was one Mike Frazier who just last month had managed to run three loops at an unofficial race called Cold TWOT.  With Leadville as his primary objective, Mike has stepped up his game the past year and accordingly, has blossomed into quite the ultrarunner.  Marc Griffin is another damn fine ultrarunner from the area.  A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Marc at a New Year's Day run over in Shenandoah National Park.  He's the first guy I've met who has completed the so-called Beast Series; a series of 6 challenging ultras that have to be completed in a year.  Tom Syre is a bright, aspiring Marine officer who I met at the Mason-Dixon Madness 50K several months ago (he won the men's division for the North).  He's in the Beast Series for this year.  Last, but not least, we have Missy Cummings, Tom's partner in crime.  Missy has her gunsights on a 3 hour marathon in Charlottesville coming up soon and this was her first long distance trail run.  Suffice it to say I was the weak link in the chain on this fine day.  When we convened at a local gas station to convoy over to the trailhead at the butt crack of dawn, the very first line I ever said to Missy was "Today is a good day to die."  This was an attempt at my dry Montana humor since it appeared Missy was a bit nervous about her introduction to trail running, much less her introduction to TWOT.  But I would live to regret having fun at her expense in about 8 hours or so ...  
The weather was a bit deceptive.  Down in the valleys, it was overcast and about 45 degrees or so.  However, once up on the ridges, we got locked into misty clouds with a bit of wind.  Visibility was limited and the temperature felt about 10 degrees cooler.  While I did not get many classic Appalachian views, the few I did get were, of course, pretty.  I could imagine this trail would be gorgeous in the fall.  True to the name of the trail, there lots of red and chestnut oak all over dropping plenty of acorns.  I noticed big decaying stumps of chestnut occasionally and several species of conifers.  We put up a few grouse and also saw a wild turkey.  There was a vibe of remoteness to the area and I got the sense that if a guy wasn't paying attention and incorrectly took one of the several spur trails along the way, then he could get himself turned around quick!  
We ran the loop clockwise and had parked a car at around the 15 mile mark.  All of us were doing well up until that point.  Due to my new and improved ACL, I noticed I was tentative, lacking confidence, on the downhill stuff and the sections of trail that were rocky; this was the toughest run I've done so far since I started running again in earnest several months ago.  Virtually all of my training to date has been speedwork on tracks and roads in preparation for Myrtle Beach.  What is the lesson to be learned here?  This run served as a mild warning to me that I better get back on to the trails quick and stay on them.  Message received, loud and clear!          

The next 12 + miles we did were when things started to go off course for me.  Those "damn kids" started to pull away from me and I drifted further and further back.  At one point, coming up something I believe Marc told me was Lookout Mountain, I had to stop and shoot a gel.  Managing my nutrition in an ultra or a long trail run is a struggle for me that I do not yet have perfected.  For whatever reason, I tell myself that I can get by on a couple of gels and also my stomach gets upset from time to time.  Well, it's finally dawning on me that I can have whatever preconceptions I want but the reality is that I need 150 to 200 calories an hour to do these sorts of runs.  Now I was regretting my decision to forego eating the cookies, bananas, and gorp offered to me back at the car by the others.

Finally, we were within a couple of miles of finishing the loop.  Once again, I bonked, but this one was much worse.  My legs were dead, my thinking and judgment clouded, and my heart was fluttering.  Again, I stopped and shot a gel, sipped some water, and waited a few minutes.  All I wanted to do was lay down in the leaf litter and fall to sleep.  Yikes.  I chuckled to myself recalling how the lithe pixie Missy had raced by me many miles ago never to be seen again.  "Who's doing the dying today, Phil?!"

Man, was I glad to see the car.  And if someone had told me that I had to do the loop again, I would have told them to jack a shell in me and don't bother field dressing me.  What is so funny about all this is a few minutes later in Mike's pickup truck, I felt pretty good (at least I was lucid and not drooling on myself).  I WANT A REMATCH, DAMN IT!  I've even been thinking about Cold TWOT 100 circa 2012 ... hmmm ...   

Later that night, I had dinner with a friend in "The Burg" whereupon I ate prodigious amounts of sushi and pad thai.  I'm surprised I didn't lick the plates clean and reach over and eat her napkin.  Throw in a midnight raid of Mike's cereal supply and I was able to get my tank to at least half full.

Looking for a shakedown run to prep for your big ultra coming up?  Look no further cause once you get on TWOT, you'll be shaken like you were in an earthquake, baby.



  1. GREAT report, Phil!!! Love the line about jacking a shell in me! Hahahah! I've probably done 50 loops out there over the years, but never 2 in a row. Some day ... maybe. :)

  2. Was fun sharing the trail with you, call or email when you are in town again!!!!


  3. TWOT rocks. So glad you had fun and are thinking of coming back! It is a great "bread and butter" training run for virtually any ultra. Great report!

  4. Thanks for the nice comments, Virginia runners! I'll be back plenty of times.