55 in the Shenandoah Mountains

 “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.“ -TS Eliot

For some reason, the passage above came to me the other day as I was running 55 miles on the Appalachian Trail (AT) through Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountains. This is a trail I’ve been on quite a few times before – as a Boy Scout way way back, as an AT thru hiker years ago, as a scout troop leader more recently, and most recently with my kids – so beforehand I felt like this would be a day on a trail I knew really well.

Once I got out there, I felt like I was “knowing it for the first time“ – which is another way of saying that it felt very new! In my mind’s eye, the Shenandoah portion of the AT is super flat and easy; in reality, I encountered tons of rocks, roots, and mud that made this not an easy outing – but definitely a memorable day!

More details about the run in a moment here, but first (as usual) – how is this like starting an apparel brand? Well, every step of the way I feel like I’m learning something new, even when it’s something I thought I knew about before. Another note: I was wearing prototypes of new products (running shorts and shirt) on this run – and I had some good insight about how make them better in production.  More to come soon!

Also, this was another run for “5x5x5” – my effort to raise money for World Central Kitchen‘s work in Ukraine (by running 5 iconic trail runs – like this one – over 5 months to raise $5k for World Central Kitchen – see https://gofund.me/1ce72b8e). Just before I did this run, I saw a post from the former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who said this about Ukrainians: “I hate them… As long as I live, I’ll do anything I can to make them disappear.“ Wow. To be in a situation where a military power like Russia is trying to destroy your country is something almost unimaginable. But it underscores for me again how important the work is that the World Central Kitchen is doing in Ukraine. And thanks of course to everyone who has supported my effort!

OK, the run. I turned 55 last month so figured I’d run 55 miles to celebrate commemorate the occasion. Again, the section of trail on the Appalachian Trail that I did was one I was quite familiar with – although it was not exactly what I remembered! To minimize logistics, I did an out and back – leaving from Thornton Gap (easy parking) – and heading south 27.5 miles. Once I hit that number, I turned around and went back to the car.

My GPS watch said at the end of the day I climbed about 31,000 vertical feet – which I know can’t be correct – but I do think I climbed something like 9 to 10,000 vertical feet … so quite a bit of up-and-down! The AT parallels Skyline Drive (the National Park Service parkway for cars), so you’re never too far from people. I saw lots of people in the way out – but almost nobody on the way back.

There were amazing views in the morning and later on on the day, but it rained quite a bit through the afternoon. Some thunder and lightning – but only a little was close. (Any close lightning strike is still one too many!)

Gear. I wore regular running shoes, which was a bad choice. Trail runners would have been much better. I wore new prototypes of Mill & Mountain shorts and shirt. They worked great! Poles were helpful.

Food and Water. Gels, chews, bars, and PB&Js. Water is pretty easy since there are fountains along the way on Skyline Drive – maybe every 8 to 10 miles – so I used those to hydrate. As on a number of the other longer runs I've done lately, hydration sachets were helpful too.  

Upshot. I started a little after 6 AM and finished up just after dark – with a pace about 3.7 mph. Only about a third of the trail was really runnable. All in all, it was a phenomenal day.

Can you do 55 on the AT? Yes, of course! Just don’t count on this section being flat and smooth …