May 26, 2012

Blazing Trails and Blazing Heat

Given my firm granting everyone the Friday off before Memorial Day weekend, I decided to take advantage of the bonus day and run a new trail. With next weekend's North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon covering the Potomac Heritage Trail, I decided to get a preview and run the first portion. And decided to pair it with a little bike ride in the heat the following morning.

This is the first time I've actually scouted a running course...and I'm not sure how much confidence it inspired in me.

I started at the Potomack Lakes Sportsplex, parking around 11:15am in a pretty full lot. The playgrounds and picnic areas were full of strollers and children, so I must've caught the early housewife picnic hour. The trail started out on a gravel road for most of a mile, and I kept running past my turn-off for the trail, resulting in a half-mile back-track. This would not be near the first time I lost the trail. Linking back up with the Potomac Heritage trail and trying to follow the not-always-well-marked blue blazes, I quickly got bogged down in mud. With the past few days of torrential rain, the trail was a complete mess. There were a few instances where I don't think I made any progress forward in several strides because my feet were slipping out from under me so rapidly. The trail quickly narrowed to less than single track as it ran parallel to Trump National golf course. On the one hand, it was fun to be running solo through a narrow trail with thigh-high undergrowth. On the other, the undergrowth was leaning over the trail and my legs were quickly covered in scratches, welts, and bumps from all the various thorns and nettles. As the trail crossed the golf course road a few times, I lost it again where overgrowth covered the trail, and I ended up putting in about a half-mile on the road. When I rejoined the trail, it had thankfully left the undergrowth behind, and the new track was along the Potomac River in a mature forest. As it swept along the river I made my way up two large hills and screamed down the backside, having to slow the pace several times to avoid slipping downhill. During this section of the trail, there were a lot of side trails going to the river, and I again had to pause several times to make sure I was on the right track. After about 35 minutes, I took a few minute breather to drink some water and then turned around and headed back to my car the same way.

As I said, the overall run didn't inspire much confidence for next weekend. Though I know the course should be well marked, I lost track of my bearings several times. And on the major hills, I had to stop and walk at the crest a couple times to catch my breath, although it was getting hotter and more humid than previous May runs. Also, I have no idea how the North Face can run an out-and-back loop course on this trail; I do not look forward to crossing paths with 700 other runners, especially since at points there was barely enough room for me on the trail. So in summary, the run had some scenic and serene moments, with no other runners in sight, but it also caused some question marks as I head into next weekend's trail half marathon.

The morning after my trail run, with my legs still itching and resembling a cat scratching post, I decided to exercise on a path with no chance of getting lost. I hopped on the bike and cranked out 24 miles on the paved W&OD trail. It was a great morning of riding, and I managed to get out before a lot of other cyclists and runners took to the trail. Although the heat was really starting to pick-up on the back half of the ride. I went through my bike bottles (one spiked with Nuun tabs) by mile 16 and had to fill up at a water fountain to make it the rest of the way home. Even with the 20mph or so breeze in my face, I was pouring sweat by the end of the ride, even dripping down the inside of my sunglasses and off my nose.

With temps expected to eclipse 90 degrees this weekend, I'm taking the next two days off.