Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hills, Chainsaws and Fluid Dynamics

I'm in North Carolina for a long Labor Day weekend. Vicki and I are visiting my mother in law who spends her summers in Brevard, near Asheville. It's beautiful here, for walking and ogling views, but she lives on the side of a mountain (or at least a very large hill).  This has made the runs a challenge.  I have not been doing much hill running, other than the usual Brooklyn bridges and Prospect Park hill.  The gradients on all of these are steady and moderate, and the elevation gain no more than 100 feet or so.

Friday, I wandered out of the house, only to be met by 200 yards of 15-20% grade. I almost walked back inside.  Instead I took a picture and headed out, remembering that I'd run here before.  I managed four miles of aggressively rolling terrain.  I ran up to the ridge, ran along it, and then descended for a bit until I reached two miles and turned back.  The run was largely an experiment in form, both ascending and descending.  Going up, there's no cheating.  You have to shift your weight and push off with both sides.  Lifting the knees is rewarded by extra distance per step.  Keeping the knees tracking over the foot is rewarded by a smoother push off.  Going down was a bit less successful. On moderate grades it's great to lean into the hill and work on efficiently gliding down. These hills were just too darned steep to lean into.  I found myself returning to inefficient, slow heel striking, just to keep my feet under me.  Yikes.  I didn't do my "plyo" workout on Friday, but I think there was a lot of plyo on that run.

Yesterday was long run day.  My long run had been 15 or so miles for the last three weeks.  Last week, I think I might have run 16 in Berkeley, but Nike+ was not so charitable.  I think I lost about a half mile to "pause" errors.  Anyway,  I wanted to go to 17, both to break out of the rut, and because I'd like to get up to 20 milers soon, so I can log 3 or so before the NYC Marathon.  It's getting tight.  The last time I did a long run here in Brevard, I ran down off the Mountain and then ran through the valley. The hard part was getting down, and then getting back up again at the end.  My quads and glutes were pretty burned from the hills the day before, so I resolved to go slowly and see what happened.  It was a good, but not great run.  The first mile or so was a punishing descent.  The middle part ascended through the valley along a creek.  The shoulder was narrow, so I spent a lot of time worrying about blind curves and stepping off into the grass as cars went by quickly.  This section of the road is fairly picturesque, in an Appalachian sort of way.  There's a reputed meth lab, a turnoff for "biker's comfort" (whatever that is), and another turnoff for "chainsaw art" (not gonna check that one out either).  The road then rose up, and at 8 miles hit the turnaround point, the North Carolina/South Carolina border, which is also the Eastern Continental Divide.  Until I stumbled on this spot a few years ago, I didn't know there was such a thing as the Eastern Continental Divide, but on one side of the state line, water flows into the Chesapeake.  On the other side of the line water flows into the Mississippi.  When faced with such Archimedean points, there's really only one thing to do, so I did.

Then I turned around, and ran home, past the meth lab, past the sign for chainsaw art, and, with surprising but deliberate success, back up the mountain.  The overall pace for the run was ridiculously slow.  I didn't make 17 miles either, but I'm feeling reasonably good about the final ramp up for the Marathon, and that's a surprise.


  1. How many times in life to you run to the end, or top, of anything? I remember once hiking to the Italian border from a small town in the southern French Alps. Feels really cool. Nicely done.

  2. True enough. In 1984 I hiked from Chamonix over an alp to Courmayeur, then around into Switzerland, staying in refuges all the way. It was spectacular. The route was called the "Tour de Mont Blanc." It was one of the best experiences of my life. It had lots of peaks, valleys, borders and chocolate. I'd completely do it again!!