Trail Run in Shenandoah National Park

My next race (Varmint Half Marathon) is a hilly road race. In the past, I would have chosen a comparable route for my long run this weekend. I usually try to simulate race conditions as closely as possible. This makes me feel like I’m doing everything I can to prepare for the race, both mentally and physically.

And that may be true.

But

It hasn’t been working very well for me. It has been a long time since I set a PR in the marathon or half marathon distance.

I think I’ve been taking running too seriously.

I’m working on loosening up. Instead of training, I’m just running. That meant instead of finding a long run course that closely matched the Varmint Half Marathon course, I allowed myself to run wherever I wanted to.

And last Saturday morning, that meant a trail run in Shenandoah National Park.

I’d been hoping to get up there in time to see the Rhododendrons in bloom.

I planned to do my favorite Appalachian Trail/Riprap/Wildcat Ridge loop, but the loop is only 9 miles long. I wanted to get in a few more miles than that, so I parked at the Turk Mountain parking area. This turned the run into more of a lollipop than a loop, and upped the total distance to just under 14 miles.

SNPmapI had forgotten that the Appalachian Trail heading north out of the Turk Mountain parking area climbs quickly and steadily. I was breathing hard (and wondering if I was even more out of shape than I’d thought) for the first mile.

The elevation profile of this run:

SNPelevationThe flower-lined path made the climbing a little less painful.

IMG_20140601_090216After that discouraging first mile, the run turned into more of the ridge running I associate with the AT in SNP (mild, rolling hills). I settled into an easy pace and was relieved to realize that I was actually able to breathe normally when I was on more forgiving terrain.

It was a beautiful morning on the trail.

The valley was still blanketed in fog.

IMG_20140531_081900_192

IMG_20140531_082258_869The Mountain Laurel was pretty spectacular.

IMG_20140531_141655IMG_20140601_085905

IMG_20140601_090346But it was the Rhododendron bushes that I was most looking forward to seeing, and they did not disappoint!

PhotoGrid_1401560678263They were so pretty lining the swimming hole.

IMG_20140603_100239The picture doesn’t even come close to representing how beautiful it was in person.

The climb back out of the valley was not easy. I started wondering why I hadn’t jumped into the swimming hole when I’d had the chance. I usually do.

Thankfully, there were plenty more flowers to distract me from the tough climb.

PhotoGrid_1401560974723I was happy when I finally made it back to the Appalachian Trail, because that meant I only had about two miles left to go. I was pretty exhausted.

IMG_20140531_100315_286In hindsight, 14 trail miles (and 3200′ of elevation gain) might have been a little ambitious considering 7 miles is the furthest I’ve run since the Blue Ridge Marathon (more than a month ago, now).

It felt so good to get out there, though!

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10 Responses to Trail Run in Shenandoah National Park

  1. Danielle says:

    Beautiful! I do wish I’d had a chance to see some of the southern rhododendron tunnels in bloom when we were on the AT!

  2. Wow! What a gorgeous race! I love running ‘naked’ without my watch or expectations…especially when I am stressed or working towards a PR/goal. With a view like that, I’d want to run every day! Speaking of runs, I thought of you this morning when I passed a deer hidden in the trees. In my head I said ‘seen on my run today’ but didn’t have my camera!

    • Ha! I saw a deer the other day, and I DID have my camera, but I couldn’t get the stupid thing to focus. I did talk to the deer, though. And I have a very blurry picture 🙂

  3. FitNiceRunner says:

    What a gorgeous run! Trails here in VB will do, but I’m definitely jealous.

  4. Meagan says:

    Such a beautiful trail, and you caught the rhododendron at the perfect time! Don’t you just love how a trail run can have your heart pounding and your legs feeling like lead right from the start?

  5. Beautiful run! That hill starting at mile 9 looks like fun. 😉

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