Long Run at Sugar Hollow

Kurt and I didn’t run the Varmint this year. Neither of us were feeling up to the three and a half hour (each way) drive.

I was happy not to be spending so much time in the car, but a little sad to miss the race. I was also left without a plan (not necessarily a bad thing) for my Saturday long run.

When I woke up this morning, I still hadn’t decided where I was going to run. I knew I wanted to run about 16 miles on trails and that I wanted there to be water for a swim along the way.

I finally decided on a loop that I used to run at Sugar Hollow.

There were several reasons for my decision:

1. I would begin and end at the base of the mountains, which meant most of the climbing would happen earlier in the run.
2. I’d get to check out Blue Hole. I hadn’t been there in a while and wanted to make sure nothing had changed that required an update to my blog post.
3. I would arrive at Blue Hole near the end of my run (when swimming would be most appealing).
4. At 18 miles, it wouldn’t require any doubling back or adding on. Sure, there was the fact that it was further than I wanted to run, but the last few miles were all downhill, so I figured they didn’t really count (and I wonder why I end up injured).

To form the loop, I take the N.F. Moormans River Trail up to Skyline Drive, turn onto the Appalachian Trail heading south to the Turk Mountain parking area where I get on the Turk Branch Trail and take that back down to Moormans River Road.

For the first 5 miles, today’s run was exactly the same as the run I’d done on Tuesday.

I didn’t see any bears on the road this time, but I did see two small Toyotas well beyond the lower parking area.

Hmph. I guess my car could make it. Not that there’s any reason to park at the top, especially today, since I would be making a loop back to my car anyway.

I met up with two guys and two dogs at the first river crossing. They asked me where the North Fork Moormans River Trail was. I pointed them in the direction I was headed, straight across the river.

I crossed ahead of them and was on my way, but a few minutes later I realized that I probably should have given them better directions. I also hoped they knew about the cement post signs used in Shenandoah. The signs are very helpful, but easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. I wished I’d told them.

I didn’t have as much energy as I’d had on Tuesday. I wondered if it was because I knew I had much further to go, or if I was genuinely more tired.

IMG_20140614_123944At about the point where I’d turned around on Tuesday, I started sprinkling some preemptive walk breaks into the climb.

I was not feeling great, but I was still chugging along fine when I turned onto the Appalachian Trail. About a mile later, when I was still climbing, I was no longer chugging along just fine. The preemptive walk breaks became necessary walk breaks.

In my mind, the profile for this run looked like this (6 miles up/6 miles across/6 miles down):

IMG_20140614_141911_328In reality, it looks like this:

sugar hollow loopThere were many more miles of climbing than I’d anticipated. On some level, I must have known this. I run the loop in this direction because the climb is not as steep. I’d just forgotten that not being as steep means that it must be longer.

Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to be out there.

I was just really friggin’ tired.

The Mountain Laurels were still in bloom.

IMG_20140614_124634There aren’t any grand vistas on this loop, but there are a few places where you can catch a glimpse of the mountains and valleys in the distance through the trees.

IMG_20140614_125254IMG_20140614_124944About 9 miles into my run, I noticed that my upper arm was chafing. I’d put some Body Glide under my bra strap, but had forgotten about my arm. I spent some time running like a chicken with a broken wing, trying to keep my arm from hitting the side of my body.

Not long after I’d turned onto the Turk Branch Trail, I came up behind two men and two dogs. I asked to pass, and when they stopped to let me by, one of them said, “Hey, we saw you earlier! You ran all this way? It makes a loop?” I told them yes, and yes. They told me that they’d gotten lost (now I really felt bad that I hadn’t given them better directions) and had driven up to the top.

I explained which trails to take to make the loop, and also made sure they knew about the cement post signs (they hadn’t known.)

Because of several storms we’d had this week, the river crossings were even higher than they’d been on Tuesday.

IMG_20140614_124258My feet were very wet for almost the entire run.

I was grateful that the last few miles to Blue Hole were entirely down hill. I felt certain that I’d be walking if faced with even the slightest of inclines.

When I got to Blue Hole (which is about 20 feet below the trail) I looked down and saw that there were already some people there. Three guys, from what I could see. I caught sight of a naked bottom. I assumed that they had been skinny dipping.

I turned away from them and ate some dried mango and stretched a little. I tried to make some noise. I thought about just continuing on, but I’d just run 16 miles. There was no way a few naked dudes were going to keep me from my swim in Blue Hole! My gut told me everything was fine. I sensed no bad vibes from these guys.

After a few minutes, I turned and climbed down the ledge, toward them. They were now all clothed and packing up to go. I apologized, and they said, “no problem”.

I waded right in. The water was cold, but felt spectacular to my hot, aching body. I swam around for a while, taking it all in. Blue Hole is one of the prettiest swimming holes I’ve seen. Even today, when the water was murky and brown from all the rain.

Another group of people arrived just as I was putting my shoes on.

I had been there long enough for my Garmin to stop, so I walked while I waited for it to find a signal again. Everything hurt (particularly my feet and shins and the chafed spot on my arm.) By the time my Garmin found satellite, I had come to the realization that there would be no more running today. I had already run a little over 16 miles, which was all I’d wanted to do today, anyway.

I made my way slowly back to the car. The trail was mostly in the sun, which was surprisingly nice. I was a little chilled from my swim, and the sun felt wonderful.

I’m still wondering what the etiquette is when you happen upon strangers skinny dipping.

What would you have done?

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6 Responses to Long Run at Sugar Hollow

  1. Danielle says:

    Sounds like a great run/hike! Nice work. Love the mountain laurel – so pretty! As for the skinny dippers, I think you made the right call. Better to give a little space and time than totally embarrass them (and you) by walking right up 🙂

    • Thanks. We are so lucky to have such great trails nearby! The swimming holes are nice, too since we don’t have the ocean 🙂 And thanks for your thoughts on the skinny dippers. I really didn’t know what I should do…

  2. Meagan says:

    Wow what a tough run. You are tough stuff for conquering it! Thank goodness you had Blue Hole waiting for you 🙂 Funny about the naked guys who were there. Not sure what the etiquette is for that!

    At least you ran back into those guys with the dogs and were able to give them clearer directions. Don’t feel bad!

    • Thanks 🙂 I’d forgotten how hard that run is. I was in better trail running shape last time I ran it! I really do prefer running on trails. Don’t know why I stayed away so long.

      I was glad I got a chance to clear things up for those hikers.

  3. You probably did the correct thing with the skinny-dippers. Walking up to them and saying “Hmm, I was hoping to swim some but from the looks of it the water is really cold” would have been rude.

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