Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pilot Mountain Preview

I'm thinking about registering for the Pilot Mountain Payback marathon set for Feb. 18th, 2012 and I was near the park for Thanksgiving weekend, so I decided to pay the mountain a little visit. I had only been there once before and had just done a very short hike around the knob. My husband and I were staying with my father in law in Rural Hall about 15 -20 minutes away and my good friend Elizabeth was in Pilot Mountain staying with her parents for the Thanksgiving weekend, so we met at the visitor center at 8:30 am Saturday. It was perfectly cool running weather of about 40 degrees at the start. By the time we would finish, it would be 60. We paused to take a "before" picture at the trail head to Grassy Ridge trail (1.5 miles, moderate), said bye to E's mom who was going to hike while we ran, and took off up the trail.

I was anxious to try out my new pair of trail shoes, Vasque Mindbenders, as this was my second run in them, my first trail run in them, and I'm counting on them to perform for next Sunday's Pine Mountain 40 miler in GA. Pilot Mountain turned out to be a good test for them. The trail started fairly wide with rolling hills and we ran side by side for a bit, but it soon became a leaf-covered adventurous "where's the trail?" guessing game. We ran slowly and carefully whenever we could run at all and power hiked the rest. This continued for the length of the Grassy trail and onto the Mountain trail where a sign announced "Mountain Trail 2.5 miles strenuous". Boy, they got their sign right!

Our "run"soon turned almost completely into a power hike up the leaf covered mountain. We lost the trail several times and were able to pick it back up by finding the red blazes on the trees up ahead. The trail was very rocky under the piles of leaves and sure enough, I twisted my right ankle to the side jogging a rare downhill section. Luckily, it was not too bad and I could soon tell I would be fine and was able to walk and then jog out the stiffness.
Sweaty but happy

At this point, it was either warming up or the challenging terrain was warming me up or both, and I stopped to stuff my gloves, headband, and Medoc vest in my hydration pack. At the end of the mountain trail, we turned right on the Ledge Spring trail (2 miles, strenuous) towards the knob of Pilot mountain. The trail seemed to be completely made of numerous large stone steps and we climbed on up. I stopped to take a few pictures of the trail and E climbing in front of me and she took a couple of me. We passed a few groups of rock climbers just getting started and I think they must have heard our ragged breathing and seen our dripping sweatiness as we got a few comments, including, something like "you guys are working hard". Elizabeth told them it was supposed to be a run and turned into a hike. I was just thinking wow, Pilot Mountain marathon is a REALLY tough course. I was also thinking to myself that I could feel my glutes were getting a workout, so it was a good thing it was so tough.

Glute toning up the stone steps!
E working it!
We finally got to the end and took the Jomeokee trail (.8, moderate) around the knob where we perked up a bit on this moderate section and happily said "Good morning!" to a few family groups who were strolling along, including some folks who appeared to be Menonites or something similar as the young girls were in long skirts and blouses and had their heads covered with scarves. This trail was a fun roller coaster of up and down sections of large flat stone stairs and smooth packed wide trail. A nice break! We finished the loop quickly and headed back down to the parking lot and trotted over to a couple with their baby girl sitting on a bench at the overlook and asked if they would take our picture. E commented that their little girl was adorable and the man answered that it was her job to be adorable. The nice man took a few pictures of us and we thanked the family and headed back down the mountain on the Grindstone trail with smiles on our faces. At least I know I was smiling.

The view

As we started down Grindstone, I had a burst of energy and let out a whoop as I leaped down one of the huge steps. Luckily, I did not turn my ankle again and we continued down the mountain on a well deserved descent which felt easy after all the climbing. It got a little less so as we hopped down tons of large steps and I began thinking that going back up might be a nice change from the quad pounding. This trail was clear of leaves and was similar footing to the bridle trails at Umstead for the most part and was a nice reward for our challenging climb up. We agreed that we were glad we went up the way we did and came down this way instead of the rocky leafy trails we went up. Soon we were back at the visitors center and E's mom was cheerfully waiting for us.
King of the mountain pose after our run.
We completed 8.2 miles in 1:57:50, about 14:30 pace. I felt happy and energized with a good workout and decided I'd have to come back another time, maybe on Feb. 18th. At least I would know what to expect for part of the marathon course! The new shoes did fine. Now to taper a little before next Sunday!