Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Forrest Gump Run

This past summer, Yvonne and I visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. She did a wonderful job picking our cabins through Asheville Cottages. So wonderful, we wanted to go back again.

The Biltmore House in the snow:

With Martin Luther King weekend looking like the best bet for everyone, we booked our cabin and made our plans. The weather was a bit scary leading up to the trip, but we dodged a few major storms and ended up with cold but sunny days. There was snow on the ground just about everywhere you looked, but the roads were clear enough to be easily passable.

The kids had a great time (so did we) and we enjoyed walking through the house, around the estate, and around the barns in Antler Hill Village (formerly the Winery). I was recovering form a sinus infection that kept me away from running for the week, so I was itching to get out there and get a few miles in. But being on vacation, sleeping in, herding kids, and enjoying the hot tub meant I didn't have much motivation to get out the door in the freezing temps to go run.

Fortunately Yvonne found a way to occupy the kids on a tour, giving me a couple of hours to run around the estate. So I took what I could get and ran with it. Literally.

My run started in the B-1 Parking Lot where I headed up to the Statue of Diana. From there I ran down the open area to the Ramp Douce, across the end of the front yard, and into the gardens. I ran through the gardens, but stuck to the icy trails as much as I could. So I avoided pavement and ended up missing my target trail twice. Oh well. The spring garden had a fun switchback that was fast and slick and I got to run under and across the exit road a few times.

Me at the Statue of Diana looking towards the house:

The garden trails lead to a Bass Pond below the house and I was hoping to take the upper trail that sits on the opposite side of the road from the Pond, but I missed that trail too and ended up running down the paths next to the Pond and nearly took a swim as the path got super-muddy and super-slippery near the edge a few times.

At the end of the Pond is a very pretty water fall that I ran across (on a bridge, not the falls itself) and ended up stuck on the road for a bit. I did my best to avoid the roads since I wasn't really allowed to run on the roads, but it was all I had to run on. I tromped across the cattle guard (actually a deer guard) and made it into an open field where I ran through about four to six inches of fresh and slightly melted snow.

I continued next to the road in the grass (and near a ditch that made me cautious) to the trail that I missed near the Bass Pond before. Along the way I stuck to the game trail that was there and did my best to avoid the acorns and hazelnuts on the ground. No sense rolling an ankle this early into my trek.

Once I made it onto the trail, I got a chance to see the open field where Forrest Gump ran in the movie. It's just a couple of seconds, but if you watch the movie close enough you'll see young Forrest going through that same field. Although his didn't have snow in it. Or a snowman. So as I slogged through the gravel, mud, and slush, I did my best to have fun. But being under a strict time limit, it was hard to unwind enough to enjoy myself as much as I had hoped.

Run Forrest! Run!

I made it to the Lagoon in decent time and enjoyed seeing the bamboo stand there. I don't know why, but I love the stands of bamboo on the estate. Something about them just strikes me as peaceful and beautiful. Once past the Lagoon, I was on a stretch of uncleared but packed snow. Which made for a great test section for my spiked shoes. They held up great on every surface except the slush and the mud. Fresh snow, packed snow, ice, pavement, gravel, water, puddles, and everything else I through at it wasn't an issue. The slush was an issue because it's hard to see if it's slush (and thus soft) or ice (and thus hard) so you're not really sure how you're foot will land. So there's some slop there in your stride as you go through. The mud though, that was just plain slick in some spots. Felt like I was wearing socks on a freshly Pledged hardwood floor.

The trail between the Lagoon and the Outdoor Center in Antler Hill was clear and heavily traveled. The temps were nearing 50 so a lot of people were enjoying the sun and the snow while they could. Fortunately my spikes made enough noise that people heard me coming and moved out of my way.

The clear path near Antler Hill:

The Outdoor Center was my half-way point and an adventure in itself. I ate a banana and took an e-Gel right before I started so it had expended itself once I got to the halfway point. It took me 56 minutes to get from Parking Lot B-1 to Antler Hill with only one bathroom break. I know I went out way fast but it was mostly downhill. Next time I'll run it the other way so my second half is downhill.

The adventure of Antler Hill was two fold. One, I was taking way too long to get going on my return route and two, I had no source of additional fuel. I had to ask directions for the Deer Park Trail (the one I missed back by the Bass Pond and Garden area). I got solid directions and then I asked about Gatorade. None was to be found so I had to add sugar (both raw and refined) to my water (which I had to fill in the bathroom sink - so it was warm). That's right, I ran the second half of this with just two bottles of sugar water. It worked, but wasn't ideal for damn sure.

Once I killed about 13 minutes getting my sugar water, making water, and getting directions, I headed back. At the Lagoon again I saw the wonderful view of the House in the distance and tried to focus on the route directions. I crossed the road and passed two old ladies walking a dog (mind you this was a gravel/snow/ice/slush covered single-track trail). I was impressed with their skill and speed.

At the Lagoon headed back to that big house in the distance:

Once I made it onto the Deer Park Trail (and passed the old ladies) I hit some tough trails. The uphill was hard, the larger rocks made it hard, and the mud made it extremely hard. After a couple switchbacks, I made it to the top of the hill and noticed the little old ladies moving right along on the trail below me. Very impressive.

On I went through a deer gate, across some fields, and to a trail head where I realized my error. In avoiding the Meadow Trail that makes a loop near the Bass Pond, I missed the Deer Park Trail, the one I wanted so I could avoid the roads. Anyway, I nearly skipped across the Meadow Trail and down to the Bass Pond to hit the trail on the other side of the road from the Gardens but realized I would likely miss my time cut-off so I stuck to the Deer Park Trail.

From that trail head, it was a pretty straight shot to the house. Through another deer gate, another clearing, more odd looks from people walking, and I was at the end of the South Terrace. From there it was a short jaunt in front of the house and back to the parking lot where I wiped down with baby wipes and sprayed myself not once, not twice, but thrice with some body spray. You see, my time cutoff was to be back in time to clean up for lunch with the family when they got back from their tour.

Safe, sound, and smelling like Old Spice, I waited a few minutes for them to return and away we went to lunch at Cedric's in Antler Hill where I seriously thought about ordering two courses because I was running on fumes. Literally.

Fluids and Fuel:
I had one banana and one e-Gel right before my run. I also took two bottles of plain water with me. At the halfway point I refilled my bottles with water and added plain, refined sugar as well as raw sugar to them (I used those Sugar in the Raw packs and plain sugar from the coffee condiment area).

Clear and sunny. Little to no wind. Most of the wind was confined to the areas around the open fields and near the river. Temps ranged between 30F and 50F.

Outbound - 56:00 (approximate time - includes one bathroom break)
Aid Station - 13:00 (approximate time - includes bathroom break, water refill, sugar water mixing, and direction getting)
Inbound - 47:59 (approximate time)
Finish - 1:53:59 (about a 15:00 pace with my break and about 2:00 faster without it)

The Route:
Length - 7.62 miles (approximate)
Elevation - about 2,000 feet above sea level (compared to my home turf of about 200 feet)
Route Gain/Loss - about 350 foot drop going out and 350 foot incline coming back

At the end of our trip, this is the beautiful sunrise I got to see coming over the mountains in the distance:

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