My daughter and I headed to Pennsylvania on Mother’s Day to do a 35 miler on the Great Allegheny Passage. I did consider that an out and back may not have been in my best interest with my ITBS, but I couldn’t resist the urge. The GAP, as it’s called, is really a unique rail trail. The towns you encounter along the trail provide very accessible services to trail-goers. In fact, most of these towns are dubbed “trail towns.” There are very long sections where you are in the midst of wilderness and only encounter the long-distance cyclist. The river rapids and waterfalls along the Ohiopyle/Confluence section are absolutely beautiful.
We went out 17.5 miles, and when we turned around we decided to stop in the trail town of Confluence and see if we could find some grub. We ate at a little BBQ shack almost right off the trail, and they were really nice and had some excellent food! My ITBS felt pretty nasty after we left there but loosened up a lot over the next couple miles. Then I felt great like I could run forever. We easily cruised through the last 10 miles and finished in around 7 hours. Everything went just right. It was by far one of the best runs I’ve had in a very long time, and we both completely enjoyed ourselves aside from the fact that it was pretty cold and gusty.
So last week, we mapped out our next bike/run on the GAP. This time I was reaching for 40 miles. We would start not far from where we turned around the previous week and continue to head east. This section started at Markleton, PA and ended a bit past Meyersdale, PA. To add yet another element, we decided to start the run at 4:30 am. I had never run in the dark before due to the fact that I’m quite a weenie when it comes to that kind of thing! So I felt it was time to face my fear, and the way I see it, if I’m ever going to run a 100 miler, I better get used to running at night!
I donned my headlamp and packed a backup flashlight and LOTS of batteries 😉 and we headed off into the dark trail. Within a mile or so, we were completely isolated in the woods. It was somewhat freaky to me the further out we got. Around 5:20 am, the hue of morning started to glow in the sky, and I began to feel so much better. I survived!
Strangely, things began to fall apart for me near mile 12. I was overcome with a headache, fatigue, nausea, and heavy, unresponsive legs. I sat down and mulled over the possibility of turning back. I ate a gel, took an electrolyte tab, and drank some water. We kept slowly moving forward with plenty of walk breaks. I started feeling much better by mile 15, though the dead legs and fatigue still plagued me. I was in such a funk that I missed a lot of the scenery, though it was very gloomy with the constant threat of rain. I tried to keep focus on the task at hand.
The trail coursed through woodlands with scenic waterfalls and river views and into open Pennsylvania farmland with breathtaking views of the Allegheny Mountains. It was almost like we were running through completely different states as the landscape changed. Just before the town of Meyersdale, we crossed the Salisbury Viaduct, a 1,900 ft long train bridge converted to a trail bridge. It looms high over the railroad and freeway below and offers some spectacular views of mountains and windmills–truly fascinating.
We passed by Meyersdale and proceeded to our turnaround at mile 20, and for the first time that morning began to encounter other people on the trail. We stopped in Meyersdale and grabbed some Subway. There’s nothing like a breakfast sub and cookies at 9:00 in the morning after running 20 miles! It seems that I can eat just about anything and run. We headed back out on the trail. I was feeling a lot better. But it wasn’t over yet…
At mile 34-35, my daughter realized she had a flat tire. Me and my optimistic and procrastinating nature had yet to get us a small pump for the bike. It was bound to happen eventually, so it didn’t really bother me at all. Being a Sunday, bike shops that we knew of were closed; the only option was to get busy walking. By the time we got back to the car we had gone almost 41 miles and had been out for 11 hours. My feet had multiple new blisters, which I’m hoping my new Injinji toe socks will remedy in the future.
All said and done, it was a heck of an experience, and we both learned a lot and enjoyed ourselves. There were many difficulties throughout the day, and those were what made it so worthwhile. We both can’t wait to get back out and do it again (with a bike pump this time)!