Jones Gap 9.54 Mile Trail Run - Marietta, South Carolina
Elevation Gain: 2349'
September 11, 2021 - While the rest of the world frets over the meaning and truth of this day of infamy, I toed the line with members of my tribe to climb the wonderful foothills of South Carolina to seek their good tidings and bathe in their sunny cheer. It has been some time since I focused on the shorter distance races defined by their local color. The bigger ultra events increasingly seem to be sucking the oxygen out of the sport. I had a real good time today in a new venue with people I had never shared a trail with before... and it felt like family. I come away smiling.
It was great to begin a race at eight o'clock in the morning; it is a different crowd than those who start the day with headlamps. It was refreshing to again experience the simple joy of just getting together to do a simple run. No pretense, no hype. Very appealing. It was 55 degrees with clear skies and a rising sun that seemed to hold much promise for the day. We call that perfect! The run headed out on the roads, tilting slightly upward for a mile before we were spread out enough to go vertical on the Falls Creek Trail. Did I say vertical? I meant VERTICAL, straight up an awesome, rooty, eroded elevator slope. All you could do was take giant steps as we all power-walked our way up the seemingly endless incline. It would be hard to imagine the people ahead of those I fell in with could have been making any quicker progress. It was all a juggling act - balancing one's oxygen intake with one's lactic acid buildup in the legs. Those who hadn't figured out the formula yet had to stop from time to time to catch up on their breathing. The group I was attached to seemed relentless, never pausing to rest, yet they seemed able to carry conversation without missing a step!
I had done a similar ten-mile run on roads the day before with an equivalent vertical relief, yet felt no carryover or fatigue. My body responded better than I had wished for, protecting my injured knee less and less as the race continued. After we reached the beautiful falls pictured above, I felt strong enough to begin moving on the field in front of me, pulling everyone within reach back in turn as the trail undulated toward the Hospital Rock Trail, which would then take us back to the valley below. I had the momentum to continue to move down the technical sections of trail more confidently and efficiently than those behind; it is a pas de deux with the rocks that I have refined over the years that brings me extreme satisfaction.
Once I hit the road, the chase was over for me. I don't have the resilience or sting in my legs as of days of old, so I muddled along the final two miles, trying to hold onto a ten-minute pace as best I could to finish in two-and-a-half hours. It didn't matter that five people moved past me on the approach to the finish. My day on the trails was glorious and made me feel young again, encouraging me to keep on with ever more challenging exploits in the near future. The people I shared the day with were special, and I look forward to sharing more good days with them. My crystal ball shows me more trail races of a shorter distance are in my future. A day like today confirms my decision to move here to South Carolina. It felt like I was home. Can't wait to go back up to Jones Gap to train on those same wonderful trails again... maybe with some new friends.