Tuesday morning, after four days of no running, I returned to one of my favorite short runs to "kick the tires". A 5-miler including the Maze beginning at Bass Lake is an easy test of the legs. It all went well, I even picked up the pace a little with a sub-8-minute 4th mile. The only real physical issue is a tiny tear at the base of my left achilles--an old injury that I know well. It was not a significant problem. It's exciting to come through 24 days in pretty good condition.
During the last several weeks, I have been asked many questions. Here's a few that have been asked more than once. If you have a question that is not answered here, make a comment to this blog with the question, and I'll add it to the FAQ answers.
Was anyone helping you?
Absolutely. David Still (10-11 days), Rhonda (my wife, 2 weeks), John Allard (3 days), and Denna Miller (1 day) made sure we had food and water, transported us to and from start/finish points, explored the areas around the Parkway, and helped with photography and video. Additionally, they helped assemble resources (photography, video, etc.) for the blogs and for BRPWeather.Com.
Why didn't you take a day off?
The original intent was to take a couple days off to rest; however, we did not "schedule" them. We thought weather, events, or how I felt on a given day would dictate when we would take a day off. But none of this issues ever presented themselves; so, I just kept going. (Although an injury problem came very close, see below.)
Did you see any wildlife (in particular, bears)?
We saw turkey, deer, grouse, hawks, and buzzards in abundance. On the morning we drove from Little Switzerland to the starting point on Mount Mitchell, we saw more turkeys than cars. That same day (coming down Mount Mitchell) some of our runners saw a bear, but I never did. And I saw several dead snakes on the road; fortunately, I never encountered a live one.
What was the weather like?
We started the run at Milepost 0 in 49 degrees, drizzle, and fog. Fog continued for most of the first 4 days. Really, for running, that was perfect weather.
After that, the weather was pleasant for most of the event with a couple exceptions. Heat... It was really warm around Galax and when we reached lower elevations coming off Mount Mitchell. Rain... We got drenched one day, just south of Linville Falls in the last 20 minutes of the run.
What was the most surprising aspect of Relay With Ray?
By far the most surprising aspect of the event was how much time it took to produce the blogs. I so desperately wanted to get to our hotel and recover every day; however, while trying to recover (ice, heat, etc.), I was dealing with photography, videos, social media, and writing. Most days, we worked non-stop from the time we finished the run to past time we needed to get to sleep for the next day (11 PM and later). By the time Relay With Ray was finished, I was more mentally exhausted than physically exhausted.
What was the most important thing you learned about the Blue Ridge Parkway?
Great question! The most important thing I learned was that the Parkway is bigger, not in size but in impact and dynamic, than I or anyone else ever imagined.No one person can understand or capture it all. It is about geography, terrain, climate, people, recreation, personal challenges, memories, cars, motorcycles, bikes, wildlife (great and small), flora, history (pre-Parkway including not just one era but all eras, its conception and building, and history since the 1930s), day-to-day activities, maintenance, money, the people who live around it (then and now), the impact on neighboring communities, and so much more.
I believe that one of the great challenges for the Parkway, from the very beginning, has been that no person can wrap their brain around the whole thing. Some of the biggest mistakes in the management of the Parkway has related to this problem. For example, the decision early-on to focus on just one aspect/era of the region's history--rural, poor Appalachia--is a symptom a too narrowly focused vision for the Parkway. The Parkway's impact is immense and multi-faceted; it always has been, and always will be. (For the past 120 years, some of the richest people in America chose to build mansions within a stone's throw of this route, and those types of houses are still being built nearby. I just wish they would be built outside the viewshed of the road.)
What is the most important thing you have learned personally from Relay With Ray?
Patience. I learned to take what the terrain gave me to run and run it within my personal ability. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not the most patient person; I want to get it done and move on. I'm sure there are a few runners in the world who can run the entire way from the James River to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain or from Gillespie Gap to the top of Mount Mitchell or from Balsam Gap to the top of Waterrock Knob. But I'm not that person. I had to accept long climbs at 3-4 miles per hour. But you know what? In the end, the end 469 miles was covered--that's all that really mattered.
What was the most fun thing that happened during Relay With Ray?
Hands down... The kids at Parkway School!
What was the best thing about running the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The best thing was enjoying the miles with other runners. I had someone running with me for most of the route beginning in Fancy Gap. Every person I met had a great life story--from working to overcome drug and alcohol addiction, to surviving cancer, to running a marathon in every month for 66 months and a husband-wife running duo, to a family with their young boys tag-teaming the run, to Blue Ridge Parkway personnel, to dramatic weight loss, to a friend who drove up from Atlanta twice, to my younger sister driving over from Franklin TN, and many more--I enjoyed every mile with new (and a few old) friends. We had cyclists hang out with us for a couple days; both times they were a great help.
What was the worst thing that happened while running the Parkway?
Two physical challenges encountered during the run. One I talked about a little; the other was hush-hush while it was happening.
First, I injured the Tibialis Anterior muscle (I think) about 2-3 inches above my foot (shown in the diagram to the right). I'm pretty sure the injury occurred from running only on the left side of the road. The Parkway is significantly sloped in curves and as with all roads there's some camber from the middle of the road. As a result, my left foot was consistently landing with the outside of the foot lower than the inside. Muscles working to stabilize my body were overworked and the injury came out there. (I'm not a physical therapist or MD; so this is my best theory of the injury and cause.) I first noticed the injury at the end of the day after running around Roanoke. Within two days, that whole muscle was swollen and inflamed and any attempt to flex the left foot shot nearly unbearable pain through the leg. I really was a the limit of my endurance for pain for 2-3 days; however, I figured out how to land on my left heel and propel with my right leg.
For the next 7-8 days, I ran exclusively on the right edge of the road. Once the pain was less, I split time between the left and right edge of the road. I treated with NSAIDs. However, I don't like the way I feel running with NSAIDs; so, I only did that for 3-4 days. Every afternoon and evening, I went through a process of icing, heat, icing (two times). Then in the mornings, I iced then heated before the run. Beginning the third day, Rhonda concocted a formula of essential oils--Lemongrass, Panaway, and Copaiba. I must say, I was skeptical about the concoction, but the first morning after applying the oils, I felt a noticeable improvement. That's not a clinical medical trial, but I kept that going for the rest of the run and will use them again for a muscle injury.
The second physical problem I kept pretty much to myself, knowing that if I told, someone might take me off the road. If you are a bit squeamish, you might want the skip the rest of this section. I would not recommend what I did to someone else, but I'll confess it here. For six days in SW Virginia and into NW North Carolina, I urinated blood during the run.
Now, in defense of my decision to keep going without professional medical attention, I had NO OTHER SYMPTOM, no loss of energy, no fever, and no pain. If any of those had happened, I was have seen a doctor. Plus, the condition cleared up immediately after running. But I have to say, it freaked me out; I've never had that happen before.
Here's the best theory I have for what happened... First, I was pretty well-hydrated; so, I do not think that was the problem. From what I read, the NSAIDs could have been a contributing factor. I think that I completely emptied my bladder near the beginning of the run producing a condition called a "bruised bladder" resulting in the blood. My fix was: 1) continue with plenty of hydration, before, during, and after the run each day and 2) never completely empty the bladder.
Whether my "treatment" fixed the problem or it went away on its own, I don't know. All I know is... it went away. Thankfully!
What was the best thing you saw during the run?
The long range views from Mount Mitchell, the Richland Black Balsams, and the Plott Black Balsams were undoubted the best. "Breathtaking" is not an overstatement. If you have seen those, you must go.
What running adventure is next for you?
I'm figuring that out now. Maybe my first ultra-marathon in the Fall? My challenge vision problems--I have no peripheral vision on my left side resulting in very poor depth perception. Technical trails are just too dangerous for me; so, it would have to be a relatively easy ultra-marathon. My real "bucket list" goal is to run all the Major Marathons--only Tokyo and London are left for me to complete. However, expense and schedule may keep me from going to one of those next winter (Tokyo) or spring (London). We'll see.
How did you train for this run?
I have an entire blog post on this subject; however, I'll summarizes briefly here.
- Training was hampered by minor illness in the Spring and a ridiculously hectic schedule. I knew there was no way to run for 23-24 hours per week; besides that running 140 miles per week in training would crush my body. So I worked up to 70 miles per week at a faster pace than I would run RelayWithRay. My hope was that I could simulate the wear on my body with less time than the event would actually take.
- The NC Mountains are far more challenging than the VA mountains. I was hoping that Virginia would train me for North Carolina--thus decision to run from north to south.
- I did almost all my training on hard surfaces since I would be running on asphalt.
- I lost some weight, but did not get down to "marathon race weight". The fear was that I would lose more weight during the run and leave me too frail for the last week or two.
- I did all I could to keep muscles healthy including almost weekly massages.
- As important as the physical training was the mental and even academic training: 1) My RelayWithRay strategy was to make sure that, at the end of each day, I felt like I could come back and do another 20 miles the next day. So, I kept the pace slow and walked more than I thought I really needed to. 2) I read two books on the history of building the Blue Ridge Parkway. That may sound odd, but when I started, I was well prepared mentally for the challenges each day even before looking at the specific terrain map for the route. The one mistake I made in this regard (even though this was mentioned in one of the books) was the steep banking in the road and failure to alternating the run between left and right sides of the road (even though I knew better from my running coaches training)
Didn't it damage your knees?
My knees are absolutely fine. But my left leg muscles are beaten up--IT Band, my quads, and that Tibialis Anterior muscle. For years, I have had chronic problems with my left achilles tendon; by the end of the run, it had flared up somewhat. I also had a minor issue with the right quad during the last 3-4 days. Most of the damage to the legs comes from running downhill because of increased pounding in the pavement and using the "breaking muscles" more.
Besides running the entire 469 miles, did you accomplish the goals for the event?
This may be the most insightful but, at the same time, the most difficult question to answer. In fact, we may not know for weeks, months, or even years.
Our primary goal was to "Celebrate the Centennial Year of the National Park Service" by bringing attention to the beauty and wonder of the Blue Ridge Parkway and to raise money and awareness for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. We also wanted to thank all the people who work for the Blue Ridge Parkway from the folks that keep the grass mowed, the administrative and maintenance staff, the Interpretive rangers, and law enforcement. We did our best on all points, but only time will tell if we really accomplished the goal.
Secondary, we wanted to call attention to our own website, BRPWeather.Com, with weather stations, web cams, photography, and custom forecasts spanning the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway. BRPWeather.Com was initially funded by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation; however, the business model called for sustaining the site to be accomplished by advertising. To be very honest, in the business model, I greatly miscalculated how difficult it was to sell advertising to businesses and other entities along the Parkway. After reading the history books about the Parkway, I realize that the boundary between public and commercial interests has been one of (if not THE) biggest challenge since the Parkway's beginning in the 1930s. This effort will make us more forthright about the need to generate a little advertising revenue to keep it going. If peeing blood for 6 days does not prove my commitment to all aspects of the Parkway, I don't know what else I can do. It's not like we need tons of money; we are a cheap date and provide tons of bang for the advertising dollar. If folks along the Parkway want this resource, we're going to need a little help.
A third goal was for me (and RaysWeather.Com as a company) to know every nook and cranny of the Blue Ridge Parkway better. I can declare that goal accomplished!
Are you glad you did it?
When are you going to do this again?
Are you kidding!