Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Appalachian Trail, Wet Feet, and Ultrarunning

I promised a more in-depth run report in my post yesterday.

Sunday at 0-dark-thirty, my buddy JS and I started at PA Rt 16 and headed north to Rt 233 at the village of South Mountain, and returned the same route. This cool and handy Appalachian Trail distance calculator pegs it at 10.6 one way, so it was a 21 miler.

The ostensible purpose of the run was to get a bit of headlamp running in on technical trail, but mostly to see the sun rise from Chimney Rock (AKA Buzzard Peak). We began running @ 0430, using headlamps, crossed the Old Forge road around 0530, then trudged up the long, steep hill to Chimney Rock. We got there around 0615, with official sunrise moments away (see here from the U.S. Naval Observatory for sunrise & sunset data for anywhere, any time).

I brought my small pocket Nikon camera for some sunrise photos, then we headed north for the remaining 4 miles to the Rt 233 turnaround.

The main remembrance of the day will be the WATER. The system on Saturday that spawned violent tornadoes across the southeast gave us here in southern PA some high winds and dumped well over 2" of rain. The AT was a soggy mess the morning after, running ankle deep in water in many places. Any little stream was a torrent, and the big stream you cross at the Old Forge shelter was raging.

The East Branch of Antietam Creek at Old Forge Shelter (yes, the Antietam Creek of Civil War fame)...and my best side!

Early on in my ultra career I was paranoid about running with wet feet. Coming from a marathon background--as many of us do--wet feet would appear to be the kiss of death and instantly spawn mega-blisters. Well, I vividly remember my first (accidental) controlled experiment with wet feet. I was trail running near Fort Belvoir, VA, on a business trip there, in the adjacent nature preserve. In crossing a small stream one of my feet slipped and one foot plunged into the water up the calf. The other foot remained dry.

I had to keep on running. Well, within a few minutes, certainly less than mile, the difference between my feet was indistinguishable. I ran another 10 miles or so, and finished the run with no blisters on either foot.

It makes sense when you think about it. Running in the summer, your feet sweat, big time, and I submit that you are running with wet feet anyway. It is obviously true that your feet get more wet when you go thru water, but with today's running shoe technology, the water quickly drains off and you are left with a foot that only is about as wet as it would be from sweating alone.

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