Thursday, June 7, 2012

False Summits

Every Ultrarunner has his favorite story of false summits along the trail. 

Mine is neither dramatic, nor especially interesting.  But it was memorable, for me.  It was in the late winter of 1998 and my buddy Bill and I were training for the Massanutten 100 Miler in VA that May.

The training run in question was The Wild Oak Trail 50 miler (out 25 miles to the start/finish, then reverse the course).  It was sort of a Fat Ass type of run: low key, no shirts, nominal fee to cover expenses, etc.  The course, on the WV-VA border, slowly wended its up way to the 4000' level, where we had been warned to expect some serious "post holing," where the snow is too deep to run and you wound up lifting one leg after the other vertically just to get it out of the snow and on to your next step.  This section was more frustrating than tiring.

At last the course turned downhill and retreated below the snow line.  Bill and I were still optimistic and running well.  But somewhere around mile 20 of the first loop, after a descent to a pretty low level, there came an undistinguished uphill.  It wasn't real long, as I recall--perhaps a mile or so--but what drove me crazy about it was that you could see the top.  That is, until you got there...and then saw that the trail continued uphill to the "real" summit.

Only that summit was also false, and the trail continued uphill some more.

Doing this about 4 times completely shattered my resolve and my desire to continue.  We pulled in to the start/finish area; while not having a huge abundance of time, we could have turned back out for the second loop.  But the false summit trail had done me in, even though we would have run it in the downhill direction.  Then the notion of post holing in the dark at 4000' sealed the deal: we called it quits at 25.

Today, whenever I think of that run, all I can think about are those false summits.  Maybe now I am better at gauging slopes, etc., and have never again been snaked like I was on that day. 

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