When I first read the Runner’s World issue with the best trail runs in the United States, I latched on to the Shut-In Trail for two reasons: it was near Asheville, North Carolina – a city I’d longed to visit, and it ran from the base of a forest 18.9 miles into the mountains.
These kinds of runs are cathartic in a way that only distance runners can understand. Of course, I never intended to run the entire distance (although I told my dad some day I am going to have someone drop me off at the starting point and pick me up at the top of Mt. Pisgah). I’d hoped to get in 16 miles.
I was optimistic.
I hadn’t really checked out the ascent, which I normally do. Instead, I strapped on my Vibrams – and oh boy did my feet take a pounding – and headed out at 8:30 a.m.
There’s no denying the route is difficult. It’s listed as the second hardest trek in this part of North Carolina. The terrain is constantly switching: gravel, root-infested switchbacks, neck-high grass, near blacked out sections thanks to tree covering, and weird stream crossings.
That doesn’t even begin to cover the wildlife roaming around. I swallowed at least two bugs – including, I think, a spider from a web I ran through. (I was the first on the trail that day so I ran through spider webs for about 3 hours, 20 minutes – the length of my 13.1 mile run.) At one point, I stepped over a snake making its way across the path. For the next 2 hours, I was positive every tree root was a snake.
I won’t get into the particulars of the run: it was amazingly brutal, frustrating, hard, and ultimately the best run I’ve had yet. I ran nearly 3,200 meters up – roughly 2 miles – and the same distance back down. Four miles of up-and-downs across a 13 mile run isn’t bad. (Some perspective: the Pike’s Peak Ascent for which I hope to qualify is 8,000 meters up across 13 miles.)
Instead, I had time to contemplate some of the particulars of my life that I’ve been neglecting. Amends that have yet to be made, toxic relationships that I’ve kept around, and successes that I’ve artfully dodged. I came down that hill – or mountain – with a new perspective on where I am right now.
During the next few days, I am going to take time to write Amends letters to two people who deserve them. I’m also going to write a letter to cut the cord on a long running relationship that I should have left in the past but couldn’t quite bring myself to do that.
“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
Andy Dufresne said that in the The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a good lesson to remember. I needed to climb towards Mt. Pisgah to remember that.
Viva la Running.