9.5 miles into my run this morning I found myself up to my gonads in snow and both feet were submerged in icy water. I began to understand how it’s possible for someone to die when lost in the woods during winter. But I wasn’t lost, I was just trying to make my way around a formerly frozen river that we usually run across and the route I chose ended up going through a swamp. I have learned that swamps in the winter are incredibly deceptive things. This one looked harmless at first, not like a swamp at all, but I later discovered that the vegetation that grows there, combined with a layer of dead trees and branches, suspends the snow above the wet and muddy layer at the bottom.
I’ll start at the beginning of the run. My plan for today was to run an easy 15 miles at Bradbury Mountain State Park, well, easy in the sense that I hoped to finish feeling good enough to run 30 miles at Bradbury tomorrow. This is the peak of my 50 miler training where I run 45 miles in one weekend, and after this it’s a 4 week taper to the Bull Run Run 50 Miler in Virginia. The route I hoped to follow on today’s run was the same as what I started out doing last week, but I hoped to be able to cross a river and make it all the way to Pineland.
Despite sub-freezing temps, wind, and snow that was pretty heavy at times, I actually really enjoyed the run. The freeze-thaw cycle over the past week actually helped firm up the trails and everything was very runnable even with 2-3 inches of fresh snow on the ground. I was running alone today since Emma decided to do 18+ miles on the roads and no one else showed up at the park to run with me. When I got to the river that stopped us last week, a bit over 4 miles into the run, it was clear that attempting to cross would not be a good idea, especially since there wasn’t anyone else with me to pull me out of the water if I fell in. So at this point I turned back and headed north on the power line trail with the plan of connecting this up to the usual power line trail that we run to make one big 15 mile loop.
The next 3 miles were on trails that I had never run before, and it’s always fun exploring new trails, but the snow and lack of direct sunlight made it hard to judge the surface and I found myself repeatedly being surprised by little dips or rises on the trail. About 7 miles into the run I connected up to our familiar power line trail and figured it would be a little more than 8 miles back to the park on the usual route we take.
Unfortunately I forgot that there was another river to cross on the way. At 8.25 miles I came to Chandler Brook. The fresh snow had accumulated on top of what was likely a very thin layer of ice giving the impression that it might be safe to cross, but I thought better of it and turned around. ¼ mile back up the trail I came to Poland Range Road (which I had just crossed a few minutes before) and headed south long the road back towards the park. About a half mile along the road I saw a clearing to my left and beyond that I could see the tops of the power lines that defined the trail had hoped to be running along. It couldn’t be much more than ¼ mile away so I decided to get off the road and break trail until I got back onto the power line trail.
This is when I discovered the secret swamp from hell hidden beneath two feet of snow. Sonuvabitch. Thankfully I only had to struggle through ¼ mile of swamp before returning to the power line trail. And thanks to my wool socks my feet felt warm as soon as I got back to running a 9:30 pace. When I got to the crossing of Rt 9 I knew that I had about 6 miles to go on the trails to get back to the park, and I’d already run 10.75. This would put me well over my planned mileage for the day and I needed to save something for my long run tomorrow so I turned on to Rt 9 to finish my run along the road leading straight back to the park. It felt good to get a few 8 minute miles in at these later stages of the run, especially after my slow slog through the swamp.
It turns out, not surprisingly, that the road is significantly shorter than the trail and when I got back to the park I was only at 13.75 miles. So I hopped back onto the trails to do a loop of Knight Woods and finish my run at 15.5 miles.
distance: 15.52 miles
heart rate: 159/177