Wednesday, April 27, 2022
By Meg Landymore, Charm City Run Customer, Trail Runner and Ultra Marathoner
Trail running is hard, complicated and at times, it can be frustrating. Trail running is also enthralling, natural, the trail is alive and provides the greatest sensation of accomplishment I have ever found. Trail running is spiritual for me, as much as it is physical.
My friend and running partner, Celia and I, are running the Appalachian Trail (AT), from Georgia to Maine in long weekend segments. We are two mothers of two, with full time jobs and full plates who created this opportunity for ourselves. We named it the AT RunVenture Project because we wanted to keep it fun, an adventure in exploration. We also knew it would be a project for more than a year of our lives and so we also made it into a fundraiser with Soles4Soles in hopes of sharing and spreading as much “good” as possible.
I am 35 years old, married with 7 and 4 year old boys. Celia is 46 years old with 13 and 10 year old boys and she’ll tell you herself, after processing and healing, in part, through trail running, happily divorced in a solid partnership. I share this because we like to believe that anyone could do what we’re doing, but how quickly you could and the time you can spare from your “real life” surely depends on your family, support network, your job and your will-power. Still, your adventure could look very different, but you CAN do BIG adventures if you’re willing to break them down into doable pieces.
How did we come up with this RunVenture?
That’s the most common question we get. Celia and I planned and completed the S.C.A.R challenge in the Smoky Mountains in October 2020. We adored the planning, the logistics and the execution. It was the first time we had to truly invest in trail running- for good gear, proper clothing, water filtration, etc…
We completed the goal, she ran 72 miles with 18,000ft of vertical gain and I completed the first recorded Female Double S.C.A.R (144 miles with 36k vertical gain FKT (Fastest Known Time)).
Once we’d recovered we chatted and I voiced my adoration for the AT and my dream to see the entire thing by foot. Turns out Celia had that dream too, she even owned multiple books about it! Neither of us thought we could ever, actually, do it. Our lives were structured around being at home. We thought though, if we did it somewhat like race weekends, it could be feasible.
We mapped out this huge multi segmented project and we were blown away by the epic proportion of miles, logistical issues, the cost and the vast unknown. For some reason though, we both said yes, and so it began.
March 26th, 2021 Celia and I set out from Amicalola State Park in Georgia and completed the first 112 miles (+8.8 miles for the approach trail) of the AT in under 48 hours. We were exhausted, frozen, stinky and in love.
We returned to the trail, picking up where we left off, every 2-4 weeks for the next 10 months and completed the first 1,348 miles of the AT in 2021. Then, we took winter off the trail to avoid freezing conditions, snow and ice.
Currently, having just restarted in April 2022, we picked up where we left off before the winter break. Now we are nearly through New York State and getting close to passing the 1500 mile marker. We have three more segments to go with the final segment covering 470 miles that will be two weeks long, supported (a.k.a someone will be there for us every step of the way). The plan is a July 31st finish in Maine!
There has been huge growth on the trail for both of us. We have so many things to manage out there, challenges that arise, natural fears and totally irrational fears. We support one another, but we face most of these things alone. Many struggles on the trail are internal. The trail pushes you to be better, to be stronger and to handle yourself differently.
Logistics are hard. Logistics are the limiting factor for many, often without realizing it. The “How to” of getting to the trail, managing water supply and then getting back home from the trail, not to mention the safety factor. These are what make trail running complicated.
Celia and I are skilled at logistics, we can plan almost any adventure in a matter of hours. We are especially good at planning adventures together. We compliment each other in this way.
I’ve been a trail runner now for about 12 years, but I still train mostly on the road, because of logistics. I can only really plan time for trail running on days I have enough time to drive somewhere. I am a “5am runner” and the pavement right outside my door is where I put in the work.
I’ll try to keep this brief, but here’s how I found trail running and I hope it inspires you to take a day to go out and explore.
I am an ultra marathon runner (very long distance runner). I find the most joy in running distances longer than a marathon, in fact the longer the better. I am looking mostly at races and events >100 miles. That’s me now, surely not who I was.
I ran cross country in high school and then in college. I noticed that my favorite courses were any that ran on trails, which was not many, especially in college where you’re looping open fields and well groomed grassy slopes. My cross country teammates and I occasionally ran trail and I remember how much fun we had exploring, getting a little lost and then finding our way.
I moved to Baltimore in 2011 after graduate school. Only six months after a desperate but solid NYC marathon finish in 2010 (my very 1st marathon which I finished in 3:54, I was injured and starved). I had told myself long distance was not for me, I would stick to half marathons and below. This decision did not last long.
When I had moved to Baltimore, I knew practically no one and was awaiting credentialing as a Physician Assistant for my new job at John Hopkins, so I signed up for the Baltimore 10-miler. In the starting area I met a group of runners who gathered every weekend and bonded with them immediately. I ran with them almost every week at the Grist Mill Trail, (which is a bike path and not a dirt trail) for the next couple of years.
Long story short, credentialing took a long time! I finished my 200hr yoga teacher training at what was Charm City Yoga and still had the time to slowly find ease in running 16-18 miles around the harbor, sometimes out of boredom and lack of income. With this realization, though, that 18 mile runs had become easy, I signed up for the Baltimore marathon with a friend. My experience was very different.
Comparatively to the first, my second marathon was a walk in the park with a 3:24 finish time. I decided I wanted to do something wild, I wanted to sign up for a 50k trail race! The next year was in fact wild!
A month or so after the Baltimore marathon I ran the Rehoboth Beach marathon as a long training run and ran extra at the end completing 28 miles. After that, a 50k suddenly seemed less “wild” so I changed my plans to train for a 50 mile run instead.
Those next 10 months I honestly ran too many races, but I found a love for trails. As an athlete, I was naturally above average at trail running (mostly thanks to strong proprioception from years as a gymnast). As I knocked down the 50k, 50 mile, 100K and 100 mile distances I fell in love with trail running more and more. I was so naive and yet so free on the trail. I still did NOT train on trails very much, I didn’t know where to go or how to get started, so it was only with friends. Then, once in a while I’d venture out alone in the places they’d shown me but I was cautious, timid but curious.
In 2014 I got married and had my first son. Races dropped off but I ran plenty. 2015, same story- very few races and very limited trail running. In 2016, with plans to try for another child, I ramped up for a 100 mile race in about 8 weeks, completely off of road running as training. I failed magnificently, in part due to lack of proper training and in part, bad luck getting very lost. Nonetheless, it inspired me, the way only failure can.
I trained on the road, for the time saving miles right outside my door, but I worked in a lot more trail running too, mostly at Bacon Ridge as that was new and easy to track miles with one to two simple loops. I felt safe there. I really improved and had some great races early in 2017 and then became pregnant again pushing off my redemption run to September 2018.
In March of 2018 I had my second son and at 6 weeks postpartum was cleared to see the vascular specialist. I was diagnosed with May Thurner’s syndrome and pelvic congestion. Two weeks later I had a large stent placed in my left iliac vein. Two weeks after that I was cleared to begin running. I raced the Georgia Jewel 100 miler only four months later and set the current standing female course record. I got my redemption! (Just a note: I am by no means cured of my vascular issues and pelvic medical issues, they will be with me for life, but I am still quite capable and have been blessed by my doctors to keep on doing what I love).
The training I had done for Georgia Jewel though, getting out on the trail alone and often, was new and hard, but I did it, over and over again.
I honestly still get nervous about 10+ mile runs on the trails just because I know it’ll feel hard, but I also love that feeling. I love exploring myself and growing. Part of what I love about the trail is the discomfort, the less known.
If you’ve never been on a trail run with dirt roots, rocks, steep climbs and descents (so not the NCR or the C&O Canal) here’s what you should know to go give it a try.
Trail running feels harder because it is. You’re using more muscles, you’re making more heat and burning through your reserves faster. Then, just to make it even more mind numbing, time stands still, in other words, your paces will be significantly slower. Here are some suggestions for success:
Step one to getting acquainted with the trail is to decide where you want to go and where you’re comfortable being, alone or with a small group. Nowadays there are trail apps and facebook groups with info on basically every parking spot and trail marker you’re interested in to be successful, but take your time planning the first few times, don’t hesitate to “phone a friend”, your local running store or any trail running friend can likely hook you up! It’s always easier and more fun with a friend.
Step two, if you can, take off the watch, or ignore the watch. If you’re data-driven the trail will stress you out. GPS is always a little wonky and you’re going to feel your heart rate climbing at “easy efforts” due to inclines, moving around rocks, keeping your balance etc… Start with a time goal instead of a mileage goal.
Step three, you need food, at minimum before and after if you’re starting with a short run 60 min or less, but typically if you’re planning for anything over 45min you should have a snack and liquid on you, especially in case you take longer than you intend to. Have a sport gel, fruit snack or a few starburst in a pocket and 6-8oz water/ electrolyte beverage of choice (weather and distance dependent).
Step four is to dress in light layers. As I said, you’re working harder, you get warmer, you sweat more, be prepared to shed layers or start a little chilly.
Step five is ideal, but not necessary off the bat, but your feet will thank you- get yourself some trail shoes! I believe in zero drop and natural foot movement, so I am an Altra girl… but if you love your brand do some research and chat with Charm City Run to help you find the right shoe!
Finally, make small goals. Be prepared to be uncomfortable, to get dirty, and most importantly to have fun!