Posted by: Drew | September 11, 2007

A flatlander’s experience on some serious hills

For those of you that don’t know, I have met folks online through my running log and the accompanying forum community.  I asked one of the guys on the message board (Trent) if he wouldn’t mind giving my friend Cletus and I a running tour of Percy Warner Park in Nashville while we were visiting town.  He happens to be the race director for the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon, which is mostly held in the park and on the road we’d be running. 

Cletus and I made the two-hour trip to Nashvegas on Saturday morning, while our wives were smart and stayed behind and slept in. We were nearing the park, and we saw runners everywhere going up and down Belle Meade Blvd. Neither of us usually runs with more than one person, so it was a bit of a shock to us to see so many people out and about. We thought there must have been a race going on, but Trent said that the numbers were not atypical for nicer weather days.

We pulled through the stone gates at the entrance to Percy Warner Park (PWP), and your first sight is of the stone steps marching up in front of you. Let me tell you, they don’t have climbs like that in our part of Ohio. We found a parking spot, and headed back to the park entrance where we met up with Trent, who introduced us to a few other locals he said would be running with us. They did, for about 100 yards. We proved to be too slow for their taste and they went on ahead. Many thanks to Trent for not pushing the pace too hard on me (I know, I know… don’t be a sissy and all that…). By about the half mile mark, Cletus had fallen 10-20 yards behind. At some of the intersections and a few other places during the run, Trent and I held up to allow Cletus to catch up (and me to catch my breath).

Prior to leaving on vacation, my longest run of my life was seven miles (Cletus around six). I asked Cletus on the way to PWP how much he wanted to do, and he said six to eight. Then I asked him how much he’d allow himself to do, since I had a feeling that Trent was going to try and show off the whole park. He said he’d go until he couldn’t walk any more. So when Trent gave us the various options we had (basically the 5.8 vs. the 11.2, give or take a half mile here or there), I was not surprised when both of us were idiots and said, “we didn’t drive all this way not to see the whole damn park.”

Trent did a great job of verbally laying out the course ahead of us. If PWP ever needs a tour guide, I’d recommend him for the job. He not only knows the 11.2 course very well, he is able to talk a bit about the history of parts of the park, the various trails running through the park, the preferred monkey sighting spots, and other interesting facts related to the task at hand. It’s written on the HHFMM website in the section that describes “Running the 11.2”, that the writer likes to talk a lot. I’m assuming Trent wrote this, and I’m confirming that it’s true (that he likes to talk). What I’m not doing is complaining. First off, the conversation helped me disassociate from the pain I was sure was coming. Secondly, I’m not the biggest talker in the world so it was nice to have someone leading the conversation.

The first major challenge we tackled was Three Mile Hill, appropriately located around the three mile portion of the run (it’s not three miles long). The winding hill hid all the surprises ahead, and was easily the most difficult hill I’d done in my life (at least for the next hour or so). Yet still, I was able to hold up my end of the conversation and my legs and lungs still felt pretty good. This was probably as much due to my easy week so far (5 total miles or less while being lazy on vacation and skipping my long run the Sunday before) as to my increased level of fitness from the increased training. I was feeling pretty good about finishing the distance ahead.

We passed the clubhouse to the Harpeth Hills golf course, the Iroquois Steeplechase (which was gorgeous with the green expanse surrounded by the densely wooded area I’d become accustomed to by this point), and lots of other trails and scenery that Trent described but I probably quickly forgot. By mile eight, I was still feeling pretty good. At the very least, better than I expected to feel. We stopped by a little picnic/playground area before Nine Mile Hill, which Trent had talked up as the worst in the park. Still felt pretty good, but could have easily called it a day right there and felt great about what I’d accomplished. We waited for Cletus to catch up, caught a rest for a few minutes, and proceeded to run/jog/trudge up the hell that is Nine Mile Hill. Three hairpins (with accompanying hills) culminating in a view that doesn’t really happen where I’m from. I wish I’d lugged my camera so I could share it with you, but I didn’t. Trust me, it was awesome. When Cletus and I confided that the view was spectacular, Trent says, “I’m glad you said that, because if you want to add another 0.6 miles to our run you can get an overlook of downtown Nashville even better than this one.” We looked at each other, gassed from the effort, and stupidly mumbled something that apparently came out as, “what’s another half mile on top of what we’re already going to do?” I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what I meant to say.

By this time in the run, I was feeling the effort. Not dead yet, but slowly fading. What had been a conversation of 60% Trent / 40% Drew was now more like 85% Trent / 15% Drew. All energy was being saved for forward motion. We hit the Luke Lea lookout, took what I was sure was not nearly enough rest, and headed out for the finish. Most of the remaining distance was downhill, which I’m sure is the only thing that kept me moving. When Trent stopped to pick up his water bottle he’d left as a marker for Cletus to find the extra loop to the Luke Lea lookout, I stopped to steal three seconds of walking and knew that was a mistake. It was incredibly hard to get back going, but pride got in the way and I did. 400 miles from home, I didn’t come all this way to have Trent call me names.

For the remaining minutes, I put one foot in front of the other and ignored the many signs of pain that were beginning to not just speak up but yell (remember my previous long run of 7 miles on flat land). Calves were sore, every toe felt like there was a nice blister on the front from the downhill pounding (luckily, none were really there), I had a slight side stitch, my quads were quivering, I wanted to puke… you get the picture. The only words I spoke the rest of the way (that I remember, I may have been delirious) were, “Thank God” when I saw the cars parked by the stone gates and I knew there were only a few hundred yards left.

We hit the finish line, and I staggered to my truck to get my camera, Gatorade, and the beer we’d brought for Trent. Cletus finally rounded the last bend and joined us for a few pictures. Trent recommended a sandwich shop nearby (Bread & Company) which turned out some good eats. We also got to meet his better half, two girls, and his in-laws. It was a regular party. My stomach didn’t settle from the effort for a few hours, so I didn’t get to eat until about four hours after our run. But I did re-hydrate with plenty of fluids on the way back.

In all, a fantastic experience. The 11.2 is better (worse?) than advertised, Trent is a great tour guide and host. And the scenery was enough to make you stop and take a moment. At least, that’s what I told Trent so he wouldn’t kill me. If you’ve the opportunity to make it to Nashville, bring your running shoes and call your favorite flying monkey race director.

Highly recommended.

Thanks for stopping by. See you out there.


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