Itching to race again!

Oviedo trail3

“Run because zombies will eat the untrained first”.

(Zombie apocalypse survival guide)

We all know COVID-19 wrecked a lot in 2020.  Our lives have changed and how we get things done may never be the same.  That is not a complaint but just a simple observation of how the pandemic impacts our daily lives.

One thing I got excited about in 2020 was the prospects of being able to run races again.  Most run organizations completely shut down their in-person races and pivoted to the virtual race format.  Took a bit to get use to but runners started signing up for virtual races to compete in the COVID-19 world.  I signed up and ran a few but it just did not give me the same competitive feel as the in-person racing. 

I was more than happy to sign-up for a local 5k with new COVID-19 safety protocols in October 2020.  Felt safe with how the race organizers kept runners apart before and after the race.  The staggered starts for everyone allowed the runners to maintain proper physical distance and still enjoy the race process.  Felt good throughout the race and did not worry about safety once we got started.  The same protocols were in-place after the race—nothing was handed to us—everything was prepackaged and unopened (bagels, water, granola bars, etc.). The COVID-19 initiative should remain even when the pandemic starts to wane—the race world needed to look at food handling protocols and now we know there is a better way to handle after race activities.

The Track Shack running club in Orlando is one of my favorite run organizers and great people work there.  Track Shack made the adjustment to virtual races to keep people in Central Florida running.  I did not sign up for any of their virtual races but was excited to watch people send in pictures from their virtual races.  Track Shack continued to look for ways to get runners back on courses safely.

Happy they were able to get clearance from the City of Orlando and Orange County to bring back in-person racing in time for the Orlando Utility Commission (OUC) Half Marathon.  I have run this race multiple times and it provides a flat course that winds through downtown Orlando neighborhoods.  I projected to run the Rock N Rock Half marathon in San Antonio as my December race at the beginning of the year, but COVID-19 had other plans.  The OUC Half was a perfect replacement race and allowed me to run fast again.  I did not target a personal record (PR) but just wanted to get back out and race with other runners and enjoy the process.  Never thought running 13.1 miles would be something I craved but it is true—I am a runner now! 😊

Decided to get creative with my training program and expand my running options.  Fort Pierce does not have the same running trail system as Tallahassee or the Orlando area.  I can get some good runs in but mostly on sidewalks where I encounter traffic.  Never been a fan of running around traffic but make it work based on where I live.  I needed to get in some double digit runs so decided to look north and tackle one of my old trails in the Orlando area. 

The Cross Seminole Trail is one I have trained and raced in the past when I lived in Oviedo, Florida.   Made up my mind to just head back to Oviedo and get some training done on a shady trail without traffic.  Happy to report the trail was everything I hoped for and needed!

Started my run with the intent to get in 10 miles on the training run—5 miles out and 5 miles back.  The weather was 64 and sunny when I started my run—perfect October day to run in Florida!  Did not have an intended time for my run—just wanted to get out and put in work and enjoy the trail, weather, and the process.  The Cross Seminole Trail is a multi-use trail used by bikers, walkers, skaters, and runners.  It is always great seeing so many active people out enjoying the trail.

I was able to go out with an easy pace for the first 3 miles.  Got lucky when another runner joined the trail fun and passed me at a good pace.  Decided to leverage this to see if I could keep up with the pace—it is always good to have a run goal so decided my goal was to keep her within sight and potentially pass at some point.  Kept this process up for the next 2 miles and finally passed her at my 5-mile point.  Runners are a friendly bunch, so we exchanged runner talk as we both continued to get our runs in.  Turns out she was out for a 10-mile run to get prepared for the OUC Half Marathon too.  Small world!  She was also excited the OUC race was back as an in-person option.

I felt good at the 5-mile point so decided to extend my run a bit and set out to max out with a 12-mile run.  The cooler temperatures and shady trail had a lot to do with how good I felt while out for my run.  Kept pressing forward to the 6-mile point and then gave myself a slight break by walking for a bit before turning around to head back to the starting point.  Running allows an opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area.  Noticed a lot of new construction and growth in the area since the last time I was there.  My run took me from downtown Oviedo to downtown Winter Spring via the trail systems.  Great way to explore an area without worrying about traffic or getting in anyone’s way.

Turned around to head back after walking for about 5 minutes.  I was not in a rush so just enjoyed the weather, nature, and the trail.  Took several pictures of the trail on the way back so my return pace was more leisurely than the first part of my run.  No worries, 12 miles is still 12 miles! 😊

Will look for additional ways to enhance my half marathon training.  May try to leverage the Cross Seminole Trail again—will just have to determine the best day and time to head back to Oviedo.  Excited to have races to train for again!  It is a small step towards normalcy, but it is promising and will allow me to get my competitive fix again.

More training to do but I am headed in a great direction!

What do you crave for your sense of normalcy?

“Make sure your worst enemy does not live between your own ears”.

“Laird Hamilton”

Resiliency and the Chimney Tops Trail

Chimney Top

“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo—far more flexible than you would ever imagine.”

(Jodi Picoult)

Resilience is a measure of how much you want something and how much you are willing, and able, to overcome obstacles to get it. It has to do with your emotional strength. (Dictionary.com)

“You are only 4 minutes away from the top”.

(Smoky Mountain hiker, November 2020)

Thought I had a good handle on what resiliency really means but discovered I needed to redefine how it is shown.  I viewed resiliency from the spectrum of work or emotional intelligence but my recent hike on the Chimney Tops Trail in the Smoky mountains gave me a new appreciation of resiliency.

The hiker from the quote above provided me with inspiration to keep going but I had to decide mentally and physically to keep going up the mountain.  The trail was listed as a moderate hike, but I added a new level of difficulty by tackling Chimney Tops after 3 other hikes on the same day.  A better plan would have been to save this hike for the next day, but I wanted to experience as much as possible in a short period of time.

I left my hotel with the intent to make four hikes and that concept drove me to keep going up the mountain.  I would have felt I was letting myself down if I did not stick with the plan.  Also, wanted to test myself to determine how much I could accomplish in one day.  My thought process was to make it up the mountain and then celebrate at the top.

I took more breaks on this hike than ever before and was slow on the ascent.  My legs felt like I had run a half marathon at this point—in fact, my total hiking mileage for the day was 15.4 miles.  Not a bad day walking in the Smoky mountains.

I view my ability to keep pressing onward as a sign of resiliency.  I could have tapped out and nobody would have known I gave up on my last hike if I did not bring it up.  I could have taken the failure to make it to the top of my last hike to the grave, but I am sure it would have bothered me knowing I gave up.  Trust me, I understand my making it to the top of the Chimney Top trail does not make the world a better place, but I needed to make it up there.

I take pride being an active mentor for my tree branches and encourage them to work towards their goals.  Quitting on the Chimney Top trail would make my words ring hollow if I did not practice what I preach to my tree branches.  The resiliency to make my last hike successful became a metaphor for Walking into the Future.  This journey has been successful because I have been able to overcome obstacles and continue to move forward in life.  Seems simple but I take a lot of pride in making goals and then crossing them off my list.  This process works for me so I will continue to make it a priority. 

Proud of the resiliency I showed while climbing the Chimney Top trail.  I will admit I need to space my hikes out better in 2021 but I will not stop until I complete them all! 😊

How do you display resiliency in your daily life?  What impact does resiliency have on how you get things done?  I welcome your thoughts!

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again”.

(Nelson Mandela)

Walking and exploring the Great Smoky Mountains (Gatlinburg, Tennessee)

My adventure in the Smoky Mountains!

Smokey Mountains hue

“Live a life of quiet inspiration.”

(William Britten)

Why Gatlinburg?

There’s an old saying The mountains are calling, and I must go” attributed to John Muir who spent his life advocating for wilderness preservation.  I would like to think John Muir’s words were instrumental to my trek back up to the Smoky mountains and Gatlinburg in particular.

My true inspiration to get back in the mountains came from an August 2019 NBC Nightly News special on a new Gatlinburg attraction, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America:  https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/take-a-trip-to-the-longest-pedestrian-suspension-bridge-in-north-america-67497029583

  • Requested my 2019 Gatlinburg Vacation Guide when the news went off

I’ve been in the Smokey mountains and Gatlinburg years ago but seeing the suspension bridge on TV got me excited to go back to the mountains and explore.  Finally, just decided to head up in mid-November before the weather got too cold and snow covered the mountain roads.  I’m good driving in the mountains but didn’t want to fight ice and snow as I made my way through the winding roads.  Got lucky with sunny weather and high temps in the low 50s.  Turned out to be ideal hiking weather and didn’t have to wear too many layers of clothes to stay warm.  Started peeling off layers about an hour into my first hike.

Hiking the Smokey Mountains

So, this is where I apologize to all my friends who have been avid hikers over the years.  I didn’t fully get the concept of hiking because I’m always looking for my next training run.  Texted a few of them to admit my error while I was out on my first hike of the day.  I fully get hiking now—it was an amazing experience and can’t wait to do it again!

Started the hiking adventure on the Trails in the Sugarland Area which is the first Smokey mountain hiking area leaving Gatlinburg.  Decided this would be a nice warm up trail to get me out and exploring.  Got a map and quick briefing at the Welcome Center and then I was off on the trails.  Didn’t know what I would see on this trail but was excited to begin the adventure.

Well, to my surprise almost got run over by a deer and while trying to take a picture of the buck, saw a flock of turkeys coming up behind me—this was the first 5 minutes of my hike! LOL.  Believe this episode is where I decided hiking is the greatest thing ever—this flurry of wildlife activity got me ready to see more.  Didn’t get a picture of the deer since I was trying to keep the turkeys in range to take a picture of them.

Continued the trails to see what else was ahead and came to the John Ownby cabin.  The structure was in decent shape and highlights how early mountain folks lived.  This was also a good place to take a break and take in everything I had experienced in a short period of time.  This is also the spot I texted my friends to say I get hiking now! 😊  Left the cabin and got on the next trail head and made it over to Cataract Falls.  Thought this was going to be a larger area but was happy with the scenic beauty I saw hiking over to the falls.  Only saw a few hikers out but everyone was friendly.  Got a chance to take pictures at the falls and sit awhile to admire the surroundings.  Very peaceful, quiet and refreshing time sitting at the falls.  Covered about 3 miles on this hiking segment.  Wanted to explore a bit more in this area but decided to move on after the tour buses started dropping groups off—the trail heads got crowded quickly!

Moved further into the Smokey mountains and made my way to the Sugarland Parks Trail.  Similar name as the first adventure but this was a .5-mile paved trail.  Not much wildlife to see on this trail but had great water views and river scenery.  Didn’t spend a lot of time here because it was a short, one loop trail.

Decided to venture further up the mountain to see what other adventures were waiting.  Saw several stop points on the way and pulled over at the Carlos C. Campbell Overlook. No trails here but the view of the mountains was tremendous!  Had this area to myself so took advantage of the photo opportunity while it lasted.

 Campbell Overlook

Next stop was the Gatlinburg trail which had a little bit of everything.  Trails, rivers, bridges, climbs, drops and wildlife.  Spent quite a bit of time exploring on this trail just enjoying the experience and nature.  Covered 10 miles total hiking on the different trails during my Smoky mountain adventures.

Skybridge

Got a quick lunch after my hiking adventures and headed to the main reason for my visit, the Gatlinburg Skybridge.  Gatlinburg has always had a Sky Lift Park to haul people up the mountain to get a higher view of the area.

The Skybridge is a new addition to Sky Lift Park and has become the main attraction for most people to see when visiting Gatlinburg.  It did not disappoint!  It’s a suspension bridge so it moves while walking on it—it really moves with a lot of people walking on it!  There were several folks on the bridge who didn’t look so happy with their decision to make the walk across.  The Skybridge is an excellent way to view Gatlinburg, see the surrounding mountains tops and people watch.  The pass for Sky Lift Park is good for the entire day so I was able to come back once it got dark to experience the ride up and the bridge at night.  Didn’t stay as long the second time up because it started getting cold when the sun went down.

https://www.gatlinburgskylift.com/skybridge

Moonshine tasting

The Gatlinburg Vacation guide was an excellent resource to help plan out my activities.  Discovered Gatlinburg has several distilleries and wineries right downtown.  I’ve toured rum and whiskey distilleries in the past but never a moonshine tour.  Researched the moonshine distilleries and decided to visit multiple since they were so close to each other and walkable.  My first stop was the Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery because of the variety of flavors they make.  $5 gets you a taste of every moonshine flavor/proof in the store.

These range from 128 proof down to 40 proof with different flavors:  https://olesmoky.com/collections/moonshine.

Made sure I ate before touring the moonshine distilleries—good thing because moonshine has a kick to it. 😊

Next, made my way down the street to visit Sugarlands Distilling Company to see what they had:  https://www.sugarlands.com/moonshine/.

They had some unique moonshine flavors and names but gave several of them a try during my tasting tour.  FYI, moonshine really warms you up, didn’t feel the cold after my sipping tour of moonshine distilleries.

Decided to head back to Ole Smokey Moonshine Distillery and went right to the top of the moonshine proof levels—got the Blue Flame (128 proof).  Will probably be sipping on this jar of moonshine for months—not for heavy consumption.

Freedom to travel

2019 has been an adventurous year for me to explore.  I’ve been blessed to have the ability to pick places to visit and then make my way there.  I’ve explored places I’ve always wanted to visit and some of my favorite places again.  Looking forward to seeing where 2020 takes me!  I plan to keep Walking into the Future with no return date! 😊

Lessons learned

  • Never drive in the Smoky mountains at night— (1) it’s scary and (2) you miss the scenic beauty of the mountains
  • North Carolina / East Tennessee BBQ sauce is vinegar based; I don’t like vinegar in my BBQ sauce
  • Hiking is a fantastic pastime! Will find other areas to explore this new hobby! 😊
  • I like moonshine! It mixes great with fruit punch
  • Gatlinburg has a walkable downtown area—find a place to park and walk around to enjoy the attractions

Thanks for walking with me!

Where have you always wanted to visit?  How much hiking do you plan to do in 2020?